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James Schuerman. Image from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Veterans: The winners of the 1789 election for New Jersey’s first congressional election

By David Wildstein, May 25 2020 12:03 am

Five of the original six members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation in 1789 were veterans of the America War of Independence.

Jonathan Elmer, one of the state’s two original United States Senators, was a captain of the a Militia company based in Cumberland County, where he had served as sheriff.  He had been elected as delegate to the Continental Congress three times.

The New Jersey Legislature selected him for a U.S. Senate seat in 1789 and he served in the Senate for two years.  After his service in the Senate, Elmer served as the presiding judge in Cumberland.

Direct voting for New Jersey’s first congressional elections was held between February 11 and April 17, 1789 for four House seats elected in a statewide election.

The top vote-getter, 31-year-old James Schureman of New Brunswick, received 13,811 votes.  Schureman had served in the Continental Army, as an assemblyman from 1783 to 1785, and as a delegate to the Provincial Congress in 786 and as a member of the Continental Congress from 1789 to 1791.  He had served as President of New Brunswick in 1892.

Schureman served one term in the House and was elected by the Federalist majority in legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1799.  He resigned in 1801 to become the mayor of New Brunswick.  In 1812, Schureman returned for one more term in the House and again served as New Brunswick mayor from 1821 until his death three years later.

Elias Boudinot finished second with 9,051 votes.  The 49-year-old Elizabeth resident served as commissary general of prisoners in the Continental Army from 1776 to 1779, followed by four stints in the Continental Congress and two as president.

Boudinot served three terms in Congress and did not seek re-election in 1794.  He served as Director of the Mint under Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.

Lambert Cadwalader, New Jersey’s original carpetbagger, had begun his political career as a member of the Philadelphia Common Council and was a delegate to the Pennsylvania state constitutional convention of 1776.

He joined the Continental Army in 1776 – leading the Third Pennsylvania Battalion and the Fourth Pennsylvania Line.  He was taken prisoner by the British Army at Fort Washington.

Cadwalader moved to Trenton and was elected three times to the Continental Congress.  He was elected to the 1st Congress in 1789 with 7,702 votes.  He lost re-election in 1791 and was elected to the 3rd Congress in 1793.

The fourth New Jersey seat was won by Thomas Sinnnickson, a 45-year-old merchant from Salem County.  He defeated Abraham Clark by 1,347 votes statewide.

Sinnickson was a captain in the Continental Army, was elected six times to four different tenures in the State Assembly before winning election to the 1st Congress.  He lost his bid for re-election in 1791.

His nephew, also named Thomas Sinnickson, won an 1828 special election following the death of Rep. Hedge Thompson and served the final three months of his term.

Clement Hall Sinnickson, the grandnephew of the first congressman, was a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War and represented New Jersey in Congress from 1875 to 1879.

The story of Clark, who lost the first congressional election, might be the most compelling.

The 62-yer-old Essex County resident had served in the Continental Congress in 1776 and was the only New Jersey delegate who supported independence from the start. The pro-Independence legislature recalled their other four delegates and sent a new delegation to join Clark.

Two of his sons served in the Continental Army; both were captured and brutally tortured.  The British offered to spare the lives of Clark’s sons if he would recant his signing of the Declaration of Independence, but he refused.

Clark ran again for Congress in 1791 and was the top vote-getter.

The only member of the New Jersey delegation to the 1st Congress who was not a veteran was William Paterson, who had served as Attorney General of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War.  He was one of the signers of the Constitution and was sent to the U.S. Senate in 1789.

Paterson resigned from the Senate in November 1790 after his election as Governor of New Jersey and served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1793 until his death in 1806.

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