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NJ Governors - The History of the Governorship

The New Jersey governorship dates back to the mid-17th century. In 1664, England took control of land that is now New Jersey. John Berkeley and George Carteret were named proprietors of the colony. The proprietors had the power to appoint the governor of the colony. George appointed his cousin Philip as the first governor in 1665.

Proprietors continued appointing the governor until 1702. In 1703, Queen Anne named Edward Hyde the first royal governor of New Jersey. Hyde was already governor of New York. New York and New Jersey shared a governor until 1738. During this time, all the colonial governors had the difficult job of serving the interests of the local citizens as well as those of the king or queen of England.

In 1763, England increased pressure on the governors to rule the colonies according to British wishes. Governing the colonies became very hard. William Franklin, who was royal governor of New Jersey at that time, remained loyal to England but was removed in 1776 after the colonists declared independence. William Livingston became the first governor of the state of New Jersey in 1776.

Under the New Jersey Constitution of 1776, the governor had very few responsibilities. Chosen by the legislature, the governor served a one-year term. Having just lived under the rule of a king, the state's founding fathers viewed executive rulers as threatening to their freedom. Most of the power of government belonged to the legislature.

In the mid-1800s, New Jersey lawmakers began to realize that the governorship was too weak. As the state population grew, the responsibilities of the governor needed to increase as well. The Constitution of 1844 increased the powers of the governor. The governor was now elected by popular vote and served a three-year term. Limited veto power and the right to make appointments were also granted.

During the Civil War, the New Jersey governors took varied stances on the issues of slavery and states' rights. In the railroad era of the late 1800s, every New Jersey governor had ties to the railroad industry. The early 1900s saw the rise of political machines, which would eventually cause lawmakers to further strengthen the governorship.

In 1947, the state constitution was once again changed. Social and economic changes had weakened political machines. Governors now enjoyed the most power they ever had. Terms were extended to four years, and veto powers were further increased. All state boards and commissions were reorganized under the governor as part of the executive branch.

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