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Garret Augustus Hobart (June 3, 1844- November 21, 1899) served only two years, from 1897-1899 as President William McKinley's Vice President. However, in that time he proved himself to be quite influential in his role, advising McKinley to have Congress declare war on Spain and being the deciding vote to take the Philippines as a US territory at war's end. He became the sixth vice president to die while in office. During his time in office, however, he earned the moniker, "Assistant President."
Garret Hobart was born to Sophia Vanderveer and Addison Willard Hobart on June 3, 1844 in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father had moved there to open a primary school. Hobart attended this school before going to boarding school and then graduating first from Rutgers University. He studied law under Socrates Tuttle and was admitted to the bar in 1866. He went on to marry Jennie Tuttle, his teacher's daughter.
Rise as a State Politician
Hobart quickly rose in the ranks of New Jersey politics. In fact, he became the first man to head both the New Jersey House of Representatives and the Senate. However, due to his extremely successful law career, Hobart had no desire to leave New Jersey to become involved in national politics in Washington, D.C. From 1880 to 1891, Hobart was the head of New Jersey's Republican Committee, advising the party on which candidates to put into office. He did, in fact, run for the US Senate a few times, but he never put his full effort into the campaign and did not succeed to the national scene.
Nomination as Vice President
In 1896, the Republican National Party decided that Hobart who was relatively unknown outside the state should join William McKinley's ticket for the presidency. However, Hobart according to his own words was not overjoyed with this prospect as it would mean having to leave his lucrative and comfortable life in New Jersey. McKinley ran and won on the platforms of the Gold Standard and a protective tariff against perennial candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Influential Vice President
Once Hobart won the vice presidency, he and his wife quickly moved to Washington, D.C., and leased a home on Lafayette Square which would earn the nickname, the "Little Cream White House." They entertained at the home quite often, taking over the traditional duties of the White House. Hobart and McKinley became fast friends, and Hobart began visiting the White House to advise the president quite frequently. In addition, Jennie Hobart helped take care of McKinley's wife who was an invalid.
Hobart and the Spanish-American War
When the USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor and trough the poison pen of yellow journalism, Spain was quickly laid to blame, Hobart found that the Senate over which he presided quickly turned to talk of war. President McKinley had tried to be cautious and moderate in his approach with Spain after the incident. However, when it became apparent to Hobart that the Senate was prepared to move against Spain without McKinley's involvement, he convinced the president to take the lead in the fight and ask Congress to declare war. He also presided over the Senate when it ratified the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Spanish-American War. One of the provisions of the treaty gave America control over the Philippines. There was a proposal in Congress that the territory be given its independence. However, when this ended in a tied vote, Hobart cast the deciding vote to keep the Philippines as a US territory.
Throughout 1899, Hobart suffered from fainting spells related to heart problems. He knew the end was coming and actually announced that he retired from public life in early November. On November 21, 1899, he passed away at home in Paterson, New Jersey. President McKinley attended Hobart's funeral, a man he considered a personal friend. New Jersey also went into a period of mourning to commemorate Hobart's life and contribution to the state.
Hobart's name is not widely recognized today. However, he was quite influential during his time as vice president and showed what power could be exerted from that position if the president chooses to rely on their advice.