Presidential Visits Subject of Latest Zablocki Book

By: Todd Neikirk

New Jersey is one of the oldest states in the country and has played an important role in American history. Peter S. Zablocki, Denville resident, has long been a student of the state’s importance. In his latest book, Presidential Visits to New Jersey: A History, the historian focuses on the American leaders who have come to the Garden State both to visit and to live. 

Presidential history of the state begins with the nation’s first President, George Washington. However, Zablocki notes, “none of his time would count, nor could be talked about in my book, because it all happened as the General of Continental Armies during the American Revolution. New Jersey is often referred to as the ‘Crossroads of the Revolution’ or the ‘Cockpit of the Revolution,’ where a large portion of the War for Independence was fought.” 

While Washington didn’t visit the state post-Revolution, several Presidents did. The biggest draw for many of the visiting commanders-in-chief was the Jersey Shore. Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Chester Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison were all fans of Cape May. The President most dedicated to the shore was Ulysses S. Grant, who built a home in Long Branch. 

Zablocki says of the appeal of the shore, “It was just far enough from Washington D.C., yet close enough if the need arose to get back to the office. The areas of Long Branch and Cape May were also known for their exuberant hotels and inns which showcased the wealth and prestige of the upper class and thus catered perfectly to the Nation’s Executive.” 

The writer does note that once New Jersey became a prominent tourist destination, Presidents seemed less eager to visit. “It would not be until the rise of Atlantic City and its boardwalk in the latter part of the 19th century that the shore became a vacation destination for the middle class and working Americans, which coincided with the diminishing allure for Presidents to continue to come and vacation in the state.” 

The country’s leaders didn’t just visit New Jersey for leisure, they did so for diplomatic reasons as well. Zablocki goes deep into the story of Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the state in 1860. The voters in New Jersey, at the time, were not big fans of Lincoln and he visited the area in an effort to win their trust. 

Presidents have also come to the Garden State in times of crisis. In his new book, the author discusses Barack Obama’s efforts in New Jersey following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. 

Readers will also learn about those leaders with the closest ties to the state. Grover Cleveland did not spend much of his life in New Jersey, but was born there and died there as well. And Woodrow Wilson, once the President of Princeton University, was serving as the Governor of New Jersey when elected President in 1912 and had to resign his post. 

In the 2010s, Donald Trump became the first President in many years to regularly visit New Jersey. The 45th President regularly spent weekends during his term at his country club in the town of Bedminster. 

Read about all of these leaders in Presidential Visits to New Jersey: A History, which is available in both digital and paperback formats via Zablocki’s website:  


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