Governor Joel Parker of New Jersey

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Joel ParkerJoel Parker is another of my relatives, although distantly related, who fought in the American Civil War. We are 5th cousins 4 times removed. Parker was a War Democrat who was not only a major general of volunteers but served as the Governor of New Jersey twice from 1863-1866 and again from 1871-1874.

Parker was born near Freehold Township in Monmouth County, New Jersey on November 24, 1816 to Charles and Sarah Coward Parker. He attended the College of New Jersey which later became Princeton University. He graduated in 1939, worked in a law office reading law and was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1842.

Parker was elected to the state legislature in 1847 as a Democrat. There, he took an active interest in tax reform. In 1851, he declined to run for re-election and, in the same year, he was appointed Prosecutor of Pleas for Monmouth County, where he served for five years.

Parker became active in the state militia in the same year, 1851, being elected as a brigadier general. In 1860 he was appointed a major general of volunteers by Governor Charles S. Olden. Two years later, he was nom inated by the Democrats as their candidate for Governor. He was elected and served one term, declining to run for reelection.

He left the office of Governor in 1866 and returned to his law practice. In 1871, he was again elected Governor, becoming the first person to be elected twice to the governorship. After leaving the governorship for the second time, he served as state Attorney General in 1875. He served as a presidential elector in 1876 and as a Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1880 until his death.

Historian William C. Wright wrote that “Of all the nation’s governors, Joel Parker was one of the Lincoln administration’s most outspoken critics. However, while he attacked the administration’s handling of political issues and its use of ‘war power,’ he could not bring himself to call for a halt in the fighting.”

Parker supported the war effort but strongly opposed the Emancipation proclamation. In an 1864 campaign speech, he said that “the majority of the people, without respect to party, wanted peace, and desired compromise, but the Republican leaders would not consent to fair terms, and refused to submit the momentous issue to the people.” 

Like other mid-Atlantic governors, Governor Parker was alarmed by the invasion of Pennsylvania by Confederate forces at the end of June 1863 even though he engaged in the usual gubernatorial complaints about conscription and the state’s draft quota. He telegraphed President Lincoln on June 29: “The people of New Jersey are apprehensive that the invasion of the enemy may extend to her soil. We think that the enemy should be driven from Pennsylvania. There is now certainly great apathy under such fearful circumstances. That apathy should be removed. The people of New jersey want McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac. If that cannot be done, then we ask that he may be put at the head of the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania troops now in Pennsylvania, defending these Middle States from invasion. If either appointment be made, the people would rise en masse.”

President Lincoln responded by assuring Parker: “Your dispatch of yesterday received. I really think the attitude of the enemies’ army in Pennsylvania, presents us the best opportunity we have had since the war began. I think you will not see the foe in New-Jersey. I beg you to be assured that no one out of my position can know so well as if he were in it, the difficulties and involvements of replacing Gen. McClellan in command — and this aside from any imputations upon him.”

Ironically, Parker and Lieutenant General James Longstreet were also 5th cousins.

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