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Former Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen Dies in New Jersey

Former Rep. Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen Jr. died Monday at home in Harding Township, N.J. He was 94.

Frelinghuysen, who represented New Jersey’s 5th district from 1953 through 1974, was the fifth generation of a long-standing political family.

His son Rodney currently represents New Jersey’s 11th district.

During his time in Congress, the elder Frelinghuysen was a moderate Republican and worked to balance his fiscal conservatism with his commitment to social issues.

Although he took criticism near the end of his political career from a growing liberal bloc in his district for his support of President Richard Nixon’s Vietnam War policies, Frelinghuysen easily won re-election during his 10 terms in office.

He served as the top Republican on the Congressional committee that produced the Higher Education Act of 1965, and he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In keeping with his fiscal conservatism, however, Frelinghuysen opposed President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty legislation and proposed his own version, an effort that earned him praise from friend and colleague Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

“His willingness to always work with the other side and middle-of-the-road legislating style made him a great asset to this great body at a critical time in our country,” Dingell said in a statement.

Frelinghuysen also supported community opposition to the New York Port Authority’s efforts to build an airport on wetlands in Morris County, N.J. With his help, the swampland was preserved as the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Dingell, who referred to Frelinghuysen as a “dear friend and wonderful member,” praised his environmental efforts.

“[He] was a conservationist like me; he understood and believed in protecting land before it was popular,” Dingell said.

In a 1974 press release announcing his retirement, Frelinghuysen called his work to preserve the swampland “the achievement in which I take most pride.” In addition to his environmental efforts, Frelinghuysen said he most enjoyed his experience in 1965 as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations and, in 1974, serving as ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Born in New York on Jan. 17, 1917, Frelinghuysen attended Princeton University and Yale Law School before enlisting as a Naval intelligence officer during World War II. 

After his time in the military, during which he was commissioned as a lieutenant, Frelinghuysen did postgraduate study in history at Columbia University, and in 1948 he served on the Foreign Affairs Task Force of the Hoover Commission.

Before running for Congress in 1952, Frelinghuysen worked in banking, serving as director of Howard Savings Bank in Livingston, N.J.

The Frelinghuysen family produced a total of four Senators and two Representatives. 

In a statement released Monday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) commended Frelinghuysen and his family for their service.

“He personified grace, dignity and integrity in public service,” Christie said in the statement. “New Jersey has benefited from generations of public service from the Frelinghuysen family and Peter added to that legacy.”

Frelinghuysen is survived by three sons, including Rodney, and two daughters, as well as 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.