The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 1, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



The political history of New York had its beginnings in the endeavors of Dutch Governors to assert the authority of the Dutch West India Company in New Netherland, and in the resistance of Dutch colonists to the arbitrary exercise of such authority. There was friction in earlier years, but the case of the people was brought noticeably forward in 1649-53 by Adriaen van der Donck, Cornelis Melyn, and others, who fought skillfully to secure a degree of popular government, or at least municipal privileges for the larger communities of New Netherland. Out of this agitation, New Amsterdam, in 1653, was granted a municipal charter, and freemen were permitted to choose from their class o constitute the local government.

Governor Stuyvesant, 1647--As a matter of fact, New Amsterdam was not the first community to be granted a degree of local government, Breuckelen having been permitted to establish a schepens' court some years earlier, as it stated in the Bench and Bar chapter (q.v.). New Amsterdam, however, inaugurated a municipal status of a somewhat different class and ere long several other communities sought similar local rights. The English communities on Long Island were especially troublesome and restless. These somewhat uncontrollable English settlement--Hempstead, Gravesend, Flushing and Middleburgh (Newtown)--met in convention in 1653, without observing the formality of petitioning Governor Stuyvesant for permission to assemble, and they pursued their deliberations despite the protests of the Governor. Stuyvesant was incensed, being of the opinion that the meetings "smelt of rebellion." He emphatically declared that all rights of government were vested in himself, and that none but magistrates should discuss public questions. The delegates to the convention pleaded "the law of nature," pointing out that all men might "associate and convene together for the protection of their liberty and their property." After an angry exchange of opinions, the Governor ordered the delegates to disperse immediately, "on pain of an arbitrary correction." "Directors (Governors) and Council only shall be the lawmakers," he declared. And the Governor was upheld by the Dutch authorities, or at least by the West India Company, who declared that it was "the height of presumption in the people to protest against the government."

A definite political party grew out of that convention. The people of Long Island gave evidence of it in the resistance of the English town to Dutch rule during the next decade, and in their active cooperation with the English expedition which reached New York waters in 1664.

Governor Nicolls, 1664--After the surrender of Fort Manhattan to Nicolls, in the year 1661, and the passing of New Netherland from the Dutch to the English, the people opposed the English governors almost as resolutely as they had the Dutch directors. In accordance with his promise to the Long Island English colonists, who cooperated with him in ousting the Dutch, Governor Nicolls, early in 1665, called upon the Long Island communities to send delegates into convention, to consider matters of government. The delegates convened at Hempstead at the end of February, and a code of laws, known as the Duke's Laws, or the Nicolls Code, was then submitted by Governor Nicolls. The Long Island English had not once been consulted in the framing of the code, and the delegates were not expected to do more then formally pass resolutions accepting it. They demurred to many sections, but, as the Governor explained, revision lay entirely with the royal proprietor, the Duke of York, who, in the due course, would no doubt make known his pleasure. Disillusioned, the people realized that popular government was still denied them.

There was dissatisfaction, of course. This state of mind was reflected unpleasantly to the English Governor in 1673, when the English settlers on Long Island refused to rally to the defence of the province against the attack of the Dutch fleet. For ten months, the Dutch were again in control of the province, after which New Netherland again reverted to the English, the Treaty of Westminster having finally ceded the Dutch colony to the British. Governor Andros, in November, 1674, formally took over the government from the Dutch naval commander, Anthony Colve, who had been the emergency governor.

Governor Andros, 1674--Andros soon found that the desire for popular government was deeply imbedded in the people. After encountering many difficulties, arising out of the common resistance to absolutism, Andros was recalled, and Dongan sent in his place. The latter did not arrive until 1683, and certain happenings in new York and New Jersey during the interregnum gave the English ministers and the royal proprietor food for thought. The Acting Governor, in 1681, wrote to England, stating that "the people generally cry out for an Assembly." "Authority and Magistracy is grown so low," he wrote, "that it can scare maintain the public peace and quiet of the government." The high sheriff (John Young), of Long Island, drafted a petition "praying for the early establishment of a general assembly in New York like those of the Jersey provinces, and in conformity with the constitutional rights of Englishmen."

The people of New York refused to pay the import duty. They even arrested the Collector of the Port of New York in 1681, sending him to England for trail. These, and other incidents, convinced the Duke of York that a popular party of appreciable strength existed in his proprietary province, and that if he did not conciliate the provincials his purse might suffer. He adopted a prudent course, instructing Dongan to alter the system of government, so as to create a General Assembly, drawn from freeholders.

Original Counties, 1683--Representatives of these twelve counties convened in General Assembly on October 17, 1683. They constituted the first legislative body organized in New York by some degree of popular vote. Fifteen acts were passed during the first session of this body, which is known in history as the Dongan Assembly. Perhaps the most sensational act was "the Charter of Libertyes and Privileges granted by his Royal Highnesse to the Inhabitants of New York and its Dependencies." This charter "breathed the spirit" of the great document, Magna Charta. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the Duke of York disapproved of it; so, having reserved to himself the power of veto over all provincial legislation, it had no change of life. He did not at once declare his will as to it; and there are some who think that, had not the status of the royal proprietor unexpectedly changed while he still had the fate of the charter under advisement, he might have finally been persuaded to approve it; but His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York and Albany, became his Majesty, James II, King of England, and of her Dominions, by the death of his brother, Charles II, in February, 1685; and under these changed circumstances, James saw that a charter which granted the Provincial Assembly the right to be a party to all legislation might be at times disadvantageous to the proprietor, and especially distasteful, even humiliating, to a King. Indeed, the charter contained few clauses which James as Prince or King, would be likely to favor. It was, in fact, positively damaging to royal prerogative, for it provided that no taxes should be imposed, save those sanctioned by the Governor, the Council, "and the people met in General Assembly." So the Dongan Charter had no change of life; it was vetoed by King James, who also, on June 16, 1686, abolished the Assembly altogether.

Sir Edmund Andros, 1688--In 1688 Dongan was superseded by Andros, who indeed was to group all the New England colonies, with New York and New Jersey, to form the Dominion of New England, in which there would be no popular governmental bodies--no local legislatures, nor even town governments. The will of the royal proprietor, through this agent, Andros, was to be the law of the land. He met it, or it faced him, wherever he went. Difficulties also confronted his royal master in England, and when news reached Boston, in April, 1689, that James II had been forced to give up the throne, and that his daughter Mary, and her consort, William of Orange, were the ruling royalties of Great Britain, the people of the American colonies and provinces acted quickly. Andros was imprisoned in Boston and the other New England provinces quickly reverted to their former entities. In New York, Jacob Leisler, a captain of militia, became dictator, determined to hold the reins of government until William and Mary should send out a governor of their choice.

The Leisler Government, 1690--The Leisler administration is notable for at least one important event in political history It marks the gathering of the first inter-colonial congress. To Jacob Leisler must be given the credit for calling this, the first, English Colonial Congress ever convened in America. Representatives of new York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Plymouth, and Maryland went into session in new York City on May 1, 1690, and agreed upon united action against the French, who were menacing the English settlements.

Out of the seizure of government by Leisler grew two political parties which very definitely divided the province of New York during the next few decades. The political strife led to the hanging and quartering of Leisler and of his chief aide, Milborne. It also, some years later, in the change of political fortunes, nearly brought some of the leaders of the other party to their deaths. Only the opportune arrival of a new Governor, Lord Cornbury, in 1702, saved Nicholas Bayard and other anti-Leislerians from the gallows.

Governor Sloughter, 1691--With the coming of General Sloughter, in March, 1691, Leisler was given short shrift. Those who brought him to his death were, in most things, considered as of the Governor's following; but they soon busied themselves with legislation which pointed rather against royal prerogatives than against the interests of the people. They did not agree with the ministers of William of Orange that provincial government "is what the King pleases" and they certainly did not concur with Granville, where the royal instructions to the provincial Governor clashed with their own ideas of the inherent rights of provincials. Granville pointed out that "the Governor's instructions are the law of the land, for the King is the Legislator of the Colonies." In some phases of legislation New Yorkers would not object to King-made laws, but those that attacked their own purses were not in that negligible class.

For several decades after the death of Leisler, in 1691, the two principal political factions in New York were known as White People (Leislerians) and Black People (anti-Leislerians). These factions might, in general, be aligned, respectively, with the English Whig and Tory parties. Party feeling was intense, and, in one instance, manifested itself in the election of an alien, Abraham Gouverneur, to the speakership of the New York General Assembly. Both factions were troublesome to the royal governors, for neither party placed personal animosities before provincials interests. So, whenever a Governor would attempt to encroach upon what was deemed to be the fundamental rights of freemen, he would generally find that legislative action would be just as emphatic, and condemnatory of himself if the Black People ruled the House as if the White People were in the legislative dominance.

The First General Assembly, 1691--New York legislative history officially begins with the First General Assembly, which began its first session on April 9, 1691. Why this, and not the Assembly of 1683-84, should be recorded as the First General Assembly of the Province of New York, seems to be explained by the fact that it was the first people's body called together in New York under the direct authority of the Crown. It is pointed out that the Dongan Assembly was convened by authority of the Duke of York. However, the Assemblies of 1683-84, 1685, and 1691-92 might well be grouped, for the political policies of the New York legislators in 1683 and 1691 were almost alike. Indeed, most of the acts of the First General Assembly of 1691 followed, almost work for work the acts of the Dongan Assembly of 1683-84. The Charter of Libertyes, which had been so obnoxious to, and vetoed by, King James was re-enacted, only, however, to be again vetoed. The Dongan Charter was the first in which the principle "of representation as a condition of taxation" was formulated; and to re-enact it was one of the most vital purposes of the Assembly of 1691. Englishmen, wherever placed, have always been sternly suspicious of anything that might come near enough to threaten to impinge their Magna Carta privileges.

Another important enactment, in 1691, was that which provided for county government, establishing a system of administration by supervisors elected by the freemen of the several towns, and a country treasurer elected by the county at large. This system was abolished in 1701, but was re-established two years later, and thereafter developed into a satisfactory permanency which "was destined to have a profound influence on the subsequent development of local administration in the United States." #1 It is to all intents the form of local government still in force. As a matter of fact, New York may be looked upon as the "patent of the supervisor system" of the United States. #2

Original Charter of Liberties, 1683 and 1691--Throughout the provincial period, the people's representatives, i. e., the members of the General Assembly, as well as, in most instances, the members of the Governor's Council, resisted all attacks of the Crown upon the purse of the people. The right of Englishmen, wherever domiciled, to have a voice in all legislation that dealt with taxation was tenaciously claimed. Almost all political parties of the Province were of one mind on the fundamental principle of government. Just as Kings have common interests, just as King William, the Protestant, could wear the coat of James the Catholic--or, at least assume all the royal prerogatives of the latter--so were all political parties in the provinces and colonies alike in recognizing that their common interest lay in resisting all royal attempts to extort from the, without their consent, any of the own property. "Money is the root of all evil." Certainly, most of the evil in political history is rooted in money. Kings were suspicious of all legislation that might curtail royal prerogatives, and the people watched vigilantly all attempts of the Crown to dispossess them of any of their property rights. Purse string are common, but not common property. Each man instinctively pulls his own tight. James II had objected to the first sentence of the Charter of Libertyes and Priviledgs which contained the phrase "People met in General Assembly"; and in transmitting, in 1697, William's veto of the re-enactment of the same measure, the Lords of Trade pointed out that the Act gave "great and unreasonable privileges" to members of Assembly. On other words, the people wished to keep royal hands out of their pockets, and the Crown wish to make its processes of filching free from obstruction. So, it mattered not whether Leislerians or anti-Leislerians were in power, the primal instinct was the same. On the other hand, one royal Governor was not much difference to another; all had to guard the interests of their royal master. Fletcher, the successor of Sloughter as Governor, once angrily addressed an anti-Leislerian assembly thus: "There are none of you but what are big with the privileges of Englishmen and Magna Charta." Of course, they clung to Magna Charta because it provided safeguards against levies by kings upon the estates of subjects; and, naturally, the royal exploiters of America were inclined to believe, and argue, that Magna Charta could not be applied to royal provinces in America. The people of New York thought differently, and were determined, through their representatives, to keep firm hold of the public purse-strings. Hence, all the royal governors, from Fletcher to Hunter, ran into a "blind alley," and had to either stagnate there or retrace their steps. Most of them died, or were recalled, before the legislators could win a final victory. Fletcher told the Assembly: "You seem to take the power into your own hands and set up for everything." But the legislators thought the remark more appropriately fitted the actions of the Governor. He was especially indignant that the Assembly should presume to ask him to account for disbursements of public funds. The Assembly persisted, appealed to England and preferred charges against him. Finally, in 1697, Governor Fletcher was recalled, "to answer the many charges of maladministration brought against him." His successor, Lord Bellomont, was Governor for three years, from 1698. During the period, governor and governed clashed many times. Still, his administration was short, for he died in New York City in 1701.

Lord Cornbury, 1702--Lord Cornbury, a cousin of Queen Anne, succeeded Bellomont, after a disastrous interregnum in which Acting Governor Nanfan and Chief Justice Attwood flouted the local political leaders and disturbed the provincial system of jurisprudence. In the end, they had to flee from the province in disguise. Anti-Leislerians came into power with Lord Cornbury, but the opposition was strong, and did not take kindly to the peculiar governmental theories held by Cornbury. They did not think, with him, that his office has been given to him mainly that he might enrich himself at the expense of the province, e. g., of the people. Bancroft wrote of Lord Cornbury: "He joined the worst form of arrogance to intellectual imbecility." "Happily for New York, he had every vice of character necessary to discipline a colony into self reliance and resistance." Cornbury made many obstacles for himself, and so far lost his patience with an intractable Assembly that he smothered it. Am Assembly which could never forget the "right" and "liberties of free Englishmen" could be of no service to him, he decided, but succeeding Houses were just as positive and emphatic in declaring that the Governor has a distorted idea of royal prerogatives. They could not agree with him that the Assembly possessed no rights but "such as the Queen is pleased to allow." They would not permit him to change the name of the General Assembly to Lower Council. Such a change would suggest subordination, whereas they would not accept subordinate status in legislative matters. They made it clear to him that he head misread the law as to the authority of a Governor. "Your Excellency is not directed (by the Queen or under English law) in the making of laws to take the advice of Council or Assembly, or both," they asserted, "but manifestly the contrary. Your Lordship's own prudence being wholly and solely intrusted to prevent that whatsoever might be agreed only the Council and Assembly (in his judgment) to the prejudice of the Crown should not receive the sanction of law." Certainly, his commission did not empower him to thwart the will of the people, as expressed by their representative in Assembly. English colonies were, they contended, based on English law, were founded on Magna Charta, and both homeland and colonies might claim that the words "common consent in Parliament" settled the question of the right of the deputies of the people, in Assembly, to "repudiate all colonial legislation enacted without their consent." #3 Nevertheless, the English ministers supported Cornbury in denying the Assembly any right to call for an accounting of public disbursements by the Provincial Government. New York was not the only complaining province. New Jersey resisted Cornbury even more emphatically, and in one remonstrance, in 17087, made us of significant warning words: "Liberty is too valuable a thing to be easily parted with." Change of Assembly brought no change in policy. The eleventh New York Assembly did not hesitate to declare that the Governor's arbitrary acts were " "of dangerous consequences to the liberty and property of the subjects." Lord Cornbury was recalled, but cousin of the Queen thought he was, he did not leave the province until after his had suffered the humiliation of arrest and imprisonment, for debt.

Lord Lovelace, 1708--Lord Lovelace, the next Governor, arrived in December, 1708, and probably soon realized that the interests of the crown and the people were not synonymous. Bancroft writes of the Twelfth Assembly: "The Assembly which, in April, 1709, met Lord Lovelace, began the contest that was never to cease but with independence." A month later, Lord Lovelace died. Then followed eleven months under Lieutenant-Governor Ingoldsby, his administration ending summarily. He was removed by the people, the government being entrusted to Geraldus Beekman, of New York, who was the President of the Council of the province.

Governor Hunter, 1710--Governor Robert Hunter arrived from England in July, 1710, beginning an administration which was to last for nine years, and was to end in victory for the people. Hunter was more successful than his predecessors, but only because he was sensible enough to realize ultimately that "the Assembly had a certain definite and independent place in the governmental structure--independent even of the Crown." He fought the Assembly stubbornly for many years--fought the legislators, indeed to a standstill. But he then had to admit that the Provincial Treasury had been chronically empty throughout his administration. He had, in fact, also fought himself to a standstill, for without the Assembly he could not function, as no money was available for public officials who had been appointed without consent of the Assembly.

The Assembly, in 1706, actually appointed a provincial treasurer to themselves for all moneys disbursed. Deadlock followed, but the King's ministers were stubborn. They would not, or could not, see what was inevitable. Six years later the Lords of Trade were still of the opinion that "the Assembly sit only by virtue of a power in Her Majesty's commission" to the Governor, and that in "naming treasurers to collect the public money when her Majesty has appointed an officer for that purpose," the Assembly had "manifested disrespect and undutifulness." The representatives of the people, however, thought otherwise, and held to their own opinion, declaring that their legislative authority was not by virtue of any commission from the Crown, "but from the free choice and election of the people."

For pressing military purposes an emission of paper money was resorted to, but for ordinary governmental needs no money was to be had. Governor Hunter appointed Lewis Morris to the Chief Justiceship, in 1715, to succeed the deceased Mompesson, but, as the Governor explained, the appointment was made only because Morris was 'able to live without a salary,. Which they (the Assembly) will most certainly never grant to any in that station."

In the same year, 1715, Governor Hunter bowed to the Assembly. Thereupon, the General Assembly voted revenue for five years instead of one. The remainder of Hunter's period as governor might have been comparatively peaceful, had he not raised a storm by erecting a Court of Chancery without the consent of the Assembly.

Governor Burnet, 1719--this dispute was active in 1719, when William Burnet became Governor. He did not profit by hunter's experience. He insisted on continuing the Court of Chancery, and stirred antipathy in the provincials further by deciding to sit as Chancellor of Exchequer himself. The Assembly was outspoken, declaring that the erection of this court "without consent in General Assembly" was "unwarrantable and contrary to the laws of England," but what rankled most in thinking of the anti-provincial court was that it could dispose of certain provincial moneys without legislative curb.

Burnet became unpopular in other ways also, and the home ministers soon though it advisable to transfer him to another colony--Massachusetts. His successor in new York was John Montgomerie, who arrived in April, 1728. He was more considerate in his attitude toward the Assembly, and was evidently of much broader mind than Burnet. Under Montgomerie, the Assembly was given, or quickly assumed, such governmental authority that the Attorney-General, Bradley--an English official--became alarmed. In 1729, he was moved to point out to the Lords of Trade that this local assumption of governmental authority was fast nearing the point of danger to British interests. "Most of the previous and open steps which a dependent province can take to render itself independent at their pleasure, are taken by the Assembly of New York," he wrote. "While assemblies dare act thus," he continued, and seem to have it in their power to obtain what laws they please, how can Her Majesty's interests be secure in so remote a country?"

Governor Montgomerie, 1728--Montgomerie was not of contentious mind, or else was not as dull mentally as some have supposed. "Behind a veneer of indolence may have lain a shrewd mind." At all events, he succeeded where others had failed. His death, in New York, in 1731, during an epidemic of small-pox, was very commonly regretted by the people.

President Rip van Dam, 1731--for the next thirteen months, a level-headed new York City merchant, Rip van Dam, president of the provincial Council, was Acting Governor. He made no attempt to over-reach his authority. The next Governor, William Cosby, however, was probably the most objectionable of all the vice-royal functionaries of the English period in New York. He stirred the people to opposition by many arbitrary vindictive acts, and in the course of a few months "contrived to revive all the suspicions, the fears, and the factious strife that had been quieted under the prudent rule of Montgomerie and van Dam." His persecution of leading New Yorkers, including van Dam, Lewis Morris and some leading gentlemen of the bar, drew the lines between the Crown and people with ominous clearness.

Governor Cosby, 1732--Two provincial factions then took positive entity. The Tory faction, or Court party, was one, and the Popular, or People's party, the other. The Court Party was headed by Chief Justice James de Lancey, and other New York City aristocrats, including Adolphe Philipse and Philip van Cortlandt; the Popular party was swayed by Lewis Morris, whom de Lancey had displaced as Chief Justice; Rip van Dam, against whom the Governor was instituting litigation; James Alexander and William Smith, and others. Cosby's interference with the judicial establishment of New York :furnished the theatre for nearly the ultimate contentions of the political parties of the province, down to the time of the Revolution," writes Fowler. Morris was removed from the Chief Justiceship, but the people replied by electing him promptly to the Assembly, and ousting the Court party from the New York City government. So sweeping was the victory of the Popular Party in the municipal elections of 1734 that only one Tory, a Mr. Moore, secured election to the Common Council of New York City. Further discomfiture of Governor Cosby came in 1735, when the trial of Zenger, the printer, for alleged seditious libel, brought a torrent of condemnation of the existing state of government. The veteran advocate, Andrew Hamilton, who was council for the defense of Zenger, mercilessly condemned Governor, Crown and Judiciary. In this brilliant effort, Hamilton "forever fixed the principle which controlled the public mind and directed the public conduct for the next forty years, until the struggle for freedom culminated in the Revolution of 1775." The Zenger victory, in January, 1735, had been described as the germ of American freedom--the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America."

Governors Clarke and Clinton, 1736-53--Cosby did not long survive the defeat, death coming to him in New York City on March 7, 1735. George Clarke, a Dublin lawyer, was Acting Governor for the next eight years. His troubles were many, the Assembly holding the purse-string tightly. Once, the legislators even threatened to reduce his salary.

Governor Clarke, and many other English official of that period, seemed to live inconstant feat that colonies and provinces would throw off their allegiance to the Crown. Indeed, on April, 1741, after he had struggled for some years, unsuccessfully, to obtain from New York a money grant to support Britain in the Spanish War, Clarke tried to point out to the disobedient Assembly some of the dangers that lay in their willfulness. He warningly urged them to adopt a "dutiful obedience to the wishes of the English Court," otherwise the belief that "had long prevailed in England," that a provincial revolution was near, would be supported, and the British government might take stern measures to meet the danger. Indeed, he inferred that plans to meet such an insurrection had already been made. However, his admonition "only stiffened the spirit even of de Lancey, the leader of the Court Party of Cosby's time. But Clarke was then nearly at the end of his official tether.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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