The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 1, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Admiral George Clinton became Governor in September, 1743. He had long been in naval command, and was unused to the tortuous casuistries of politics, so a smooth administration would hardly be expected of him. He resented the penurious methods of the Assembly, and especially chafed at the curb that the House held on Crown officials. The Legislature would grant no official a salary for longer than one year, and, by annexing salaries to the person by name, virtually controlled appointment. AS Governor Clinton pointed out in 1746, officials who were persona non grata with the holders of the public purse "must starve." The governor was justified in complaining, for if the Crown, in the past, had been arbitrary, the Assembly seemed now to be quite as despotic. AS Clinton stated, "they have become even so insolent that they have, in the bill for the payment of the salaries, removed one officer's name and put in another, without consulting me." The insolence was carried to the fullest degree when the Speaker authorized the Secretary of the Province to make out a commission to this official. It was futile for Clinton to point out, as he did, that the Assembly met only "by authority of the King's commission and instructions to himself," and that such instructions were "alterable at the King's pleasure." It did not shake the resolution of the Assembly to maintain control of public funds. What would have happened had there not been a serious period of war can only be conjectured. Clinton was a stern disciplinarian, and had had a distinguished naval career. But, in times of war, civil matters must be subordinated to the needs of the military situation. The dashing Clinton, much as he disliked to do so, was advised to, and did, submit to the "encroachments" of the Assembly. Still, he frankly declared that a time would come when he "should be able to recover the executive power of the government, and put a stop to the usurpation of the Assembly."

Peace came in 1748, and Clinton then tried to recover his lost authority. He demanded a revenue grant for a period of five years. He was granted revenue for one year only. So he vetoed the revenue bill. This, however, did not better his position. He could not thus recover executive authority. In fat, in November, 1748, he had to confess to the Lords of Trade that since he had vetoed the money bill "every executive part of the government, had "stood still." Without money, nothing could be done; and the Assembly gripped the reins of government so firmly that neither the Governor, nor the Lords of trade, nor even the King himself could place them in other hands without exerting considerable force. The Assembly did go so far as to admit that their invasion of the King's prerogative was a "departure from the ancient constitution"; but they thought that their action was justifiable. They pointed our that their temporary infringement was merely an emergency expedient, and not "with deliberate intent to introduce a new system of government," it abused it, just as the Crown, having the power in other instances, had abused it to meet its own ends.

Clinton acted indiscreetly in some cases, and for two years stubbornly refused to accept any other than a five-years' revenue grant; consequently official needs during that period had to be met from other funds than the provincial treasury, and these outside sources were not inexhaustible. Clinton had hoped that the elections of 1750 would bring into the Legislature a more tractable Assembly. But the Faction, as Clinton termed the Popular Party, elected to the Twenty-sixth Assembly proved to be stronger than ever. Sadly, the redoubtable admiral bowed to the inevitable. Dolefully he wrote to the Duke of Bedford: "There are no instances, I believe, where men who have (by any means) gained power, that they willingly gave it up." Clinton thought he was in duty bound to tell His Grace that "the King must enforce the authority of his own Commission, or else resolve to give up the government of this province."

Addressing the Assembly, Governor Clinton still declared that he intended "to preserve the King's Rights"; yet he agreed to pass yearly revenue bills. Whereupon the triumphant Assembly met all the governmental incurrments of the past two years, and Clinton's future, as governor, looked brighter. Another two years of executive responsibility in New York prompted Clinton to warn the King's privy Council that no power in the province could overcome the power of the Assembly, which as "Perpetually grasping for more power." The remedy, he said, "must come from a more powerful authority than any in America."

The Osborne Tragedy, 1753--Sir Danvers Osborne was sent to relieve Admiral Clinton in 1753. He arrived on October 6. Four days later he was inaugurated as Governor. Though there had been manifestations of joy at his coming, certain words of the New York City address of welcome stood out ominously before him. The city fathers had expressed themselves as confident that His Excellency would be "as averse from countenancing" as they were "from brooking" any infringements of their "inestimable liberties, civil and religious." No man knows what thoughts passed through Governor Osborne's mind at that moment. Maybe he only saw that Clinton, once a famous admiral, was now leaving the province almost discredited--and only because he had persistently endeavored to guard the royal prerogatives. Maybe Osborne called to mind his own instructions from the King. If so, he must have recognized at once that his own future was far from bright. The King expected Governor Osborne to win back all that Clinton lad lost. According to his instructions, all public money was to be applied by the governor's warrant, with the consent only of the Council. The Assembly was to have no part. The Lower House was not even to be permitted to examine the accounts. After the reception, the governor discussed some of his perplexities with his host, Joseph Murray. The later was one of the leading lawyers of the province, a man who saw issues clearly. He made it quite clear to the new Governor that the Assemblymen "would not yield a fraction of the powers that they had wrested." "Then what have I come here for?" exclaimed the perplexed Governor. With such thoughts running through his mind, the inaugural banquet held no charm for Governor Osborne. He pleased in disposition and retired early. The next day he brooked, and on the following morning his lifeless body was found hanging on a fence in Mr. Murray's garden. The hopelessness of the governmental situation, the well-nigh insuperable difficulties that he saw must attend any attempt he might make to weld the interests of Crown and people, overwhelmed the young inexperienced Governor.

Acting-Governor De Lancey, 1753--Another of stronger mold took up the task. With the demise of Osborne, Lieutenant-governor James De Lancey became the acting-governor. Of course, his case was different. He was a New Yorker. True, he was an aristocrat, and in earlier life had been an ardent supporter of the Crown, leader of the Court Party which had so bitterly flouted the leaders of the Popular Party. Still, during recent years, De Lancey had been one of the most active leaders of the Popular Party. Hence, the people had some reason for thinking that they had in De Lancey a Governor of their own.

Governor De Lancey soon realized that the true mate of radicalism is irresponsibility. Responsibility and conservation seem to run together. As the temporary custodian of the executive power, De Lancey recognized that the must represent the King; as the leader of the Popular Party, he saw that he must d nothing that would forfeit the confidence of the people in him. He was ambitious, and, no doubt, sincere, when he planned to solve all the political problems of the province by preserving, with proper dignity, the independence of the executive without disturbing the just sovereignty of the people. Finally, however, he had to admit that the two sovereign powers, the Crown and the people, were nonweldable. Still, as a Judge, De Lancey, saw what others had failed to see--that the real authority in the province was the law; that it was at the back of both Crown and people, and that if its authority were scrupulously recognized by both, most difficulties would disappear. Both Crown an people had legal rights which should be respected and protected. Obedience to the law would solve all problems.

So thinking, De Lancey had no alternative but to jolt the overreaching Assembly very soon after he became acting-Governor. He found that the annual Salaries Bill passed by the Assembly was an encroachment upon the rights of the Crown. He could not put his signature to that act, for in doing so he would condone an infraction of the law. He advised the Council and expostulated with the Assembly, hoping that, in the future, right would govern all legislative actions. But right or wrong, there was one course from which the Assembly would not be turned. They held the public purse, and were determined to remain in possession. And, after a long struggle, De Lancey, had to confess that he had succeeded no better than his predecessors in the governorship, and that the Assembly dominated the province; was supreme over even the Crown--a law unto themselves.

The Assembly as so careful of public funds as to seem almost niggardly. In 1754 the Assembly would not recognize the liability of the province for maintenance of New York military companies enrolled for service in Virginia. De Lancey found that he "could not prevail on then to give a farthing for this service." When, in the more serious national development of the next year, the new York Assembly did make a substantial appropriation for war purposes, they, in passing the appropriation Bill, took particular care to name managing disbursers.

Governor Hardy, 1755--The next governor, Sir Charles Hardy, arrived in New York in September, 1755. He was frank, honest, without malevolent designs against any party, but the fared no better than earlier Governors. He tried to persuade the Assembly to abandon the system of annual appropriations during the period of the war, but he found the Assembly just a stubborn as of yore. In 1756 the Lords of trade took alarm and addressed the King, advising stern measures "of checking such unwarrantable proceedings and restoring the Constitution of its true principles."

However, it was again a time of war, and the English ministers had to qualify their advice. They did not wish to add colonial troubles to those that were before the Nation, in opposing the French. So, for the time being, the Assembly was permitted to continue indecisive control of all legislation. Hardy did not remain. In June, 1757, he handed over his executive authority to the Lieutenant-Governor, Justice De Lancey, and took a sea command, probably glad to be freed, if only temporarily, from the perplexities of new York politics.

De Lancey was acing-Governor until his death, which occurred on July 30, 1760. His last three years of executive responsibility were especially arduous and perplexing. Although he did not succeed in bringing Crown and people together, he probably did more for the people--without willingly relinquishing Crown prerogatives--than most English Governors would have done. His efforts were not appreciated, for at time he had to bear censure from the Crown and at other times from the Assembly.

Acting-Governor Colden, 1760--another New Yorker--a remarkable man--came into power with the death of De Lancey. Cadwallader Colden, president of the Provincial Council, automatically became acting-Governor. He was then seventy-two years old; yet, for the next fifteen years--until the end of he Engirt period--Dr. Colden was destined to be almost continuously in office, the butt of both Crown and people. Monckton, who was the next commissioned Governor--the successor of hardy--arrived in October, 1761, but departed a few weeks later on a military expedition, leaving executive authority still in Colden's hands. Monckton returned in 1763, in time to take the strain off the local political situation, which had become tense, through the persistence of Colden, in countering the demands of one side or the other--Crown or people. He had been at odds with the judiciary, and had been severely censured by the King's ministers. Worse treatment was soon to be experienced by Colden. Monckton very soon left the province, and again Colden was acting-Governor, destined very soon to be almost swept off his feet in the tornado of popular anger that swirled round the attempt by the English ministers to get the colonies to bear part of the cost of the French and Indian campaigns. The anger of the people against Crown officials reached such fury that in one instance Colden came near to losing his life.

In an address to him, as Lieutenant-Governor, the assembly, on September 11, 1764, expressed a hope that he would join them in securing "that great bade of English liberty, of being taxed only with out own consent." The wind was soon blowing from the other direction, the Lords of trade being of the opinion that, in the address, the Assembly," avow powers and make declarations of a dangerous tendency," which it behooved their Governor to combat.

No compromise was possible, it seemed. The assembly, in an address to the House of Commons, stated that. . . . "The People of this Colony, inspired by the Genius of the Mother Country, nobly disdain the thought of claiming their exemption as a privilege. They found it on a basis more honorable, solid, and stable; they challenge it and glory in it as their right." They were not without friend in England, Even English bodies of consequence criticized the English ministers. The merchants of the city of London denounced "the arbitrary measures of the Government." When Granville introduced his Stamp Act in 1765, Barre corrected Townshend in Parliament, declaring that "Americans are sons of Liberty," rather than "children of England's planting." Nevertheless, the act was passed, and the stamps in due course reached America for use. Colden, in May, 1765, was evidently of the opinion that the opposition of the colonies would get weaker rather than stronger. He wrote to Monckton, who was still governor but was then in London: "I am fully persuaded that the people of this Province will quietly submit t the King's determination, whatever it is," but Colden had not accurately gauged the strength of the opposition. Men of New York were among the most stalwart and tenacious in opposition. John Morin Scott urged the people to insist upon their rights, as provided in the English constitution. The people "desire no more," he declared, "nor yet can be satisfied with less." All the colonies were determined to resist, although all the political leaders did not see the outcome of the issue as clearly as some New Yorkers. The colonial situation at the time was, states Bancroft, "that Virginia marshalled resistance, Massachusetts entreated union, but New York pointed to independence." Bands of colonists organized everywhere, as "Sons of Liberty." New York led the opposition. The Assembly had, indeed, in the previous year, taken the initiative by investing a committee with authority to correspond with similar committees of other colonies, or with other colonial assemblies, so as to unite all to defend the colonies against the Sugar Act and "the impending danger which threatened the colonies of being taxed by laws to be passed in Great Britain."

The Stamp Act Congress, 1765--Out of this agitation developed the Stamp Act Congress, a people's body which convened in New York City in October, 1765, and was attended by deputies of seven colonies and provinces. John Cruger, of New York, wrote a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, in which "the right of taxing themselves, either personally or by representatives of their own choosing" was claimed. Other protesting instruments were adopted.

In the face of these proceedings, the Crown could no longer misinterpret the attitude of the colonies. Crown officials in America saw the issue even more clearly, for public advertisements were circulated warning all persons who distributed or used the obnoxious stamp-paper that they "would be in grave peril."

The Pre-Revolutionary Ferment--When it became known that stamp-paper had reached New York, the local Sons of Liberty threatened to storm the for and burn them. The people's leaders threatened Crown officials. They called upon Colden, demanding assurances that the stamps would not be used but the City council demanded the surrender of the stamps, and Colden dared not refuse. The time for argument had passed. He had been hanged in effigy, and another image had been riddled by hundreds of bullets, this being followed by a warning that unless he, Colden, that very night did "solemnly make oath before a magistrate and publish to the people" that he would "not introduce or execute the Stamp Act," he, old as he was, would die" a martyr" to his own "villainy, and be hanged like Porteous upon a high post, as a memento to all wicked governors." Fortunately, Colden was able to take refuge behind the fact that he was not governor, and so had no proper authority to enforce the Stamp Act. Governor Moore had been commissioned to succeed Monckton, but had not yet arrived in New York. He reached the city within a month, however, but by that time the measure of popular feeling had been taken, and he fortunately made no effort to enforce the Stamp Act. In the following March, the act was repealed.

The people were jubilant, and marked their triumph by erecting "Liberty Pole" in City Hall Park. #4 Alas! The storm was not over. It raged a few months later, when the people were stirred, through their Assembly, to oppose the quartering of British troops in New York at the provincial expense. Some, possibly, did not like the thought that British troops were there at all, in that time of national peace. The blasts of angry antagonism became fiercer when duty on imports was imposed. True, the taxation was trivial, but it was looked upon as an attempt by England to blast the very roots of constitutional liberty out of American soil. The New York Assembly dealt emphatically with the question of troop maintenance--more resolutely, indeed, than any other colony. The House positively refused to pass an appropriation for military purposes. The English Parliament responded, in 1767 by forbidding the provincial Legislature to pass any other act, or to function at all, until provision for the soldiery had been made. The stubborn Assembly, in consequence, remained inactive.

In the next year, another Assembly took office; but in it the Popular Party was even stronger. Philip Schuyler and George Clinton assumed leadership, and the House promptly adopted a resolution condemning interference by parliament "as unconstitutional." Three days later the Assembly was dissolved "as a body too dangerous to be tolerated."

The time for blows, not words, was fast approaching; in fact, blows had actually been struck and blood had been shed in New York City; but these clashes has hardly been more serious than one would expect in a garrisoned area. The political situation was becoming hopeless. Political opinions on both sides of the Atlantic had reached the intensity at which words seared rather then soothed. The gulf was widening, because the average Englishman could not think of America as other than a dependency of England. On the other hand, opinion in America was slowly crystallizing. The average legislator, it is true, had as yet only a hazy idea of what constituted his rights under the British constitution, independent of English rights under the same constitution, but there were some American leaders who had clearer vision. It brought them to believe that the British empire was made up of many equal parts; England, Scotland, Ireland, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and so forth, the smallest American colony having as much right, under the English constitution, to be looked upon as an independent sovereignty as England had. The British King was the chief magistrate of the British Empire, having certain authority over each sovereignty, but each equal part of the empire was provided with a Legislate which, in its own area, was supreme in law-making, within the British constitution. While the average American legislator was prepared, right or wrong, to resist all attempts of English ministers and Parliament to take money out of American treasuries, the few far-seeing American statesmen were positively asserting, with righteous conviction, that the English Parliament had no more right, under the constitution, to legislate for New York, or for Massachusetts, or for any other colony, the than the latter had to legislate for England. They refused to look upon the English Parliament as the Mother-House, with their own assemblies as mere legislative subsidiaries of the parent body. As they saw the situation, Parliament was merely the legislative body for England.

Liberty Stalks Abroad--Liberty was stalking abroad. The semi-military bands of patriotic Americans had been disbanded soon after the repeal of the Stamp Act, and action thereafter, for some years, was not organized as it had been before the disbanding of the Sons of Liberty. These were, however, in certain places, just as potent in their private rallyings. In New York in August, 1766, a vast assemblage of indignant citizens--as many as two or three thousand men, chiefly former Sons of Liberty--gathered in City hall Park to demand of officers and soldiers an explanation of their action in cutting down "a pine post where they had daily exercised, called by them the Tree of Liberty." The soldiers had earlier shown a contempt for all civil authority, for a month earlier officers of the garrison had, with drunken abandon, smashed twenty or more street lamps,, and wounded several of the city watch who had tried to arrest them. Now, in this attack of the soldiery on what the citizens held more sacred there was greater disturbance. In the affray, some citizens were wounded' this, it is claimed, being "the first blood of the Revolution." Fortunately, the bayonet wounds were not fatal. In any event, however, the people were not then of the submissive temperament that would be check in their purpose by a few wounds. Two days later, the Sons of Liberty gathered again on the Common and erected :"another high post in lieu of the other. . . . .and hoisted a large ensign thereon." Next day, August 13, 1766, the offending regiment of regulars were reviewed on the Common by General Gage. Sons of Liberty tried to break up the formation, protesting that the Common was their drill ground and that not even fixed bayonets could hold them back. Thereafter, there was constant friction between the rowdier element of the citizenry and the soldiery; not organized or authorized strife, but irresistible animosity and contempt of one class for the other. Several times the Liberty Pole was cut down, only to be soon upright again, until at last the officers of the garrison intervened. The Liberty Pole stood unchallenged thereafter.

First Clash of Arms, 1770--the bad feelings between the King's troops and the citizens probably did more to keep the new York Sons of Liberty together than any agitation by politicians could have. In one of the many clashes between the municipal authorities (supported by the populace) and the angry soldiers one citizen was killed, three were wounded, and "a large number injured." This affray, on January 18, 1770, is claimed to have been the "first conflict of the war of the American Revolution." The situation, independent altogether of the efforts of the politicians was getting beyond control.

Governor Moore did well during his period (176-69) in New York; but he could not satisfy the political leaders. The Legislature found cause for grievance or protest in almost all crown plans. It was not so much a fight against the King, as it was against Parliament, and against those English ministers who were using their parliamentary authority to lay out American governmental procedure in the way they thought it should go. Politics was reaching added intensity in New York, and other colonies, because of class hatred. As a rule, the wealthy new Yorkers were to be found in the ranks of what was known as the Tory faction. The radicals, who became the Patriots of the Revolution, constituted what might be called the American faction. Certainly, the Tories were now disposed to support the Governor and, in most legislation, the Crown, and the Radicals saw nothing in what was recommended by the Government, or emanated from England. Their feelings against the Americans who were of the Tory faction soon seemed to become more intense than their antipathy against the Crown, and the Tories harbor feelings of equal bitterness. To the patriots of New York, the De Lances, Philipses, and other Tories who supported the Crown, were traitors. To the aristocratic Tories, the radicals were but rabble, notwithstanding that most of the leaders of the patriots were also aristocrats. They included the Schuylers, Clintons, Livingstones, Morrises--all of leading New York families, and not all of them echoed the clamor of the Sons of Liberty.

Colden became acting-Governor again in 1769, upon the demise of Governor Moore. Few of the American faction had much confidence in Dr. Colden, though he was indeed an American of whom they should have been proud. He was one of the most learned scientists in the province. A physician, a botanist, a man of profound learning. No man was more experienced in the science of government, but he was detested by the average citizen--at least, by those of Sons of Liberty inclination. Needless to day, Colden was aligned with the Tories, who, as a whole, were men of superior position. This, by the way, does not infer that the radicals, the patriots, were by any means rabble. Some of the most alert minds of the province were enlisted in the ranks of the Republicans. The opposition to the Crown was directed largely, indeed, by leading men of the professions, and level-headed men of business--the prosperous broad-minded merchants of New York. When these two capable classes of New Yorkers failed to get the cooperation of the Assembly--which happened in 1769, when Tories dominated the House--they functioned as a separate people's body.

After a century of persistent opposition of an encroaching Crown, it may seem strange to read of a New York Assembly that was not a People's body. Since the first Hempstead Convention in 1665, elected delegates of almost all factions in New York had been almost instinctively true to their province, the lower legislative House consistently guarding the interests of the people. Now, in 1769, we find the leaders of the Popular Party circulating handbills, openly charging the Assembly with a betrayal of the trust imposed upon them. Colden, the Governor, by a coalition with his former enemy, De Lancey, the leader of the Tories, had been able to obtain appropriations for Crown purposes far in excess of what the Popular Party, if in power, would have doled out. The author of the handbills, Alexander MacDougall, was arrested, the Tory Assembly having denounced the bills as libelous. But this "martyrdom" only strengthened the will of the Sons of Liberty. MacDougall was brought before the Assembly in 1771, to answer to the indictment. He refused to acknowledge authorship of the alleged libel, saying: "The House had declared that paper a libel, and the law does not require me to incriminate myself." The prosecutor insisted that the House had power to extort an answer. This prompted George Clinton to remark: "the House has power to throw the prisoner over the bar or out of the window, but the public will doubt the justice of the proceedings." The Tory Assembly gained no political advantage by this incident.

Lord Dunmore, 1770--Lord Dunmore was Governor at the time, having superseded Colden in October, 1770. The new Governor conceived hope of an easy and peaceful administration"; but on what grounds he based his opinion is not stated. Fortunately his administration was short.

In 1771 here was great dissatisfaction over the vetoing by the King of four new York Assembly bills of 1767,m 1768, and 1769, and Dunmore was not pleased with the out come of litigation between himself and Lieutenant-Governor Colden, regarding the division of the perquisites of office during the Colden period of authority. The New Yorker held tenaciously to the whole of the perquisites that Lord Dunmore claimed as his own.

 

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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