The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter IV
Part I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER IV.

GROWTH AND ACHIEVEMENT

The problem that overruled all others, once the thirteen States had been invested with untrammeled freedom, was the problem of an arrangement among those states which would eliminate the factious competition that existed in the Old World and add to the strength of each colony by endowing it with the cooperation of all. It became apparent soon after the close of the war hat the old confederation would never do. the country had poured out blood and treasure in the struggle for the ideal of independence. It had with infinite bravery and courage rid its soil of foreign despotism, but hat foreign control had at least given the country a sort of union. Under the new freedom a new peril had arisen in the separate independence of the separate States. The necessity of war had resulted in the evolution of a loose confederation. But the confederation was showing itself too feeble for the realities of the situation. Congress was the great symbol of the confederation, but it was a symbol that was almost impotent in its working. The lack of union began to show serious results. It was crippling commerce; it was cultivating a spirit of alienism in the attitude of one State towards another, it was fostering rivalry and antagonism.

New York had begun to compel Connecticut sloops that brought firewood to report at the customhouse and pay duties' and New London traders held an indignation meeting and formed a non-importation agreement not unlike that of the colonies against Great Britain before the war. Regulations were used that compelled farmers from New Jersey with cheese and chickens and cabbages to cross over from Paulus Hook to Whitehall Slip and pay customs, just as if they had come from Europe; and New Jersey retaliated by charging a tax of $1,800 for the lighthouse at Sandy Hook. What was occurring between New York and New Jersey, and between New York and Connecticut, was occurring also in the relations of the other States. It became perfectly plain that if this sort of thing was to go on the rivalry between the American States would grow into something like the rivalry between the different European counties and the continual menace of war would hang over the lands of the New World as it hung over the old.

New York and the Constitution--The peril was clearly perceived and ways begun to be explored for the purpose of eliminating it. A convention was called at Annapolis on September 11, 1786, to draw up trade regulations between the States, and at this convention the sagacious young Hamilton made a proposal by which the States were urged to appoint commissioners to another convention to deliberate, not merely on commercial relations, but to devise such further provisions as should appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union, and to report to congress such an act as, when agreed to by them and confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, would effectually provide for the same. It was the proposal of Hamilton's which led to the convention of Philadelphia, which elaborated, and on September 17, 1787, adopted the American Constitution, finally sending it around for the approval of the different State Legislatures.

The endorsement of nine States was necessary to put the Constitution into effect, and New York was not among the first nine. It stands eleventh in the order of those approving the Constitution, taking nearly a year for consideration, and not adopting it until July 26, 1788. The "Federalist" papers, most of them written by Hamilton, apparin in Holt's "Journal," the "Packet," and other papers, had a great deal to do in dissipating the suspicion with which the Liberty Boys and others were imbued in reference to a central governing power that so much in common with the idea of monarchical government. On June 17, 1788, the New York State convention, specially called to consider the adoption of the Federal constitution, met in Poughkeepsie. The struggle for the constitution in the State convention was not less earnest and critical than the effort at its framing. Whatever the situation might have been elsewhere, it was known that in New York ratification could not be secured without a close and determined contest. "True it is," wrote Gouverneur Morris on October 30, 1786, "that this city and its neighborhood are enthusiastic in the (Federal) cause, but I dread the cold and oust temper of the back counties." This sour tempter was in reality the Clintonian disposition to resist centralization in the general government. There still survives what Morris called the old "colonial oppositions of opinion,' the strong, inherited local feeling, which he was necessary to overcome; and the men of the new order of things set to work to overcome it. The first work in hand was to parry the adverse criticisms upon the proposed constitution which appeared soon after the adjournments of the Philadelphia convention. The anti-Federalist "Journal" for a while abounded with them. A Son of Liberty, writing from Orange County, denounced the Philadelphia outcome as "a preposterous and new fangled system." Some saw in it the loss of State independence, others the ascendancy and control of a government class, others a menace to the privileges and personal liberty in the absence of a bill of rights. It was at this juncture that Hamilton and his associates appeared in the field with their great defense and exposition of the constitution in the Federalist papers. It is to the local controversy in the city and State that we owe that lucid and authoritative commentary on our fundamental law. Of the eighty-five numbers of the work that were published, all of them over the signature, "Publius," Hamilton wrote sixty-three, Jay five, Madison thirteen and three were the joint production of Hamilton and Madison.

After the New York State convention had been called delegates were nominated in the counties in April and representative men put forward. All felt the importance of the discussion and the decision. It was about this time that John Jay reinforced the Federalist papers with "An Address to the People of the State of New York," which he issued anonymously in pamphlet form. It had its effect in strengthening Federal views and, accordingly to a contemporary letter, would doubtless have convinced many an honest anti-Federalist in the upper counties had it appeared earlier. "The proposed government is to be a government of the people," he wrote; and in 1793 he reiterated this sentiment as Chief Justice of the United States, in his opinion on the suitability of the State: "The people, in their collective and National capacity, established the present constitution." Two sets of delegates for the State convention were nominated for the city and county of New York. Jay and Hamilton appeared on both tickets. The Federal ticket was elected with a clean sweep. Jay received the highest number of votes. But the upper counties were overwhelmingly anti-federalist; and when the convention met, their majority out of fifty-seven members was found to range from twenty to thirty. When the convention adjourned, July 26, after deliberating forty days, this majority had been reduced to a minority. The convention adopted the constitution by a majority of three votes--a result due almost wholly to the abilities, character, personal force, and effective appeal of the delegates from New York City. Hamilton, Jay and Livingston bore the honors of the debate. In dealing with this whole question of a stronger government , from the Annapolis to the Poughkeepsie convention, Hamilton's services were the most conspicuous. Although the Poughkeepsie convention had adopted the constitution provisionally, and called for its amendment by a new National convention, the final ratification was binding, and the State joined the circle as the "eleventh pillar" of the Union. This result was a triumph for the Federalists, even though the triumph was not quite complete. They had succeeded in convincing some, at least, of those who held to the loose confederation that had proved such a weak defense against disorder and the chief merit of which was the sense of local independence which was still an ideal with many in the various States.

The New York convention was still meeting, and the Federal Republic had been already established by the adhesion of new Hampshire and Virginia as the ninth and tenth conforming States, when the city of new York, well ahead of the State, was already celebrating the glorious accomplishment. On the morning of July 23, three days before the adoption of the constitution by the State convention, a grand procession started from the commons and went through the city. the procession was led by a horseman accounted like Columbus, and was divided into various trades, the members of which, conspicuous on floats, plied their different avocations. The seventh division represented the sailors, carried on a representation of a ship, full-rigged, and all sails set, drawn by ten horses. it was equipped as a frigate with thirty-two guns, and manned by thirty seamen and marines. It started the procession by firing a salute of thirteen guns at the Commons. At about Cortlandt Street a pilot-boat, drawn on wheels by two horses, boarded it in regular nautical style. Upon the ramparts of the fort stood the President and members of the Continental Congress, which had been having its sessions in New York for some time. As the ship passed by a salute of thirteen guns were fired in their honor. There were no fewer then 5,000 persons in the procession, making a line of a mile and a half long. Doubtless the moving demonstration had a good deal of influence in winning over doubtful adherents to the adoption of the constitution by the State, which came three days later.

The strong sentiment of the city in favor of the Federal Union may have had effect in the selection of New York as the Federal capital, once the constitution had been adopted. To make itself a little more outwardly worthy of this high dignity, the corporation, presided over by James Duane, as mayor, took steps to make a number of changes in the architecture of the city hall in preparation for the reception of the executive, legislative and judiciary departments of the Nation. A French engineer named L'Enfant, who afterwards laid out Washington City, was engaged to make the alterations, which cost over $65,000 before it was finished. The foundations and most of the walls were kept intact, but the structure was changed so that it would be up to something like the dignity of its new name, which was to be "Federal Hall." It was reported ready for the occupation of congress on March 3, 1789, one day before that set for its meeting by the new Constitution. However, on March 4, there was no quorum and there was none, indeed, for some weeks after, so that the formal announcement could not be made to Washington of his election as president till nearly the middle of April. It had been arranged to meet the President-elect at Elizabeth, New Jersey, and escort him to New York. AS Washington stepped on shore he was greeted by some of his old comrades at arms and was greatly affected. He walked arm in arm with Governor Clinton up Wall Street, and then along Pearl Street to the Franklin House, which had been prepared for his residence. After resting for a time at his house he drove to governor Clinton's house, where he had been invited to dine. The enthusiasm of the people was unrestrained and the city was ablaze with illuminations.

Inauguration of Washington--On April 30, 1789, a week after his arrival in the city, took place the inauguration of Washington as the first President of the United States.

New York, amid all her mercantile triumphs and the overwhelming magnificence of her wealth, may well be proud that upon her streets were witnessed the impressive ceremonies connected with this august and auspicious event. It placed the capstone upon the fair superstructure of independence and nationality, whose foundation stones were laid in the blood of the patriots, and whose walls were reared amid the storms of party spirit and amid the shifting quicksands of a threatening anarchy. Book and pictures, descriptions by pen and delineations by pencil, have made us familiar with the scene upon the "gallery" or balcony of Federal Hall. The colossal bronze statue of Washington upon the steps of the Sub-Treasury Building at Wall, and Broad Streets, stand upon a marble slab forming part of the pavement of that balcony, upon which Washington stood on that great day as he took the oath of office in the presence of the assembled myriads of spectators, crowing Broad Street to it distant curve, Wall Street to river and Broadway' filling the windows and roofs and stoops and balconies of every house commanding a view of the scene. At sunrise a salute of guns was fired at the Battery. At nine o'clock services were held in the various churches of the city with the exception of St. Paul's, where a later service was to occur attended by the President. At twelve the procession to wait upon the president-elect and escort him to Federal Hall, left the hall, proceeded to his residence, where the general joined it, and returned to the hall at little before one o'clock. Here the congress was assembled in the Senate Chamber, and the Vice-president of the United States received Washington at the door and conducted him to his chair. About one o'clock he stepped out upon the balcony, a bible was held upon a cushion, and Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, standing on one side in the robes of office, and Washington opposite to him in a dark-colored suit, white silk stockings, and steel-hilted rapier--the people waited breathlessly for the supreme moment of the oath-taking. It was only pantomime to most of that vast assemble, but the moving of the lips, the solemn aspect of the noble countenance, the reverent look toward heaven, the head bowed as if in devotion over the sacred book as he kissed it,. All told with incalculable power upon the hearts that witnessed the ceremony. A flag was raised from the cupola of the hall, at which signal guns boomed at the Battery and all the bells in the city rang a joyous peal. A tremendous shout burst form the myriad throats below, around, above; hands were waved and hats tossed in air, to which Washington responded with a dignified bow. Everything conspired, as an eyewitness tells us, 'to render it one of the most august and interesting spectacles every exhibited on this globe. It seemed from a number of witnesses to be a solemn appeal to heaven and earth at once." When the Chancellor exclaimed, "Long live George Washington," as a signal for the acclamations of the multitude, there were so many deeply stirred that they could not utter a word or do more then wave their hats with the rest. Returned to the Senate Chamber, Washington read his inaugural Address in a deep voice tremulous with emotion. Next the President and Congress repaired to the service to be held at St. Paul's. He had come to Federal Hall in a carriage; he proceeded on foot to the church. The simplicity and modesty of the great man who was the cynosure of all eyes that day may be noted from the fact that as he walked to church he recognized a citizen of Philadelphia in the crowds lining the sides of the streets, and graciously bowed to him. After divine service, conducted by bishop Provoost, carriages awaited the president at the church door, and he was escorted, as before, to his residence on Franklin Square. Transparencies and illuminations at night made brilliant the close of a day than which none greater had as yet occurred in the history of America, for it is only the luster shed back from it that makes the Fourth glorious, only its completion of the work begun then which makes that the birthday of the Nation. There were fireworks at the fort, the ships in the harbor were bestudded with lights along all their spars and rigging. The young Nation was as happy as its capital city was festive. It was an occasion well worthy of commemoration on a magnificent scale a hundred years after. #1

New York National Capital--The investiture of New York as the capital city of the National had a number of results on the life of the city. It had already for a time been the seat of the Continental Congress; a mutiny of Pennsylvania troops, angry over the long-deferred pay, have driven it to Philadelphia. Its presence brought the representatives or foreign powers tot he city, and some of the heads of the national department. With the arrival of an actual President, something of he atmosphere of a royal court was brought to the city. It was settled that the President should be addressed as "Excellency." The Presidential receptions were described as "levees," and one was held each week. It is said that these receptions were "select and more courtly then have been given by any of the President's successors. None were admitted to the levees but those who had either a right by official station, or by established merit and character; and full dress was required of all." Preparations were being made for the building of a more worthy executive mansion when it was arranged that the President should reside at Philadelphia till a National Capital had been prepared. On August 30, 1790, Washington left the city, making his departure quietly and with little of the ceremony that distinguished his arrival.

The concentration of power in the hands of the Federal government, a work in which Alexander Hamilton was the most prominent figure, was looked on with much distrust by a great many people, and this suspicion led to that cleavage into parties which has been to some extent maintained ever since. Different names have designated the two parties at different times in the history of the country. In the beginning they were called Federalists and anti-Federalists, and this latter name was changed later to Republicans, and still later into Democrats. I New York, Governor George Clinton had always been opposed to the Constitution, and he had been repeatedly elected Governor. In 1792 the Federalists put John Jay in nomination for governor and the struggle was fought with great bitterness. The forces were nearly equal, for Clinton was given 8,440 votes to Jay's 8,332, leaving out the returns from three counties, where there had been some technical irregularities. These three counties gave a majority of 400 votes for Jay. Clinton was again inaugurated as governor, but the counting out process excited a great deal of indignation. At the next election Jay was again nominated, with another opponent than Clinton, and a large majority carried him into the Governor's chair. Jay was again nominated and elected in 1798, and retired at the end of his second term in 1801. During his second term the city of New York ceased to be the capital of the State, the seat of government being moved in January, 1798, to Albany. Washington died on December 14 at his home at Mount Vernon. The news was received in New York on the 19th, and December 31 was fixed for appropriate public ceremonies. On that day a procession wended through the city to St. Paul's, where Bishop Provoost read prayers and the office for the dead and Gouverneur Morris delivered a eulogy. Washington's birthday, February 22, was also appointed by President Adams as a day of devotion and prayer in memory of the illustrious dead.

Opening in the Century--The opening of the nineteenth century saw something like 60,000 people in the city of New York and the town extending up the island a mile from the Battery. Beyond the actual city were the suburbs, more sparingly settled, with farms and orchards and the country homes of the wealthy. Where Broadway ended there was a patch of country called Lispenard's Meadow, and about this time a canal was cut through it from the Collect Pond to the Hudson River. this was the canal that later was filled in and given the name of Canal Street. the growth of the city had brought with it a number of new problems and there was much discussions as to how they were to be met. From time to time there were projects for setting out a fine park about the shores of Collect Pond, but it is strange to thin that even then it was decided by the people that it was situated too far away from the city. In a few years, indeed, the city grew up to the Collect Pond, and in course of time it was filled in and the Prison tombs built upon it. One of the undertakings that was kept prominently before the public was the building of a new city hall to supersede the old building in Wall Street, which had ceased to be large enough for the public administration. So in course of time the city hall that has since done duty as such was begun on what was then the Common, taking ten years to reach its completion. The front and sides were of marble and the rear of cheaper red sandstone, as it was considered that the aspect turned towards the city was of importance only, and that the rear, turned towards to country, would receive but scant notice. When the city grew up and passed the new center of administration, alterations were made to meet the new condition of affairs.

Meanwhile Jefferson had been elected President and Burr Vice-President. But lack of confidence in burr rapidly spread. In 1803 he made an effort to be elected Governor of the State, but was badly defeated. Burr attributed a great deal of his hard luck to the hostility of Alexander Hamilton, his former close friend, and there grew up a strong enmity between them. The upshot was the tragic duel, of which so much has been written. The two men met, just after sunrise, in July, 1804, on the shore of New Jersey, at Weekawken, a favorite meeting place for duelists. Burr had murder in his heart, and Hamilton fell at the first shot, mortally wounded, and died the next day. the news of Hamilton's death came as a great flow to the Nation. Federalist and Republican forgot their political antagonism in the patriotic sentiment of regret at the country's loss. The members of the Cincinnati, the former companions of Hamilton in arms, and in general of the Federalist complexion, gave no sincerer indications of theirs feelings than the members of the Bar, and other men of various political leanings. Mourning badges were worn by many for several weeks. On Saturday, July 14, the funeral took place in Trinity church. Gouverneur Morris pronounced a funeral oration worthy of the occasion.

Public School System--The opening of the nineteenth century saw the beginning of the public school system and the foundation of that systematic enterprise in that field which has since developed it on lines so extensive. In the second year of the century an association of ladies belonging to the Society of Friends established a free school for the education of girls. This modest beginning proved to be the seed of the great metropolitan system of public schools today. Its success was so pronounced that it led to undertaking on a larger scale. Two men, Thomas eddy and John Murray, early in the year 1805, issued a call for a meeting of all such as would united in an undertaking to provide the means of education for the youth neglected before that time. On the day appointed, February 19, 1805, twelve men met at the house of Mr. Murray and appointed a committee to devise plans for the execution of the design they had in mind. A second meeting was called a week later by this committee to hear the report that had been prepared. The main recommendation of the report was that application be made to the Legislature of the State for an act regularly incorporating a society to be charged with the educational interests of the city. A memorial to that effect was drawn up and signed by 100 prominent citizens and sent to the Legislature on February 25. The memorial said in part: The enlightened and excellent government under which we live is favorable to the general diffusion of knowledge; but the blessings of such a government cam be expected to be enjoyed no longer than while its citizens continue virtuous, and while the majority of the people, through the advantage of a proper early education, possess sufficient knowledge to enable them to understand and pursue their best interests. This sentiment, which must meet with universal assent, was emphatically urged to his countrymen by Washington, and has been recently enforced by our present Chief Magistrate, in his address on the necessity of supporting schools, and promoting useful knowledge through the State." The measure commended itself so strongly and was so clearly removed beyond the plane of party measures that action was promptly taken; and on April 9, 1805, the legislature passed an act "to incorporate the society instituted in the city of New York, for the Establishment of a Free School for the Education of Poor children who do not belong to, or are not provided for, by any religious society." The next step was an energetic appeal to the public to aid the enterprise by the contribution of the funds required for the securing of suitable quarters for the school and for the payment of teachers. The pioneer teacher was William Smith and the place where his labors began a house in Madison Street, which was then called Baneker. An appeal to the Legislature in January, 1817, resulted in an act which set aside a portion of the excise duties for the support of the school. The city fathers a little later presented a building, together with $500. Thus came into existence School No. 1, standing on Chatham Street, and on April 28, 1807, Mr. smith and his pupils began their sessions there, and before the year closed the number of children in attendance had risen to 150.

Fulton and the Steamship--One of the great events that marked the opening of the century was the application of steam to the propulsion of vessels. Robert Fulton already in 1779, at the age of fourteen, had begun experiments with boats by affixing a paddle wheel to his fishing boat. Later he became interested in canals and in Paris he met Joel Barlow, who was as much interested in the development of steamboats and canals as Fulton. His first successful oat was the "Clermont," which after trial trips which astonished everybody, was advertised to run between New York and Albany, for the conveyance of passengers and freight. On his return trip from Albany, Fulton gave in the "American Citizen,' of New York, the following official account of the trip:

I arrived this afternoon, at four o'clock, in the steamboat from Albany. As the success of my experiment gives me great hopes that such boats may be rendered of great importance to my country, to prevent erroneous opinions, and give some satisfaction to the friends of useful improvements, you will have the goodness to publish the following facts: I left New York on Monday at one o'clock, and arrived at Clermont, the seat of Chancellor Livingston, at one o'clock on Tuesday; time, twenty-four hours; distance, one hundred and ten miles. On Wednesday, I departed from the chancellor's at nine in the morning and arrived at Albany at five in the afternoon; distance, forty miles; time, eight hours. The sum is one hundred and fifty miles in thirty-two hours--equal to near five miles an hour. On Thursday, at none o'clock in the morning, I left Albany, and arrived at the chancellor's at six in the evening. Is started from thence at seven, and arrived at New York at four in the afternoon; time, thirty hours, space run through, one hundred and fifty miles--equal to five miles an hour. Throughout the whole way, coming and going, the wind was ahead; no advantage could be derived from my sails, the whole has, therefore, been performed by the power of the steam-engine.

Elsewhere Fulton wrote:

My steamboat voyage to Albany and back has turned out rather more favorable then I had calculated. I overtook many sloops and schooners beating to windward, and parted with them as if they had been at anchor. The morning I left New York there were not perhaps thirty persons in the city who believed that the boat would ever move one mile an hour, or be of the least utility! While we were putting off from the wharf, which was crowed with spectators, I head a number of sarcastic remarks. This is the way in which ignorant men compliment what they call philosophers and projectors. #2

All through the autumn the "Clermont: continued to run as a packet, and greatly rousing the jealousy of the owners of sailing vessels, who actually sued for an injunction against Fulton on the grounds that the navigation of the river from time immemorial belonged to them. Attempts to destroy the vessel by running afoul of her were also made. The patentees were also exposed to much loss by attacks upon their patent rights and upon the exclusive privilege of navigation that had been given them. Other boats were soon built--the "Car of Neptune," in 1808, and the "Paragon," in 1811; and Fulton, in 1881, began the construction of two steam ferry boats fro the North river and completed both in 1812.

The project of a canal between the Great Lakes and the Hudson divided public interest with the threat of war with England during the years 1811 and 1812. Christopher Colles had, more than a score of years before, set on foot experiments intended to make the Mohawk a navigable waterway. Gouverneur Morris, it was, it would appear, the first to put on paper the project of a canal from the Hudson to Lake Erie. James Geddes, in 1810, gave out a report of a survey he had made, which was laid before the Legislature, and that body appointed a commission, of which Gouverneur Morris was the chairman, "to explore the whole route for inland navigation from the Hudson River to Lake Ontario and to Lake Erie." The commission reported that the project was entirely feasible, whereupon the Legislature enacted an act investing the commissioners with power to mange all matters relating to the navigation between the Hudson and the lakes. However, the lukewarmness of Congress and the War of 1812 deferred the scheme. After the conclusion of peace the project came up again, but met with great opposition. It was largely through the enthusiastic energy of De Wit Clinton that it was pushed through, and in 1825, it was completed. On October 26 of that year the first canal boat, the "Seneca Chief," left buffalo. In New York City the event was celebrated by extraordinary civil and military ceremonies. De Witt Clinton arrived at Sandy Hook, having passed through the canal and down the Hudson, performed the ceremony of commingling the waters of the lake with the ocean, by pouring a leg of those of Lake Erie into the Atlantic and said: "This solemnity, at this place, on the first arrival of vessels from Lake Erie is intended to indicate and commemorate the navigable communication which has been accomplished between out Mediterranean Seas and the Atlantic Ocean in about eight years, to the extent of the people of the State of New York; and may the God of Heavens and the Earth smile most propitiously on this work, and render it subservient to the best interests of the human race."

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

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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