Inconsistent spellings and hyphenations such as "re-election" and "reelection" have been conformed, and obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
The original contains an index in Volume II covering Volumes I and II. Volume III, which was published later, contains an index covering all three volumes. Therefore, the Volume II index has been omitted.
The original of Volume III refers to both "Appleton's Encyclopedia" and "Appleton's Cyclopaedia." The correct title, as used in Volumes I and II, is "Appleton's Cyclopaedia" and has been corrected in Volume III.]
A POLITICAL HISTORY
STATE OF NEW YORK
DeALVA STANWOOD ALEXANDER, A.M.
Member of Congress, Formerly United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1906
Copyright, 1906 By HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
The preparation of this work was suggested to the author by the difficulty he experienced in obtaining an accurate knowledge of the movements of political parties and their leaders in the Empire State. "After living a dozen years in New York," wrote Oliver Wolcott, who had been one of Washington's Cabinet, and was afterwards governor of Connecticut, "I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the managers." Wolcott referred to the early decades of the last century, when Clintonian and Bucktail, gradually absorbing the Federalists, severed the old Republican party into warring factions. In later years, Daniel S. Dickinson spoke of "the tangled web of New York politics"; and Horace Greeley complained of "the zigzag, wavering lines and uncouth political designations which puzzled and wearied readers" from 1840 to 1860, when Democrats divided into Conservatives and Radicals, Hunkers and Barnburners, and Hards and Softs; and when Whigs were known as Conscience and Cotton, and Woollies and Silver Grays. More recently James Parton, in his Life of Andrew Jackson, speaks of "that most unfathomable of subjects, the politics of the State of New York."
There is no attempt in this history to catalogue the prominent public men of New York State. Such a list would itself fill a volume. It has only been possible, in the limited space given to over a century, to linger here and there in the company of the famous figures who rose conspicuously above their fellow men and asserted themselves masterfully in influencing public thought and action. Indeed, the history of a State or nation is largely the history of a few leading men, and it is of such men only, with some of their more prominent contemporaries, that the author has attempted to write.
It would be hard to find in any Commonwealth of the Union a more interesting or picturesque leadership than is presented in the political history of the Empire State. Rarely more than two controlling spirits appear at a time, and as these pass into apogee younger men of approved capacity are ready to take their places. None had a meteoric rise, but in his day each became an absolute party boss; for the Constitution of 1777, by creating the Council of Appointment, opened wide the door to bossism. The abolition of the Council in 1821 doubtless made individual control more difficult, but the system left its methods so deeply impressed upon party management that what before was done under the sanction of law, ever after continued under the cover of custom.
After the Revolution, George Clinton and Alexander Hamilton led the opposing political forces, and while Aaron Burr was forging to the front, the great genius of DeWitt Clinton, the nephew of George Clinton, began asserting itself. The defeat of Burr for governor, and the death of Hamilton would have left DeWitt Clinton in complete control, had he found a strong man for governor whom he could use. In 1812 Martin Van Buren discovered superiority as a manager, and for nearly two decades, until the death of the distinguished canal builder, his great ability was taxed to its uttermost in the memorable contests between Bucktails and Clintonians. Thurlow Weed succeeded DeWitt Clinton in marshalling the forces opposed to Van Buren, whose mantle gradually fell upon Horatio Seymour. Clustered about each of these leaders, save DeWitt Clinton, was a coterie of distinguished men whose power of intellect has made their names familiar in American history. If DeWitt Clinton was without their aid, it was because strong men in high position rebelled against becoming errand boys to do his bidding. But the builder of the Erie canal needed no lieutenants, since his great achievement, aiding the farmer and enriching the merchant, overcame the power of Van Buren, the popularity of Tompkins, and the phenomenal ability of the Albany Regency.
In treating the period from 1800 to 1830, the term "Democrat" is purposely avoided, since all anti-federalist factions in New York claimed to be "Republican." The Clay electors, in the campaign of 1824, adopted the title "Democrat Ticket," but in 1828, and for several years after the formation of the Whig party in 1834, the followers of Jackson, repudiating the title of Democrats, called themselves Republicans.
For aid in supplying material for character and personal sketches, the author is indebted to many "old citizens" whom he met during the years he held the office of United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, when that district included the entire State north and west of Albany. He takes this occasion, also, to express his deep obligation to the faithful and courteous officials of the Library of Congress, who, during the years he has been a member of Congress, assisted him in searching for letters and other unindexed bits of New York history which might throw some light upon subjects under investigation.
The author hopes to complete the work in an additional volume, bringing it down to the year 1896.
BUFFALO, N.Y., March, 1906.
I. A COLONY BECOMES A STATE. 1774-1776 1
II. MAKING A STATE CONSTITUTION. 1777 8
III. GEORGE CLINTON ELECTED GOVERNOR. 1777 17
IV. CLINTON AND HAMILTON. 1783-1789 23
V. GEORGE CLINTON'S FOURTH TERM. 1789-1792 37
VI. GEORGE CLINTON DEFEATS JOHN JAY. 1792-1795 50
VII. RECOGNITION OF EARNEST MEN. 1795-1800 64
VIII. OVERTHROW OF THE FEDERALISTS. 1798-1800 78
IX. MISTAKES OF HAMILTON AND BURR. 1800 94
X. JOHN JAY AND DeWITT CLINTON. 1800 107
XI. SPOILS AND BROILS OF VICTORY. 1801-1803 115
XII. DEFEAT OF BURR AND DEATH OF HAMILTON. 1804 129
XIII. THE CLINTONS AGAINST THE LIVINGSTONS. 1804-1807 147
XIV. DANIEL D. TOMPKINS AND DeWITT CLINTON. 1807-1810 158
XV. TOMPKINS DEFEATS JONAS PLATT. 1810 173
XVI. DeWITT CLINTON AND TAMMANY. 1789-1811 180
XVII. BANKS AND BRIBERY. 1791-1812 186
XVIII. CLINTON AND THE PRESIDENCY. 1812 199
XIX. QUARRELS AND RIVALRIES. 1813 211
XX. A GREAT WAR GOVERNOR. 1812-1815 219
XXI. CLINTON OVERTHROWN. 1815 231
XXII. CLINTON'S RISE TO POWER. 1815-1817 241
XXIII. BUCKTAIL AND CLINTONIAN. 1817-1819 253
XXIV. RE-ELECTION OF RUFUS KING. 1819-1820 263
XXV. TOMPKINS' LAST CONTEST. 1820 273
XXVI. THE ALBANY REGENCY. 1820-1822 283
XXVII. THIRD CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. 1821 295
XXVIII. SECOND FALL OF DeWITT CLINTON. 1822 312
XXIX. CLINTON AGAIN IN THE SADDLE. 1823-1824 321
XXX. VAN BUREN ENCOUNTERS WEED. 1824 334
XXXI. CLINTON'S COALITION WITH VAN BUREN. 1825-1828 344
XXXII. VAN BUREN ELECTED GOVERNOR. 1828 357
XXXIII. WILLIAM H. SEWARD AND THURLOW WEED. 1830 370
XXXIV. VAN BUREN'S ENEMIES MAKE HIM VICE PRESIDENT. 1829-1832 382
XXXV. FORMATION OF THE WHIG PARTY. 1831-1834 392
A POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
A COLONY BECOMES A STATE
On the 16th of May, 1776, the second Continental Congress, preparing the way for the Declaration of Independence, recommended that those Colonies which were without a suitable form of government, should, to meet the demands of war, adopt some sufficient organisation. The patriot government of New York had not been wholly satisfactory. It never lacked in the spirit of resistance to England's misrule, but it had failed to justify the confident prophecies of those who had been instrumental in its formation.
For nearly a year New York City saw with wonder the spectacle of a few fearless radicals, organised into a vigilance committee of fifty, closing the doors of a custom-house, guarding the gates of an arsenal, embargoing vessels ladened with supplies for British troops, and removing cannon from the Battery, while an English fleet, well officered and manned, rode idly at anchor in New York harbour. Inspiring as the spectacle was, however, it did not appreciably help matters. On the contrary, it created so much friction among the people that the conservative business men—resenting involuntary taxation, yet wanting, if possible with honour, reconciliation and peace with the mother country—organised, in May, 1774, a body of their own known as the Committee of Fifty-one, which thought the time had come to interrupt the assumed leadership of the Committee of Fifty. This usurpation by one committee of powers that had been exercised by another, caused the liveliest indignation.
The trouble between England and America had grown out of the need for a continental revenue and the lack of a continental government with taxing power—a weakness experienced throughout the Revolution and under the Confederation. In the absence of such a government, Parliament undertook to supply the place of such a power; but the Americans blocked the way by an appeal to the principle that had been asserted by Simon de Montford's Parliament in 1265 and admitted by Edward I. in 1301—"No taxation without representation." So the Stamp Act of 1765 was repealed. The necessity for a continental revenue, nevertheless, remained, and in the effort to adopt some expedient, like the duty on tea, Crown and Colonies became involved in bitter disputes. The idea of independence, however, had, in May, 1774, scarcely entered the mind of the wildest New York radical. In their instructions to delegates to the first Continental Congress, convened in September, 1774, the Colonies made no mention of it. Even in May, 1775, the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia cautioned John Adams not to use the word, since "it is as unpopular in all the Middle States as the Stamp Act itself." Washington wrote from the Congress that independence was then not "desired by any thinking man in America."
[Footnote 1: E.B. Andrews, History of the United States, Vol. 1, p. 172.]
[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 172.]
The differences, therefore, between the Committees of Fifty and Fifty-one were merely political. One favoured agitation for the purpose of arousing resistance to the King's summary methods—the other preferred a more orderly but not less forceful way of making known their opposition. Members of both committees were patriots in the highest and best sense, yet each faction fancied itself the only patriotic, public spirited and independent party.
It was during these months of discord that Alexander Hamilton, then a lad of seventeen, astonished his listeners at the historic meeting "in the Fields," with the cogency of his arguments and the wonderful flights of an unpremeditated eloquence while denouncing the act of Parliament which closed the port of Boston. Hamilton had already been a year in America attending the Elizabethtown grammar school, conducted under the patronage of William Livingston, soon to become the famous war governor of New Jersey. This experience quickened the young man's insight into the vexed relations between the Colonies and the Crown, and shattered his English predilections in favour of the little minds that Burke thought so ill-suited to a great empire. A visit to Boston shortly after the "tea party" seems also to have had the effect of crowding his mind with thoughts, deeply and significantly freighted with the sentiment of liberty, which were soon to make memorable the occasion of their first utterance.
[Footnote 3: City Hall Park.]
The remarkable parallel between Hamilton and the younger Pitt begins in this year, while both are in the schoolroom. Hamilton "in the Fields" recalls Pitt at the bar of the House of Lords, amazing his companions with the ripe intelligence and rare sagacity with which he followed the debate, and the readiness with which he skilfully formulated answers to the stately arguments of the wigged and powdered nobles. Pitt, under the tuition of his distinguished father, was fitted for the House of Commons as boys are fitted for college at Exeter and Andover, and he entered Parliament before becoming of age. Hamilton's preparation had been different. At twelve years of age he was a clerk in a counting house on the island of Nevis in the West Indies; at sixteen he entered a grammar school in New Jersey; at seventeen he became a sophomore at King's College. It is then that he spoke "in the Fields"—not as a sophomore, not as a precocious youth with unripe thoughts, not as a boy orator—but as a man speaking with the wisdom of genius.
After the meeting "in the Fields" patriotism proved stronger than prejudice, and in November, 1774, the Committee of Fifty-one gave place to a Committee of Sixty, charged with carrying out recommendations of the Continental Congress. Soon after a Committee of One Hundred, composed of members of the Committees of Fifty and Fifty-one, assumed the functions of a municipal government. Finally, in May, 1775, representatives were chosen from the several counties to organise a Provincial Congress to take the place of the long established legislature of the Colony, which had become so steeped in toryism that it refused to recognise the action of any body of men who resented the tyranny of Parliament. Thus, in the brief space of eighteen months, the government of the Crown had been turned into a government of the people.
For several months, however, the patriots of New York had desired a more complete state government. All admitted that the revolutionary committees were essentially local and temporary. Even the hottest Son of Liberty came to fear the licentiousness of the people on the one hand, and the danger from the army on the other. Nevertheless, the Provincial Congress, whose members had been trained by harsh experience to be stubborn in defence and sturdy in defiance, declined to assume the responsibility of forming such a government as the Continental Congress recommended. That body had itself come into existence as a revolutionary legislature after the Provincial Assembly had refused either to approve the proceedings of the first Continental Congress, or to appoint delegates to the second; and, although it did not hesitate to usurp temporarily the functions of the Tory Assembly, to its great credit it believed the right of creating and framing a new civil government belonged to the people; and, accordingly, on May 24, 1776, it recommended the election of new representatives who should be specially authorised to form a government for New York.
The members of this new body were conspicuous characters in New York's history for the next third of a century. Among them were John Jay, George Clinton, James Duane, Philip Livingston, Philip Schuyler, and Robert R. Livingston. The same men appeared in the Committee of Safety, at the birth of the state government, as witnesses of the helplessness of the Confederation, and as backers or backbiters of the Federal Constitution. Among those associated with them were James Clinton, Ezra L'Hommedieu, Marinus Willett, John Morin Scott, Alexander McDougall, John Sloss Hobart, the Yateses, Abraham, Richard and Robert; the Van Cortlandts, James, John and Philip; the Morrises, Richard, Lewis and Gouverneur, and all the Livingstons. Only two illustrious names are absent from these early patriotic lists, but already Alexander Hamilton had won the heart of the people by his wonderful eloquence and logic, and Aaron Burr, a comely lad of nineteen, slender and graceful as a girl, with the features of his beautiful mother and the refinement of his distinguished grandfather, had thrown away his books to join Arnold on his way to Quebec. These men passed into history in companies, but each left behind his own trail of light. Where danger called, or civic duties demanded prudence and profound sagacity, this band of patriots appeared in council and in the camp, ready to answer to the roll-call of their country, and by voice and vote set the pace which achieved independence.
The new Provincial Congress met at the courthouse in White Plains on July 9, 1776, and, as evidence of the change from the old institutions to the new, it adopted the name of the "Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York." As further evidence of the new order of things it declared that New York began its existence as a State on April 20, 1775. It also adopted as the law of the State such parts of the common and statute law of England as were in force in the Colony of New York on April 19, 1775.
By this time the British forces had become so active in the vicinity of New York that the convention thought it advisable to postpone the novel and romantic work of state-making until the threatened danger had passed; but, before its hasty adjournment, by requesting officers of justice to issue all processes and pleadings under the authority and in the name of the State of New York, it served notice that King and Parliament were no longer recognised as the source of political authority. This appears to have been the first official mention of the new title of the future government. When the convention reassembled on the first day of the following August it appointed John Jay chairman of a committee to report the draft of a state constitution.
[Footnote 4: Memorial History of the City of New York, Vol. 2, p. 608.]
Jay was then thirty-one years old, a cautious, clever lawyer whose abilities were to make a great impression upon the history of his country. He belonged to a family of Huguenot merchants. The Jays lived at La Rochelle until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove the great-grandfather to England, where the family continued until 1686, when Augustus, the grandfather, settled in New York. It was not a family of aristocrats; but for more than a century the Jays had ranked among the gentry of New York City, intermarrying with the Bayards, the Stuyvesants, the Van Cortlandts and the Philipses. To these historic families John Jay added another, taking for his wife Sarah Livingston, the sister of Brockholst, who later adorned the Supreme Court of the United States, and the daughter of William, New Jersey's coming war governor, already famous as a writer of poems and essays.
Jay's public career had begun two years before in connection with the revolutionary Committee of Fifty-one. He did not accept office because he loved it. He went into politics as he might have travelled on a stage-coach at the invitation of a few congenial friends, for their sake, not for his own. When he took up the work of organisation, therefore, it was with no wish to become a leader; he simply desired to guide the spirit of resistance along orderly and forceful lines. But soon he held the reins and had his foot on the brake. In drafting a reply to resolutions from a Boston town meeting, he suggested a Congress of all the Colonies, to which should be referred the disturbing question of non-importation. This letter was not only the first serious suggestion of a general Congress, placing its author intellectually at the head of the Revolutionary leaders; but the plan—which meant broader organisation, more carefully concerted measures, an enlistment of all the conservative elements, and one official head for thirteen distinct and widely separated colonies—gradually found favour, and resulted in sending the young writer as a delegate to the first Continental Congress.
It was in this Congress that Jay won the right to become a constitution-maker. Of all the men of that busy and brilliant age, no one advanced more steadily in the general knowledge and favour. When he wrote the address to the people of Canada, his great ability was recognised at once; and after he composed the appeal to Ireland and to Jamaica, the famous circular letter to the Colonies, and the patriotic address to the people of his own State, his wisdom was more frequently drawn upon and more widely appreciated than ever; but he may be said to have leaped into national fame when he drafted the address to the people of Great Britain. While still ignorant of its authorship, Jefferson declared it "a production of the finest pen in America."
MAKING A STATE CONSTITUTION
It was early spring in 1777 before John Jay, withdrawing to the country, began the work of drafting a constitution. His retirement recalls Cowper's sigh for
"... a lodge in some vast wilderness, Some boundless contiguity of shade, Where rumours of oppression and deceit, Of unsuccessful and successful war, Might never reach me more."
Too much and too little credit has been given Jay for his part in the work. One writer says he "entered an almost unexplored field." On the other hand, John Adams wrote Jefferson that Jay's "model and foundation" was his own letter to George Wythe of Virginia. Neither is true. The field was not unexplored, nor did John Adams' letter contain a suggestion of anything not already in existence, except the election of a Council of Appointment, with whose consent the governor should appoint all officers. His plan of letting the people elect a governor came later. "We have a government to form, you know," wrote Jay, "and God knows what it will resemble. Our politicians, like some guests at a feast, are perplexed and undetermined which dish to prefer;" but Jay evidently preferred the old home dishes, and it is interesting to note how easily he adapted the laws and customs of the provincial government to the needs of an independent State.
[Footnote 5: John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 68.]
The legislative branch of the government was vested in two separate and distinct bodies, called the Assembly and the Senate. The first consisted of seventy members to be elected each year; the second of twenty-four members, one-fourth to be elected every four years. Members of the Assembly were proportioned to the fourteen counties according to the number of qualified voters. For the election of senators, the State was divided into "four great districts," the eastern being allowed three members, the southern nine, the middle six and the western six. To each house was given the powers and privileges of the Provincial Assembly of the Colony of New York. In creating this Legislature, Jay introduced no new feature. The old Assembly suggested the lower house, and the former Council or upper house of the Province, which exercised legislative powers, made a model for the Senate. In their functions and operations the two bodies were indistinguishable.
[Footnote 6: Memorial History of the City of New York, Vol. 2, p. 610.]
[Footnote 7: Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 610.]
The qualifications of those who might vote for members of the Legislature greatly restricted suffrage. Theoretically every patriot believed in the liberties of the people, and the first article of the Constitution declared that "no authority shall, on any pretence whatever, be exercised over the people of the State, but such as shall be derived from and granted by them." This high-sounding exordium promised the rights of popular sovereignty; but in practice the makers of the Constitution, fearing the passions of the multitude as much as the tyranny of kings, deemed it wise to keep power in the hands of a few. A male citizen of full age, possessing a freehold of the value of twenty pounds, or renting a tenement of the yearly value of forty shillings, could vote for an assemblyman, and one possessing a freehold of the value of one hundred pounds, free from all debts, could vote for a senator.
But even these drastic conditions did not satisfy the draftsman of the Constitution. The legislators themselves, although thus carefully selected, might prove inefficient, and so, lest "laws inconsistent with the spirit of this Constitution, or with the public good, may be hastily or unadvisedly passed," a Council of Revision was created, composed of the governor, chancellor, and the three judges of the Supreme Court, or any two of them acting with the governor, who "shall revise all bills about to be passed into laws by the Legislature." If the Council failed to act within ten days after having possession of the bill, or if two-thirds of each house approved it after the Council disapproved it, the bill became law. This Council seems to have been suggested by the veto power possessed by the King's Privy Council.
The supreme executive power and authority of the State were vested in a governor, who must be a freeholder and chosen by the ballots of freeholders possessed of one hundred pounds above all debts. His term of office was three years, and his powers similar to those of preceding Crown governors. He was commander-in-chief of the army, and admiral of the navy. He had power to convene the Legislature in extraordinary session; to prorogue it not to exceed sixty days in any one year; and to grant pardons and reprieves to persons convicted of crimes other than treason and murder, in which cases he might suspend sentence until the Legislature acted. In accordance with the custom of his predecessors, he was also expected to deliver a message to the Legislature whenever it convened. To aid him in his duties, the Constitution provided for the election of a lieutenant-governor, who was made the presiding officer of the Senate.
The proposition that no authority should be exercised over the people except such as came from the people necessarily opened the door to an election of the governor by the people; but how to restrict his power seems to have taxed Jay's ingenuity. He had reduced the number of voters to its lowest terms, and put a curb on the Legislature, as well as the governor, by the creation of the Council of Revision; but how to curtail the chief executive's power in making appointments, presented a problem which gave Jay himself, when governor, good reason to regret the manner of its solution.
The only governors with whom Jay had had any experience were British governors, and the story of their rule was a story of astonishing mistakes and vexing stupidities. To go no farther back than Lord Cornbury, the dissolute cousin of Queen Anne, not one in the long list, covering nearly a century, exhibited gifts fitting him for the government of a spirited and intelligent people, or made the slightest impression for good either for the Crown or the Colony. Their disposition was to be despotic, and to prevent a repetition of such arbitrary conduct, Jay sought to restrict the governor's power in making appointments to civil office.
The new Constitution provided for the appointment of sheriffs, mayors of cities, district attorneys, coroners, county treasurers, and all other officers in the State save governor, lieutenant-governor, state treasurer and town officers. Some members of the convention wished the governor to make these appointments; others wanted his power limited by the Legislature's right to confirm. Jay saw objections to both methods. The first would give the governor too much power; the latter would transfer too much to the Legislature. To reconcile these differences, therefore, he proposed "Article XXIII. That all officers, other than those who, by this Constitution, are directed to be otherwise appointed, shall be appointed in the manner following, to wit: The Assembly shall, once in every year, openly nominate and appoint one of the senators from each great district, which senators shall form a Council for the appointment of the said officers, of which the governor shall be president and have a casting vote, but no other vote; and with the advice and consent of the said Council shall appoint all of the said officers."
[Footnote 8: "The clause directing the governor to nominate officers to the Legislature for their approbation being read and debated, was generally disapproved. Many other methods were devised by different members, and mentioned to the house merely for consideration. I mentioned several myself, and told the convention at the time, that, however I might then incline to adopt them, I was not certain, but that after considering them, I should vote for their rejection. While the minds of the members were thus fluctuating between various opinions, I spent the evening of that day with Mr. Morris at your lodgings, in the course of which I proposed the plan for the institution of the Council as it now stands, and after conversing on the subject we agreed to bring it into the house the next day. It was moved and debated and carried."—John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 128. Letter of Jay to Robert R. Livingston and Gouverneur Morris, April 29, 1777.]
This provision was simply, as the sequel showed, a bungling compromise. Jay intended that the governor should nominate and the Council confirm, and in the event of a tie the governor should have the casting vote. But in practice it subordinated the governor to the Council whenever a majority of the Assembly was politically opposed to him, and the annual election of the Council greatly increased the chances of such opposition. When, finally, the Council of Appointment set up the claim that the right to nominate was vested concurrently in the governor and in each of the four senators, it practically stripped the chief executive of power.
The anomaly of the Constitution was the absence of provision for the judicature, the third co-ordinate branch of the government. One court was created for the trial of impeachments and the correction of errors, but the great courts of original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court and the Court of Chancery, as well as the probate court, the county court, and the court of admiralty, were not mentioned except incidentally in sections limiting the ages of the judges, the offices each might hold, and the appointment of clerks. Instead of recreating these courts, the Constitution simply recognised them as existing. The new court established, known as the Court of Errors and Impeachment, consisted of the president of the Senate, the senators, the chancellor, and the three judges of the Supreme Court, or a major part of them. The conception of vesting supreme appellate jurisdiction in the upper legislative house was derived from the former practice of appeals to the Council of the Province, which possessed judicial as well as legislative power. The Constitution further followed the practice of the old Council by providing that judges could not vote on appeals from their own judgments, although they might deliver arguments in support of the same—a custom which had obtained in New York from the earliest times.
[Footnote 9: Memorial History of the City of New York, Vol. 2, p. 612.]
[Footnote 10: Duke's Laws, Vol. 1, Chap. 14.]
In like manner provincial laws, grants of lands and charters, legal customs, and popular rights, most of which had been in existence for a century, were carried over. The Constitution simply provided, in a general way, for the continuance of such parts of the common law of England, the statute law of England and Great Britain, and the acts of the legislature of the Colony of New York, as did not yield obedience to the government exercised by Great Britain, or establish any particular denomination of Christians, or their priests or ministers, who were debarred from holding any civil or military office under the new State; but acts of attainder for crimes committed after the close of the war were abrogated, with the declaration that such acts should not work a corruption of the blood.
The draft of the Constitution in Jay's handwriting was reported to the convention on March 12, 1777, and on the following day the first section was accepted. Then the debate began. Sixty-six members constituted the convention, a majority of whom, led by John Morin Scott, believed in the reign of the people. The spirit that nerved a handful of men to embargo vessels and seize munitions of war covered by British guns never wanted courage, and this historic band now prepared to resist a conservatism that seemed disposed simply to change the name of their masters. Jay understood this feeling. "It is probable that the convention was ultra-democratic," says William Jay, in the biography of his father, "for I have heard him observe that another turn of the winch would have cracked the cord."
[Footnote 11: William Jay, Life of John Jay; Jay MSS., Vol. 1, p. 72.]
Jay was not without supporters. Conservatives like the Livingstons, the Morrises, and the Yateses never acted with the recklessness of despair. They had well-formed notions of a popular government, and their replies to proposed changes broke the force of the opposition. But Jay, relying more upon his own policy, prudently omitted several provisions that seemed to him important, and when discussion developed their need, he shrewdly introduced them as amendments. Upon one question, however, a prolonged and spirited debate occurred. This centred upon the freedom of conscience. The Dutch of New Netherland, almost alone among the Colonies, had never indulged in fanaticism, and the Constitution, breathing the spirit of their toleration, declared that "the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without diminution or preference shall forever hereafter be allowed within the State to all mankind." Jay did not dissent from this sentiment; but, as a descendant of the persecuted Huguenots, he wished to except Roman Catholics until they should deny the Pope's authority to absolve citizens from their allegiance and to grant spiritual absolution, and he forcefully insisted upon and secured the restriction that "the liberty of conscience hereby granted shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the safety of the State." The question of the naturalisation of foreigners renewed the contention. Jay's Huguenot blood was still hot, and again he exacted the limitation that all persons, before naturalisation, shall "abjure and renounce all allegiance to all and every foreign king, prince, potentate, and state, in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil."
Jay intended reporting other amendments—one requiring a similar renunciation on the part of all persons holding office, and one abolishing domestic slavery. But before the convention adjourned he was, unfortunately, summoned to the bedside of his dying mother. Otherwise, New York would probably have had the distinction of being first to set the example of freedom. "I should have been for a clause against the continuance of domestic slavery," he said, in a letter objecting to what occurred after his forced retirement.
[Footnote 12: John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 126. "Such a recommendation was introduced by Gouverneur Morris and passed, but subsequently omitted."—Ibid., p. 136, note.]
Although the Constitution was under consideration for more than a month, haste characterised the close of the convention's deliberations. As soon as Jay left, every one seemed eager to get away, and on Sunday, April 20, 1777, the Constitution was adopted as a whole practically as he left it, and a committee appointed to report a plan for establishing a government under it. Unlike the Constitution of Massachusetts, it was not submitted to the voters for ratification. The fact that the delegates themselves had been elected by the people seemed sufficient, and two days after its passage, the secretary of the convention, standing upon a barrel in front of the courthouse at Kingston, published it to the world by reading it aloud to those who happened to be present. As it became known to the country, it was cordially approved as the most excellent and liberal of the American constitutions. "It is approved even in New England," wrote Jay, "where few New York productions have credit."
[Footnote 13: Ibid., p. 140.]
The absence of violent democratic innovations was the Constitution's remarkable feature. Although a product of the Revolution, framed to meet the necessities growing out of that great event, its general provisions were decidedly conservative. The right of suffrage was so restricted that as late as 1790 only 1303 of the 13,330 male residents of New York City possessed sufficient property to entitle them to vote for governor. Even the Court of Chancery remained undisturbed, notwithstanding royal governors had created it in opposition to the wishes of the popular assembly. But despite popular dissatisfaction, which evidenced itself in earnest prayers and ugly protests, the instrument, so rudely and hastily published on April 22, 1777, remained the supreme law of the State for forty-four years.
Before adjournment the convention, adopting the report of its committee for the organisation of a state government, appointed Robert R. Livingston, chancellor; John Jay, chief justice of the Supreme Court; Robert Yates, Jr., and John Sloss Hobart, justices of the Supreme Court, and Egbert Benson, attorney-general. To a Council of Safety, composed of fifteen delegates, with John Morin Scott, chairman, were confided all the powers of the State until superseded by a regularly elected governor.
GEORGE CLINTON ELECTED GOVERNOR
After the constitutional convention adjourned in May, 1777, the Council of Safety immediately ordered the election of a governor, lieutenant-governor, and members of the Legislature. The selection of a governor by ballot interested the people. Although freeholders who could vote represented only a small part of the male population, patriots of every class rejoiced in the substitution of a neighbour for a lord across the sea. And all had a decided choice. Of those suggested as fittest as well as most experienced Philip Schuyler, John Morin Scott, John Jay and George Clinton were the favourites. Just then Schuyler was in the northern part of the province, watching Burgoyne and making provision to meet the invasion of the Mohawk Valley; George Clinton, in command on the Hudson, was equally watchful of the movements of Sir Henry Clinton, whose junction with Burgoyne meant the destruction of Forts Clinton and Montgomery at the lower entrance to the Highlands; while Scott and Jay, as members of the Council of Safety, were directing the government of the new State.
Schuyler's public career began in the Provincial Assembly of New York in 1768. He represented the people's interests with great boldness, and when the Assembly refused to thank the delegates of the first Continental Congress, or to appoint others to a second Congress, he aided in the organisation of the Provincial Congress which usurped the Assembly's functions and put all power into the hands of the people. Chancellor Kent thought that "in acuteness of intellect, profound thought, indefatigable activity, exhaustless energy, pure patriotism, and persevering and intrepid public efforts, Schuyler had no superior;" and Daniel Webster declared him "second only to Washington in the services he rendered the country." But there was in Schuyler's make-up a touch of arrogance that displayed itself in letters as well as in manners. The soldierly qualities that made him a commander did not qualify him for public place dependent upon the suffrage of men. People respected but did not love him. If they were indignant that Gates succeeded him, they did not want him to govern them, however much it may have been in his heart to serve them faithfully.
[Footnote 14: While in command of the northern department, embracing the province of New York, Schuyler was known as "Great Eye," so watchful did he become of the enemy's movements; and although subsequently, through slander and intrigue, superseded by Horatio Gates, history has credited Burgoyne's surrender largely to his wisdom and patriotism, and has branded Gates with incompetency, in spite of the latter's gold medal and the thanks of Congress.]
John Morin Scott represented the radical element among the patriots. By profession he was an able and wealthy lawyer; by occupation a patriotic agitator. John Adams, who breakfasted with him, speaks of his country residence three miles out of town as "an elegant seat, with the Hudson just behind the house, and a rural prospect all around him." But the table seems to have made a deeper impression upon the Yankee patriot than the picturesque scenery of the river. "A more elegant breakfast I never saw—rich plate, a very large silver coffee-pot, a very large silver teapot, napkins of the very finest materials, toast and bread and butter in great perfection. Afterwards a plate of beautiful peaches, another of pears, another of plums, and a musk melon." As a parting salute, this lover of good things spoke of his host as "a sensible man, one of the readiest speakers upon the continent, but not very polite." This is what the Tories thought. According to Jones, the Tory historian, Scott had the misfortune to graduate at Yale—"a college remarkable for its republican principles and religious intolerance," he says, and to belong to a triumvirate whose purpose was "to pull down church and state, and to raise their own government upon the ruins."
[Footnote 15: John Adams, Life and Works, Vol. 2, p. 349 (Diary).]
[Footnote 16: Thomas Jones, History of New York, Vol. 1, p. 3.]
Scott, no doubt, was sometimes mistaken in the proper course to pursue, but he was always right from his point of view, and his point of view was bitter hostility to English misrule. Whatever he did he did with all the resistless energy of a man still in his forties. He was of distinguished ancestry. His great-great-grandfather, Sir John Scott, baronet, of Ancrum, Scotland, had been a stalwart Whig before the revolution of 1688, and his grandfather, John Scott, coming to New York in 1702, had commanded Fort Hunter, a stronghold on the Mohawk. Both were remarkable men. Tory blood was foreign to their veins. Young John, breathing the air of independence, scorned to let his life and property depend upon the pleasure of British lords and a British ministry, or to be excluded from the right of trial by a jury of his neighbours, or of taxation by his own representatives. In 1775 he went to the Continental Congress; in 1776, to the Provincial Congress of New York; and later he participated in the battle of Long Island as a brigadier-general. After the adoption of the State Constitution he became secretary of state, and from 1780 to 1783 served in the Continental Congress. He lived long enough to see his country free, although his strenuous life ended at fifty-four.
George Clinton possessed more popular manners than either Schuyler or Scott. Indeed, it has been given to few men in New York to inspire more passionate personal attachment than George Clinton. A patriot never lived who was more bitter in his hostility to English misrule, or more uncompromising in his opposition to toryism. He was a typical Irishman—intolerant, often domineering, sometimes petulant, and occasionally too quick to take offence, but he was magnetic and generous, easily putting himself in touch with those about him, and ready, without hesitation, to help the poorest and carry the weakest. This was the kind of man the people wanted for governor.
Clinton came of a good family. His great-grandfather, a too devoted adherent of Charles I., found it healthful to wander about Europe, and finally to settle in the north of Ireland, out of reach of Cromwell's soldiers, and out of sight of his ancestral patrimony. By the time Charles II. came to the throne, the estate was lost, and this friend of the Stuarts lived on in the quiet of his secluded home, and after him, his son; but the grandson, stirred by the blood of a Puritan mother, exchanged the North Sea shore for the banks of the Hudson, where his son breathed the air that made him a leading spirit in the war for American independence. Clinton's youth is one record of precocity. Before the war began he passed through a long, a varied, even a brilliant career, climbing to the highest position in the State before he had reached the age when most men begin to fill responsible places. At fifteen he manned an American privateer; at sixteen, as a lieutenant, he accompanied his father in a successful assault upon Fort Frontenac; at twenty-six, in the colonial legislature, he became the rival of Philip Schuyler in the leadership and influence that enabled a patriotic minority to resist the aggressions of Great Britain; at thirty-six, holding a seat in the Second Continental Congress, he voted for the Declaration of Independence, and commanded a brigade of Ulster County militia.
The election which occurred in June was not preceded by a campaign of speaking. People were too busy fighting to supplement a campaign of bullets with one of words. But Jay sent out an electioneering letter recommending Philip Schuyler for governor and George Clinton for lieutenant-governor. This was sufficient to secure for these candidates the conservative vote. It showed, too, Jay's unconcern for high place. He was modest even to diffidence, an infirmity that seems to have depressed him at times as much as it did Nathaniel Hawthorne in a later day.
The returns were made to the Council of Safety, and Jay carefully scanned them as they came in. On June 20 he wrote Schuyler: "The elections in the middle district have taken such a turn as that, if a tolerable degree of unanimity should prevail in the upper counties, there will be little doubt of having, ere long, the honour of addressing a letter to your excellency. Clinton, being pushed for both offices, may have neither; he has many votes for the first and not a few for the second. Scott, however, has carried a number from him, and you are by no means without a share. You may rely on receiving by express the earliest notice of the event alluded to." When the voters from Orange and other southern counties came in, however, Jay discovered that the result did not follow the line either of his wishes or of his suggestions. On the contrary, Clinton was elected to both offices by a considerable plurality.
[Footnote 17: John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 142.]
[Footnote 18: "A fragment of the canvass of 1777 shows the returns from Albany, Cumberland, Dutchess, Tryon, and Westchester, as follows: Clinton, 865; Scott, 386; Schuyler, 1012; Jay, 367; Philip Livingston, 5; Robert R. Livingston, 7. The votes from Orange and other southern counties gave the election to Clinton."—Civil List, State of New York (1886), p. 164. Subsequently, when the Legislature met at Kingston on September 1, Pierre Van Cortlandt as president of the Senate performed the duties of lieutenant-governor.]
The result of the election proved a great surprise and something of a humiliation to the ruling classes. "Gen. Clinton, I am informed, has a majority of votes for the Chair," Schuyler wrote to Jay, on June 30. "If so he has played his cards better than was expected." A few days later, after confirmation of the rumour, he betrayed considerable feeling. "Clinton's family and connections do not entitle him to so distinguished a pre-eminence," he wrote, showing that Revolutionary heroes were already divided into more democratic and less democratic whigs, and more aristocratic and less aristocratic patriots; but the division was still in the mind rather than in any settled policy. "He is virtuous and loves his country," added Schuyler, in the next line; "he has ability and is brave, and I hope he will experience from every patriot support, countenance and comfort." Washington understood his merits. "His character will make him peculiarly useful at the head of your State," he wrote the Committee of Safety.
[Footnote 19: John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 144.]
[Footnote 20: John Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, Vol. 1, p. 146.]
Clinton's inauguration occurred on July 30, 1777. He stood in front of the courthouse at Kingston on top of the barrel from which the Constitution had been published in the preceding April, and in the uniform of his country, with sword in hand, he took the oath of office. Within sixty days thereafter Sir Henry Clinton had carried the Highland forts, scattered the Governor's troops, dispersed the first Legislature of the State, burned Kingston to the ground, and very nearly captured the Governor himself, the latter, under cover of night, having made his escape by crossing the river in a small rowboat. Among the captured patriots was Colonel McClaughry, the Governor's brother-in-law. "Where is my friend George?" asked Sir Henry. "Thank God," replied the Colonel, "he is safe and beyond the reach of your friendship."
CLINTON AND HAMILTON
During the war Governor Clinton's duties were largely military. Every important measure of the Legislature dealt with the public defence, and the time of the Executive was fully employed in carrying out its enactments and performing the work of commander-in-chief of the militia. A large proportion of the population of the State was either avowedly loyal to the Crown or secretly indisposed to the cause of independence. "Of all the Colonies," wrote William Jay, "New York was probably the least unanimous in the assertion and defence of the principles of the Revolution. The spirit of disaffection was most extensive on Long Island, and had probably tainted a large majority of its inhabitants. In Queens County, in particular, the people had, by a formal vote, refused to send representatives to the colonial congress or convention, and had declared themselves neutral in the present crisis."
[Footnote 21: William Jay, Life of John Jay, Vol. 1, p. 41.]
The Governor sought to crush this spirit by methods much in vogue in the eighteenth century. At the outset of his career he declared that he had "rather roast in hell to all eternity than be dependent upon Great Britain or show mercy to a damned Tory." To add to his fame, he enforced this judgment with heavy fines, long imprisonments, summary banishments, and frequent coats of tar and feathers.
Very soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the Legislature passed a law requiring an oath of allegiance to the State; and under the vigorous enforcement of this act the Governor sent many Tories from the rural districts into the city of New York or expelled them from the State. Others were required to give a pledge, with security, to reside within prescribed limits. At times even the churches were filled with prisoners, some of whom were sent to jails in Connecticut, or exchanged for prisoners of war. In 1779 the Legislature increased the penalty of disloyalty to the State, by passing the Confiscation Act, declaring "the forfeiture and sale of the estates of persons who had adhered to the enemy."
Up to this time only one political party had existed among the Whig colonists. The passage of the Confiscation Act, however, encountered the opposition of many sincere lovers of the cause of independence, who favoured a more moderate policy toward loyalists, since they were probably as sincere in their opinions as those opposed to them. Besides, a generous and magnanimous course, it was argued, would induce the return of many desirable citizens after hostilities had ceased. To this the ultra-Whigs replied that the law of self-preservation made a severe policy necessary, and if any one suffered by its operation he must look to the government of his choice for comfort and reimbursement. As for the return of the Tories, the ultras declared that only citizens sincerely loyal to an independent country would be acceptable.
This division into moderate and ultra Whigs was emphasised in 1781 by the legislative grant to Congress of such import duties as accrued at the port of New York, to be levied and collected "under such penalties and regulations, and by such officers, as Congress should from time to time make, order, and appoint." Governor Clinton did not cordially approve the act at the time of its passage, and as the money began flowing into the national treasury, he opposed the method of its surrender. In his opinion, the State, as an independent sovereignty, had associated itself with other Colonies only for mutual protection, and not for their support. At his instance, therefore, the Legislature substituted for the law of 1781 the act of March, 1783, granting the duties to Congress, but directing their collection by officers of the State. Although this act was subsequently amended, making collectors amenable to Congress, another law was enacted in 1786 granting Congress the revenue, and reserving to the State, as in the law of 1783, "the sole power of levying and collecting the duties." When Congress asked the Governor to call a special session of the Legislature, that the right to levy and collect might be yielded as before, he refused to do so.
Governor Clinton understood the commercial advantages of New York's geographical location, which were greatly enhanced by the navigation acts of other States. The peace treaty had made New York the port of entry for the whole region east of the Delaware, and into its coffers poured a revenue so marvellous as to excite hopes of a prospective wealth which a century, remarkable as was its productiveness, did little more than realise. If any State, therefore, could survive without a union with other Colonies, it was New York, and it is not surprising that many, perhaps a majority of its people, under the leadership of George Clinton, settled into a policy unfriendly to a national revenue, and later to a national government.
The Governor had gradually become mindful of an opposition as stubborn as it was persistent. He had encountered it in his treatment of the Tories, but not until Alexander Hamilton became an advocate of amnesty and oblivion, did Clinton recognise the centre and future leader of the opposing forces. Hamilton did not appear among those interested in the election of governor in 1777. His youth shut him out of Assembly and Congress, out of committees and conventions, but it did not shut him out of the army; and while Governor Clinton was wrestling with new problems of government in the formation of a new State, Hamilton was acting as secretary, aide, companion, and confidant of Washington, accepting suggestions as commands, and acquiescing in his chief's judgment with a fidelity born of love and admiration. In the history of war nothing is more beautiful than the friendship existing between the acknowledged leader of his country and this brave young officer, spirited and impulsive, brilliant and able, yet frank and candid, without ostentation and without egotism. It recalls a later-day relationship between Ulysses S. Grant and John A. Rawlins, his chief of staff.
In July, 1781, Hamilton, in command of a corps, accompanied Washington in the forced march of the American army from New York to Yorktown. This afforded him the opportunity, so long and eagerly sought, of handling an independent command at a supreme moment of danger, and before the sun went down on the 14th of October, he had led his troops with fixed bayonets, under a heavy and constant fire, over abatis, ditch, and palisades; then, mounting the parapet, he leaped into the redoubt. Washington saw the impetuosity of the attack in the face of the murderous fire, the daring leap to the parapet with three of his soldiers, and the almost fatal spring into the redoubt. "Few cases," he says, "have exhibited greater proofs of intrepidity, coolness, and firmness." Three days later Cornwallis surrendered.
In the summer of 1782 Hamilton was admitted to the bar in Albany, but soon afterward settled in New York City, where he seems to have come into practice and into fame by defending the rights of Tories. For four years after the war ended, the treatment of British sympathisers was the dominant political issue in New York. Governor Clinton advocated disfranchisement and banishment, and the Legislature enacted into law what he advised; so that when the British troops, under the peace treaty, evacuated New York, in November, 1783, loyalists who had thus far escaped the wrath of this patriot Governor, flocked to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick like birds seeking a more congenial clime, recalling the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes one hundred years earlier. It is not easy to estimate the number who fled before this savage and violent action of the Legislature. Sir Guy Carleton, in command at New York, fixes the emigration at one hundred thousand souls. For many years the "Landing of the Loyalists" was annually commemorated at St. John, and in the cemeteries of England and Scotland are found the tombstones of these unfortunate devotees of the mother country.
It is likely Clinton was too intolerant, but it was the intolerance that follows revolution. Hamilton, on the other hand, became an early advocate of amnesty and oblivion, and, although public sentiment and the Legislature were against him, he finally succeeded in modifying the one and changing the other. "Nothing is more common," he observed, "than for a free people in times of heat and violence to gratify momentary passions by letting in principles and precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves. If the Legislature can disfranchise at pleasure, it may soon confine all the votes to a small number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy; if it may banish at discretion, without hearing or trial, no man can be safe. The name of liberty applied to such a government would be a mockery of common sense."
[Footnote 22: Hamilton's Works (Lodge), Vol. 3, p. 450.]
The differences between Congress and the Legislature respecting the collection of duties also brought Clinton and Hamilton into conflict. As early as 1776 Hamilton had considered the question whether Congress ought not to collect its own taxes by its own agents, and, when a member of Congress in 1783, he urged it as one of the cardinal features of an adequate federal system. In 1787 he was a member of the Legislature. Here he insisted upon having the federal revenue system adopted by the State. His argument was an extended exposition of the facts which made such action important. Under the lead of Clinton, however, New York was willing to surrender the money, but not the power of collection to Congress.
[Footnote 23: Republic, Vol. 1, p. 122.]
[Footnote 24: Madison Papers, Vol. 1, pp. 288, 291, 380.]
[Footnote 25: Works, Vol. 2, p. 16.]
Meantime, the pitiable condition to which the Confederation had come, accented the need of a stronger central government. To this end Clinton and Hamilton seemed for several years to be working in harmony. In 1780 Clinton had presented to the Legislature the "defect of power" in the Confederation, and, in 1781, John Sloss Hobart and Egbert Benson, representing New York at a convention in Hartford, urged the recommendation empowering Congress to apportion taxes among the States in the ratio of their total population. The next year, Hamilton, although not a member of the Legislature, persuaded it to adopt resolutions written by him, declaring that the powers of the central government should be extended, and that it should be authorised to provide revenue for itself. To this end "it would be advisable," continued the resolutions, "to propose to Congress to recommend, and to each State to adopt, the measure of assembling a general convention of the States, specially authorised to revise and amend the Constitution." To Washington's farewell letter, appealing for a stronger central government, Governor Clinton sent a cordial response, and in transmitting the address to the Legislature in 1784, he recommended attention "to every measure which has a tendency to cement the Union, and to give to the national councils that energy which may be necessary for the general welfare."
[Footnote 26: Hamilton's Works (Lodge), Vol. 1, p. 277.]
Nevertheless, Clinton was not always candid. His official communications read like the utterances of a friend; but his influence, as disclosed in the acts of 1783 and 1786, reserving to the State the sole power of levying and collecting duties, clearly indicate that while he loved his country in a matter-of-fact sort of way, it meant a country divided, a country of thirteen States each berating the other, a country of trade barriers and commercial resentments, a country of more importance to New York and to Clinton than to other Commonwealths which had made equal sacrifices.
Thus matters drifted until New York and other middle Atlantic States discovered that it was impossible under the impotent Articles of Confederation to regulate commerce in waters bordered by two or more States. Even when New York and New Jersey could agree, Pennsylvania, on the other side of New Jersey, was likely to withhold its consent. Friction of a similar character existed between Maryland and Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia, and Maryland and Pennsylvania. This compelled Congress to call the convention, to which commissioners from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, assembled at Annapolis in 1786, to consider the trade and commerce of the United States, and to suggest measures for the action of Congress. Hamilton and Egbert Benson were members of this body, the former of whom wrote the address, afterward adopted, which declared the federal government inefficient, and proposed a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation, in order to render them adequate to the exigencies of the Union. This was the resolution unanimously adopted by the New York Legislature in 1782, but to the surprise of Hamilton and the friends of a stronger government, the Legislature now disapproved such a convention. The idea did not please George Clinton. As Hamilton summed up the opposition, it meant disinclination to taxation, fear of the enforcement of debts, democratic jealousy of important officials, and the influence of foreign powers.
[Footnote 27: Journal of Congress, Vol. 12, p. 12.]
[Footnote 28: Hamilton's Works (Lodge), Vol. 1, p. 401.]
In 1787, however, the Legislature adopted a joint resolution instructing members of Congress from the State to urge that a convention be held to amend the Articles of Confederation, and, when Congress issued the call, Robert Yates, John Lansing, Jr., and Alexander Hamilton were elected delegates "for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several Legislatures such alterations as shall, when agreed to by Congress and confirmed by the several States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union." Hamilton's election to this convention was cited as proof of Clinton's disposition to treat fairly the opponents of state supremacy, since it was well understood that his presence at Philadelphia would add the ablest and most ultra exponent of a strong, central government. It was certainly in Clinton's power to defeat Hamilton as he did John Jay, but his liberality carried a high check-rein, for Robert Yates and John Lansing were selected to overcome Hamilton's vote.
[Footnote 29: In Madison Papers, Vol. 2, Introductory to Debates of 1787, is a history of previous steps toward union.]
Clinton's first choice for a delegate was Yates, whose criticism of the work of the convention manifests hostility to a Union. He seemed to have little conception of what would satisfy the real needs of a strong government, preferring the vague doctrines of the old Whigs in the early days of revolution. Lansing was clearer, and, perhaps, less extreme in his views; but he wanted nothing more than an amendment of the existing Confederation, known as the New Jersey plan. The moment, therefore, that a majority favoured the Virginia plan which contemplated a national government with an executive, legislature, and judiciary of its own, Lansing and Yates, regarding it a violation of their instructions, and with the approval of Governor Clinton, withdrew from the convention and refused to sign the Constitution after its adoption.
[Footnote 30: "After an amendment of the first, so as to declare that 'the government of the United States ought to consist of a supreme legislative, judiciary, and executive,' Lansing moved a declaration 'that the powers of legislation be vested in the United States Congress.' He stated that if the Jersey plan was not adopted, it would produce the mischiefs they were convened to obviate. That the principles of that system were an equality of representation, and dependence of the members of Congress on the States. That as long as state distinctions exist, state prejudices would operate, whether the election be by the States or the people. If there was no interest to oppress, there was no need of an apportionment. What would be the effect of the other plan? Virginia would have sixteen, Delaware one representative. Will the general government have leisure to examine the state laws? Will it have the necessary information? Will the States agree to surrender? Let us meet public opinion, and hope the progress of sentiment will make future arrangements. He would like the system of his colleague (Hamilton) if it could be established, but it was a system without example."—Hamilton's MSS. notes, Vol. 6, p. 77. Lansing's motion was negatived by six to four States, Maryland being divided.]
[Footnote 31: Yates and Lansing retired finally from the convention on July 10.]
[Footnote 32: "That they acted in accordance with Clinton was proved by his deportment at this time. Unreserved declarations were made by him, that no good was to be expected from the appointment or deliberations of this body; that the country would be thrown into confusion by the measure. Hamilton said 'Clinton was not a man governed in ordinary cases by sudden impulses; though of an irritable temper, when not under the immediate influence of irritation, he was circumspect and guarded, and seldom acted or spoke without premeditation or design.' When the Governor made such declarations, therefore, Hamilton feared that Clinton's conduct would induce the confusion he so confidently and openly predicted, and to exhibit it before the public in all its deformity, Hamilton published a pointed animadversion, charging these declarations upon him, and avowing a readiness to substantiate them."—John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, Vol. 2, p. 528.]
Hamilton doubted if Madison's plan was strong enough to secure the object in view. He suggested a scheme continuing a President and Senate during good behaviour, and giving the federal government power to appoint governors of States and to veto state legislation. In the notes of a speech presenting this plan, he disclaimed the belief that it was "attainable," but thought it "a model which we ought to approach as near as possible." After the Madison plan had been preferred, however, Hamilton gave it earnest support, and although he could not cast New York's vote, since a majority of the State's representatives had withdrawn, he was privileged to sign the Constitution. If he had never done anything else, it was glory enough to have subscribed his name to that immortal record. When Hamilton returned home, however, he found himself discredited by a majority of the people. "You were not authorised by the State," said Governor Clinton. Richard Morris, the chief justice, remarked to him: "You will find yourself, I fear, in a hornet's nest."
[Footnote 33: Works, Vol. 1, p. 357. G.T. Curtis, Commentaries on the Constitution, pp. 371, 381, presents a very careful analysis of Hamilton's plan. For fac-simile copy of Hamilton's plan, see Documentary History of the Constitution (a recent Government publication), Vol. 3, p. 771.]
[Footnote 34: M.E. Lamb, History of the City of New York, Vol. 2, p. 318.]
[Footnote 35: Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 318.]
On September 28, 1787, Congress transmitted a draft of the Constitution, which required the assent of nine of the thirteen States, to the several legislatures. At once it became the sole topic of discussion. In New York it was the occasion of riots, of mobs, and of violent contests. It was called the "triple-headed monster," and declared to be "as deep and wicked a conspiracy as ever was invented in the darkest ages against the liberties of a free people." Its opponents, numbering four-sevenths of the community—although their strength was mainly in the country—and calling themselves Federal Republicans, organised a society and opened correspondence with leading men in other States. "All the old alarm about liberty was now revived," says W.G. Sumner, "and all the elements of anarchy and repudiation which had been growing so strong for twenty years were arrayed in hostility." But its bitterest opponent in the thirteen Colonies was George Clinton. "He preferred to remain the most powerful citizen of New York, rather than occupy a subordinate place under a national government in which his own State was not foremost." On the other hand, the Federalist, written largely by Hamilton, carried conviction to the minds of thousands who had previously doubted the wisdom of the plan. In the last number of the series, he said: "The system, though it may not be perfect in every part, is upon the whole a good one, is the best that the present views and circumstances will permit, and is such an one as promises every species of security which a reasonable people can desire."
[Footnote 36: W.G. Sumner, Life of Hamilton, p. 137.]
[Footnote 37: Ibid., p. 135.]
[Footnote 38: John Fiske, Critical Period of American History, p. 340.]
[Footnote 39: John Fiske, Essays Historical and Literary, Vol. 1, p. 118.]
[Footnote 40: Works of Hamilton, Vol. 9, p. 548.]
When the Legislature opened, Governor Clinton delivered the usual speech or message, but he said nothing of what everybody else was talking about. Consideration of the Constitution was the only important business before that body; four States had already ratified it, and three others had it under consideration; yet the Governor said not a word. His idea was for New York to hold off and let the others try it. Then, if the Union succeeded, although revenue difficulties were expected to break it up immediately, the State could come in. Meantime, like Patrick Henry of Virginia, he proposed another general convention, to be held as soon as possible, to consider amendments. Thus matters drifted until January, 1788, when Egbert Benson, now a member of the Legislature, offered a resolution for holding a state convention to consider the federal document. Dilatory motions blocked its way, and its friends began to despair of better things; but Benson persisted, until, at last, after great bitterness, the resolution was adopted.
[Footnote 41: W.G. Sumner, Life of Hamilton, p. 137.]
Of the sixty-one delegates to this convention, which assembled at the courthouse in Poughkeepsie on June 17, two-thirds were opposed to the Constitution. The convention organised with Governor Clinton for president. Among the champions of the Constitution appeared Hamilton, Jay, Robert R. Livingston, Robert Morris, James Duane, then mayor of New York, John Sloss Hobart, Richard Harrison, and others of like character. Robert Yates, Samuel Jones, Melancthon Smith, and John Lansing, Jr., led the fight against it. Beginning on June 19, the discussion continued until July 28. Hamilton, his eloquence at its best, so that at times there was not a dry eye in the assembly, especially emphasised the public debt. "It is a fact that should strike us with shame, that we are obliged to borrow money in order to pay the interest of our debt. It is a fact that these debts are accumulating every day by compound interest." In the old Confederation, he declared, the idea of liberty alone was considered, but that another thing was equally important—"I mean a principle of strength and stability in the organisation of our government, and of vigour in its operations." Professor Sumner, in his admirable biography, expresses surprise that nothing is said about debts in the Federalist, and comparatively little about the Supreme Court. "This is very remarkable," he says, "in view of the subsequent history; for if there is any 'sleeping giant' in the Constitution, it has proved to be the power of the Supreme Court to pass upon the constitutionality of laws. It does not appear that Hamilton or anybody else foresaw that this function of the Court would build upon the written constitution a body of living constitutional law."
[Footnote 42: Ibid., 137.]
[Footnote 43: M.E. Lamb, History of the City of New York, Vol. 2, p. 320.]
[Footnote 44: Hamilton's Works, Vol. 1, p. 491.]
[Footnote 45: Ibid., p. 449.]
[Footnote 46: W.G. Sumner, Life of Hamilton, p. 139.]
Melancthon Smith was the ablest opponent of the Constitution. Familiar with political history, and one of the ablest debaters in the country, he proved himself no mean antagonist even for Hamilton. "He must have been a man of rare candour, too," says John Fiske, "for after weeks of debate he owned himself convinced." Whatever could be said against the Constitution, Smith voiced it; and there was apparent merit in some of his objections. To a majority of the people, New York appeared to be surrendering natural advantages in much larger measure than other Commonwealths, while its concession of political power struck them as not unlikely to endanger the personal liberty of the citizen and the independence of the State. They disliked the idea of a far-off government, with many officers drawing large salaries, administering the army, the navy, and the diplomatic relations with nations of the Old World. It was so different from anything experienced since their separation from England, that they dreaded this centralised power; and, to minimise it, they proposed several amendments, among them one that no person should be eligible to the office of President for a third term. Time has demonstrated the wisdom of some of these suggestions; but commendable as they now appear after the lapse of more than a century, they were of trifling importance compared to the necessity for a closer, stronger union of the States in 1787.
[Footnote 47: John Fiske, Essays Historical and Literary, Vol. 1, p. 125.]
Federalists were much alarmed over the failure of New York to ratify. Although the State ranked only fifth in population, commercially it was the centre of the Union. From the standpoint of military movements, too, it had been supremely important in the days of Montcalm and Burgoyne, and it was felt that a Federal Union cut in twain by the Mohawk and Hudson valleys must have a short life. "For my own part," said Hamilton, "the more I can penetrate the views of the anti-federal party in this State, the more I dread the consequences of the non-adoption of the Constitution by any of the other States—the more I fear eventual disunion and civil war." His fear bred an apparent willingness to agree to a conditional ratification, until Madison settled the question that there could be no such thing as conditional ratification since constitutional secession would be absurd. On July 11 Jay moved that "the Constitution be ratified, and that whatever amendments might be deemed expedient should be recommended." This, however, did not satisfy the opposition, and the discussion continued.
[Footnote 48: Hamilton's Works, Vol. 8, p. 187.]
[Footnote 49: Ibid., p. 191.]
Hamilton, however, did not rely upon argument alone. He arranged for news of the Virginia and New Hampshire conventions, and while Clinton, clinging to his demand for conditional ratification, still hesitated, word came from New Hampshire, by a system of horse expresses, telling the glad story that the requisite number of States had been secured. This reduced the question to ratification or secession. A few days later it was learned that Virginia had also joined the majority. The support of Patrick Henry had been a tower of strength to Governor Clinton, and his defeat exaggerated Clinton's fear that New York City and the southern counties which favoured the Constitution might now execute their threat to split off unless New York ratified. Then came Melancthon Smith's change to the federalist side. This was like crushing the centre of a hostile army. Finally, on July 28, a resolution "that the Constitution be ratified in full confidence that the amendments proposed by this convention will be adopted," received a vote of thirty to twenty-seven. Governor Clinton did not vote, but it was known that he advised several of his friends to favour the resolution. On September 13, he officially proclaimed the Federal Constitution as the fundamental law of the Republic.
Posterity has never severely criticised George Clinton's opposition to national development. His sincerity and patriotism have been accepted. To Washington and Hamilton, however, his conduct seemed like a cold and selfish desertion of his country at the moment of its utmost peril. "The men who oppose a strong and energetic government," wrote Washington to Hamilton on July 10, 1787, the day of Yates' and Lansing's retirement from the Philadelphia convention, "are, in my opinion, narrow-minded politicians, or are under the influence of local views." This reference to "local views" meant George Clinton, upon whose advice Yates and Lansing acted, and who declared unreservedly that only confusion could come to the country from a convention and a measure wholly unnecessary, since the Confederation, if given sufficient trial, would probably answer all the purposes of the Union.
The march of events has so clearly proved the wisdom of Hamilton and the unwisdom of Clinton, that the name of one, joined inseparably with that of Washington, has grown with the century, until it is as much a part of the history of the Union as the Constitution itself. The name of George Clinton, on the contrary, is little known beyond the limits of his native State. It remained for DeWitt Clinton, the Governor's distinguished nephew, to link the family with an historic enterprise which should bring it down through the ages with increasing respect and admiration.
CLINTON'S FOURTH TERM
At each triennial election for twelve years, ever since the adoption of the State Constitution in 1777, George Clinton had been chosen governor. No one else, in fact, had ever been seriously talked of, save John Jay in 1786. Doubtless Clinton derived some advantage from the control of appointments, which multiplied in number and increased in influence as term succeeded term, but his popularity drew its inspiration from sources other than patronage. A strong, rugged character, and a generous, sympathetic nature, sunk their roots deeply into the hearts of a liberty-loving people who supported their favourite with the fidelity of personal friendship.
The time had, however, come at last when Clinton's right to continue as governor was to be contested. Hamilton's encounter with the New York opponents of the Federal Constitution had been vigorous and acrimonious. It was easy to stand with one's State in opposing the Constitution when opposition had behind it the powerful Clinton interest and the persuasive Clinton argument that federal union meant the substitution of experiment for experience, and the exchange of a superior for an inferior position; but it required a splendid stubbornness to face, daringly and aggressively, the desperate odds arrayed against the Constitution. Every man who wanted to curry favour with Clinton was ready to strike at Hamilton, and they covered him with obloquy. Very likely his attitude was not one to tempt the forbearance of angry opponents. He did not fight with gloves. Nevertheless, his success added one more to his list of splendid victories. He had beaten Clinton in his intolerant treatment of loyalists; he had beaten him in obtaining for Congress the sole power of regulating commerce; he had beaten him in the Philadelphia convention called to frame a federal constitution; he had beaten him in a state convention called to ratify that constitution; and now he proposed to beat him for governor in a State which would have great influence in smoothing the way for the new federal government.
After the close of the Revolution, there had been local parties in the various Stales, divided on issues of hard and soft money, on imposts, on treatment of Tories, and on state rights, and these issues had coincided in many of the States. During the contest growing out of the adoption of the Federal Constitution, all these elements became segregated into two great political parties, those who supported the Constitution being known as Federalists—those who were opposed to strengthening the bond between the States being called anti-Federalists. The latter were clearly in the majority in New York, and Hamilton rightly inferred that, notwithstanding the people, since the adoption of the Constitution, manifested a disposition to sustain the general government, a large majority of freeholders, having heretofore supported Clinton as a wise, patriotic governor, would not now desert him for an out-and-out Federalist. To meet this emergency, several Federalists, at a meeting held February 11, 1789, nominated Robert Yates, an anti-Federalist judge of the Supreme Court, hoping thus to form a coalition with the more moderate men of his party.
In support of such politics, of the doubtful wisdom of which there was abundant illustration in the recent unnatural coalition between Lord North and the brilliant Charles James Fox, Hamilton wrote to his friends in Albany that in settling upon a candidate, some difficulties occurred. "Our fellow citizens in some parts of the State," he said, "had proposed Judge Yates, others had been advocates of Lieutenant-Governor Van Cortlandt, and others for Chief Justice Morris. It is well known that the inhabitants of this city are, with few exceptions, strongly attached to the new Constitution. It is also well known that the Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice, whom we respect and esteem, were zealous advocates for the same cause. Had it been agreed to support either of them for governor, there would have been reason to fear that the measure would have been imputed to party, and not to a desire of relieving our country from the evils they experience from the heats of party. It appeared, therefore, most advisable to elect some man of the opposite party, in whose integrity, patriotism, and temper, confidence might be placed, however little his political opinions on the question lately agitated might be approved by those who were assembled upon that occasion.
"Among the persons of this description, there were circumstances which led to a decision in favour of Judge Yates. It is certain that as a man and a judge he is generally esteemed. And, though his opposition to the new Constitution was such as his friends cannot but disapprove, yet, since the period of its adoption, his conduct has been tempered with a degree of moderation, and seems to point him out as a man likely to compose the differences of the State. Of this at least we feel confident, that he has no personal revenge to gratify, no opponents to oppress, no partisans to provide for, nor any promises for personal purposes to be performed at the public expense."