History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Regarding Colonial New York
An address delivered before the Oneida Historical Society, Utica, NY
at its second annual meeting, January 14, 1879.
By Douglas Campbell of New York
F. J. Ficker, Law & Job Printer, 79 & 81 William St., New York, 1879.
The Oneida Historical Society, Officers for 1879.
President, Horatio Seymour
Vice Presidents, Charles W. Hutchinson, Alexander Seward, Edward Hutchinson
Recording Secretary, S. N. Dexter North
Corresponding Secretary and Librarian, Morven M. Jones
Treasurer, Robert S. Williams
Executive Committee, John F. Seymour, John L. Earll, S. G. Visscher, William J. Bacon, Richard U. Sherman
Board of Councilors: Roscoe Conkling, Romroy Jones, Luther Guiteau, Philo White, Daniel B. Goodwin, Charlemagne Tower, John Stryer, Ward Hunt, Ellis H. Roberts, Richard U. Sherman, DeWitt C. Grove, Theodore S. Faston, John H. Edmonds, Francis Kerman, Michael Morre, Edward North, Othneil S. Williams, William D. Walcott, David E. Wager, John P. Gray, Daniel Batchelor, John F. Seymour, William J. Bacon, John G. Crocker, Simeon G. Visscher, John L. Earll.
Extract from minutes of annual meeting of the Oneida Historical Society, January 14th, 1879: "At the conclusion of the address of Major Douglas Campbell, it was, upon motion of Mr. Ellis H. Roberts,
"Resolved, That the thanks of the Oneida Historical Society are most gratefully extended to the distinguished orator of the evening, for his scholarly and exhaustive, his suggestive and inspiring address, and that he be requested to furnish a copy for publication. ("S. N. Dexter North, "Rec. Secretary.")
Historical Fallacies Regarding Colonial New York
Sir Robert Walpole, during his last illness, desiring a friend to read to him was asked to select the book. "Anything but History," he answered, "that must be false." The dying statesman, who for more than twenty years, as Prime Minister of England, had been making history, knew full well whereof he spoke. His criticism was somewhat novel then, but the century since its utterance has made the sneer a maxim. A hundred years ago, and to the common mind all history was alike; the legends of Livy or the marvels of Herodutus, the gossip of Suetonius or the campaigns of Caesar--all were sacred, to question them was well nigh heresy. But today is the age of the iconoclasts. Under their blows our idols are crumbling to powder. They dig up the musty records from which history has been made, they search into the lives of the historians to find out who they were, and they seek further to find out why they wrote. True science is exact, for it is founded on laws which are immutable; true poetry is immortal, for it breath is inspiration: but history is like the work of the photographer, it depends for its accuracy upon the material, the workman, the focus and the atmosphere. No wonder that the scholar rises from his task to say with Walpole, "It must be false."
This restless, inquisitive nineteenth century presses its inquiries everywhere, into the heavens above, into the earth beneath, and into the waters under the earth; but its record will contain no more instructive and fascinating chapter than that which describes its rearrangement of the annals of the past. We have seen a host of great scholars, led by the audacious Niebuhr, reconstructing Roman history; we have seen another army sifting the grains of truth from the fairy tales of the early Greek historians; while today an indefatigable explorer exhumes the wall of ancient Troy, and show to the world that the immortal Homer was no writer of romance.
But it is not ancient history alone that our scholars are rewriting. Men now living have seen the "Wizard of the North" change the whole face of Scotland by the magic of his matchless pen; until Scott waved his wand, it was but the
"Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood;"
but under his spells it has become, for old and young alike, the land of heroic daring and romantic deeds.
What Sir Walter did for Scotland, Prescott and Irving have done for Spain, Macauley has accomplished for the England of the Puritans, and, what is of more interest to us, Motley has done for the heroes who founded the great Dutch Republic, planted the Colony of New York, and laid the corner stone of the Empire State.
Did time permit I should like to dwell upon this subject, and point out some of the causes which formerly made history of so little value. I should speak of Louis the Fourteenth, who withdrew a pension from one historian for his impertinent remarks upon taxation, who banished Fenelon for a supposed criticism of his reign in the romance Telemachus, and threw another author into the Bastille for innocently revealing a secret of state in a panegyric of the Grand Monarch himself. I should like to point out the influences of a different character, but hardly less potent, which fettered the historians in England. I should like to show how Voltaire first brought secular history to the bar of human reason by attacking the early fables of Greece and Rome, thus laying open the broad domain of the past to the fearless seekers after truth, and then contrast the work of his great successors, following his methods, with that of men like Rollin, who, in their libraries, blindly translated the classic authors or evolved history from their inner consciousness. Above all, I should like to show the effects of modern liberal ideas in opening to the scholar the secret archives of state which have made possible the works of recent historians, calling attention tot he fact that less than forty years ago an agent of the State of New was in England denied access to the official documents relating to our colonial period. The topic is a fascinating one, and so far as I know it has received but slight consideration, but I must confine myself tonight to a single branch of this broad subject.
In view of the multitudinous volumes which have been written upon America, it would seem at first glance almost presumptuous to suggest that anything of importance had been omitted. But when we consider the worthlessness of most of the old accepted histories of countries much better known and more cultivated than our own, we shall feel less surprise at the assertion that the truth about New York has never yet been written.
The reasons for this are not far to seek. Here all the obstacles which were encountered in the Old World existed in an exaggerated form, with a multitude of others unknown in Europe. First, was the newness of the country. The early settlers were too much occupied in conquering nature, and in battling for their right, to find time to compose historic memoirs. Added to this, was the fact that the very cosmopolitan population, which helped so largely to make this colony great in action, prevented the oneness of feeling and pride of origin which ordinarily give birth to history. Again, New York had but a small population in colonial times. At the outbreak of the French and Indian war, she stood seventh or eighth in rank; at the adoption of the Federal Constitution, in 1789, she had only advanced to the fifth position. Lastly, her original inhabitants were Dutchmen, or whom the English knew very little, and whom, with characteristic insolence, they hated and despised just in proportion to their ignorance.
These conditions threw the writing of colonial history into the hands of the New Englanders, and there were special reasons why that people never understood New York. From their first landing at Manhattan Island the Dutchmen found themselves engaged in a boundary quarrel with their New England neighbors, which continue even after the Revolution, and at times almost culminated in open war. New York was generally in the right, and it was so adjudged by the authorities in England, but her victories only intensified the bitterness against her. This, with the English dislike for foreigners inherited by our eastern brethren, sufficiently accounts for the prejudice, of which we see so much among the New England revolutionary writers. But that is only a part of the story, a more potent cause of misunderstanding was actual want of materials relating to our history. We must remember that in the last century these colonies were very far apart. We are much nearer Central Europe today than we were to Virginia a hundred years ago. The early records of New York were in Dutch, a language which our own people had substantially forgotten, and lastly, our official correspondence was almost a sealed book not only to New Yorkers, but to all others who desired to investigate her history.
Such are some of the causes which have made colonial New York play so insignificant a part in the current histories of America, and the result of this is not a matter of slight importance. If I am right in my conclusions, the want of a correct appreciation of the history of New York is something more than a local loss, for it causes the absence of a chapter without which American history is, to say the least, very incomplete. To illustrate my meaning, let me call your attention to a few facts, the truth of which will be at once acknowledged, but which have generally passed unnoticed.
According to the views of most historians, the two colonies which exercises the greatest influence upon American affairs were Massachusetts and Virginia, which stood head and shoulders above the rest in wealth and population. Now take down from your book shelves the volumes relating to America, and glancing them over, what do you discover? In regard to Virginia you will find chapter after chapter devoted to the days of her colonization, you will read that in 1631 her House of Burgesses passed a law that no tax should be levied without its consent, and that, in fact, the colony was almost independent. But run down the pages till the restoration of Charles the Second, in 1660, and thereafter you will find a blank. Virginia becomes the mildest and most easily managed of all the Provinces; you hear no more of independence; the great history of the primitive age has closed, to reopen only with the American Revolution.
Now, repeat the process with New England, and see how nearly you reach the same result. Begin with the landing of the May Flower in 1620; set down the famous names which have illuminated the pages of her colonial annals prior to the Stamp Act, and you will find nearly all of them clustered in the first fifty years of her existence. Leave out the Witch persecutions, and recall what you know of her history, and you will discover that it is substantially confined to the same great period. In 1683 the charter of Massachusetts was forfeited by Charles the Second; take up your colonial histories, and notice how little you will find relating to New England after that event. Prior to that time Massachusetts had almost been a separate republic, and her writers glow with justifiable enthusiasm as they trace the great events of those heroic days. But run down the subsequent years to the passage of the Stamp Act, and mark how bare the pages are of interest. Bancroft devotes two entire volumes to the period anterior to the English Revolution of 1685, and then gives a part of two chapters to the interior affairs of the colonies from that time until 1748, when, he claims, that the American Revolution began.
Now, what is the cause of this? Before answering this question let me say a few words about the cause commonly assigned, and in which lurks one of those fallacies with which history is overflowing. In 1688 occurred the event which settled English liberty on an imperishable basis. At the time of the Stamp Act in 1765, the American colonists are found in possession of most of the rights which the English acquired by their glorious revolution. Many persons assume that America gained these rights at the same time and by the same event, and hence conclude that the intervening period was one in which the people, happy in their liberty, lived on unnoticed and uncared for, enjoying the blissful lot of being without a history. Of all historical fallacies none surpasses this. It has gained credence by a misapprehension of the nature of the English revolution and of the character of the man whom it placed upon the throne. Read the surface of books and you will think of William the Third as a liberal minded Dutchman, who, from some kind of disinterested love of English liberty, left his home and ascended the throne from which the despotic Stuarts had been driven. As you read further, some curious problems will arise before you. You will see that the only country that he ever loved was his native Holland, that he hated England and disliked her people. Recollecting that he was a grandson of Charles the First, and a nephew as well as son-in-law of James the Second, you will find that he was as arbitrary and fond of kingly power as his grandfather or uncle. Go on now and read between the lines, and you will see that this Dutch Stadtholder was a greater man than English historians have ever painted him, although the revelation of his true character is not so flattering to English pride. You will see a careworn, haggard man, prematurely old, almost friendless, racked with ceaseless pains, dragging out fourteen years of bitter exile from motives much higher than ambition or love of England. From his early boyhood France had been his enemy, for she was the foe of European liberty. He had saved Holland from her grasp by the exercise of talents which history can scarcely equal, but something more remained. Nothing but his frail life stood between the Grand Monarch and universal power. The arch enemy must be crippled or nothing had been done. To accomplish this became his life work. Slowly but patiently he built up the Grand Alliance, yet England, whose aid was indispensable, could never be secured while the Stuarts on the throne were rioting with Gallic gold. He married his cousin to advance his plans but nothing came from that; at length the revolution called him to the throne, and he went to England to gain an ally for the Grand Alliance.
To William personally, England's aid was dearly bought. Time and time again his kingly power was encroached upon; concession after concession was wrung from his necessities, until it seemed as if his pride could bear no more, and that he must give up his life work and return to Holland. Fortunately for the world, he persevered; France was crippled; Europe was saved,and the concessions wrung from him by Parliament, crystallized into the foundations of English liberty. Such was the origin of the great constitutional principles which make the English revolution so justly famous. But American had no troops to furnish and no money to supply; she had nothing with which to purchase freedom. It is probably the most curious fact connected with the reign of William, that in all the discussions regarding popular rights which mark that period, the colonists were never so much as mentioned. They were left after that event just where they stood before, subject to the prerogative of the crown, and that crown was worn by a monarch, who was at least as fond of power as any of the Stuarts.
Such being the character of the English revolution and its relations to the Colonies, one sees that America must have had a history for the next half century. To those who regard New England as America, this proposition will be somewhat novel. But, although New England during that period made little history, it was not because America was standing still. New England was not America, and no one will understand our institutions until he appreciates this truth. Look about you today, sum up all that to your mind distinguishes our people, and then turn back to the famous history of the Puritans, and see how little you will find of similarity between the two. New England was a Puritan colony from Old England, its emigration was a transplanting, not the creation of a new people. Its great men simply acted out in Massachusetts and Connecticut a chapter of English history. Between 1630 and 1640, twenty-one thousand Puritans left England and settled in America. They were men picked from among a race who, directly after their departure, made the English Commonwealth honored in every quarter of the globe. They had among their number statesmen and soldiers, and so many scholars that it was said one out of every two hundred and fifty emigrants was a college graduate. Here they showed the same virtues as their English brethren exhibited in the Long Parliament and on the fields of Dunbar and Worcester, but, with their faith, courage and indomitable energy, were mingled the same petty bigotry and narrowness of mind.
With the restoration of Charles the Second, Puritanism died in England. It lingered on a little longer in America, but with its decadence New England's first great chapter of history was closed. The foundation of Puritanism was strictly a religious one; civil liberty was of consequence only as a protection to religion; the State was important simply because the Church was the State. When that intense, religious, crusading spirit died out--and we see it failing long before the English revolution--but one result could follow. There came a period of transition which sinks into insignificance compared with the days of positive ideas by which it was preceded. The Puritan was becoming an American; the descendant was worthy of his ancestor, but he did not at once spring into full maturity.
Meantime, however, America was moving forward. The missing chapter is somewhere to be found. Let us see if we can find it.
The favorite process of the scholars who have reconstructed ancient history, is to test the statements of early writers by the argument of probabilities. Judged by this standard we should expect much more from New York than that with which she has been credited. At two points we have solid ground as a basis for our reasoning. In the first place, we know the ancestry of the founders of New York; their history has been written by outside, impartial scholars,who tell us that they were second to no people of modern times. That much is settled,and the present is no less assured. We see around us what is, indeed, the Empire State; first in wealth and population, second to none in enterprise, patriotism and public spirit. Within the present generation we have seen her sending to the battlefield half a million of her sons. Go back to the days which followed the Revolution, and we hear the same report. She launched the first successful steamboat, she dug the first great canal; she built the first locomotive in America. In love of liberty and devotion to the Union she has never been excelled. One of her sons penned the most famous of the early revolutionary papers which excited the admiration of Burke and Chatham. Her statesmen furnished the model for the constitution of the Union. She gave to Washington's Cabinet the great master of American finances; she gave to the Supreme Court its first Chief Justice. These things we know. If then, in the early colonial times which tried men's souls, New York was wanting, it would be strange indeed. Nations do not, like men, put off their bodies each seven years, nor do they undergo an instantaneous change of hearts. Some men achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, but nations are only born great.
But we have much more than the argument of probabilities to throw light upon the subject. The old records, buried long in dust and unknown to the earlier historians, have been discovered within the past few years. To the New York Historical Society belongs the chief credit of their resurrection. More than thirty years ago it induced the Legislature to send an agent to Europe to explore the state offices of Holland, France and England. In Holland be found great masses of correspondence and documents relating to the Dutch period of the colony; in France all the papers relating to Canada and our Indian wars; and in England, all the official correspondence between the royal governors and the British cabinet. At home, the society rescued from the garrets and cellars of our public buildings most of the records of the colony itself. We have all the statutes, all the minutes of our colonial assemblies, and many of the records of our courts. These documents, now substantially complete, show that colonial New York was a daughter worthy of her noble ancestors and fit to be the mother of the Empire State. They prove conclusively that here is the unwritten chapter, without which the history of American liberty is incomplete.
Several causes combined to make New York the most important of all the colonies, although far down the scale in point of population. The chief of these was her geographical position, which gave her, through the Hudson and Mohawk, the key to the American Continent. Upon this subject I need not dwell. The learned and eloquent President of this society (Hon. Horatio Seymour) has on other occasions treated it so exhaustively that gleaners in the field find nothing to reward their industry.
The second marked feature of the colony was the character of her population. New England and Virginia were peopled almost exclusively by Englishmen, but New York was always cosmopolitan. The America of today is not English in its character, it has engrafted ont he original stock shoots from all the modern European nations, and this heterogeneity makes it what it is, with all its virtues and short comings. Such as America is today, New York has ever been, except that her settlers were culled from nations whose virtures are all historic.
First in time stand the Dutch--heroic men who came in an heroic age. We never can overrate their influence in the history of American liberty. Their New England neighbors sometimes sneered at the Dutchmen, but an American historian has taught the whole world to do them honor. While Henry Hudson was on his memorable voyage, the inhabitants of the United Netherlands took their place among the nations of the earth as an independent people. For forty long years they had carried on a war with Spain and had grown great in the struggle. At the outset they only demanded religious liberty as subjects. For answer their country was overrun by Alva and his Spanish butchers, the council of Blood covered the land with gibbets,and the inquisition sacrificed its victims by thousands. They they become a nation of warriors worthy of their Batavian ancestors whom Tacitus has immortalized. "Other nations," said he, "go to battle--they go to war." In the open field they defeated the trained legions of Philip; besieged in their cities they surrendered only to famine, and at times, to sweep the invader from their soil, they cut their dykes and gave the land back to the sea from which it had been rescued. In 1581, thirteen years after the outbreak, they proclaimed their independence of Philip, and thenceforth fought for civil as well as religious liberty. On the 9th of April, 1609, while the Half Moon, Hudson's vessel, was on the ocean, after forty year of continuous war, Philip the Third signed a twelve years' truce at Antwerp, by which he recognized the United Netherlands as "free countries, provinces and States."
It is to this people. restless and undaunted, successful by the land and by the sea, whose motto was "Taxation only by consent," who founded the first great republic, and who enforced the doctrine of universal religious toleration, that the Empire State of New York owes its origin.
Next in point of numbers and of time came another race, who however need no eulogy, for history has always done them justice. They were the men who chanted psalms as they went into the battle of Irvy with Henry of Navarre, who for years had by their virtues kept France from sinking into unutterable depths of public and private vice. Then came accessions from New England of the more liberal thinkers, who fled from that new hierarchy to find a home where they could be free to worship God as they thought fit. Later on came Protestants, driven out of the Palatinate by the cruelties of Louis the Fourteenth, Scotch-Irish who had borne the horrors of the siege of Londonderry, Catholic Highlanders who had fought with the Pretender.
Thus the people were gathered from all nations, Dutch, French, English, German, Irish and Scotch, and yet they had one bond of union. They had all suffered for their religion, and all had a keen sense, not only of their religious but of their civil rights.
The third peculiarity of New York was the fact that it was settled purely for purposes of commerce. New England had its origin in a religious movement. Virginia grew up on tobacco culture. New York alone was planted solely for commercial reasons. The character thus impressed upon the colony at birth was never lost. The New Yorkers have always been emphatically a commercial people. Sometimes their New England neighbors sneered at them as a race engrossed in the pursuit of gain, and even today, among a certain so-called "cultured," uneducated class, the sneer has not altogether lost its force.
It is a fact that New York did not think of establishing a classical university until a century after Massachusetts had founded Harvard College. Of course no one today would belittle New England's services in the cause of education. She gave to America the common school system which the Puritans found in Holland. There her pride is fortressed impregnably. But her colleges, devoted mainly to making preachers of controversial theology, stand upon a different footing. Unless I am greatly mistaken, their influence upon the progress of American liberty has been greatly overestimated. Looking back at the world's history, we find that few ideas regarding civil liberty have emanated from classical universities. They have sprung from a very different quarter.
The commerce of the Phoenicians gave birth to the alphabet, arithmetic and the system of weights and measures. Thus literature and science had their origin in commerce. During the middle ages the walled towns, the homes of commerce and manufacture, preserved the seeds of civil liberty. The great Dutch revolution of the 16th century was the work of the foremost merchants of the world. In regard to England, Macauley sums up the whole truth in saying: "The foundations of our constitution were laid by men who knew nothing of the Greeks but that they denied the orthodox procession and cheated the crusaders, and nothing of Rome but that the Pope lived there." During the contests with the Stuarts, while the universities were the strongholds of the crown, Cromwell recruited his army from the manufacturing and commercial classes. Oxford has always been Tory and Conservative; London has been liberal and progressive. To this rule America is no exception. The merchants of colonial New York knew little of the classics, but they led their countrymen in the contest for civil liberty.
There was still another feature of New York's position which served in later days to make her a leader among the colonies; this was her governmental relation to the mother country. For over forty years she was the private property of the Dutch West India Company, a vast trading and privateering corporation, then for the next twenty years the private property of the Duke of York, and, finally, a possession of the Crown of England. Most of the other colonies, through grants and charters, gained privileges and concessions; New York never obtained the simplest right save as the spoils of victory. At first these conditions seemed unfavorable to progress. While New England and Virginia were under liberal charters rejoicing insubstantial independence, New York was struggling for the incipient rights of freemen. But the absence of a charter proved in the end only a blessing in disguise. From each contest, crowned as it was with victory, the people rose nerved to demand some new, withheld advantage.
But there was another result even more marked than this. In the chartered colonies the people had a contract with the crown. There disputed questions arose over the construction of a legal document. Here, when a right was claimed, no musty parchment could be produced in its support of derogation. Hence, from an early day this people, for their argument, fell back upon the law of nature, or their inherent rights as British subjects, a claim which in the nature of things could only culminate in revolution and independence. Trained in such a school it is not strange that the statesmen of New York played so important a part in the revolutionary struggle, and that within her borders arose the two great political parties which since that time have divided the people of the United States.
For the first forty years of her existence, New York was the property of the Dutch West India Company. Upon this period I do not design to dwell, but I may say in passing that he who will attentively read the pages of O'Callaghan and Brodhead will find his trouble well repaid. It has been the fashion to sneer at those early Dutchmen as stupid and phlegmatic, heavy with beer and narcotized by tobacco, and I regret to say that a native New Yorker first set the example by employing all his genius to throw ridicule over ancestors whom he should have venerated. On the pages of veritable history we see a race of sturdy, liberty-loving men, who, in defence of free speech and self-government, bore fines, prison fare and banishment, until at length they mastered a despotic Governor and the soulless corporation which ruled their fortunes.
As I pass over the days of the Dutch West India Company, so I must hasten by those of the Duke of York, who for more than twenty years held the province as his private property. In his time the colony gained the concession of a representative Assembly, but true to her destiny, this was not granted as a voluntary gift. The people refused to be taxed without their own consent; the New York merchants arrested and tried for high treason the Mayor of the city for levying duties without an act of Parliament, and finally, James seeing that otherwise the colony would be a heavy charge upon his private purse, consented that the people should have their own Assembly.
When this Assembly came together in 1683, a majority of its members were found to be men of Dutch descent. The fact is noteworthy, for their first act was one which should endear their memory to every native of the State.
Five years before the famous Bill of Rights in England, and eight years before the memorable act of Massachusetts, these Dutchmen passed a Bill of Rights, which history has ignored, although the statesmen of Massachusetts imitated its provisions. In bold, unmistakable language, it asserted that the "supreme legislative power should forever be and reside in the Governor, council and people, met in general assembly," and then went on to enumerate the other rights to which they were entitled; among these were trial by jury, freedom from taxation except by their own consent, exemption from martial law, and the quartering of soldiers upon citizens,and perfect toleration to all persons professing faith in Christ. Of this noble document, issued in 1683, it may be said that it is surpassed by nothing in American history; no, not by the declaration of Independence itself, for the boldness and force of language with which it declares the people of New York entitled to all the rights of freemen.
This act was transmitted to England; over it the Duke of York deliberated long, but finally gave it his approval. However, before it left his hands he mounted to the throne as successor to his brother Charles, and New York became part of the possessions of the Crown. Following out in America the system which eh attemtped in England, James abolished the colonial Assembly, and attempted to rule by the royal prerogative. How he succeeded at hoem the world knows by heart. The English revolution of 1688 drove the Stuarts into perpetual exile, and placed a native Dutchman on the throne of England.
We come now to the chapter of American history of which I have already spoken as yet unwritten. As I have said, the English revolution left the colonies in their relation to the Crown without substantial benefit. In England the King's authority was much curtailed, here the prerogative was undiminished. The great Lord Holt said of the colonies, "Their law is what the King pleases." Granville, the President of the Privy Council, said,"The Governor's instructions are the law of the land, for the King is the legislator for the colonies." William the Third allowed New York a representative Assembly, for government without it would have been impossible, but the instructions which he issued to his royal governors were copied almost word for word from those prepared by the bigoted, intolerant James the Second.
For several years afte the English revolution, New York was convulsed by conflicts of race, and during that period but little permanent advance was made. However,the struggle for the mastery between the Dutch, the Huguenot and the English elements among the population, developed a love of self-government which found rapid growth when the people became united. Time, the great physician, healed the dissensions,and what he left undone was accomplished by the vices of the men who were sent out as royal governors.
The first great struggle arose under the rule of the disreputable Cornbury, the cousin of Queen Anne. The questions involved in this were two fold -- one religious, the other civil.
From early Dutch days the colony had practised full religious toleration. When Stuyvesant attempted to harry the Quakers, the West Indian company, in a justly famous letter, rebuked his zeal and ordered him to follow the example of his native land. The policy then adopted here had never been abandoned, although Maryland, which had started upon the same course, had fallen by the wayside. Now Cornbury opened the last attack upon the right of conscience.
The Governor's instructions, which according to the English jurists, had all the force of law, provided that no minister should preach inthe province without his license. In 1797 the Rev. Francis Makemie, a Presbyterian clergyman, traveling through New York, was bold enough to preach without permission. Dragged before the Governor, he was asked how he dared to violet the royal instructions. he answered in ever memorable words: "Your instructions are no law to me." Being indicted and tried for his offense, he was defended by the three foremost lawyers of the colony. It is a creditable fact that these men were all Episcopalians. They had assisted in every legitimate effort to build up the Church of England; but when liberty was attacked, even in the person of the dissenter, they volunteered in her support. Upon the trial the lawyers took the position first pointed out by their client. They insisted that it was no offense to violate the roayl instructions, for they had no force as laws. The learned Chief Justice Mompesson, in charging the jury, told them that the question was a doubtful one, and the victory was gained, for the prisoner was acquitted.
The trial of Makemie is justly famous. It has been spoken and written of times without number. Every one knows of it as establishing freedom of religious worship in New York, but no historian seems to have recognized its still greater importance as dealing the firs blow at the royal prerogative in the colonies.
The lesson set to America by Makemie's trial was quickly learned. Cornbury went to New Jersey to meet the Legislature, who were refractory, and, as he thought, insolent. To excuse some of his demands, he read to them extracts from his instructions. Through their mouthpiece, Lewis Morris, one of New York's great men, they responded, "You need not read your instructions to us, they are no law." In New Your itself the work went boldly on. Cornbury had stolen the public money, and the people obtained from the Crown permission to appoint a treasurer of their own to take charge of appropriations for extraordinary purpose. They had also made anther bold demand. Imitating the example of the English House of Commons, they had denied the right of the council, as an upper house, to amend any money bill.
But is was after the trial of Makemie that they first took the bold position which they maintained until the revolution. The Assembly which met in 1708 passed a set of resolutions,which form the keynote of all the subsequent resistance of the colonies. Tow of these resolutions, which Bancroft dismisses with a single line, should be inscribed in letters of gold on the title page of every history of American Liberty.
Resolved, That it is, and always has been, the unquestionable right of every freeman in this colony, that he hath a perfect and entire property in his goods and estate.
Resolved, That the imposing and levying of any moneys upon her Majesty's subjects of this colony, under and pretense or color whatsoever, without consent in General Assembly, is a grievance and a violation of people's property.
This was no utterance of a private individual, but the solemn declaration of the General Assembly of New York; and in estimating New York's position in the great contest for liberty, we must remember that these resolutions were published more than fifty years before James Otis made his famous speech in Boston, or Patrick Henry delivered his inspired philippic in Richmond denying the right of Parliament to tax America.
But the New York Assembly were not content with empty resolutions. Up to this time they had been accustomed to pass revenue bills, as they were called,which gave to the government for a term of years, ranging from tow to six, a fixed sum for its support. The money thus appropriated was expended by the Governor and Council, substantially as they saw fit. But now all this was coming to an end. A few months after the passage of the famous resolutions of 1708 the odious Cornbury was removed. The next year the revenue expired by limitation. To the consternation of Cornbury's successor, the Assembly announced that they would pass no more such bills. They stated that they would only grant an annual supply, as was done in England; that the money appropriated should be collected by their own treasurer, and not by the collector of the Crown, and should be disbursed under their own direction.
Now, the contest was fairly opened,which was to close only with the revolution, and it must be remembered that in this contest New York, for many years, stood comparatively alone. Against the position of the Assembly the Governor, in turns, stormed and entreated, threatened and cajoled, but all in vain; he showed his instructions and talked of his honor pledged to their enforcement. The Assembly only answered by the reassertion of their rights. Then the governor appealed to England with a result little noticed in history. In 1711, fifty-four years before the passage of the Stamp act, the English Administration, fearful lest the contagion of this colony's example should extend tot he other plantations, by order of the Queen, introduced into Parliament a bill for the taxation of New York.
However, Parliament was not yet prepared for such a policy, and the vill, though pressed for two years, was never passed. If its introduction was intended as a menace, it failed in its effects. For four years more the deadlock continued; the public debts were not discharged; even the official salaries remained unpaid; but at length the contest was terminated by the surrender, not of the refractory Assembly, but of the royal Governor himself. In 1715, a revenue bill for five years was passed, which provided that the money appropriated should be collected and disbursed by the Colonial Treasurer, Abraham DePeyster, and the Governor gave his word of honor, as a gentleman, that it should be expended as the Assembly should direct. The Assembly consented to a five years' revenue in exchange for the Governor's assent to an act which was much desired by them, but opposed by the crown, for naturalizing all foreigners in the colony.
For the next seventeen years little of public interest occurred, for the people remained undisturbed in the rights which they had gained. There were in this period only a few ripples on the surface, but these show the force and direction of the curretn. One Governor attempted to interfere with the right of the Assembly to judge of the qualifications of their own members, but quickly receded before a storm of public indignation. later on the Council questioned some members about a vot which they had given, but the assembly answered by a resolution, "That for any act, matter or thing done in General Assembly the members thereof are accountable and answerable to the House only, and to no other person or persons whatsoever." During this time also the people manifested so much opposition to the Court of Chancery,which th4ey claimed was illegal, because created without consent of the Assembly, that its fees were so reduced, in the language of Smith, the historian, as to cause their wheels thereafter to rust upon their axis.
In 1732, Colonel William Cosby arrived in the colony as Governor of the Royal Provinces. In speaking of him it is only fair to the memory of Cornbury to say, that history is undecided which of the two the more disgraced the commissionwhich he bore. As Cornbury's name is associated with the trial of Makemie, so is Cosby's with the still better known prosecution of Zenger.
Unop this great event I need not dwell. The story has been so often told that the whole scene rises beofre us at the mere mention of the name of this obscure German printer. We see him committed to prison for libelling the obnoxious Governor, and yet passing new manuscript through the gratings of his cell. We see his counsel, the ablest lawyers inthe Province, disbarred by an arbitrary order of the Judges for questioning their ommissions, which were after wards pronounced illegal by the authorities in England.
The day of the trial comes; we see business suspended in the little city; we see the courthouse crowded to suffocation with a breathless audience, while the multitude surges around the doors and windows. At the last moment, when hope seems lost, the prisoner is almost undefended,the crowd opens, a lane is formed, and Andrew Hamilton, of Philadelphia, the leader of the American bar, stands by the printer who today represents the freedom of the press. We tremble as we hear the brave old man sweep away all technical defense, by admitting the publication, but our fear is changed to admiration--almost to awe--as his argument proceeds. We see audience and jury moved by his words as a field of grain by the breeze. We see them convulsed by his sarcasm, trembling at his pathos. We almost sympathize with the judges as we see them quailing before his denunciations. At last the old man eloquent sits down, and we hear the cowed chief justice mumbling his flimsy charge. The jury retire, and in a moment return. Amid silence as of the grave we hear the verdict, "Not Guilty." Then the courthouse is awakened by a shout like that which resounded through Westminster Hall at the acquittal of the "Seven Bishops."
This trial founded the freedom of the American press. Twelve years before Benjamin Franklin had been driven from Boston for a libel on its hierarchy. His brother was imprisoned for a month, and forbidden to publish his paper except under official supervision. But all this was now ended--the colonial press was free.
Glancing now rapidly at events after the trial of Zenger, we notice a new stimulus given to the cause of colonial liberty. We have seen how, as early as 1709, the Assembly raised the question of an annual supply bill, cut that it was then abandoned for concessions considered more important. Now, however, the people saw that a fixed revenue once granted, if only for five years, rendered their Governors in a measure independent, arbitrary and unmanageable. In 1738, the five years revenue granted to Cosby before the Zenger trial expired, and again the assembly returned to the scheme of an annual appropriation, which they were never thereafter to abandon. Governors raged, the Board of Trade and Cabinet protested and threatened, but the people were unmoved; and after a contest of nearly twenty year's duration Great Britain yielded from pure exhaustion.
The subsequent steps toward independence of the Crown were marked and rapid. In 1748, Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts, who visited New York, writes of the Assembly: "They seem to have left scarcely any part of His Majesty's prerogative untouched, and they have gone great lengths toward getting the Government, military as well as civil, into their hands." In 1750, Governor Clinton writes: "It is not in the power of any Governor on the present footing of affairs to support his authority in this province."
Meantime a new administration had come into power in England. The Duke of Newcastle, who had acted as Secretary of State for the Colonies for twenty-four years, and who, it was said, addressed letters to the Island of New England, and thought Jamaica was somewhere in the Mediterranean, had retired from office. However, his successors knew but little more about the affairs of America, or the spirit of the people; after hearing the complaints of the Governors of New York, and after a long deliberation, they sagely concluded that only a little firmness was needed to recover all the ground won by her stubborn Legislature. They therefore decided to send out a new Governor with more stringent instructions. The tragic sequel showed the impotence of this conclusion. Sir Danvers Osborne, brother-in-law to the Earl of Halifax, was selected for the office.
On the 7th of October, 1753, Osborne arrived in New York; on the 10th he took the oath of office, and on the same day received an address from the City Council declaring that they would not "brook any infringement of their inestimable liberties, civil and religious." On the next day he summoned his Council and laid before them his instructions, which required the Assembly "to recede from all encroachments on the prerogative," to establish a permanent revenue, and provided that all money should be applied by the governor with the consent of his Council; the Assembly having no right even to examine the accounts. Already he doubted his powers to carry out his mission. Sadly he asked the Council if these instructions would be obeyed. All agreed that the people never would submit. He signed, turned about, reclined against the window frame, and exclaimed, "Then why am I come here?"
Morbidly sensitive, conscientious and jealous of his word, there seemed to his mind, already shaken by domestic sorrow, but one resource. The next morning found him lifeless, strangled by his own hand. On his table was found a paper with these words: "Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat." Whom the gods would destroy, they must first make mad. Did he speak of himself or of England's relation to the colonies.
With the suicide of Sir Danvers Osborne, ended the attempt to rule America by the royal prerogative. The contest which overthrew it, began, was waged and terminated in New York. Bancroft, while he slights the events which led up to the result, admits that New York was then the central point of political interest, and that in no province was the near approach of independence se clearly discerned and so openly predicted, at a time when the hope of it as a near event, in New England had not dawned.
We now come to the last chapter in the history, that of resistance to the British Parliament. Of this period we cannot complain that it has been overlooked, but I believe it is crowded with more misrepresentations that you can find in the history of any other country for an equal number of years.
First, take the French and Indian war. The French asserted title to the whole valley of the Ohio by virtue of prior occupation What was England's claim upon the question? Not prior discovery, as is usually asserted. Chief Justice Marshall has shown the absurdity of claiming to the Pacific Ocean because Cabot sailed along the Atlantic coast in 1697. No, England asserted title to the whole Western country, because the Six Nations who lived along this valley held it by conquest, and they were subjects or allies of Great Britain. This was her only claim, and it was set forth in official documents and maps circulated among the Courts of Europe. In our history this fact becomes of the first importance. England maintained the title to the Great West. After our revolution the question of its ownership arose, and the conflicting rights of the adverse claimants barred the way to the federal union. Then New York, which, as successor to the Six Nations, was the only State having a valid title, exhibited a generosity unparalleled in history, While the other States were haggling over terms, she stepped forward, and as a free gift, donated the whole territory unconditionally to the United States. That act made the Union possible, yet how much of the truth do you find in your common histories?
Now, look at some of the other events in the days which followed the French and Indian War. That conflict doubled England's debt. The men who paid the taxes naturally sought to shift the burden on some one else, and concluded to tax America. In 1764 the Stamp Act was agreed on by the Ministry, but postponed for a single year. In 1765 it was introduced and became a law; four months thereafter, the House of Burgesses of Virginia, led by Patrick Henry, passed set of resolutions against the act, asserting their right of self taxation. Mr. Wirt, in that fascinating romance, entitled the Life of Patrick Henry, quotes the great Virginian orator as authority for the statement that this was the first colonial opposition to the act, that the other colonies had remained silent, and that, by these resolutions, Mr. Henry gave the first impulse to the ball of the revolution. I would be the last person to detract from Patrick Henry's fame, for I believe that he thought his resolutions led the colonial protests; but Mr. Wirt, and others who have copied him, should have known the truth. In fact, New York had done all this a year before. In October, 1764, hearing of the proposal to pass the act, the New York Assembly sent a petition to Parliament so bold and revolutionary that no one dared to introduce it with the petitions from the other colonies. They claimed for their constituents "that great badge of English liberty, the being taxed only with their own consent." They disdained the thought of claiming this exemption as a privilege. "They found it on a basis more honorable, solid and stable; they challenge it, and glory in it as their right." No wonder that Massachusetts was chagrined when she compared these sentiments with the diffidence and want of spirit shown in her petition. No wonder that Bancroft, in distributing his honors, says: "Massachusetts entreated to union; New York pointed to independence."
But New York did more than to pass resolutions by the Assembly. On the 31st of October, 1765, her merchants united in the famous agreement to import no more goods from Great Britain until the Stamp Act should be repealed. Her example was followed by the merchants of Philadelphia on the 7th of November, and by those of Boston on December 9th. This measure first conceived and carried out by New York, put an end to all British trade with the colonies. The London merchants dealing with America saw ruin staring them in the face. They appealed to Parliament, and under their appeal the odious act was formally rescinded.
The repeal of the Stamp Act was received in the colonies with unbounded joy. But this feeling was of short duration, for the people soon learned that it was only the measure, not the principle, which had been abandoned. As part of the general system adopted for the establishment of a standing army in the country, several regiments were sent to America, and an act was passed requiring the colonies, where they were quartered, to provide for their support. New York led the resistance to this measure, and, in consequence of her action, Parliament, by a special statute, suspended her Legislature from its functions.
About the same time was passed the law imposing a duty on glass, paper and tea, and another act established a Board of Customs for America, which was located at Boston, then a great seaport of the colonies. This shifted the scene of active resistance to Massachusetts, and explains why Boston afterward became so prominent. Against sturdy New York the Ministry had fought in vain; under her blows the prerogative had been shattered forever; before the policy of her merchants, the Stamp Act had suffered an ignominious defeat; it was now purposed to seek a new battle ground, and select another method of attack.
I have no time to even sketch the subsequent events down to the revolution, but at the risk of wearying your patience must mention a few of the more important facts which history has misrepresented.
The first collision between the citizens and soldiers, and the first bloodshed of the revolution, occurred in 1770, but not in Boston, as the school books tell us. The Boston massacre--as it is called--took place on the 5th of March, but the first struggle, with loss of life, occurred six weeks earlier, on the 19th of January, in the City of New York. We call it the battle of Golden Hill. This, however, was not a chance event--like the arrival of the first cargo of tea in Boston, while the vessel intended for New York was driven off by adverse winds. Here the people stood ready to make a teapot of their harbor, but Boston got the first drawing by an accident.
The act of 1767, imposing a duty on glass, paper, and tea, was followed by another nonimportation agreement like its predecessor initiated by New York, and subsequently adopted by the other colonies. In March, 1770, all the obnoxious duties were removed except that on tea. Four months thereafter, the people of New York, by a popular vote, resolved to modify their agreement to import no goods from England, so that it should apply to tea alone.
The announcement of this resolve was greeted through the colonies with a strain of real or affected indignation: "Send us your old Liberty Pole," said Philadelphia, "as you can have no further sue for it." The Bostonians tore the letter to shreds and threw it to the winds, while South Carolina read it with disdainful anger. History has reiterated that New York was becoming lukewarm; and no winder if writers like Mr. Wirt told the facts in describing the fidelity with which the other colonies adhered to the agreement. But what shall we say of the historic muse when we have examined the records? All the colonies had signed the agreement to import no goods from England. Yet South Carolina,which was so indignant, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia had imported more than they had done before, while Pennsylvania and New England had imported nearly half as much. New York alone--and Bancroft sustains the statement made by Lord North in Parliament--had been perfectly true to her engagements, and had not imported the value of a penny. In consequence her trade had fallen to less than one-sixth of its former volume, and the grass was literally growing in her streets. Is there in all history a nobler instance of the honor which keeps its promise to its own hurt? Now, what did their honor still require? The agreement was useless when kept by only one member of the confederacy--it ruined herself, and was without effect on England. Instead, therefore, of evading it by secret violations as the other colonies had done, the merchants of New York came out openly, and withdrew from the unequal compact.
The other event occurred four years later. In 1774, Parliament passed the bill closing the port of Boston to all trade. The Bostonians then proposed that the nonimportation agreement should be revived. To this measure New York expressed a dissent, and there again she has been accused of being lukewarm. This expressed a dissent, and here again she has been accused of being lukewarm. This charge is as unfounded as the other. New York saw the futility of such separate agreements. Their day was past; it was but fighting the British people with wisps of straw that the winds would scatter. New York had a wiser and a broader plan. She proposed a Congress of all the colonies to devise measures for the public defense. This was acceded to; the Congress met; it bound the thirteen colonies into one people; two years thereafter its successor put forth the Declaration of Independence.
This is the legacy that New York has given to America.
Of New York's part in the revolution I have no time to speak. On another occasion I attempted to tell something of that story. But you here who have studied with the intensity of a personal interest the campaign of 1777, and the Battle of Oriskany, comparing the facts with the accounts given in the common histories, can judge whether Walpole was far wrong in saying "anything but history, that must be false."
In nothing which I have said this evening have I intended a reflection upon the other colonies. I would life New York to her proper level; but not, if I could, by dragging down her sisters. The fame of each is the common heritage of all. We are not New Yorkers, nor Virginians, nor New Englanders; the history of a hundred years has given us a prouder title--we are all Americans.
But aside from this there is another bond of union; we are united by the ties of a common ancestry. Most of the American colonies were settled by Englishmen, who pride themselves on their Anglo-Saxon blood. The Normans gave to society but a thin veneer upon the surface. The blood of the Anglo-Saxon gave the muscle and the brawn. This is the blood which gave to England, Milton, and Bacon and Shakespeare, Cromwell and Hampden and Pitt; which gave to America, Washington, Jefferson and Adams, Webster, Clay and Lincoln. But the Dutchmen who founded New York were of the same descent; they, too, were Anglo-Saxons of the bluest unmixed blood. Their cousins crossed the English Channel. They remained on the land which their fathers conquered. They were the Batavians of ancient history, on whom the Roman tax gatherer never levied tribute. The other tribes became subjects of Rome, they were never aught but allies; Caesar called them the bravest of his soldiers, and well he might, for they turned the tide of battle at Pharsalis. They were the tribe which worshipped but one God, and established universal suffrage. There is nothing, therefore, in their history, there is nothing in the history of New York, when truly written, which should cause surprise. The Dutch revolution of the sixteenth century, the English revolution of the seventeenth, and the American Revolution of the eighteenth century, are but chapters in one history, battles in one campaign; the great contest of the Anglo-Saxon race for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, my task is done, the further elaboration of this subject remains with your society, and, as a New Yorker, I feel happy to entrust it to such hands.
Your society has a great work before it, but it sets out with advantages possessed by none other in the State. You are fortunate in a President who, with eloquent tongue and classic pen, has done more to make the greatness of New York's history familiar than any man now living. About you every foot of soil is historic ground. Here has ever been the seat of empire of the continent.
Before you is the task of rescuing from oblivion the fleeting memorials of the past, which to the future historian will be priceless treasurers. Of this I need not speak, for the paper read by your able Secretary a few weeks ago upon this subject leaves nothing to be said. But you have another duty, to my mind, even more important than that of gathering materials for history. It is that of making the rising generation appreciate the grandeur of the past. Almost servile in following European systems of education, our youths can give you the names of the Roman emperors, can trace the dynasties of France, or tell you how constitutional government arose in England; but the growth of liberty at home, or the genesis of our written constitutions, the greatest political discovery of modern times, is to them as much of a sealed book as to a graduate of Oxford or Berlin. This should not be,and societies like yours can correct the evil. We owe this duty not alone to the scholar, but to every citizen of our native State. "History," says Bacon, "Makes men wise;" but it does much more, it makes them patriotic. The Greeks fought more bravely as they thought of Thermopylae and Marathon. We shall live more nobly as we think of our heroic ancestors, who, by a contest extending over nearly two centuries, laid broad and deep the foundations of our freedom.
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.