History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804
Chapter Seven, Peace and Reconciliation
In 1781, as the War of Independence neared its close, the states finally adopted a loose national government under the Articles of Confederation. Proposed by Congress in 1777, the Articles required unanimous consent of the 13 states before being put into operation. Approval was withheld until 1781, when Maryland's legislature was satisfied that states like Virginia with colonial charter claims to western lands would surrender them to the confederation government for the common welfare.
The confederation government was one of limited powers, for the states retained the crucial powers to tax and to regulate commerce, thus forcing the national government to rely on the requisition system of raising funds by appeals to the state legislatures. "The United States in Congress Assembled," (the formal title of the new government) did have significant powers of determining war and peace, conducting diplomacy, regulating currency standards, and borrowing funds for the war effort. However, to men like Philip Schuyler, the events of 1781-1789, during which the Articles were in effect, indicated that the United States required a stronger national government. And whereas the states at first sought to strengthen the Articles, they ended up by adopting a new Constitution in which the accent was placed on national power, not the states', and upon the executive and judicial branches of government rather than the legislative. The problems which confronted New York and the Confederation prompted Schuyler to a statesmanlike interest in resolving them. These included problems of the peace (prisoner exchange and reconciliation with the mother country, the discriminatory laws against Loyalists, and Indian affairs) and problems of government (statehood for Vermont and remedying the defects of the Articles of Confederation). The course of affairs finally led Schuyler to support a new form of government for the nation - the Constitution.
Problems of the Peace
Schuyler never wavered in his conviction that the Americans and British were naturally economic and political allies and that they should work together. Towards this goal he corresponded with General Frederick Haldimand, Governor of Canada, about reconciliation and prisoner exchange in 1782-1783. Haldimand responded favorably to his old acquaintance's overtures for measures leading to Anglo-American rapprochement. The Yorker also expressed his desire for reconciliation in the New York Legislature, and to this end he labored to repeal the laws that disfranchised British sympathizers and supporters in 1778, that confiscated their property in 1779, and that in 1782 cancelled debts owed to Loyalists if 1/40 of them were paid into the state treasury. Nor did he approve the legislature's rejection in 1783-1785 of petitions of persons who wished to return from exile.
As Schuyler saw it, his countrymen, barely "emancipated from a threatened tyranny," were beginning "to play the tyrant. ..." He, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Duane, and Robert R. Livingston were very critical of the Clintonians for their severity towards the Loyalists because it was contrary to the peace treaty and to the State's own interests. Although in 1785 the New York Assembly refused to repeal the anti-Tory laws, after 1786 such measures were enforced less vigorously. There was a political reason for this relaxation, for Schuyler thought that Governor Clinton might lose the 1786 election if he had blocked revision of anti-Tory policy. Indeed, the treatment of Loyalists helped draw the line between radical and moderate Whigs. Although Clinton remained governor, between 1786 and 1787 Tory disfranchisement was gradually eliminated, and it was largely Hamilton's initiative in the assembly and Schuyler's in the senate that pushed the final repeal. Not until February 1788 did the State abrogate all laws inconsistent with the treaty, and not until 1792 were all banished Loyalists permitted to return. Schuyler believed from the start that New York's best interests required the observance of both the spirit and the letter of the peace of 1783.
Peace with the Indians was a problem Schuyler faced with the same resolution that characterized his stand on postwar reconciliation with the Loyalists and Britain. Yet peace with the Indians remained unsettled when the war ended. Schuyler's wartime work as Indian commissioner continued. He pacified the Six Nations with gifts and promises, advising them to wait calmly for Congress to act, and assuring them that settlers could not encroach on their lands. Finally, in 1784, Governor Clinton took action to settle the Indian problem. State commissioners met with the tribes at Fort Stanwix and arranged to purchase the redmen's' lands. A similar agreement providing for Indian removal was made by a congressional committee. In 1785 Schuyler ended his commissionership for Congress, although 10 years later he served as a state agent arranging supplies for the Oneidas, Onondagas, and Cayugas. By 1789 the Six Nations had ceded their lands to the state, and a potentially explosive situation had been peacefully settled.
Problems of Government
One of the most tumultuous political issues in New York during the 1780's roncerned the territory known as the Hampshire Grants (now Vermont). New Englanders had received land titles from New Hampshire's government, but Yorkers regarded these people as squatters who should obtain proper titles from the New York government. Schuyler and others were particularly apprehensive about the settlers on the Grants, as they defied New York, flirted with the British, and refused to support the Confederation after it was formed in 1781.
Schuyler's stand on the Vermont question was essentially one for a stronger Union. He believed a boundary settlement and recognition of Vermont's independence would commit her to the patriot cause and so strengthen the Union. For years he was disappointed, for nothing was done until Vermont achieved statehood in 1791. However, the issue was a significant ingredient in New York's political history in the 1780's. From 1781, Schuyler and Governor Clinton disagreed about the action to be taken. Schuyler persuaded the state senate to approve New York's relinquishment of jurisdiction over the Hampshire Grants and to provide for establishment of a commission to settle rival property claims, but the Governor threatened prorogation of the legislature if the Assembly proceeded with the business. He preferred to let Congress wrestle with the problem, but Congress procrastinated.
Other major issues which Schuyler faced as a state senator were public credit, paper currency, taxes and tariffs, and the State's relations with the Confederation. One of the most persistent political themes of the 1780's was the argument over increasing Congress's powers, particularly to tax and to regulate commerce. Unlike many New Yorkers, Schuyler did not shift his views on congressional power. The legislature, however, indicated in 1781 an interest in strengthening Congress by agreeing it might levy imposts, but in 1784 the legislators were indifferent, and by 1786 the Clinton forces were decidedly hostile to a congressional impost. The Clintonians were loath to surrender this source of revenue to anyone outside the State.
Schuyler was a nationalist. He realized the Articles of Confederation provided a weak union at best, and the events of the 1780's justified his stand. Others thought that such government was the goal of the Revolution; not Schuyler. He once observed that the Clintonian junto was animated by devotion to "a state impost, no direct taxation, keep all the power in the hands of the legislature, give none to Congress." Such principles ran counter to his desire for a national government with stable fiscal support and authority to act for the benefit of all interests and all states. Moreover, as one of the leaders from whom control of the state had slipped after 1777, he could hardly be interested in protecting state power. Why defend a system when power was in the hands of partisan opponents with wrong principles? He and other like-minded men had little to fear from a federal impost or the regulation of commerce; they recognized the advantages that woud arise from such measures, and they had much to gain as participants in national politics and in a stronger national government. Schuyler had a broad view of the national interest, a conviction that his State's welfare depended upon a growing strength of the United States. Accordingly, he labored in Congress and the New York Senate to bring stability to an inflated currency, and strength and efficiency to a weakened army, both instruments of national power and prestige. Schuyler wanted the state acts embargoing trade repealed, taxes levied to redeem the Continental currency, cessation of state currency issues, and power for Congress to tax commerce. By 1786 he was convinced that Governor Clinton must be ousted if there was to be any reform in government.
Remarkably, the New York Legislature responded to Congress's call in 1786 for an interstate meeting on commercial matters; it named six commissioners to the Annapolis Convention. Only Hamilton and Egbert Benson attended; however, the Clintonians had unwittingly allowed another step towards the Grand Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 which stemmed from the Annapolis session.
In 1787 the anti-Clintonians made another effort in the legislature to comply with Congress's request for an unconditional grant of power to levy an impost. A wrangle developed over a suggestion that the customary legislative reply to the Governor's message should rebuke Clinton for failing to call a special session in 1786 to reconsider the impost question. Although Schuyler and Hamilton failed to get compliance with Congress's request, Schuyler's vote in the senate helped to carry a measure to ask Congress for a national convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. The assembly agreed, but the Clintonians named two of their number (John Lansing, Jr. and Robert Yates) to outweigh the nationalists' single representative, Alexander Hamilton. Thus in the partisanship of replying to the Governor's annual message, legislators seized the opportunity to revise the Articles of Confederation. Little could they think that the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention would write a new frame of government instead.
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