History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804
Chapter Eight, A Place in the Republic
When the Grand Convention at Philadelphia referred its draft of a new Constitution for the United States to Congress and the states, another round of political battling began in New York. Governor Clinton refused to call a special session of the legislature to consider the new Constitution, for he hoped that other states would reject it before New York would have to face the objectionable problem. In January 1788 the assembly elected Schuyler to the council of appointment, as it had done in 1786 and was to do again in 1790 and 1794. From this vantage point he could regularly challenge Clinton on matters or patronage and otherwise wield political influence. The position reflected Schuyler's power and his influence in getting the legislature to call a convention to consider ratification of the national charter.
When the convention met at Poughkeepsie in June 1788, eight states had already ratified, and New Hampshire and Virginia were considering the step. Only nine states had to ratify the proposed Constitution to make it the law of the land. Delegates hostile to ratification far outnumbered those in favor of it, but the Antifederalists were not united, for some were willing to ratify with restrictions or reservations. Governor Clinton presided. He and his followers could not risk summarily rejecting the Constitution, and as the delegates debated, they awaited news from New Hampshire and Virginia. Hamilton's connections in these states assured a speedy relay of news. Meanwhile, Federalists collared delegates outside the convention hall in order to persuade them to ratify. Evidently this tactic explains Schuyler's presence at Poughkeepsie, for he was not a delegate.
The Federalists' arguments, the news of ratification by Virginia and New Hampshire, and the New York City threat to secede from the state if it did not join the Union resulted in New York's ratification. The vote was a narrow 30 to 27. Schuyler thought that "perseverence, patience and abilities have prevailed against numbers and prejudice."
Albany celebrated the happy event on August 8 with a parade and banquet. Schuyler led a procession, riding on horseback and carrying a copy of the Constitution. The festivities were marred by a skirmish with the Antifederalists, who had to be driven off by a unit of lighthorse marchers. New York did not begin her role in the new republic with grace or ease.
Indeed, the difficulties of inaugurating the republic were reflected in the New York Legislature's failure to agree upon methods of choosing eight presidential electors and two United States Senators. The Clintonians in the assembly wanted a joint ballot which would favor their own candidates, while the Schuyler-Hamilton forces in the senate insisted upon a concurrent vote by each house. Because of this deadlock New York cast no electoral votes in the first presidential election, and Schuyler and Rufus King were not chosen United States Senators until July 1789, after Washington's inauguration and after the new Congress had begun its work.
Schuyler appeared in the United States Senate on July 27, 1789. Next day, by lot, he drew the short term of office. (It was necessary for the first senate to arrange staggered terms so that one-third of its members could be elected every two years.) Among the General's chief works as senator was support of his son-in-law's fiscal policies. In September 1789 the Department of the Treasury was established, and Washington named his old aide-de-camp, Hamilton, its first secretary. The following January, Hamilton submitted his first Report on the Public Credit. In it he recommended funding the national debt and assuming responsibility for paying the states' debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. In December 1790, Hamilton proposed chartering a national bank and levying excise taxes. Before Schuyler's term ended in March 1791, he had assisted his son-in-law in preparing his proposals and had helped push Hamilton's program into law. Schuyler's place in the senate, his close friendship with the president, and his connection with Hamilton made him a broker of patronage. He and Hamilton saw that their New York allies and others were duly rewarded for their support. Schuyler's performance earned him the opprobrium of men like Pennsylvania's Senator William Maclay, who feared Hamilton's schemes and Schuyler's aristocratic prowess encouraged too much government power, an inordinate amount of "monarchism," and too much favoritism for businessmen, financiers, and investors in the national debt.
Both Schuyler and Hamilton influenced the conduct of foreign policy, for they engaged in private talks with Major George Beckwith, agent for the Governor General of Canada, who relayed news of the American government's attitudes on foreign policy to the British foreign secretary. More particularly, these exchanges related to a proposal by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to establish a system of commercial reciprocity containing exclusions against nations like Britain which had no commercial treaty with the United States. Schuyler and others disapproved such discrimination and informed Beckwith that the Federalists were inclined to formal rapprochement with Britain. Such a connection did not materialize until the Jay Treaty was negotiated in November 1794, but Schuyler always believed that the welfare of the United States required close ties to the mother country.
In 1789 France succumbed to the throes of a revolution which endeared her to many Americans interested in libertarian principles. But men like Schuyler became alarmed when French revolutionary excess brought on European wars and threatened the United States with involvement on France's behalf, for the government was embarrassed by the Franco-American alliance of 1778. Thus, the country was entoiled in debate concerning its interests as between the old ally and old enemy. Edmund Genet, minister from France, aggravated the situation by trying to commit the United States to the French cause, while the Washington administration chose neutrality in the proclamation of April 22, 1793. Even the pro-French Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, grew annoyed with Genet, and the administration finally demanded the Frenchman's recall for indiscretions such as outfitting privateers against the British in American ports. Relations with France remained poor because the French feared the United States had made a formal alliance with Great Britain in Jay's Treaty. Fresh furors over the treaty, signed in 1794, broke out in 1795 when the senate approved the pact. The anti-administration forces in the House of Representatives threatened to withhold appropriations for implementing it, congressmen caucused, and partisans organized mass meetings of protest against and support for the treaty. Public meetings were held in various cities, and Schuyler chaired such a meeting in Albany in April 1796. Finally, that same month the House of Representatives approved the funds and Jay's Treaty could be implemented.
Schuyler's deep commitment to a pro-British foreign policy was revealed again in 1797-1800. After having for some years held office in state government, he was again elected United States Senator in 1797. Poor health prevented his return, but did not abate his commitment to the policy of the High Federalists: enmity with France and the use of the wartime emergency to fight Jeffersonian Republicans who were linked to French Revolutionary ideology and also committed to wresting power from the Federalists. The Federalists' policies were severely denounced, especially by the Virginia and Kentucky Legislatures' resolutions, for the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Acts allowed the president to imprison or banish aliens on suspicion of treasonable and secret combinations. Many such aliens were also Republican sympathizers or members of Republican organizations. The Sedition Act made it a crime for persons to combine to oppose national laws or officials or to publish false, scandalous, and malicious writing against Congress or the President.
Meantime, the Adams administration labored to keep the country out of the Anglo-French struggle in Europe, but succumbed to an undeclared naval war against France for interference with American shipping. The President showed willingness to negotiate a settlement, but Schuyler never relented in his hostility to France, and he criticized the President for his pacific posture. In 1798 when Congress provided emergency military forces and President Adams made Washington commander of the army, Schuyler and the "friends of order" were gratified, especially as Hamilton was made second in command.
While the High Federalists urged more preparations for war and the accompanying burdens of taxation became more unpopular, President Adams insisted upon making peace. Following receipt of assurance that American emissaries would be respectfully received in France, and not insulted as Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry had been in 1797-1798 when their French opposites (known as X, Y, and Z) demanded a bribe and a loan to France as conditions for opening talks, Adams proposed to appoint William Vans Murray to arrange a settlement. Schuyler thought the president was behaving weakly and inconsistently, for the Yorker could not believe that France had demonstrated good will to the United States.
Adams managed a peace with France in 1800 but Schuyler remained a Francophobe. His suspicions of things Gallican merged with his fears of Thomas Jefferson, who not only won the presidency in 1801, but symbolized the worst of Francophilia. Not least of all Schuyler's fears was the likelihood that Jefferson's conduct might involve the United States in a war with Britain or endanger Anglo-American relations. So fiercely did Schuyler oppose Jefferson that he and Hamilton proposed questionable tactics for defeating the Virginian in 1800. The electoral college which chose the president and vice-president was selected as the state legislatures directed. In New York the legislature itself selected the presidential electors. When it appeared that Republicans would control the legislature and thereby choose electors pledged to Jefferson, Hamilton asked Governor Jay to call the lame-duck, Federalist-controlled legislature into session so it might provide for selection of Federalist electors. Schuyler agreed, suggesting that Jay deal with the "enemies of order and good government." But the Governor was too high minded to succumb to such virulent partisanship, and Jefferson's election was assured.
Viewing the new administration from the vantage point of Albany, Schuyler remained suspicious, critical, and uneasy. He must have seen that the Republicans behaved rather less dangerously in office than they had as ambitious and violent politickers for power. After Jefferson's first year in office, Schuyler observed he was in good health and spirits "Except as to the affairs of the nation. I think," he wrote, "the clouds darken daily, and apprehend some serious, perhaps disagreeable results." Between 1789 when he began his brief term as United States Senator and 1804 when he died, Schuyler's public service was spent in both the national and state legislatures and as promoter of two inland lock and navigation companies. Having considered his major activities and views on the national scene, we must look to his record in state matters after 1789.
From 1791 to 1797 Schuyler was much at the center of New York politics. In the first instance his replacement in 1791 by Aaron Burr as United States Senator signalled continuing and growing partisan divisions. Burr's popularity was greater than Schuyler's, whose "unprepossessing austerity of ... manner" was cited by James Kent as a reason for the latter's replacement.
No sooner had Schuyler been replaced by Burr than he returned to the New York State Senate. And immediately in 1791 he cast about for means of defeating Governor Clinton in 1792. He and like-minded politicians thought they had an issue that would kill the Governor's chances for reelection. The issue was the sales of state land by a commission comprised of the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and auditor. One sale, a three and one-half million acre tract, was made to Alexander Macomb and his speculator associates. Clinton's critics charged the Governor with using both patronage and land sales to operate a political machine at public expense.
The Macomb issue was significant in the 1792 elections and helped John Jay's candidacy, but it was not enough, because Jay was too closely identified with Hamilton's controversial fiscal policies and with Federalist "monarchism." Schuyler battled mightily for Jay with correspondence, pamphlets, and broadsides, but to no avail. There were grave irregularities in the management of the election, which became shrouded in suspicion and ill will. Ballots from several counties were contested, and probably enough votes were at stake to have elected Jay whose tally otherwise stood at 8,332 to Clinton's 8,440. Suspicion mounted when many disputed ballots were quickly burned.
Following the so-called stolen election of 1792, Schuyler's Federalists renewed their efforts to oust the Clintonians at every successive election. In 1793 they won control of the legislature and made gains in the congressional races, but the Clinton forces remained formidable opponents. The Governor's nephew, DeWitt Clinton, even struck at Schuyler's management of two inland lock and navigation companies. The New-York Journal and Patriotic Register printed young Clinton's diatribe in July 1793, arguing that Schuyler used the companies for Federalist patronage. Clinton called him a "superanimated valetudinarian," a charlatan and quack without the skills for canal construction.
Schuyler's political battles in the state council of appointment resumed in 1794 when the assembly named him and two other Federalists as members. Schuyler's coterie had their eyes on the gubernatorial election of 1795 as well as upon the immediate opportunity to check Governor Clinton's power of patronage. They used it to their own advantage. Clinton vainly opposed the Federalist councillors, particularly when Schuyler asserted that the council shared the governor's power of nomination as well as of appointment. Thus the struggle for power and pelf continued, until in 1795 the Federalists not only elected John Jay to the governorship, but controlled the legislature and reelected Rufus King as United States Senator. (State legislatures elected United States Senators until 1913 when the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution specified popular election.) Schuyler himself won reelection to a four year term in the state senate.
From 1795 until 1800 Schuyler could breathe easier, but he never ceased his efforts to keep Republicans or Clintonians out of power. As a senator he promoted various measures for the public interest - penal law and prison reforms, state aid to education, hospital appropriations, a general road bill for the whole state and loans to the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company to improve commerce and hence the State's economy. He proposed plans for an improved revenue system, loans to the Bank of New York, and subscriptions of shares to the Banks of Albany and of the United States which would produce income for the state government.
By 1797 Schuyler wished to retire from public office and from the presidency of the two lock and navigation companies. However, he was persuaded to continue in all three positions. His election as United States Senator to replace Aaron Burr was sweet revenge for the 1791 affair when the legislature had preferred Burr. His friends were pleased to restore him to the seat "which but for party views," they said, he would have maintained with honor to himself and "benefit to the Union at large." Schuyler acknowledged the accolade with an expansive address to the legislature, but illness prevented his attendance in the national senate, and in January 1798 he resigned his seat. For the rest of his life, Schuyler's political activity was largely limited to correspondence and conversation. He could not have been cheered at the Federalists' steady political reverses at the turn of the century. George Clinton reinforced the national Republican victory of 1800 by winning the governor-ship over Schuyler's son-in-law, Stephen Van Rensselaer, in 1801. A new council of appointment replaced Federalist office-holders, and four years later Clinton was Vice-President of the United States. He and his Livingston allies also claimed 26 great offices of state to mark their ascendancy over Schuyler's beloved Federalists.
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