History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804
Chapter Two, Provincial Politician
When Philip Schuyler became a member of the New York Assembly in 1768, serious disputes between the American colonies and the British government had been simmering for some time. These troubles stemmed directly from the Great War for the Empire, 1754-1763. The British ministry led by George Grenville was faced with an empire greatly enlarged by the peace treaty of 1763, and with a national debt almost doubled by the war. While the bigger empire required defense, and defense cost money, Britishers were clamoring for tax relief, and they began to demand that colonials pay a share of the rising costs. Americans had not always been loyal to the empire during the war: they had broken navigation laws and traded with the enemy and they had been slow and often delinquent in providing men, money, and supplies. On the other hand, colonial leaders had not hesitated to call on Britain for help. Furthermore, provincials were anxious to move into the interior of the continent and obtain large tracts of land, even though this caused friction with the Indians. Indeed, their land hunger caused several tribes led by the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac to take up the hatchet in 1763, and British regulars had to subdue the uprising.
The Grenville ministry responded to these problems with a series of measures that offended Americans. In October 1763 a royal proclamation temporarily closed the area west of the Appalachians to white settlement. Two imperial superintendents of Indian affairs were named in 1764 to deal with the tribes: Sir William Johnson for the area north of the Ohio River and John Stuart for the territory south of the Ohio. A currency law restricted issuance of paper money and forbade its use as legal tender except for provincial taxes. In 1764 Parliament also passed the Sugar Act which in the name of trade regulation levied taxes on molasses, sugar, coffee, indigo, and other items imported from non-British colonies. And royal officers and customs collectors were ordered to a zealous enforcement of all navigation acts. Whereas earlier customs laws had been evaded by smuggling, the new measure was strictly enforced. But real trouble did not erupt until 1765 when Grenville persuaded Parliament to pass the Stamp Act, a measure designed to provide revenue to help pay for administering and defending a widened empire through taxes on newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, playing cards, and other printed material.
The Stamp Act signalled a widespread protest from colonial assemblies and other vocal segments of provincial society. An intercolonial meeting called the Stamp Act Congress denounced the law. To bolster the demand for repeal of the odious measure, colonial communities organized and intimidated stamp collectors and refused to import British goods or to use the stamps. The economic boycott severely hurt the British merchants, and the law was repealed. This pattern of Parliamentary legislation followed by repeal or adjustment was not the mark of a tyrannical government, but a vacillating one, and it encouraged colonists to adopt vigorous and often extralegal actions to insist upon their own ideas of self-government.
In 1767, the year before Schuyler entered the assembly, a new furor was raised by new laws named for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend. Townshend dealt with imperial fiscal problems by having taxes levied on tea, glass, paper, lead, and painters' colors imported into the colonies. The colonists objected to these measures because they were not designed to regulate trade, but to raise revenue, which they claimed to be within their own assemblies' purview. Other measures pushed by Townshend authorized writs of assistance (general warrants for searching premises of merchants suspected of smuggling) and created a board of customs commissioners in the colonies to enforce vigorously the trade laws.
Factions in the New York Assembly did not sharply divide on the issue of opposing the British laws. However, the violence of popular demonstrations helped draw partisan lines; one group was more conservative than the other in catering to the radical elements of the population: artisans, small shopkeepers, and laborers. The two factions were named for the prominent families most inSuential in political leadership: the Livingstons and the De Lanceys. The latter chose a quieter means of protest, nonimportation of British goods. The Livingstons encouraged mob action until they realized that violence and the accompanying property destruction were threats to their interests.
The 1768 elections whereby Schuyler gained his assembly seat were wracked with partisanship which was linked to British imperial policies. The De Lanceys charged that the Livingstons had not effectively asserted colonial rights while in control of the assembly. One of the Livingston spokesmen, William Smith Jr., the attorney, and after 1769, member of the governor's council, urged Schuyler to enter the fray against their rivals. With the support of the lord of Livingston Manor and Sir William Johnson, imperial Indian superintendent and squire of the Mohawk Valley, Schuyler easily won a seat from Albany County. His association with Governor Sir Henry Moore and his strong social and economic position had helped pave the way to victory. (Moore had shown his favor for Schuyler by appointing him a colonel of militia in August 1767.) Elsewhere, the Livingstons fared poorly, and the De Lanceys won a narrow control of the assembly. The 1768 campaign indicates that New Yorkers were less concerned with imperial problems than with the question of which faction should enjoy power, wield influence, and be able to present provincial views to the royal government. Indeed, the current of revolution in New York eddied with the activities of privileged officeholders and ambitious politicians seeking equal or superior shares of power. Both groups took advantage of the British government's shifting imperial programs to appeal to the local electorate for support against their rivals, and colored provincial politics with partisanship and rebellious or disorderly behavior. Thus the uproars from the time of the Stamp Act through the period of the Townshend program had two aspects: disputes over imperial policy and rivalry between provincial factions.
Much of the work of the assembly in the autumn of 1768 was noncontroversial, for most routine business of lawmaking did not lend itself to disputation. But when the assembly undertook to protest the Townshend Acts and other imperial legislation, Schuyler participated in a manner calculated to win support for the Livingstons against their rivals.
<-Sir Henry Moore. Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
After a riot on November 14, 1768, the governor offered a reward for information leading to the conviction of the disorderly protestors of the assembly's compliance with the Quartering Act (a British law requiring the colonial assemblies to support the army). The assembly voted to pay the reward for the sake of order and to demonstrate its power against mob pressure. The De Lanceys displayed their influence by encouraging the tumult, thus indicating to the governor the necessity of his cooperation with them. Livingstonians came to the rescue of Governor Moore by proposing an address which denounced De Lancey courtship of radical public protest. In addition, the assembly considered resolutions asserting provincial rights against the Townshend measures and turned to debate the Circular Letter by which Massachusetts' Assembly invited sister colonies to cooperate in resisting the acts. While the De Lanceys maneuvered for a reading of the circular, Schuyler and his friends announced that the assembly first had other business to conduct. If the circular were given immediate consideration, the assembly risked being dissolved by the governor, thus leaving the colony without necessary laws and requiring the factions to fight another troublesome election, for Governor Moore had instructions from London to dissolve the House if it considered the circular. The partisans postponed the motion by mutual agreement, but Schuyler and the Livingstons had forced this decision and thereby demonstrated that they were friends of the government. When the assembly's regular business was completed it took up the circular, and the governor dissolved it.
Assembly partisanship rose to such a pitch during the session that Schuyler and Assemblyman Jacob Walton nearly fought a duel, but they were saved from violence by the intercession of friends. This regular activity of opposing men who were allied strongly with the royal cause moved Schuyler and fellow partisans into the Patriot cause. Refusing to allow as effective a criticism of British policies as Schuyler sought, the De Lanceys forced him to choose a colonial loyalty over that of the empire.
Further developments in partisanship are evident in the elections of 1769, following the dissolution of the assembly. During the new campaign, Livingston men denounced their opponents as Anglican plotters for episcopacy in America (allegedly a buttress to royal authority) and advocates of religious privilege. But what they were really criticising was the De Lanceys' control of the provincial government. The latter in turn denounced the Livingstons as hypocrites and canting scoundrels, infected with Presbyterian rebelliousness. The results of this bitter electioneering were that the Livingstons again suffered serious political reverses. Judge Robert R. Livingston failed of election from his family's manor, and the electors there were further frustrated when the De Lanceys refused to allow Philip Livingston to sit for the manor because he was not a manor resident. For the same reason the influential Lewis Morris was expelled from his seat as Westchester Borough assemblyman. Entwined in the residency dispute was the matter of taxation and representation - one of the points of sloganeering against Great Britain: to exclude from the house an assemblyman who had a freehold in a constituency where he did not actually reside raised the question of the rights of the electors to choose representatives from districts where they did not reside.
Factionalism persisted in another question linked to the residency controversy - that of allowing provincial officials to hold assembly seats. The De Lanceys did favor a law to vacate the seats of members who held other crown offices after their election to the house, but when their proposal was shelved, they again prevented Judge Robert Livingston from being seated. (The judge had been chosen to represent Livingston Manor, following the assembly's refusal to seat Philip Livingston.) Schuyler fought this maneuver by recommending that all royal officials be excluded, but his resolution was defeated. Nor was this the only instance of bickering; partisanship flared over a proposal to exempt religious dissenters from taxes for the support of the Episcopal Church. This proposal, viewed in the context of opposition to establishing an Anglican episcopate, was a local question, but it was also related to the wider issues of imperial power. Hence the connection of local disputes and opposition to British authority, a nexus that reveals tension between factions which became identified more and more as supporters or opponents of royal government. When the New York Assembly reconvened after the summer recess in 1769, Schuyler's friend. Governor Moore, had passed from the scene, leaving Schuyler without a patron and lessening his prospects for procuring a land grant. New connections must now be established and cultivated. Difficulties also faced the assembly when it decided to withhold appropriations for the army until Parliament gave permission to issue more paper currency.
While a fresh attack of rheumatic gout kept Schuyler from the opening of the assembly, the house voted £2,000 for the army, but half of the amount was to be withheld until a paper currency bill became law. At this point another radical outburst against any military appropriation renewed partisan furor, and Schuyler returned to the house to head the opposition to the De Lanceys.
The outburst began with a public meeting which was summoned by a broadside issued on December 17. Alexander MacDougal, the author of the piece, signed the appeal "To the betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New-York" as a "Son of Liberty." In it he protested the assembly's voting any funds for the army because such a move was inconsistent with other resistance to Parliamentary sovereignty. He called for a public meeting at which people could express opinions on the matter and indirectly pressure the assembly to refuse troop supplies.
The De Lanceyites responded by declaring MacDougal's paper a libel, and Schuyler did not object when the members approved the libel bill and had MacDougal imprisoned. The resulting uproar did not prevent final passage of military appropriations, but it cast Schuyler anew in the role of a partisan.
He and George Clinton tried to amend the military appropriation bill to stipulate that the provincial treasurer should not pay the funds until the paper currency law received the royal assent. Time after time the Schuyler-Livingston forces used parliamentary procedure to alter and resist the bill; they and the De Lanceys were not in disagreement over whether to provide the funds, but they fought over the conditions of the measure. Both were using the military appropriations to force Parliament to approve paper currency, but the Livingstons wanted stricter terms than the De Lanceys, who controlled the assembly, would allow. The former were cast in the image of government critics, whereas the latter were identified more and more as government supporters. The De Lanceys won the issue, but the division suggested how their opponents would eventually be driven into the radical, extralegal movement as they were increasingly frustrated by their rivals, while the De Lancey men, enjoying greater power, became Loyalists and finally lost all.
After the assembly adjourned, the spring and summer of 1770 passed quietly. These were largely uneventful months for Colonel Schuyler and for New York.
Recurrent illness and the press of personal affairs kept Schuyler from the assembly and there was little political controversy for him or the colony in this period. The relative calm was the product of several circumstances: the basic conservatism or indifference of the colonists, the mutual concessions of the British government and colonies on imperial policy and the willingness of the British to ease restrictions short of surrendering the principle of Parliamentary supremacy. During his absence from the assembly, 1770-1771, Schuyler busied a himself with land projects and political patronage. As to the former, the 1768-1769 assembly had passed a bill, sponsored by Schuyler, authorizing sale of lands held by persons who failed to pay their quitrents. In 1772 he and some friends, including John Bradstreet, purchased over 40,000 acres in the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys at sheriff's auction. Another purchase, involving over 40,000 acres of Cosby Manor, caused a minor furor and led to a hot legal contest when the patent owners charged that the notices for the sales were irregular and that more land was auctioned than was necessary to pay the arrears in quitrents. Schuyler incurred the De Lanceys' ire, for one of their faction managed affairs for the patent owners. Following extensive legal maneuvering, Schuyler and his partners were obliged to release part of their purchase, but full settlement hung fire for years.
Patronage engaged Schuyler's attention after the assembly divided Albany County into three counties (Albany, Charlotte, and Tryon) in 1772. When he and fellow assemblymen petitioned Governor William Tryon for judgeships and militia commissions, they encountered rivals who sought similar favors. Following the 1773 assembly session, Schuyler pushed his patronage interests in Charlotte County; with the help of Councillor William Smith Jr. and Governor Tryon he managed to stave off Oliver De Lancey's ambitions in that quarter.
The 1773 meeting of the assembly was tranquil. Schuyler fraternized with his De Lancey cousins and Governor Tryon. He cultivated Sir William Johnson's son-in-law, Guy, the new assemblyman from Tryon County. He arranged with Governor Tryon a settlement of difficulties arising from intruders on John Van Rensselaer's land and thus aided his father-in-law's interests. The one notable indication of partisan friction in this session concerned paper currency. Schuyler made certain that the measure for checking counterfeiting was not used by the De Lanceys as a cover for issuing more paper money; thus he helped save the governor from the unpopularity Tryon might have incurred had he been obliged to veto the measure.
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