Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804

Chapter Three, The Revolution Breaks

New Colonial Protests 1773-1775

Tea kindled a flame in the colonies and set ablaze the social, economic, and political framework into which Schuyler had worked himself and which he was beginning to enjoy. In May 1773 Parliament passed a "Tea Act" to rescue the East India Company from bankruptcy. The law provided remission of duties on tea exported to America, but retained an import tax of three pence per pound in the colonies. The company's privilege of selling tea directly to consignees, and the drawbacks on the duties, enabled it to undersell colonial merchants, including smugglers. Americans felt it was an odious monopoly. Furthermore, was not the three pence a fax on Americans, granted without local legislative authority? When the New York Assembly met in January 1774, the province was not yet disturbed by the impending arrival of tea ships, nor did the Boston tea party in December 1773 have a discernible effect. Perhaps this was due to Governor Tryon's pledge not to use military force to land tea in New York. In any case, when the assembly dutifully voted the regular appropriations for the operation of the government, Schuyler was absent, perhaps to avoid controversy, or perhaps because of illness or personal business. The Yorkers made a gesture of protest to the Tea Act by naming a new committee of correspondence to collect and relay news of intercolonial agitations. Scarcely had Governor Tryon embarked for England in April 1774 than the arrival of vessels carrying tea caused renewed excitements. When radicals resorted to extralegal tactics such as popular meetings and committee maneuverings they threatened the assembly oligarchs, who were hard put to control or lead them. Finally, on April 22, Yorkers had their own tea party and assemblymen began to attend public meetings to choose a committee to form a nonimportation program against Great Britain, but this was too mild for the radicals who wanted absolute nonimportation of all British goods.

Partly to satisfy Massachusetts' requests for total nonintercourse, and partly to avoid a hasty and unpalatable decision, conservative Yorkers supported a proposal for a Continental Congress, hoping it would remove the explosive problem from their immediate responsibility. All the assembly factions hoped to avoid the embarrassment of definite commitment to radical demands. At a public meeting, New Yorkers chose a committee of 51 to arrange the election of delegates to a Continental Congress. Other more radical elements, namely a committee of mechanics, offered candidates for delegates, but the more cautious committee of 51 won wider support in the colony. There is no indication that Philip Schuyler openly participated in the extralegal movement; indeed, he pled illness as the reason for not accepting election as a congressional delegate, but his role in the January-April 1775 session of the assembly revealed his position: it was not to break up the empire but to make a determined protest to the British government for its interference in local liberties.

Intercolonial Affairs

The First Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in September 1774. Its actions soon forced colonists to choose between Britain and America. Among these actions was a declaration that Britain's disciplinary measures (called the Intolerable Acts) against Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party and other disorders were unconstitutional. One act closed the port of Boston until restitution was made for the lost tea; another altered the Massachusetts charter by increasing the governor's powers of appointment; others provided for trials outside the colony of persons accused of crimes in enforcing Parliament's laws, and for billeting of troops wherever the presence of the army was required. The Congress called for open disobedience of these acts, for forming and training militia, and for economic sanctions against Great Britain. The sanctions, known as the Association, included nonimportation, nonconsumption, and nonexportation measures against British trade. Persuaded that such measures had caused Britain to repeal the Stamp Act, the colonists hoped again to get their way through economic pressure.

When the New York Assembly convened in January 1775, it was faced with decisions on whether to endorse the acts of the Continental Congress and to send delegates to a second congress if the British government refused to back down. Disputes over these and related matters followed the old factional lines, with assemblymen fighting a battle of words over the temper of the language to employ in seeking redress. Schuyler's forces failed to get the assembly to consider the proceedings of Congress, to thank the merchants and citizens for their support of nonimportation, or to elect delegates to a second congress. Although they agreed with the De Lanceys on the need to define grievances, Schuyler's forces, like their rivals, sought to distinguish themselves from their opponents. Both sides were moderate as they played a waiting game while Massachusetts and Virginia led the more radical forces.

It was at this point that Philip Schuyler supported the more radical faction which advocated sending delegates to the Second Continental Congress and electing a New York provincial convention. Enough others joined him in the maneuver to carry the point. When the New York Provincial Convention met on April 20, Schuyler was in attendance. The Convention provided for the election of a provincial congress to supersede the assembly and selected Schuyler one of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress. Other delegates included James Duane, Philip and Robert R. Livingston, and John Jay, men neither radically patriot nor strongly loyalist. They were instructed to consult with other delegates on ways of preserving and reestablishing American rights and privileges and of restoring harmony between Britain and the colonies. Schuyler believed that if Congress and the colonies resorted to arms, it should be only to defend well-established rights. His hostility was aimed at British ministerial measures and also against "their wretched Sycophantic abettors" - the De Lanceys. Factionalism and political principle had so commingled that it is difficult to distinguish between them as determinants of patriot and loyalist positions.

The Second Continental Congress

From the beginning of his attendance in the second congress in May 1775, Schuyler was drawn into the work of military resistance which had begun at Lexington and Concord in April. He served on committees to organize the war effort and when Congress started to appoint generals Schuyler was among its first choices. It was felt that one of the ranking commanders should be from New York, and that he be wealthy and well connected in order to assure his faithful performance of duties and the surrender of military power when the crisis ended; thus the New York Provincial Congress reasoned when it recommended Schuyler for the post. He became a major-general on June 15, and was given command of the Northern Department, which included New York and Canada. As a civilian his appointment reflected American concern that the military should be firmly subordinated to the civil authority, a point on which New Englanders were almost hysterical. And as they feared military despotism, Schuyler's military attitude and penchant for discipline and rank caused serious difficulties with Yankees whether in Congress or the army. Yankee fears were baseless because Schuyler believed that after the rights of Englishmen were restored, Americans should return instantly to peaceful pursuits. Also, Schuyler's concern for private property reflected a valued tenet of Anglo-Saxon law to which many of his fellows were devoted in their quarrel with the imperial government. Schuyler's radicalism extended only to a redress of grievances. His conservatism prompted him to hope for a speedy return to honorable and peaceful pursuits.

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