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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). New York. 1906.


New York under the Stuarts. 1674–1688

ANDROS was a man of ability and energy, anxious to serve his master the duke, and also anxious to serve the duke’s colony, in so far as its interests did not clash with those of the duke himself. He was of course a devoted adherent of the House of Stuart, an ardent Royalist, and a believer in the divine right of kings, and in government by a limited ruling class, not by the great mass of the people governed. Yet, in spite of his imperious and fiery temper, he strove on the whole to do justice to the city of mixed nationalities over whose destinies he for the time being presided, and it throve well under his care. But though he tried to rule fairly, he made it distinctly understood that he, acting in the name of his overlord the duke, was the real and supreme master. The city did not govern itself; for he appointed the mayor, aldermen, and other officers. Even some of his decrees which worked well for the city showed the arbitrary character of his rule, and illustrated the vicious system of monopolies and class and sectional legislation which then obtained. Thus he bestowed on New York the sole right to bolt and export flour. This trebled her wealth during the sixteen years that elapsed before it was repealed, but it of course caused great hardship to the inland towns. Unmixed good however resulted from his decree putting an end to the practice of holding Indians as slaves.

It might have been expected that after the conquest of New York the incoming English would have been divided by party lines from the Dutch, and that they would have been in strong alliance with their English neighbors to the eastward. The extreme Royalist tone of the new government, and the anti-Puritan or Episcopal feeling of the most influential of the new settlers, were among the main causes which prevented either of these results from being brought about. The English Episcopalians and Royalists hated their sour, gloomy, fanatical countrymen of different belief much more bitterly than they did their well-to-do Dutch neighbors; and the middle-class citizens, Dutch and English alike, were bound together by ties of interest and by the stubborn love of liberty which was common to both races.

The high-handed proceedings of Andros roused more or less openly avowed ill feeling among the poor but independent citizens of all nationalities; and he clashed rather less with the Manhattaners than with the Long Islanders. Moreover, under his rule New York’s attitude as regards the Puritan commonwealths of New England continued as hostile as ever, Andros adopting toward them the exact tone of his Dutch predecessors. He asserted the right of his colony to all land west of the Connecticut. He actually assembled a large body of troops wherewith to subdue the New England towns on its banks, and only halted when it became evident that such a proceeding would without fail be desperately resisted, and would surely bring on an intercolonial war.

Andros was certainly true to his master; yet James became suspicious of him, and, after he had been governor for over six years, suddenly summoned him home, and sent over a special agent, or spy, to examine into the affairs of the colony. Early in January, 1681, Andros left for London, where he speedily cleared his name of all suspicion, and came into high favor once more. New York meanwhile was left under the charge of Lieutenant-Governor Brockholls, a Roman Catholic, and of course a high Tory,—an inefficient man, utterly unable to cope with the situation. He was hampered rather than aided by the duke’s special agents, who bungled everything, and soon became the laughing-stock of the population. In consequence, the province speedily fell into a condition not very far removed from anarchy. The traders refused to pay customs duties, and Brockholls was too timid to try to collect them; and the taxes, generally, fell into arrears. Disorderly meetings were held in various places, and mob violence was threatened,—the Puritan element of course taking the lead. Equally of course, and very properly, the friends of free government took advantage of the confusion to strike a blow for greater liberty. When under a despotic rule which nevertheless secured order and material prosperity, there was small hope of effecting a change; but the instant the tyrant for the time being became weak, there was a chance of success in moving against him, there being no longer, to the minds of the citizens, any substantial offset to atone for his tyranny. Accordingly, a New York jury formally presented to the court that the lack of a Provincial Assembly was a grievance. Popular feeling declared itself so strongly to this effect that the court adopted the same view. Accordingly, it accepted as its own and forwarded to the duke a petition drawn up by the high sheriff of Long Island. This petition set forth that New York had long groaned under the intolerable burden of being subjected to an arbitrary and irresponsible government, whereby the colonists were forced against their wills to pay revenue, while their trade was burdened, and they themselves practically enthralled. The document pointed by way of contrast to the freer and more flourishing colonies by which New York was flanked on either hand, and besought that thereafter the province should be ruled by a governor, council, and assembly, the latter to be elected by the colonial freeholders.

The stoppage of the collections of taxes caused the colony to become a drain instead of a source of revenue to James; and the duke seriously considered the project of selling such an unproductive province. Finally however he decided, as an alternative, to grant the wished-for franchise, and see if that would improve matters; being, it is said, advised to take this course by William Penn whose not over-creditable connection with the Stuarts occasionally bore good fruit. As the person to put his plans into execution and to act as first governor under the new system, the duke chose Thomas Dongan, a Roman Catholic Irish gentleman of good family, the nephew of the Earl of Tyrconnel. Dongan acted with wise liberality both in matters political and in matters religious, toward the province he was sent to govern; for he was a man of high character and good capacity. Yet it is impossible to say how much of his liberality was due to honest conviction, and how much to the considerations of expediency that at the moment influenced the House of Stuart. It was an age of religious intolerance and of government by privileged classes; and the religion to which Dongan and his royal master adhered was at that time, wherever it was dominant, the bitterest foe of civil and religious liberty. But in England the nation generally was Episcopalian; and Duke James, a Catholic, was perforce obliged to advocate toleration for all sects as a step toward the ultimate supremacy of his own. So in New York, Dongan the Catholic found himself ruler of a province where there were but a few dozen citizens of his own faith, the mass of the people being stanch Protestants, of several jarring creeds; and he was not drawn by any special bonds of sympathy to the class of crown officials and the like, who were mostly of the very church which in England was supreme over his own. His interests and sympathies thus naturally inclined him to side with the popular party, and to advocate religious liberty. As he was also vigilant in preserving order and warding off outside aggression, and devoted to the well-being of the colony, he proved himself perhaps the best colonial governor New York ever had.

Dongan reached New York in 1683, and from the first was popular with the colonists. He at once issued writs for the election of the members of the long-desired Provincial Assembly. They were elected by the freeholders; and with their meeting, in the fall of the same year, the province took the first real step,—and a very long one,—toward self-government. Dongan of course appointed his own council; and he generally placed thereon representatives of the different nationalities and creeds. New York City was of course the governmental seat or capital, as well as the metropolis of the province.

The Assembly, the popular branch of the government, consisted of eighteen members, the majority being Dutch. They promptly passed a number of acts, all of which were approved by Dongan and his council. By far the most important, was the special “charter of Liberties and Privileges,” granted by the duke to the province. By this the right of self-taxation was reserved to the colonists, except that certain specific duties on importations were allowed to the duke and his heirs. The main features of self-government, so long and earnestly desired by the people, were also secured; and entire liberty of conscience and religion was guaranteed to all. This charter was sent over to the duke, by whose suggestion several small amendments were made therein; he then signed and sealed but did not deliver it. Thus it never formally went into effect; yet the government of New York was carried on under its provisions for several years. One of the acts of this first Assembly was well in line with the policy of extreme liberality toward all foreign-born citizens which New York has always consistently followed: it conferred full rights of citizenship upon all white foreigners who should take the oath of allegiance. The especial purpose of passing the act was to benefit the Huguenots, who were being expelled from France by tens of thousands, thanks to the cruel bigotry of the French king, Louis XIV.

With the return of order and the dawn of liberty, the city once more began to flourish. Trade increased, the fisheries did well, new buildings were put up, and taxes were paid without grumbling. Addresses of gratitude were sent to the duke, and the citizens were fervent in their praise of Dongan. Even the religious animosities were for the moment softened. The old church in the fort was used every Sunday by the representatives of all three of the leading creeds, the services being held in as many different languages,—the Dutch in the morning, the French at midday, and the English, by the Episcopalians, in the afternoon; while Dongan and his few fellow-religionists worshiped in a little chapel. Even the austere Calvinist dominies could not refrain from paying their meed of respect to the new governor.

As soon as the Assembly adjourned, Dongan granted new “liberties and privileges” to the city itself. In accordance with these new articles, the aldermen were elected by the freeholders in the various wards, the mayor being appointed by the governor. The board of aldermen was a real, not (as in our day) a nominal, legislative body, and enacted by-laws for the government of the city. Some of them were of very stringent character; notably those which provided against any kind of work or amusement on the Sabbath, and which forbade all assemblages of the numerous negro slaves,—for the slave-holding burghers were haunted by the constant terror of a servile insurrection.

Affairs went on smoothly until the death of Charles II. and the accession to the throne of New York’s ducal proprietor, under the title of James II. Dongan made journeys hither and thither through his province, pacifying the Indians, and seeing to the best interests of his own people. He was especially zealous in keeping guard over the northern frontier, already threatened by the French masters of Canada, so long the arch foes of the northeastern English colonies. Although Dongan was a Roman Catholic, he did not show any of that feeling which made some of his coreligionists sacrifice country to creed, nor did he ever become a tool of France, like so many of the Stuart courtiers of his day. On the contrary, he was active in thwarting French intrigues in the north, giving full warning concerning them to his royal master, to whom his active and loyal patriotism could hardly have been altogether pleasant.

At any rate, no sooner had the duke become king than he dropped the mask of liberality, and took up his natural position as a political and religious tyrant. Under the influence of Dongan, he did indeed grant to the city itself a charter of special rights and privileges, which formed the basis of those subsequently granted in colonial times. The instrument not only confirmed the city in the possession of the privileges it already possessed, but allowed it a large quantity of real estate, from some of which the municipality draws a revenue to the present day, while the rest has been given over for the common use of the people. But on the main point of self-government the king was resolved to retrace his steps. He would not consummate his action giving a liberal charter to the province, and though in 1684 Dongan summoned the Assembly to meet on his own responsibility, it was never thereafter called; and New York’s share in self-government came to an end as far as the Stuarts were concerned.

In 1688 Dongan himself was deprived of the control of the province he had ruled so faithfully and wisely. The king was bent upon being absolute master of the colonies no less than of the home country; and in the spring of that year he threw New England, New York, and New Jersey into one province, abolishing all the different charters, and putting the colonists under the direct control of the royal governor. Dongan was too liberal a man to be entrusted with the carrying out of such a policy. Sir Edmund Andros was sent over in his stead, to act as the instrument for depriving the people of such measure of freedom as they possessed. The bitterness of the religious feeling of the day may be gathered from the fact that many of the more bigoted Protestants of Manhattan actually welcomed the change of governors, being unable to pardon their friend because he was not of their creed, and greeting their foe warmly because, forsooth, they did not quite so widely disagree with his theological tenets.

However, the mass of the people in both New York and New England speedily became welded into one in opposition to the absolutism of the Stuart king, as typified by his lieutenant. Hollander and Puritan were knit together by the bond of a common hatred to the common oppressor; the Puritan as usual taking the lead. They were outraged because of the loss of their political rights; and they feared greatly lest they should soon also lose their religious freedom. Moreover, the colonies were already jealous of one another, and deeply imbued with the Separatist feeling; and they counted the loss of their special charters, and the obliteration of their boundary lines that they might be put under one government, as grievances intolerable and not to be borne. Nor did they have to bear them long. That very year William of Orange landed in England and drove the last Stuart king from his throne. The news reached America early in 1689, when Andros was in Boston, and the New Englanders rose instantly and threw him into prison, while his governmental fabric throughout the provinces perished almost in a day.

The accession of the Dutch prince to the throne of England added another to the forces that were tending to make the various ethnic elements of New York fuse together. All New Yorkers could be loyal to the Dutch prince who wore an English crown, and who was their special champion against a hostile creed and race. For the next eighty years Holland was England’s ally, so that the Hollanders in America saw nothing at work in European politics which should make them unfriendly to their English fellow-citizens; and the one great enemy of both races was France. Their interests and enmities were the same, and were also identical with those of the Huguenots, who formed the third great element in the population. It was this identity of interests and enmities, no less than the similarity in religious belief, which made it possible for the two races already in the land to merge so easily into the third and later-coming race. The comparative rapidity of this fusion in New York is noteworthy. It stands in sharp contrast to the slowness of the intermingling where the English or their successors have conquered and moved into communities of Catholic French and Spaniards.

From 1689 onward, the antagonisms of race were only secondary causes of party and factional hostility in New York. The different nationalities remained far less stubbornly apart than was the case in the neighboring colony of Pennsylvania for instance. Even when the bulk of one nationality was found to be opposed to the bulk of another, the seeming race antagonism was usually merely incidental, the real line of division being drawn with regard to other matters, such as divided the aristocratic and popular parties elsewhere. No element of the population kept obstinately aloof from the rest as did a large section of the Pennsylvanian Germans, to their own lasting harm. The different races gradually grew to speak the same language, and then intermarried and merged together; for in America the intermarriage and fusion of races follows, but does not precede, their adoption of a common tongue. The Revolution and the preliminary agitation greatly hastened this fusion; but it was already well under way before the first mutterings of the Revolution were heard.