The Duke's Province: A Study of New York Politics and Society, 1664-1691

By Robert C. Ritchie | Go to book overview
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10 A Time of Troubles

In assessing Leisler's Rebellion and its aftermath, one first turns to the failure of the government in both the short and long term. The immediate cause of Leisler's Rebellion was the loss of authority by the central government. A young, inexperienced caretaker with a few members of the ruling elite proved incapable of controlling events. As in 1680, a power vacuum invited disorder. Complaints and petitions were soon overrun by overt deeds until the collapse at the center was obvious to all. The colony then split into its constituent parts.

The long-term failure of the government was due to the estrangement of the people and the government. The authoritarian system of government, and the governors and their elite clique who administered it, are best characterized as power without principle. With the possible exception of Nicolls, the governors sought only their own and the duke's profit. None of this changed after 1685; in fact, Dongan created the worst regime of all. As a result, the people could only live in hope of further changes imposed from the outside or collapse at home. In the meantime the English petitioned for a return to Connecticut while the Dutch prayed for a fleet from home. When the government became too overbearing each group was willing to speak out against a particular imposition or to resist passively. The government viewed any form of resistance as sedition and the records are cluttered with the burning of petitions, threats to individuals, and occasional physical punishment. These actions tended further to erode the relationship between the people and the government. What then was the bond that kept the colony together?

The colonists were unwilling to overthrow a properly constituted government. It did after all validate their local courts and land grants. A respect for legitimate authority also kept in check major grievances until authority faltered. Throughout the colonies a search for legitimacy was a constant factor in

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