The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

1
Governor Seward and the Manor
of Rensselaerwyck

On July 4, 1839, angry tenant farmers on New York's oldest estate assembled in the Albany County village of Berne to adopt a declaration of independence from their landlord. Nobody counted heads that afternoon. But 3,063 families leased farms on the 726,000-acre Manor of Rensselaerwyck, and all of them had cause to complain. Manor contracts required an annual rent for every 100 acres ranging from ten to fourteen bushels of wheat, delivered to the landlord and ready for milling. All mill sites and mines were reserved, together with all rights necessary and proper to make them available to the Van Rensselaer family or its agents. Mills might be built, cropland or pasture flooded, and roads laid out on the tenant's premises without payment of compensation. There were also feudal dues. Every year farmstead heads owed a day's labor with horse and wagon and were bound to deliver “four fat fowl” on rent day, though manor custom allowed the labor to be commuted at the rate of two dollars per year and the fowl at fifty cents. Fines on alienation, called quarter sales, were more significant. Leases on Rensselaerwyck ran forever and vested an estate of inheritance in each tenant. If the holder of a perpetual lease conveyed his farm to a stranger, however, one-fourth of the purchase money (under most indentures) or an extra year's rent (under the rest) went to the proprietor or “patroon.” Every indenture enumerated remedies for breach of this or any other covenant. Among them was the landlord's right to reenter the premises and repossess not only the land but also any improvements—houses, barns, fences, growing crops—annexed to the land. Taken together, proclaimed the Independence Day mass meeting at Berne, these contractual provisions amounted to “voluntary slavery.” The time had come to avow “that we can no longer endure the infamy of tamely entailing upon future generations such wretchedness and unhallowed bondage as inevitably awaits them if we any longer submit ourselves to be thus unjustly, unrighteously, inhumanly oppressed and imposed upon.” So began the longest rent strike in United States history. 1

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The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Studies in Legal History *
  • Title Page *
  • For Sharon *
  • Contents vii
  • Tables and Maps *
  • Preface xiii
  • The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839–1865 *
  • 1 - Governor Seward and the Manor of Rensselaerwyck 1
  • 2 - Whig Reconnaissance 32
  • 3 - The Politics of Evasion 56
  • 4 - The Trouble with Democrats 78
  • 5 - Depression-Era Constitutionalism 104
  • 6 - Signs of War 128
  • 7 - Resistance and Reform 156
  • 8 - Political Crossroads 182
  • 9 - A Cacophony of Voices 205
  • 10 - Democratic Futility 234
  • 11 - Whig Resolution 260
  • 12 - Enmeshed in Law 287
  • 13 - The End of an Era 316
  • Notes 337
  • Index 387
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