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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

2
Whig Reconnaissance

Since 1821 the New York Constitution has provided that the governor “shall communicate by message to the legislature, at every session, the condition of the State, and recommend such matters to them as he shall judge expedient.” 1 For much of the nineteenth century, the governor's effectiveness as party leader turned on his performance of this duty. Both houses of the legislature organized committees to consider the executive's recommendations. Hearings were conducted and measures produced before debate began on the bills or resolutions reported out of committee. But governors did not aim their remarks at Albany insiders only. Every major newspaper in the state printed the message verbatim; people talked about it and read about it for weeks afterward. No instrument at the chief executive's command was more important in shaping public opinion, and no governor wielded it better than William H. Seward.

Seward's 1840 message was very long. The Argus pronounced it, with no sense of exaggeration, “quite the most formidable in that respect of any ever presented to a state legislature.” Its vast proportions reflected Seward's many purposes. Eighteen forty was a presidential year, and the “Democratic Whig National Convention,” which met at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 4, 1839, had selected a ticket of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler—Tippecanoe and Tyler too—but had adjourned amid the ballyhoo without offering a platform or issuing an address. Seward provided what his party's national convention did not. Working from the premise that the state of the state was “indissolubly connected with” national affairs, he blasted the Democratic Party's devotion to negative government and called for decisive action by Congress to stabilize the currency, stimulate investment, and provide funds for internal improvements administered by the states. Seward also elaborated a full agenda for the New York legislature. He wanted the state to go forward with the enlargement of the Erie Canal and construction on the new “auxiliary or lateral works,” the Genesee Valley and Black River canals. He favored government loans to railroad corporations. He hoped the life of the geological survey would

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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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