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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

3
The Politics of Evasion

Governor Seward's third annual message, delivered to the legislature on January 6, 1841, contrasted sharply with the previous two. “Instead of being thickly peppered with brisk and confident recommendations of plans and measures as were his last messages,” remarked William Cullen Bryant, “the present one makes few suggestions of the kind, and such as it makes are offered in a timorous and hesitating manner, and carefully guarded with apologies and qualifications.” Seward even suggested that appropriations for internal improvements be made with “moderation and economy.” The problem was money. New York had an empty treasury and credit had not been as tight for a generation. Yet the money crunch got worse before it got better. Early in February the Bank of the United States closed its doors for good; the sudden fall in stock prices caused one Wall Street investment house to collapse and left others “shivering in the wind.” The panic “makes it impossible for anyone to support an increased debt,” the president of New York's largest trust company told Gulian C. Verplanck, chairman of the state senate's Finance Committee. Seward's man on the Canal Board agreed. “It seems to me that it is important to let the storm blow over … before bringing in any bills appropriating monies for our public works,” Samuel B. Ruggles wrote Verplanck on February 11. “We shall go farther in 1842 by going prudently in 1841.” 1

Ruggles expected to “go farther in 1842” with federal funds. Seward did too. Both expected the first fruits of William Henry Harrison's stunning victory to come in the form of legislation distributing the net receipts from public land sales among the states according to their federal representation. Seward devoted the last 5,000 words of his 1841 message to “this great measure.” He claimed that when New York and other states possessing western lands ceded them to the United States “with the magnanimity characteristic of the Revolutionary period,” they did so “as a basis for the redemption of the funded debts of the Union.” The terms of cession, as Seward and other Whigs read them, merely authorized the national government to hold the public domain “as a

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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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