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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

4
The Trouble with Democrats

The magnitude of the Democracy's victory surprised the party leadership. As the astonishing returns rolled in, however, Democratic pundits experienced no difficulty in accounting for what the Argus called “the revolution of 1841.” From the onset of the depression, Democrats had insisted that it arose “out of causes upon which legislation can have no power.” Massive expenditures for internal improvements, made possible by heavy European investment in state securities, fueled the boom of the 1830s; when the influx of foreign capital stopped, the supply of money fell and prices declined proportionately. For Democrats, it was axiomatic that “the establishment of a national bank will prove as ineffectual to counteract this effect … as if Congress were to attempt to legislate for staying the ebb and flow of the tide on the east coast.” But the Whigs had been so intent on restoring “all the odious schemes of Federalism of the Hamilton school” that they had refused to give the people an honest appraisal of the depression's cause. Whig designs “had been covered up by coon skins and concealed by cider barrels” during the 1840 campaign. Once the Whig Party's intentions had been “fully avowed” in Congress, however, “the condemnation of the people followed as a matter of course.” “In this election,” proclaimed Edwin Croswell, “we have a distinct manifestation of ‘the sober second thought of the people, never wrong and always efficient.’ ” The maxim's author was Martin Van Buren. 1

Democrats claimed that the rout of the Whigs vindicated Van Buren, but they maintained a state-centered strategy for returning him to the White House in 1844. Unlike the Whigs, who relied on the national government to reconstruct state financial systems and “increase in various other ways the general happiness,” Jacksonians preferred to work from the bottom up. “It is an unfortunate feature in the political organization of the United States, that federal interests are allowed to absorb so much attention,” remarked William Cullen Bryant on the eve of the 1841 election. “It is to the state government that [the people] must look for their municipal laws, for an administration of justice, and the guarantees of the largest freedom. It is the state government which has the

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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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