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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

6
Signs of War

On December 9, 1843, the lead editorial in William Cullen Bryant's Evening Post endorsed Martin Van Buren for the presidency. In many respects the editorial was unremarkable. Enough state conventions already had declared for Van Buren to assure a majority at the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for Baltimore on May 27, 1844, and even the Whigs expected to run against him. The Evening Post editorial was significant all the same. After beating the drums for a constitutional convention throughout the summer and fall, Bryant acknowledged that the presidency mattered more. As John Bigelow later confessed, the New York radicals “postponed” the agitation in 1844 for fear of “embarrass[ing] the then approaching presidential canvass with a measure which might have periled a result towards which the Democracy of the state were then looking with legitimate feelings of hope and pride.” 1

The quest for unity, if not harmony, within the New York Democracy animated conservatives as well as radicals. It pervaded Governor William C. Bouck's message to the legislature on January 2, 1844. On the two most divisive questions, constitutional reform and government spending for internal improvements, the governor took “a cautious middle course between the extremes of the two sections of his own party.” Bouck considered constitutional reform first. Following a paean to the American genius for constitutionalism, he adhered to the conservative position “that the fundamental law should not be frequently changed, nor for light or transient causes.” He also resisted the radicals' penchant for invoking the New York convention of 1821 as a precedent that ought to be followed in every succeeding generation. “It was a defect in the constitution of 1777, that it contained no provision for its amendment,” Bouck observed. “This created the necessity for the convention of 1821, as the only mode of making amendments, which had been demanded by the people.” Because the state's organic law now provided a means for revision by successive legislatures, subject to ratification by the people, he thought the procedure prescribed in the text of the constitution should be obeyed. After throwing cold

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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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