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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

7
Resistance and Reform

Despair gripped Thurlow Weed as New York Whigs descended on Syracuse to nominate his handpicked gubernatorial candidate, Millard Fillmore, on September 11, 1844. A letter from Henry Clay to a voter in Alabama produced Weed's woe. Niles' Register, the nation's premier weekly newspaper, published the “Alabama letter” on August 31; once again, the Whig candidate for president addressed the propriety of annexing the Republic of Texas. After reviewing the threat of war with Mexico and various other impediments to the project, Clay flatly stated that slavery “ought not to affect the question one way or another.” Seward was campaigning in western New York at the time. “[I] met that letter at Geneva,” he wrote Weed from Auburn on September 2, “and there, here, and until now everybody droops, despairs…. It jeopards, perhaps loses this state.” Congressman Washington Hunt had the same reaction. “We had the Abolitionists in a good way, but Mr. Clay seems determined that they shall not be allowed to vote for him,” he wrote Weed from his home in Lockport. “I believe his letter will lose us more than two hundred votes in this county.” Offsetting the anticipated defection of Whigs to the Liberty standard became an obsession with Weed, and it led him willy-nilly to the anti-renters. 1

For the first time in anyone's memory, Weed stayed home when the New York Whigs convened to nominate a candidate for governor and frame an address to the voters. But he did not remain in Albany to lick his wounds. His lead editorial on September 11 addressed the Anti-Rent agitation, a subject on which he had been silent for years. Weed wove several inconsistent themes into a powerful, remarkably coherent endorsement of the tenant cause. He began by decrying the “Indian” attacks. “Resistance to laws, per se, is always wrong,” he said. “The outrages perpetrated upon the sheriff of this county and the deputy sheriff of Rensselaer, demand prompt and exemplary punishment.” Setting an example was especially important because, as Weed put it, “there is contagion” in the Anti-Rent violence. “The spirit of resistance is spreading. Tenants in neighboring counties, where, but for this tree of bitterness [called Rensselaer-

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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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