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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

8
Political Crossroads

Horatio Seymour, the speaker of the New York assembly in 1845, once remarked that Silas Wright “was a great man, an honest man: if he committed errors, they were induced by devotion to his party. He was not selfish: to him his party was everything—himself nothing.” Examples of Wright's selflessness were legendary. In 1844 alone, he declined both an appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States and the Democratic Party's nomination for vicepresident. Yet he agreed to run for governor, an office that repulsed him and his wife more than any other, because his party beckoned at a critical stage of the campaign. “The only safe hope and dependence for the republican principle in this country, from this time forth,” he wrote George Bancroft in September 1844, “rests upon the Democracy of the North; and th[at] deep conviction … has forced me to submit myself to almost anything.” In the immediate aftermath of his election, however, Wright did not tell Bancroft or anyone else what the New York Democracy might do to secure “the republican principle” against the unnamed forces that imperiled it. He spoke, instead, in metaphors that conveyed his sense of bewilderment about what had happened to his party, as well as to his wife and himself, during the previous six months. “I think the case may be likened to a family burned out and left houseless and homeless, with the reflection that the insurance was good and ample,” he confided to Azariah Flagg on November 12. “We feel that we are broken up, and do not know exactly how we shall fare in another establishment.” 1

Wright had reason to be uncomfortable with the prospect of moving into the statehouse. Few incoming governors in American history faced a more paradoxical political situation. For his entire career, the party that meant “everything” to him had been dedicated to frugal government and the containment of sectional struggles over slavery. But internal-improvement enthusiasts in the state party's conservative wing had breached the one principle at Albany in 1843–44, and Texas enthusiasts in the national party had violated the other at the Baltimore convention that dumped Martin Van Buren and nominated James K. Polk for

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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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