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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

12
Enmeshed in Law

The collapse of the Anti-Rent Party compelled tenant leaders to reassess the movement's prospects. Minor Frink, the new editor of the Freeholder in January 1849, found the situation exasperating. “There is but one sentiment everywhere expressed by the people of this state, not even the landlords themselves excepted,” he wrote, “and that is that the manorial tenures ought to come speedily to an end.” Yet it was not happening. Tenant purchases of landlord interests, in theory the easiest way to extinguish the rent system, required agreement on the terms of sale; several proprietors, led by the Van Rensselaers, still refused to negotiate with the Anti-Rent associations. Only the impending title-test suits kept the movement going. Three outcomes were imaginable, two of which buoyed tenant hopes. Government lawyers might win the cases and thus nullify the property rights of the several great proprietors. Alternatively, the landlords might decide to sell on Anti-Rent terms rather than endure the cost and uncertainty of lengthy litigation. But defeat in the courts, the third possible result, would be disastrous. It would put anti-renters wholly in the power of their landlords. “A morbid anxiety,” Frink reported that winter, “prevails very generally among the tenants.” 1

Anti-Rent leaders had not given up on a political solution to the long impasse. “It must at no moment be forgotten that we live under a republican government, a government the chief glory and excellence of which is that it admits of change,” Frink reminded Freeholder readers. “Under the salutary operation of this principle, an astonishing progress never before known in the history of the world has been made … in protecting the rights and property of the masses.” Still, the Anti-Rent associations had no legislation to recommend in 1849. The climate for land reform had not been so unfavorable for ten years. 2

Compensated emancipation was no longer an option. Gilbert v. Foote (1848) turned out to be only the first in a flurry of new rulings that converted the state constitution's due process clause into a makeweight for the negative state. Justice Augustus Hand, writing later the same year, emphatically denied 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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