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

By Charles W. McCurdy | Go to book overview

13
The End of an Era

For more than a century, two defining moments of Anti-Rent history have been recounted time and again by the people of rural Albany County. One was the ejectment of Peter Ball by the county sheriff on February 18, 1860. Shortly after the sheriff finished his work, the Anti-Rent leader's neighbors restored Ball to possession. Local “Indians” sustained his claim to the family farm for several years afterward, underscoring the power of community. The other defining moment was the second and final ejectment of Ball by the state militia on May 29, 1865. It demonstrated the power of contract, backed by the state's legitimate monopoly of force, to overwhelm communities, tear apart lives, and suppress land reform aspirations that had once pervaded the New York body politic. 1

The central event of United States history occurred between the two ejectment proceedings. Ball lost a son in the Civil War; scores of other young men from rural Albany County fought in the Union army. In April 1865, while the decisive battles in Virginia were being waged, the New York legislature ratified a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that confirmed the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 2 The ordeals and achievements of the Civil War shaped reactions to the fate of Anti-Rent following the Confederate surrender. For antirenters it seemed perverse that the same New York soldiers who helped to destroy chattel slavery in the southern states would invade the Manor of Rensselaerwyck, throw some victims of “voluntary slavery” out of their homes, and compel others to fulfill the obligations of “feudal servitude interminable.” For the New York authorities, on the other hand, it seemed natural to crush AntiRent rebels who defied state law just as the Union army had crushed Confederate rebels who defied federal law. Yet nobody celebrated the outcome. The citizen-soldiers of the Albany County Artillery did not march in grand review after smashing the last of the “Indians.” Public officials declined to claim credit for putting down the quarter-century rent strike on Rensselaerwyck. And none

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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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