Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York

By Reeve Huston | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
LAND AND FREDOM
1844–1846

Every anti-renter knew that the leasehold system denied him his freedom. What a free society would be like was another matter. As anti-rent lecturers crisscrossed New York's leasehold estates in the fall of 1844, estate residents everywhere entered a long discussion about the kind of freedom they sought. They drew on ideas about property voiced by earlier tenant rebels and sustained by tenants' use of common lands. But their new economic circumstances led them to transform these traditions. By examining how these legacies changed, we can begin to understand the ways in which leasehold farmers' increasing integration into a capitalist economy shaped their social and political ideals.

Agrarian traditions and economic change were not the only forces to influence the anti-renters' notions of freedom. Whig and Democratic party activists were leasehold tenants' most influential teachers on social and political issues, and anti-renters drew heavily on their ideas and models of organizing. But the anti-renters proved critical and independent students, turning party teachings to new uses and combining them with ideals and practices drawn from other traditions. Their innovations reveal a great deal about a critical but understudied issue in antebellum politics: the ways in which the Jacksonian rank and file received, interpreted, and made their own the teachings of party leaders.


The Anti-Rent Associations:
Institutions and Leaders

By spring of 1845, the anti-rent movement had become a commanding force on New York's manors and patents. Anti-rent lecturers convinced tenants in 11 counties to form anti-rent associations and Indian bands, swelling the number of movement supporters to between 25,000 and 60,000. In the leasehold hill towns of Albany, Rensselaer, Delaware, Columbia, and

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