Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

5
Property and Participation: The Constitutional Convention of 1821

BY THE BEGINNING of the nineteenth century, the Democratic Republicans had achieved hegemony. Loosely linked by a commitment to the role of the citizen in government and to moderate humanitarian reforms, and with an antipathy to class privilege, party members otherwise clustered around individuals such as the Clintons, the Livingstons, and Aaron Burr. Factions were constantly forming and reforming as leaders gained and lost power. Party quarrels were generally unrelated to differences of principle. 1 DeWitt Clinton divided the party in 1812 by challenging James Madison's candidacy for the presidency, but with the support of the Federalists he managed to win the governor's office in 1817. Although there were valid and substantial reasons for calling a convention to revise the Constitution of 1777, the single most important factor was this conflict between the Clintonians, led by DeWitt Clinton, and the Anti-Clintonians. The latter were variously called Martling Men (adopted from the tavern in which they met), Tammanies (so-called because they belonged to the Tammany Society, a benevolent society formed in 1789 with strong political overtones), or Bucktails (taken from the badge they wore). Specifically, the moving force behind the 1821 convention was the desire of the AntiClintonians to destroy Governor Clinton. Clinton's alliance with the Federalists enabled him to enlist them to block policies deemed desirable by the Anti-Clintonians. In doing so he earned the enmity of the Republican leaders who feared a resurgence of Federalist power and resented Clinton's bid to become independent of Republican leadership. In 1819 Clinton broke openly with his party, causing those Federalists dissatisfied with his policies to join the Bucktails. By 1820 the tangled party lines had Federalists and Republicans supporting Clinton and Federalists and Republicans opposing him.

A means of achieving constitutional change in the state had not been established. The legislature had recognized this when it "recom-

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