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Map of New York

New York exerted tremendous influence in the politics of the early republic. Along with Pennsylvania, it was a battleground state, and competition bred innovation. During the 1790s, partisan activists in New York (like those in Pennsylvania) pioneered methods of popular partisan mobilization. After 1820, Empire state pols created the model of the party as a disciplined peacetime army, focused on winning and keeping political power.

The state constitution of 1777 divided state government between a governor with a three-year term, a Senate with staggered four-year terms, and an Assembly that was elected every year. A Council of Revision (consisting of the governor, the chancellor, and the judges of the supreme court) held the power to veto legislation. The governor and both houses of the legislature were elected, along with a lieutenant governor and town clerks, supervisors, assessors, constables, and collectors. All other offices were appointive—most of them by the governor and/or a Council of Appointment, which consisted of the governor and four senators. The constitutional language on appointments was contradictory and a source of fierce partisan conflict. Until 1793 the governor made appointments with the advice and consent of the Council of Appointment; after that date, the Council assumed a "concurrent right" to nominate officers. Adult male freeholders who owned real and personal property worth at least £20 and tenant farmers who paid at least 40 shillings in rent, along with the freemen of Albany and New York, could vote for members of the Assembly. Electing the governor and senators was limited to adult males worth £100. Voting was by paper ballot, but in some areas the political "friends" of great men handed voters colored or intricately folded ballots and watched them deposit those ballots to ensure that they voted properly!

Within this institutional framework, New York political leaders forged a fiercely competitive politics. By 1787, two clear partisan groupings had emerged in state politics: the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the followers of Governor George Clinton. While the former practiced an elitist politics, the latter appealed to the egalitarian yearnings of middling and poor constituents and, by 1800, allied themselves with the national Republican Party. The two parties were evenly matched during the 1790s, when Republicans pioneered techniques of mass political mobilizations: electoral rallies and parades, printed ballots, partisan newspapers and handbills, door-to-door canvassing. Republicans won a commanding majority in state government in 1800 and then quickly split into three competing factions, each centered on a single leader and held together by personal loyalty and patronage: the Clintonians, increasingly led by George Clinton's nephew De Witt; the Burrites, led by Aaron Burr; and the Livingston family.

These factions' squabbling spilled over into the electoral arena with alarming regularity. In 1804, the Burrites broke from the party, running Aaron Burr for governor against the candidate of the Clinton and Livingston factions. The following year, the Clintonians staged a revolt against Governor Morgan Lewis, head of the Livingston faction, and appealed to the Burrites for an alliance. This move split the Burrites, with opponents of the alliance taking the name Martling Men. For their part, the Livingston faction, known as the Quids, forged an alliance with the Federalists. The Clintonians trounced the Quids in the 1807 gubernatorial election, bringing rival tickets (but not internectine struggles) to an end—for a while. In 1812 the Republicans nominated De Witt Clinton for governor, a move that inspired the Burrites to run their own candidate. This ever-shifting factional dance gave New York politicians a well-earned reputation for intrigue. Oliver Wolcott, a New Englander who relocated to the state, wrote that "after living a dozen years in New York, I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the managers."

The years immediately following the War of 1812 brought important changes to this factional mess. The Livingstons and Burrites lost power. The Federalists, discredited by their behavior during the war, disbanded in 1820. The Bucktails, led by Martin Van Buren, emerged as the sole challengers to the Clintonians. In some respects, the Bucktails were just like the factions they replaced, frequently forging new alliances and changing their policies for tactical advantage. But in important ways they were different. Led by upwardly mobile men of middling origin, they explicitly rejected the personalist politics that had dominated New York since before the Revolution. Rather than basing political allegiances on personal loyalty and patronage, Van Buren envisioned parties as embodiments of competing social interests, held together by principle and policy. Although the Bucktails did not hew to consistent policies or principles until the early 1830s, they did become a disciplined political machine. Activists united behind party candidates and policies, on pain of losing office; Bucktail newspapers and activists propagated a single, clear partisan message. Van Buren's faction gained control of state government in 1820. So effective were the Bucktails in retaining power that their Clintonian enemies dubbed them the Albany Regency.

The Bucktails also proved the champions of a widened popular participation in politics. They dominated the 1821 state constitutional convention, which dramatically expanded the suffrage, increased the number of elective posts, and abolished constitutional checks on the power of elected officials. The new constitution eliminated the Council of Revision, empowering the governor with the legislative veto. It abolished the Council of Appointment, transferring the selection of sheriffs, county clerks, and coroners to the voters, while leaving the election of most state officials in the hands of the legislature. And it eliminated the property qualification for the vote among white men. Beginning in 1822, any white adult male who paid state or county taxes, worked on the public roads, or served in the militia could vote for all elective officers. African American males, however, faced a $250 property qualification for the suffrage.

The Bucktails dominated state politics after 1820. Only in 1824 did the Clintonians, now dubbing themselves the "People's Men," win the governorship and a majority in the legislature. The next year, both factions, shaken by John Quincy Adams's ascension to the presidency, made an alliance behind the presidential ambitions of Andrew Jackson. By 1828 the state's factional conflict turned on national allegiances, with a Jacksonian party opposed by Adams men (also known as National Republicans). The political conflicts of the 1820s led both Clintonians and Bucktails to revive many of the old techniques of popular mobilization pioneered in the 1790s—and to increase their effectiveness through an unprecedented degree of discipline among party cadre. When Martin Van Buren became Andrew Jackson's campaign manager in 1828, the Bucktails' methods and organization provided the core model on which national party politics was built.

Bibliography

  • Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood. Political History of the State of New York. 3 vols. New York: Henry Holt, 1909).
  • Benson, Lee. The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case, 1961; reprint ed. New York: Atheneum, 1964).
  • Brooke, John L. Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson.Chapeh Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Cole, Donald B. Martin Van Buren and the American Political System. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Countryman, Edward. "From Revolution to Statehood." In Milton M. Klein, ed., The Empire State: A History of New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 229–301.
  • Huston, Reeve. Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Taylor, Alan. William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. New York: Knopf, 1995.
  • Young, Alfred F. The Democratic-Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

Anti-Federalist

The Anti-Federalists were never a political party as is thought of in modern times. It was a coalesced group of voting interests that were united in their opposition to the Constitution.

"The Antifederal objections to the Constitution fall into four categories. First, some attacked it for violations of the Whig theory. Such criticisms came particularly from merchants, lawyers and large landowners who believed in Whig ideology themselves, and represented a sort of right wing, non-agrarian Antifederalism. Second, almost all of the new plan's opponents accused it of excessive centralization: these were the localists. Third, some critics attacked the Constitution as leading toward monarchy or aristocracy rather than democracy: these comprised the left wing. Finally, the agrarians feared that the commerical, creditor, or large propertied interests would benefit at the expense of the farmers." (Jackson T. Main, History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 153.)

"Strictly speaking, Antifederalism ended with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, without ever producing a party in any modern sense. During the next few years the term continued as a word of opprobrium, employed by the Federalists to demean whoever opposed the men or policies of the new government. In some states, opposition nearly ceased. In others, however, former Antifederalists remained strong and even gained ground, especially where they had developed a local political organization: they composed a majority or a strong minority in such states as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and appeared elsewhere for the first time, as in New Jersey. Although they still lacked an inter-state organization and suffered a serious loss of strength during the election of 1788-1789, bitterly fought in certain areas. Presently, in Congress, they supported amendments and opposed various policies of the Federalists. The close relationship between the Anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans may be traced through a continuity both of men and ideas. At least seven-eighths of those known to have opposed the Constitution in 1787-1788 became Republicans." (Main, p. 166)

"Despite the intensity of Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, no Anti-Constitution party emerged after ratification. With the demise of the second-convention movement, Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists only diminshed the likelihood of a distinctive Anti-Federalist party's emerging. Instead, Anti-Federalists set about becoming a loyal opposition. A number of other factors facilitated this transformation. The rapid adoption of the Bill of Rights, even if it failed to satisfy many Anti-Federalists, deprived them of an important rallying point. Reverence for the principles of constitutionalism and a belief that, when properly amended, the new frame of government would effectively protect liberty further weakened the chances of an Anti-Federal's party forming. The respect accorded George Washington, the new president, also worked against continued opposition. When coupled with renewed econimic prosperity, all of those factors helped promote the formal demise of Anti-Federalism. Yet, though Anti-Federalism did not generate an Anti-Constitution party, the term 'Anti-Federalist,' the various texts produced by the Anti-Federalists during ratification, and the alternative constitutional discourses that shaped Anti-Federalism did not simply disappear. The emergence of a court faction among Federalists caused many former supporters of the Constitution to rehtink the original Anti-Federalist critique. The efforts of former Federalists, most notable James Madison, and former Anti-Federalists, such as William Findley, were crucial to the creation of a Democratic-Republican opposition. That loyal opposition drew important ideas and rhetorical themes from Anti-Federalism and adapted them to the exigencies of political conflict in the 1790s." (p. 170-171)

Additional Sources:

  • History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
  • The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Saul Cornell. Chapel Hill, 1999, University of North Carolina Press.