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.
- 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.
In Pennsylvania, the Quids, known first as "Constitutionalists", arose out of a split among the Republicans in local Philadelphia politics.
The various Republican splinter movements in New York [Burrites, Lewisites and Clintonians] although most had underlying economic and reform issues, they often instead rallied around a central personality. As did most Republican splinter movements in Pennsylvania with exception of the Constitutional Republicans, a movement formed to prevent proposed judicial changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution. In addition to these, there were within Congress a group of individuals who were often classified as Quids. Among this group were congressmen from Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey and North Carolina. Mainly elected in 1804 and 1806 as Republicans, they began to question some actions and direction of their party. When reaction to the Embargo revitalized the Federalist; New York and Pennsylvania dissident Republican movements moved back into the main party. On the Congressional level, a few remained in opposition, some declined to run for re-election, and others were not re-nominated.
"The first evidence of this appeared in reports of a dinner of the 'Democratic Constitutional Republicans' held at the White Horse Tavern in Philadelphia on March 4, 1805, to celebrate Jefferson's second inauguration. A few days later the Freeman's Journal printed a proposal, dated March 14, for forming 'The Society of Constitutional Republicans.' This document recognized the sovereignity of the people, the principle of majority rule, and the right of the people, to alter and abolish their government as they saw fit. However, it described the Pennsylvania Constitution, along with the Federal Constitution, as 'the noblest invention of human wisdom, for the self-government of man' and avowed that it should be changed only when the motives and causes were 'obvious, cogent, general and conclusive.' Great political blessings were enjoyed under the Constitution, and it required no alteration. The list of the society's principles closed with an assertion of loyalty to the existing State and Federal administrations." (The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952. p 82-83)
"Continuing the practice of the preceding year, the Aurora referred to the Constitutional Republicans as Quids. The latter professed to find the title an honorable one. A writer on the Freeman's Journal asserted that a 'tertium quid' was a substance used in pharmacy to transform a poison into a medicine and avowed that there was a great need for such an element in politics. A third party would determine whether there would be 'liberty of despotism.'" (Higginbotham, p 91)
"The incident [the Special election of State Senator for District 1 in December of 1805] highlighted one aspect of the dilemma which faced the Pennsylvania Quids so long as they existed - how to avoid becoming a tail to the Federalist kite when the Democratic leaders would not permit them to rejoin their old party." (Higginbotham, p 105)
"With McKean ineligible for another term in 1808 and with national issues making union with the Federalists less and less palatable, the great majority of Constitutional Republicans wished to return to the Republican ranks. However, they had no desire to submit to the leadership of Leib and Duane after the many indignities they had suffered at their hands. An alliance with the country Republicans, who were also seeking to rid the party of the domination of Leib and Duane, seemed a logical and natural arrangement." (Higginbotham, p 138)
"The election of 1808 was a significant demonstration of the depth and strength of Pennsylvania Republicanism. The Federalists had been favored by many circumstances - Republican disunity over presidential candidates; the Leib-Boileau quarrel among the Democrats; Quid cooperation with them in the three preceding elections; and, most important, the economic hardships of the embargo. Yet they had lost by an overwhelming majority. Republican unity reappeared under the stimulus of a revived Federalism campaigning on national issues. Internal divisions were suppressed, and the Republicans gave undivided support to Madison and Snyder. The stresses of the campaign destroyed the Constitutional Republicans as a third party, though there were vestiges in a few counties." (Higginbotham, p 176)
"The strength and nature of this factionalism varied, but it never entirely disappeared. The first stage lasted from 1800 to 1805. Personal and local differences appeared almost immediately as the Federalists virtually abandoned politics. The struggle between Governor McKean and the country Democrats in the legislature over judicial reform and the failure of the attack on the judiciary culminated in the movement for a constitutional convention. Duane and Leib, whose arbitrary control of the party in Philadelphia had produced a violent schism, took sides against the Governor. Aided by the Federalists, the Constitutional Republicans, generally called Quids, were able to defeat the project for a convention and to re-elect McKean." (Higginbotham, p 328)
"Adapted from tertium quid, a 'third something,' the name 'Quid' was first prominently used in a political sense in Pennsylvania in 1804, and it was soon affixed to a faction of the Republican party officially calling itself the Society of Constitutional Republicans. The Pennsylvania Quids attracted Federalist support and in 1805 re-elected Governor Thomas McKean, who had been the choice of a united Republican party in 1802 but was opposed by the majority wing of the party in 1805. (fn: Sanford W. Higginbotham. The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816, p. 69, 346.)." ("Who Were the Quids?" Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 50, No. 2 (Sep. 1963), p. 254)
"The use of 'Quid' to refer to various third-party factions which plagued the Jeffersonian Republicans must not, however, be construed to mean that all Quids were part of the same third-party movement. When John Randolph referred to the third party, he was not being accurate. There was no such thing. The Quids in Pennsylvania and in New York - the only states where they represented organized factions - were neither in league with each other nor supporters of Randolph. In both states, the Republican divisions were the products of local controversies over men, offices, and state policies, and the Quid factions had not direct connection with the schism produced in national politics by Randolph's defection." (Cunningham, p 255)
"The opponents of the Philadelphia Democrats and their rural allies were called at various times the Rising Sun Party (after a tavern where they first met in 1802), the Third Party, the Tertium Quids (Third Whats), and more often simply the Quids. The Quids hoped to tame popular politics by discrediting the radicalism that they blamed on the Philadelphia Democrats. To do so, they emphasized the nation's future greatness and the prosperity each citizen would enjoy in a vibrant economy with a peaceful representative politics committed to promoting internal economic development. Accepting, even welcoming, democracy in Pennsylvania, the Quids attempted to redefine the term. Popular politics would remain the instrument the citizens used to create the conditions that produced material independence. But democracy would only provide such indepedence of circumstances when Pensylvanians realized that their power should not be used to disrupt or hindred private energies or the use of property." (Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004. p. 96)
- The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952.
- Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004.
Assembly: A gathering of persons for the purpose of deliberation and decision; a deliberative body, a legislative council. Please also see House of Representatives.
Oxford English Dictionary
Assembly or General Assembly: the name given to the lower house in New Jersey and New York.
1788 - 1825: New Jersey, New York
Office Scope: State
Role Scope: County