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Phases of Royal Government
in New York 1691-1719

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Press of Fred. J. Heer


Phases of Royal Government
in New York 1691-1719














Press of Fred. J. Heer



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By tranefei

OCT 20 1915

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Chapter I. Introduction 5

Chapter II. The Executive Official System 12

Chapter III. The Legislature 58

Chapter IV. Financial Affairs before 1709 97

Chapter V. The Revenue Controversy, 1709-1717 129

Bibliographical Note 156



As a royal province in the British empire in the eighteenth
century, New York well illustrates the duality of political exist-
ence characteristic of such a community. It was, on the one
hand, a province with its own local interests to be respected and
developed, its peculiar history, and its own local consciousness
of these as features of identity. It was, equally, on the other
hand, a part of the British empire, with its share of the benefits
and burdens attaching to that relation. The ideal of empire,
probably only vaguely before the mind of the British government
at that time, provided for co-operation and interaction between
these two aspects of provincial existence, which, while always
emphasizing imperial welfare, yet sought to achieve that welfare
by development of the peculiar situation of the province. For
example, provincial policy in the matter of Indian relations illus-
trates with peculiar felicity this duality of existence. Upon main-
tenance of the friendly relations with the Iroquois, inherited
from the Dutch, depended, not alone the fur-trade, but the very
existence of the province. Experience developed the fact that,
owing to the peculiar position of the Five Nations among the
native races of the continent, this Iroquois alliance was the key
to the Indian policy of all the continental English communities
taken together. Successful administration of this problem re-
quired recognition of both local and general aspects and the elab-
oration of a line of conduct vvhich should make the two aspects
serve each other.

It was the unic[ue task of the governor of such a province
to blend, in his actual conduct of public affairs, these two aspects
of provincial existence. In theory, he was the governmental
head of the community, and, at the same time, the crown's agent
in this particular unit of the administrative system of a general
imperial policy. In theory, also, the organization of the legis-
lature provided simply for assistance to the governor in the
execution of his dual function by representatives of the com-
munity at large. Actually, however, as described in Chapter
II., the organization and relations of the executive official system



made it far iiiorc easily and characteristically llic exponent of
the policy of the imperial government than of the local interests
of the province. Similarly, the legislature became, in practice,
the exponent of local-provincial feeling and policy, rather than
of any attempt to embody this with general imperial interest in
the conduct of public aflfairs.

It is obvious that the realization of the ideal of co-operation
and supplementation of these two aspects of provincial existence
would be difficult. As in the case of the Holy Roman Empire
successful working required mutual confidence on the part of the
two elements, which was seldom realized ; so, in this case, the
relation between executive and legislature was seldom for any
long period one of mutual understanding and intelligent co-
operation. There were certain circumstances in particular, act-
ing as obstructions in the path of the realization of the ideal,
which may be mentioned. The imperial administration, on the
one hand, awkward and lumbering under the best of circum-
stances, failed to exercise the requisite care in the delicate matter
of appointment to the governorship. Court influences resulted
in the a]:)pointment of adventurers like Fletcher and Cornbury.
Even when pains were taken to select a man on the basis of the
particular needs of the situation from the government point of
view, the result might not be the choice of a man with the right
sort of skill. This was true in the case of the Bellomont appoint-
ment. Even in the case of what was, in its results, the nearest
to an ideal appointment — that of Hunter — efficient svipport
from home could not be relied upon by th.e appointee. Circum-
stances of local character in the province, on the other hand, v/ere
equally an obstruction to the attainment of the ideal. In the
first place, the heat of factious passion, coming over from the
Leisler affair, caused popular attention and interest to center
more on measures bringing triumph to one or other of the local
factions than on issues of truly public policy. Then, too, outside
the realm of Leislerian or .Anti-Leislerian politics, the men of
leading calibre were, as a class, characterized more by selfish
ambition for the interests of a group of local magnates and their
dependents, than bv intelligent appreciation of the true relations
of local-provincial and general-imperial interests.

The actual interworking of all these features, during the
first twenty years after 1691, was such that we may say that

IN NEW YORK, 169I-I719. 7

durir.g all this time there was no effective opportunity for the
realization of the possibilities contained in the theory of the Royal
Provin':e. Not until experience had brought the province
through a period of developing education, and fortune had
brought to the governorship a man having both an intelligent
conception of the ideal, and — what was equally important — the
personal temperament and political skill capable of making an
impression on the actual conduct of affairs, was a sound basis
of political development reached.

The four months of Sloughter's administration served merely
to commit the newly established government to the policy of perse-
cuting the leaders of the Leislerian regime. Whatever may be
the degree of truth in Smith's violently hostile characterization
of Sloughter, he certainly was not a person of the strength of
character required to settle the government in a community torn
with faction as was- New York. Ingoldsby's administration of
fourteen months was, in main outline, a continuation of the
regime inaugurated under Sloughter's auspices by those who
had played the part of victims during Leisler's rule. Ingoldsby's
administration illustrated the characteristics of periods happen-
ing with unfortunate frequency during New York's early exist-
ence as a royal province, viz., the intervals between the death,
removal or long absence of a governor, and his return or the
arrival of the next incumbent. Under such circumstances, there
was likely to be either a suspension of the more active and
aggressive features of provincial development, with surreptitious
exploitation of opportunities for private gain, such as corrupt
dealings in land grants, or a violent use of governmental ma-
chinery, made unscrupulous by a consciousness of desperation
such as is illustrated in the last weeks of Nanfan's power. In-
goldsby's term, in 1691-1692, illustrates the former group of activ
ities, which served almost as well as the other type of proceedings
to hinder the normal development of the possibilities of interac-
tion between the two aspects of provincial existence.

The administration of Fletcher, from 1692 to 1698, did little
to improve the situation. Important elements of the imperial
system were perverted for corrupt purposes. The system of
connivance at violations of the imperial trade system enriched
a few New Yorkers at the expense of the ideal of the empire.
Extravagant grants of land to a few favorites endangered Indian


relations and retarded the development and peopling of the prov-
ince for many years to come. The circumstances of war on the
frontiers necessitated activity in those departments of the imperial
and provincial systems which bore on military matters, but the
actual conduct of these affairs did little to promote tlie spirit
of co-operation. Fletcher's conduct of hostilities was energetic,
but unskilful and wasteful. The heavy burdens of taxation and
detaciiments of militia for frontier service were not rendered
lighter by the conviction on the part of many that the governor's
arrogance and lack of tact were responsible for the disobedience
of the neighboring provinces to the direction from England that
they should be aiding and assisting to New York. The home
government itself was hard pressed and could render bttle effect-
ive aid. Then, Fletcher's attitude in matters of local partisan-
ship was practically a continuation of the Anti-Leislerian course
pursued by the government since Sloughter's arrival. This com-
plicated the relations between governor and assembly in the mat-
ter of raising supplies for military purposes. Altogether, these
were not favorable circumstances for the development of the
ideal of co-operation between the local and imperial aspects of
provincial life.

Bellomont's arrival inaugurated a veritable revolution in the
course of affairs. He threw himself vigorously into the task
of the suppression of piracy, in so far as New York was con-
cerned therewith. He put into practice, as it was intended to be
used, the system of penalties for violations of the acts of trade
and navigation. In other words, the imperial trade system, with
ill the machinery that that involved, began to have effective
operation in New York for the first time. Bellomont was very
active in attempts at development of the positive aspect of the
imperial trade system, and expended much energy in devising
ways and means for inaugurating the naval stores policy in
New York. It was impossible for him to develop the crown's
landed estate on account of Fletcher's misconduct, but all his
efforts went towards correcting and undoing as far as jijossible
that official's mischief. Rut in all this, as in other matters, the
complication of local jjartisan politics exercised a baleful influ-
ence. Fletcher and Cornbury went through the motions of a
zeal for the empire, which, practically, as events worked out,
meant a zeal for the personal welfare of themselves and a

IN NEW YORK, 169I-I719. 9

favored group of magnates whose provincial interests made po-
litical influence with the government necessary to them. In the
case of Bellomont we have a genuine zeal for imperial interests,
intelligently conceived and impartially administered, as far as
"graft" is concerned. But the circumstances of his accession and
the circumstances of the province combined to make the spirit of
partisanship in the assembly and in the subordinate executive ser-
vice too much for him to control. Long before he came to the
province it was known that he was enthusiastically of the opinion
that the Leislerian cause and party had been shamefully treated.
So much of his activity on arriving in the province was of the neg-
ative kind — undoing mischief and punishing wrong-doers — and
he made it such a personal affair with Fletcher that, with a
people of provincial character, he could hardly avoid presenting
the appearance of being chief of the Leislerian faction. This,
of course, awakened into well-nigh ungovernable activity the
revengeful zeal of the friends of Leisler. Bellomont had his
hands full, even when he was in the province, in keeping a decent
peace. When, then, death removed the only member of the gov-
ernment whose authority and personality was sufficient to hold
passions in leash, the violence of the long-repressed Leislerians
knew no bounds. The debauch of vindictive passion under the
administration of Nanfan, of which the Bayard and Hutchins
trial and the confiscation of Robert Livingston's estate are the
most conspicuous manifestations, is a measure for us of Bello-
mont's real service. From some points of view it seems as if
Bellomont's administration was too short to am.ount to anything
as an object-lesson of what royal provincial government might
be. But the odds against success in this attempt were heavy.
The division of his attention between three governments, lack
of the most efficient support from home, the excessive rage
of passions, for a part of which lie was, for personal rea.sons,
unwittingly and inevitably responsible, militated strongly against
the success of his administration. Hard-won progress was
made towards giving the theory of the empire a chance. But
the province needed more experience to make this beginning

Up to the time of Bellomont's death, it may be said that the
exponents of the general-imperial aspect of provincial life had
been more conspicuous, had been more bold in grasp and initia-


tivc. This was natural. The assembly was new to its work.
The circumstances of war complicated development. Nanfan's
administration from 1701 to 1702, taken as the outspoken and
unrestrained expression of what was present but suppressed
under Bellomont, is the time when local provincial forces get
the upper hand. This period, discouraging in its revelation of
possibilities, is not to be taken as fairly representing what was
truly characteristic of provincial life, any more than Fletcher's
administration is to be taken as an exemplification of the im-
perial theory. In fact, the" features of excessive violence may
be regarded as the consequences of the exasperation resulting
from the Sloughter and Fletcher regimes, and the escape from
utter wrecking of the imperial machinery, wdiich even the most
violent Leislerians recognized as out of the question as a matter
of expediency, may be regarded as due to Bellomont.

The promise of better things, vaguely felt as expressed in
tlie appointment of Cornbury, came to nothing. His relationship
to the queen and his "interest" at court flattered the New
Yorkers' sense of importance. But experience soon developed
to the eyes of the knot of maG:nates, v/ho were the real springs
of power in the province, that for their purposes he was worse
than Fletcher and Bellomont. We may indeed suppose that this
group of leading individuals, standing, really, midway between
popular feeling in general and the particular designs of the em-
pire for the province, had themselves grown into slightly larger-
minded conceptions of tlie interest of the province. Still they
looked upon public policy with a view in which their personal
interests bulked most conspicuously. For their purpose, a gov-
ernor must manage to keep just enough in favor with the home

-^overnment to keep his place, and must equally escape ahenating
popular provincial favor so as to avoid frittering away his energy
in fruitless quarrels with the popular element — fruitless, that
is, to their schemes. The great service rendered by Cornbury 's
administration to the development of New York as a royal prov-
ince was the fact that he lost estimation both with the people
of the province and with the local magnates, and thus compelled
a measure of union among all elements for a common public end.
This union against Cornbury's aim to make both imperial and
])rovincial interests serve his personal ends was finally successful.

But another short term of office — that of Lovelace for six

IN NEW YORK, 169I-I719. II

months — and another interval of government by a figure-head
— Ingoldsby, again, for thirteen months — intervened before the
arrival of a governor adequate to the task before him.

In Hunter we have the first governor whose administration
displayed not only intelligent zeal for the empire and sympa-
thetic appreciation of the situation of the provincials, but also
the ability to relate these two features in the actual conduct of

Full description of these successive administrations and of
Hunter's career in New York would be an extensive task, requir-
ing for its satisfactory 'achievement materials not at present
accessible. It would practically constitute a political history of
the province during its first 'stage of royal provincial existence.
It is one of the purposes of this sketch rather to describe as
carefully as may be the two elements of the governmental system,
representing respectively the general-imperial and the local-pro-
vincial aspects of New York, as they actually developed during
the period from 1691 to the close of Hunter's administration.
Chapters II. and III. are concerned with this description. These
chronological limits are chosen because this was the period during
v/hich were elaborated the main outlines of the system and the
more or less permanent methods of control, of that which has
always been fundamental in English political development, viz.,
the power of the purse. Throughout all the manifestations of
social and public life in the province, there was, to an extent, a
general contest between provincial and imperial ideals. The
essentially fundamental relation of financial, to all other ques-
tions, gives particular importance to the development of the
contest between these ideals in the matter of control over raising
and spending public money. In chapters IV. and V. an endeavor
is m.ade to trace the story of this development. The elaboration
of this financial system and the application of the results of the
controversy over the matter to the general conduct of provincial
aflfairs, in a way, make up the first stage of the existence of New
York as a royal province.


In the original constitution of government in the province
of New York, after its organization by the government of Wil-
liam and Mary, the executive held a position of especial advan-
tage and, at first, at any rate, of power. The newly established as-
sembly took some time in learning its position and possible
power, and a struggle for vantage ground preceded its engage-
ment in the struggle for the dominating position in the provincial
government which it afterward attained. And in the executive
department tlie governor was easily the dominating figure. There
were other executive officials, holding office by patent from the
crown and having functions important in provincial and impe-
rial life. The executive aspect of the functions of the council
was also of great importance. Nevertheless the relations between
the governor and these officials and the council were such that,
in the last analysis, it was the character and aims of the individ-
ual who held the office of governor that determined the com-
plexion of the adminir^tration of public affairs in the province.

With this view of the importance of the governor, the cir-
cumstances surrounding appointment to an office of so great
possibilities come to be of interest. The appointment was made
by the King in Council, the name of the appointee was then sig-
nified by the Principal Secretary of State, wlto was at the time in
charge of colonial affairs, to the Board of Trade, and at the same
time the latter were desired to prepare a commission and a set
of instructions. The influences actually having weight in the
selection of individuals for this im.portant office are not easy to
determine. Authoritative information on the subject is scanty
and fragmentary and yields only negative results to the search
for light on the workings of the imperial system at this period.

It would appear that, whether solicited or not, the crown did
not lack for intimations from interested parties, at any rate as
to the qualities desired in an appointee. Thus, in 1689 we find a
petition to the king from twenty-one merchants trading to and
in New York, expressing to the king satisfaction in the appoint-
ment of Sloughter, calling attention to the strategic position of


IN NEW YORK, 169I-I719. 13

New York and desiring- that some military force and equipment
be sent out with the,new irovernor.^ In 1701, after the death of
Bellomont, we find Robert Livingston in a long communication
to the Board of Trade mentioning as among the things necessary
at that time for the preservation of the province, "that a governor
be appointed who is a soldier, a man fearing God and hating
covetousness and who will administer impartially without sid-
ing with any faction."- Again, in 1708, we find Lewis Morris
writing to the Secretary of State in terms of the greatest
freedom as to the "impudent conduct of the Governors, to call
it no worse, that has been the great prejudice of her Majesty's
service in America ;" adding, "We are told Sir Gilbert Heathcote
has made some interest for his brother. Coll. Caleb Heathcote;
he will be a man to the general satisfaction of ye people, and at
this juncture to obteine a resetlement of her Ma j -ties revenue no
man fitter. I know no man understands the Province or People
better, or is more capable of doing her Majestic reall service. He
is an honest man and the reverse of my Lord Cornbury."^
Whether either of these latter communications, or their substance,
ever came to the knowledge of the sovereign is of course impos-
sible to determine. Certainly Cornbury was as far as it is possi-
ble to conceive from the ideal figure sketched by Livingston and
the appointment of Lovelace would at best indicate that military
qualities at that juncture were considered more important than
thoroug'h understanding of the province and people.

The appointment of Bellomont. an appointment as to which
we have more than the usual amount of evidence concerning
the crown's specific purpose, and upon which, apparently, unusual
care was expended in consideration of the qualities of the appoin-
tee, reflected the disposition to consider more the interests of the
trading empire at large than the exceedingly peculiar local situ-
ation in New York. At that time the quality of impartiality men-
tioned in Livingston's requirements was quite as necessary as in
1 70 1, and in this particular Bellomont was deficient, at any rate
in any effective degree, and his predilection for the cause of one

' Col. Doc. III. 651.
^Ibid. IV. 878.
•■' Ibid. V. 37-8.


of tb.e factions in the province had hcen matter of pubHc knowl-
cdge before his appointment..^

In the case of Fletcher, (1692-1698), we have his own asser-
tion in liis defence against charges of corruption, that "in the
Irish Warr" and in his thirty years of service precechng he was
"so far from making gaine by the misfortunes of our friends that
I never did it from the ruine of our enemies and it was I presume
the report of this behaviour that sent me into New York for I
had never thought of the place till the moment it was proposed
to me and my answer required."- We have no more than his
own assertion for these points, however, and in the reply made
to this defence of Fletcher's, we have a hint as to forces that
were reputed to have great weight in the making of all these
appointments. It was asserted that, so far as misfortunes in
Ireland were concerned, Bellomont had suffered more in this par-
ticular "from that power that preferred and advanced Col.
Fletcher," and that, too, at a time when Fletcher was not disturbed
in his patrimony." As to Fletcher's need for the exercise of favor
from some quarter, we have the testimony of William Penn to
the fact of his being "a necessitous man," of whom it was to
be feared that he would "more consider the advancement of his
own private fortunes than the public benefit of the Province."*

The disposition to explain the influences determining ap-
pointments in terms of other things than personal fitness is re-
flected all through William Smith's "History of New York."
Thus in the case of Sloughter's appointment he remarks that a
governor never was more necessary for reconciling a divided
people as well as for defending them ; "But cither through the
hurry of the King's affairs or the powerful interest of a favorite

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Online LibraryCharles Worthen SpencerPhases of royal government in New York, 1691-1719 .. → online text (page 1 of 15)