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COLONIAL GOVERNMENT IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
WHILE Captain Kidd was still on the high seas and pirates were still infesting the lower Hudson, the Earl of Bellomont arrived in New York (in April, 1698), accompanied by his wife and his cousin, John Nanfan, who had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor. The citizens greeted the new Governor with every demonstration of delight. The corporation gave a public banquet and offered a eulogistic address. Bellomont on his part entered into his task with enthusiasm. In the new Assembly called in 1699, he spoke of the disorder prevailing in the province, left as it was with a divided people, an empty treasury, ruined fortifications, and a few half-naked soldiers. He spoke of the ill repute of New York as a rendezvous for pirates and said: “It would be hard if I who come before you with an honest heart and a resolution to be just to your interests, should meet with greater difficulties in the discharge of His Majesty’s service than those who have gone before me.” He declared it his firm intention that there should be no more misapplication of the public money, a veiled attack upon Fletcher’s grants of land and privileges which had become a public scandal. He would, he said, pocket none of the money himself nor permit any embezzlement of it by others and promised exact accounts to be laid before the Assembly “when and as often as you require.” The Assembly passed a vote of thanks and voted a six years’ revenue. Apparently everything was auspicious; but the seed of discord was already sown by Bellomont’s early espousal of the Leislerian cause, which was in effect the cause of the common people.
In the Ecclesiastical Records of the State an account of the disinterment and reburial of the mutilated remains of Leisler and of his son-in-law Milborne shows the determination of Bellomont to make what reparation was possible, in addition to the removal of attainder, for the injustice done. The document closes with these words:
Yesterday, October 20,  the remains of Commander Jacob Leisler and of Jacob Milborne [eight years and five months after their execution and burial] were exhumed, and interred again with great pomp under our [new] Dutch Church [in Garden Street]. Their weapons and armorial ensigns of honor were there [in the Church] hung up, and thus, as far as it was possible, their honor was restored to them. Special permission to do this had been received by his Honor’s son, Jacob Leisler, from his Majesty. This gave unutterable joy to their families and to those people who, under him, had taken up arms for our blessed King William. With this circumstance we trust that the dissensions which have so long harassed us, will also be buried. To this end our Right Honorable Governor, my lord the Earl of Bellomont, long wished for by us, is exerting his good offices. He tries to deal impartially with all, acting with great fairness and moderation. He has begun [his administration] by remembering the Lord God; for he has ordered a day of solemn fasting and prayer throughout the whole land. In a proclamation of great seriousness, he has exhorted the inhabitants earnestly to pray for these things [peace among the people] to the Divine Majesty. We hope the Lord will bestow his gracious blessings and grace, upon your Reverences, with all our hearts.
This proceeding on the part of Bellomont, combined with the appointment to office of prominent Leislerians and the dismissal of some of their opponents, arrayed at once a formidable body of important citizens against him. Their numbers were augmented by the people who had profited by unlawful privileges won from Fletcher and now stripped from them by Bellomont; but the Governor pursued his course undaunted either by the threats or by the taunts cast against him as a partner of the pirate, Captain Kidd. So beloved was Bellomont by the people and so strongly in-trenched by influence in the Government at home that he could probably have carried through the reforms which he had at heart; but his untimely death in 1701, after a brief rule of three years, put an end to all his far-reaching schemes for the good of the colonies.
His death was followed by a condition approaching civil war between the followers of Leisler and their foes. In 1702 Queen Anne, who had recently ascended the throne, appointed as Governor her relative, Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury. He suppressed the Leislerians and exalted the aristocratic party, thereby restoring order but at the same time bringing odium upon his cause by his personal vices. Cornbury was a type of everything that a colonial governor should not be, a scamp, a spendthrift, and a drunkard. Relying upon his relationship to Queen Anne, he felt himself superior to the ordinary restraints of civilization. He took bribes under guise of gifts, was addicted to all forms of debauchery, and incidentally proved as foolish as he was wicked, one of his amusements, it is said, being that of parading the streets of New York in the evening, clad in woman’s attire His lady was as unpopular as he and it is said that when the wheels of her coach were heard approaching the house of any of the wealthy citizens of New York, the family was hastily set to work hiding the attractive ornaments to which her ladyship might take a fancy, as she had no compunction in asking for them as a gift. In an expedition to Albany in 1702, Cornbury’s vanity led him to decorate his barge with brilliant colors, to provide new uniforms for the crew, and generally to play the peacock at the expense of the colony. Rumor placed the sum of his debts at £7000. Moreover he was charged with the embezzlement of £1500 of government money.
A long-suffering community finally demanded the recall of Lord Cornbury and demanded it with the same insistence which was to make itself felt in revolution in the last half of the century. As is usual with sovereigns when any right is demanded with sufficient firmness, Queen Anne was graciously pleased to withdraw Lord Cornbury in 1708. On the arrival of his successor, Cornbury was placed by indignant creditors in the charge of the sheriff, and was held in custody until the news of his succession to the earldom of Clarendon reached the colony. The library, furniture, and pictures of the Queen’s cousin were sold at auction, while the ex-Governor skulked back to England to make the best possible showing as to his appropriation of public moneys to private uses. We can picture him wiping his eyes in pathetic deprecation, as he exclaimed: “If the Queen is not pleased to pay me, the having the Government of New Jersey, which I am persuaded the Queen intended for my benefit, will prove my ruin!”
Lord Lovelace, Cornbury’s successor, demanded a permanent revenue. But recent experience had taught the colonists to hold the financial power in their own hands and they consented only to an annual appropriation, thus making the salary of the Governor dependent on his good conduct. What would have been the result of this clash of interests will never be known, since Lord Lovelace died on May 5, 1709, the same day on which the act was passed.
Major Richard Ingoldesby, Leisler’s old enemy, now came into power and held the reins for a few months, until mismanagement of an expedition against Canada caused such indignation that he was withdrawn and Robert Hunter became Governor in 1710. Although of humble Scotch parentage he had risen to prominence in English society, numbering Swift and Addison among his friends and being married to Lady Hay, whose influence had procured for him successive positions of importance which culminated in this appointment.
With a view to encouraging the production of naval stores and obtaining a profit for the English Government, Hunter brought over at the expense of the Crown several thousand Palatines, German inhabitants of the Rhine valley harried by the French, thereby adding another alien element to the cosmopolitan population. The British Government appropriated the sum of £10,000 for the project and agreed not only to transport the emigrants but to maintain them for a time in return for their labor. These Palatines settled on both banks of the Hudson in four villages on lands belonging to Robert Livingston, and in three on those belonging to the Crown and situated on the west side of the river.
Authorities differ so widely in respect to the treatment of these German immigrants that it seems only fair to present both sides. One shows Hunter working in the interest of the English Government against that of the colony and represents the movement as a clever plan on the part of the Governor to stimulate the production of tar and turpentine, to contribute to the government income, and to prevent the manufacture of wool, linen, and cotton goods, which at that time were largely bought in England. When Hunter found that the income did not meet the outlay, it is said, he notified the newcomers that they “must shift for themselves but not outside the province.”
On the other hand, the Governor asserted that dwellers in the lower Palatinate of the Rhine, when driven from their homes .by the French, begged the English Government to give them homes in America; that Queen Anne graciously agreed that the Palatines should be transported to New York at the expense of the English with the understanding that they were to work out the advance payment and also the food and lodgings provided by the State and by Livingston; but that the Palatines proved lazy and failed to carry out their contract.
All accounts agree, however, in describing the hard lot of these unfortunate exiles. Their ocean voyage was long and stormy with much fatal illness. The sites selected for their settlements were not desirable. The native pine was found unsuited to the production of tar in large quantities. They soon discovered that they would never be able to pay for their maintenance by such unprofitable labor. Moreover, the provisions given them were of inferior quality; and they were forced to furnish men for an expedition against Canada while their women and children were left either to starvation or to practical servitude. In this desperate situation some of the Palatines turned from their fellow Christians to the native savages, and their appeal was not in vain. The Indians gave them permission to settle at Schoharie, and many families removed thither in defiance of the Governor, who was still bent on manufacturing tar and pitch. But the great majority remained in the Hudson valley and eventually built homes on lands which they purchased.
The climate of New York disagreed with Hunter, and his mental depression kept pace with his physical debility. After six years of hopeless effort, he was obliged to admit the failure of his plans to produce naval stores. In 1710 he reported of the locality that it “had the finest air to live upon: but not for me”; again he says that Sancho Panza is a type for him, since that in spite of every effort to do his duty no dog could be worse treated. It is easy to understand that a member of the Pope-Swift-Bolingbroke circle in England should have found the social atmosphere of early New York far from exhilarating; and it is equally easy to comprehend that the pioneers of the New World resented his mismanagement of the campaign of 1711 against Canada and his assertion of the English Government’s right to tax the colonists without the consent of the colonial Governments. But perhaps Hunter and the people appreciated each other more than either realized, for when he took leave in 1719 his words were warmly affectionate and his address embodied the exhortation: “May no strife ever happen amongst you but that laudable emulation who shall approve himself the most zealous servant and most dutiful subject of the best of Princes.” And in response to this farewell address the colony of New York assured Governor Hunter that he had governed well and wisely, “like a prudent magistrate, like an affectionate parent,” and that the good wishes of his countrymen followed him wherever he went.
It would be pleasant to dwell on this picture of mutual confidence and regard, but the rude facts of history hurry us on to quite different scenes. William Burnet, son of the Bishop of Salisbury, continued the policy of his predecessor, it is true, and lived on unusually amicable terms with the Assembly. He identified himself with the interests of the province by marrying the daughter of a prosperous Dutch merchant and by prohibiting the fur trade between Albany and Canada; yet even Burnet clashed with the Assembly on occasion. And when after an interval William Cosby became Governor, the worst abuses of executive power returned, fomenting quarrels which reached a climax in the famous Zenger trial.
The truth was that no matter how popular a governor might be, clashes were bound to occur between him and the representatives of the people whom he governed, because they represented divergent interests. The question of revenue was an ever-recurring cause of trouble. Without adequate funds from the home Government, the Governor looked to the Assembly for his salary as well as for grants to carry on the administration of the province. No matter how absolute the authority conferred by his commission and his instructions, the Governor must bow to the lower house of the provincial Legislature, which held the purse strings.
Under Sloughter, Fletcher, Bellomont, and Cornbury the Assembly had voted revenues for a term of years. But when Cornbury appropriated to his own uses £1000 out of the £1800 granted for the defense of the frontiers and when in addition he pocketed £1500 of the funds appropriated for the protection of the mouth of the Hudson, the Assembly grew wary. Thereafter for four successive years it made only annual appropriations, and, wiser still by 1739, it voted supplies only in definite amounts for special purposes. Short-sighted the Assembly often was, sometimes in its parsimony leaving the borders unprotected and showing a disposition to take as much and to give as little as possible — a policy that was fraught with grave peril as the French and Indian War drew on apace.
The growing insubordination of the province gave more than one governor anxious thought. Governor Hunter wrote warningly to friends in England: “The colonies are infants at their mother’s breasts and will wean themselves when they become of age.” And Governor Clinton was so incensed by the contumacy of the Assembly that he said bluntly: “Every branch of this legislature may be criminal in the eyes of the law, and there is a power able to punish you and that will punish you if you provoke that power to do it by your behaviour. Otherwise you must think your selves independent of the crown of Great Britain!”