CHAPTER II. - MIDDLE COLONIES.
1. NEW YORK.
New York, as a whole, did not enter the Revolution willingly. A large part of her population were loyalists, composed of quiet, industrious farmers, who did not feel the grievance of England's commercial policy, and desired chiefly to be allowed to cultivate their fields in peace. The opposition was organized and managed largely by the merchants of New York, who hoped by resistance to break down the restrictions that burdened and hampered their trade. They were energetic, shrewd and capable men, and while the British government in New York delayed to put forth its strength to crush the resistance that was crystallizing in the local committees, these quickly grew into a provincial government that drew away the Governor's authority, controlled the city of New York, and forced the unorganized farming population into submission. Yet the change was not accomplished without a struggle, and without violence and bitterness. It was not, moreover, a complete success. Parts of New York remained throughout entirely loyal, while others took advantage of the first approach of British soldiers to declare for the King. The revolutionary government, therefore, occupied a much more insecure and difficult position than those of the New England states.
The regular Assembly of New York was loyal. It had indeed chosen a committee of correspondence and had sent delegates to the Continental Congress, but in 1774 it refused by a vote of twelve to eleven to, consider the proceedings of that body. It was adjourned April 3, 1775, to the next month, but was prorogued from time to time and never came together again.
In the city of New York there existed at this time a Committee of Sixty, formed to carry out the Non‑Importation Agreement of the Continental Congress. This Committee issued a call to the counties for a Provincial Convention to meet April 20 1775, to elect delegates to the central Congress. This Provincial Convention was followed by another, the invitation being sent this time through the city's Committee of Inspection. As in the former case the call was sent to the revolutionary committees of the counties, where any existed, if not, to some prominent man on the American side to call the freeholders of the county together to elect delegates to a Provincial Congress to meet in New York May '22, 1775, to take measures for the defense of the Colony. Representatives from eleven counties responded
The conservative element in the Convention was large and was successful in preventing a vote of approval of the proceedings of the last Continental Congress from being passed,' although the opposition secured a measure recommending to the counties and towns the election of local committees to carry out the will of the Continental and Provincial Congresses.' Radicals and conservatives struggled to control the Assembly, giving it no consistent policy. June 25 it took steps regarding the enlistment of the militia,' yet soon after sent a letter to its delegates in the central Congress, urging them to spare no effort to make peace with England or to compromise in some way this "unnatural quarrel."'
July 8, 1775, it adjourned for two weeks and appointed a Committee of Safety to take charge of certain matters during that time. The delegates from New York City appointed three members to give together two votes and the representatives of the other counties each one, to give one vote. Any other of the delegates that wished to attend could do so and could vote. New York city was given a lion's share in the Committee through an arrangement by which the counties that were unrepresented in the Congress were represented on the Committee by men from that city.
The Committee of Safety was empowered by the Congress to carry into effect all its resolutions and recommendations, to open and answer all its letters, to comply with any requisition made by the generals of. the Continental Army as far as it should think proper, to give directions to General Worcester or to the Commander-in-chief of the Continental troops within the Colony, provided such directions did not infringe the orders of the Continental Congress, to assign the money which the Continental Congress might send, for the payment of public debts already contracted, and for such further public needs as it should think necessary, the accounts being first audited and allowed by the Committee of Accounts.
This Committee of Safety, it will be seen, is not a complete substitute for the Convention. It takes its place only as an executive body to carry out the measures that have been agreed on, to aid and direct the generals in the State and to expend the Continental money in the performance of these duties. It was not created to rule a State, but to prepare it, if necessary, for war. Its task lay almost entirely with military matters. This Committee ceased to exist when the legislature met again, but one similar was appointed upon its second adjournment, September 2, 1775, to continue in session until October 2. Besides the powers given its predecessor this Committee was authorized to commission field officers elected by the county committees, and to direct the militia, provided its orders did not interfere with those given by Continental officers. It was also empowered to issue the paper currency that had been voted by the Provincial Congress.'
These Committees occupied themselves with preparing the Colony for the approaching conflict. The commissary was ordered to procure and forward to the troops food and clothing. Sufficient arms and ammunition were hard to obtain and the treasury was empty. Attempts were at first made to obtain war supplies from the Continental Congress. July 15 the Committee wrote to the New York delegates, "We have no powder, we have no blankets. For God's sake send us money, send us arms, send us ammunition!"' Congress refused the application, however, except to supply it to some extent with money and the Committee was thrown on its own resources. The Committee of New York was ordered to search the city for spare arms.' The lead mines of the State were investigated,' a manufactory of arms was established, and a ship loaded for ports where gunpowder and arms were obtainable."
As a final step it was at length decided, on September 16, 1775, to disarm the Tory inhabitants of the Colon), and in this way to at once render harmless any opposition to the new provincial government and to procure a supply of arms at small expense. Any persons who would not sign the General Association in support of the American cause, were to be deprived of their arms, which were to be returned to them when the war was over or the owner paid an appraised price. The chairmen of the County Committees, assisted by the militia, were to carry the measure into effect."
It was a hazardous move. The Tory farmers might have come to acquiesce in time to the new regime if they had been left unmolested, or at least would hardly have felt the impulse to organize an active resistance, but this proposal to take away their arms because they would not join a rebel faction against their lawful King, touched them too nearly for indifference and made the new government a synonym for irresponsible tyranny. Many of the loyalist inhabitants either hid their arms, or boldly declared they knew nothing of the Congress or its orders, and stood ready to fight and die before yielding their weapons. Those that submitted cherished a hatred for the Revolution, and large numbers of the indifferent passed into definite opposition." The Provincial Congress therefore wisely passed a vote disapproving the measure and abrogated it October 24, 1775.13 The following March, however, the Continental Congress, always hard pressed by clamors for war supplies, recommended to all the colonies to disarm the Tories." The New York Committee of Safety again set the machinery of district and town committees in motion, in obedience to the request, but experience prompted the caution that all possible prudence and moderation be used. It is difficult to estimate the number of arms gained, but it would not seem to fairly balance the antagonism of the farming population."
The Committee of Safety was active in raising troops, in commissioning officers and in sending them to guard exposed places and to erect fortifications. It found itself unable to use the power granted it over the Continental officers. The Committee ordered one of these generals to fortify the Highlands. Ile refused, on the ground that Washington had ordered him to remain where he was and that no provincial authority had the right to interfere in the disposition of Continental troops, Until ordered by the Continental Congress or the Commander‑in‑Chief he would not go. The Committee wisely refrained from pressing the point.
The Committee kept watch of persons suspected of actively aiding the British, arrested them, with the aid of militia, and tried them." Ordinary crimes against the law and civil cases the Committee did not touch. The courts tinder English authority were still open and were administered by English magistrates. The Committee saw no reason for interference. It was hoped the breach with England would not be final, and they were performing a duty which the new government had its hands too full to undertake. The Committee of Safety therefore discouraged any attempt of the county committees to draw such matters into their own hands and supported the magistrates and constables in their offices." The situation was anomalous and must have sadly puzzled those who could not see why disobedience to the law was punished in one case and obedience in another. The Committee was on good terms also with the Mayor of the city, and with the officers of the British ships, the dread of whose guns checked the more radical. Men were even allowed to supply these ships with whatever they needed, until Washington rebuked a traffic that not only gave the enemy food, but regular intelligence of the American strength and movements."
The proceedings of the Committee were brought before the Provincial Congress when it came together and, with the exception of the attempt to disarm the Tories, were approved.
We come now to the third and fourth Committees of Safety of New York, which differed from their predecessors in having wider powers and in being created not merely to sit in the recess of Congress, but to perform certain duties while the legislature was in session.
December 16, 1775, the Congress appointed twelve men to be a Committee of Safety, of whom seven were to be a quorum. They were to sit until the second Tuesday of the following June unless sooner dissolved by the legislature. They were given standing power to execute the orders and resolutions of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, to care for all military stores, and to purchase arms and ammunition when they saw fit. They might apply by drafts on the Treasurer all money that had been appropriated by the Congress and appropriate and spend 'or contingencies and for secret service any sum tinder £5,000. If the treasury could not furnish the money, they were to answer the appropriations and applications intrusted to them by a vote of credit to be made good by the Provincial Congress. They were also instructed to emit the paper currency arranged for by, the legislature, if necessary. In the recess of Congress, in any emergency, or when the use of military force seemed necessary they were to direct the militia or such Continental forces as had been put tinder the control of the Provincial Congress. They were to open and answer all letters of the legislature and to call it together if they felt occasion warranted. They were empowered to arrest and examine all persons refusing to obey the Continental and Provincial government and either discharge them or send them to the county committees for final trial. The Committee was to keep an exact journal of its proceedings for the inspection of the legislature." By subsequent resolutions the Committee was directed to take charge of the election of a new Provincial Congress to meet in May, 1776, and was allowed the same power in nominating and electing military officers and in granting and refusing commissions as the legislature.
This Committee did not complete tie term of life marked out for it. It was dissolved by the Provincial Congress and a new Committee almost identical in character elected March 15, 1776, to continue until May. In this Committee, as in the first two, the votes were to be given by counties and any member of the Congress that desired could attend and vote." Its acts followed closely in character its commission. The Congress did not examine or ,question its proceedings, and while it might have called it to account at any time, as a matter of fact it was left largely to itself.
The question with whom the command of the Continental troops within the State should rest, an example of the inevitable conflict between sectionalism and nationalism, was again agitated, and ended as before in the defeat of the Provincial government. When Lee entered the Province, the Committee of Safety which had admitted him much against its will' ordered him to put himself under its direction," The Committee relied for justification on a recent resolution of the Continental Congress which authorized the Provincial governments to call Continental troops to their aid, and on such occasions. to take control ;of them." Considering the opposition which the Committee had made to Lee's entrance it is singular that it should have presumed to cite this act to support its claim. Lee acted under orders front General Washington, not at the request of the New York government, and the simplest dictates of military expediency showed the impossibility of a. divided and alienated command. The Committee in its desire to prevent Lee from provoking an attack of the British fleet was blind to the evils its claim entailed. Lee, on his side, seems to have been unfamiliar with the resolution of Congress and to have taken it for granted that it placed the Continental troops at any time tinder the provincial government of the province in which they then were." He felt his hands tied and his position ridiculous.' He was saved from his difficulty by a committee which was sent, from the Continental Congress, at the request of the New York delegates, to inquire into the expediency of Lee's expedition and consult with him and with the Committee of Safety on the most prudent and advisable measures to adopt.' This Committee supported Lee in his command and negatived at once any claim of the Committee of Safety to independent control. The Committee was obliged, though with reluctance, to yield its point." A little later, in a letter to Washington regarding four battalions then being raised in New York for the Continental service, the Committee spoke of these troops as acting under its "immediate command." Washington at once wrote to know whether he was entitled to any authority over them, and if so, how much? The Committee is ready this time to avoid a conflict. Immediate direction, it hastens to assure Washington, refers only to forming and equipping the troops. "And this," adds the provident Committee, not to exclude his "solicitude to see them speedily completed and armed."" No further trouble arose, after this acknowledgment by the Committee itself of its own limitations.
The Committee acted as unwilling paymasters of the militia, claiming that such work was outside its jurisdiction, and that it introduced too great complications in its ac counts." Any policy intended for the State as a whole required the co‑operation of the local committees to carry it into effect. Neither the Provincial Congress nor the Committee of Safety possessed any recognized authority over these committees. There was a constant tendency on the part of the counties to assume an independence, inconvenient to the Provincial government. One of the local committees copying the central government laid an embargo upon its count),, prohibiting the export thence of any food supplies. For violation of this ordinance it detained a man who was driving cattle to New York City. The man applied for relief to the Committee of Safety, who granted him permission to go on and resolved that in its opinion no local body should prevent supplies from reaching New York unIess it had proof that they were intended for the enemy. The action of the county is not regarded as being beyond its capacity, but is condemned merely on the score of expediency."
From the summer of 1776 to the spring of 1777 Committees of Safety were appointed to sit in the adjournment of Congress or to carry on the business of the State, when, as frequently occurred, too few members were present to proceed as congress or convention. The size of these Committees varied from seven to ten members and any one from the convention that was present could vote. A quick transition was thus possible from Committee to Convention, the addition of a single member to the former, for example, making a quorum for the latter." The Committees received only the most general instructions; "to exercise such powers as shall appear necessary for the safety of the State," and were regarded not so much as committees ap pointed for certain duties, or as the executive department, but rather as a substitute government, legislative as well as executive. New York in this way solved the problem of carrying on the government, when, as often happened throughout the colonies, it was impossible to secure a quo rum of the legislature. The Committee was empowered to send for absent members of the legislature and at one time no member could leave the neighborhood without the Committee's permission October 15, 1776, the idea for which the Committee was created reached its fullest development when it was declared that the Committee of Safety, twenty members being present, might do every act of which the Convention was capable except to form a government."
The Convention seemed so well pleased with this arrangement, which put upon the shoulders of a few the burden of the government and set free the rest, that once a Committee of Safety was appointed it became difficult to ever get the other members together to form a convention. The Committee might summon the absent members of the legislature to attend, but could not enforce its summons. On one occasion when the Committee was striving to keep the legislature together it passed a resolution declaring that no member of the Convention should leave the neighborhood of Fishkill, where they were then sitting, under penalty of expulsion. But the Convention meeting next day nullified the act by lightening the penalty to a reprimand and again adjourned." The Committee, therefore, after unsuccessful attempts to gather a Convention, often ended by doing itself the business oil which it had wished the legislature to act.
The Committee of Safety lightened its labor by the employment of sub-committees. Some were chosen to consider and report on certain measures, others were standing committees with special duties such as the care of the poor.
During its intermittent sittings the Convention had at length framed a form of a government for the State, providing for a Governor, Lieutenant‑Governor, Senate and House of Assembly. On May 8th, 1777, the Convention ‑hose a Council of Safety of fifteen men to provide for the welfare of the State until its government should be fully organized, and invested them with all powers necessary for the safety and preservation of the State, until the meeting of the new legislature, which was set for the first of the next July. The Council was to count the votes for Governor, Lieutenant‑Governor and Senators after the election arranged for by the Convention had been held, and declare those that had beer duly elected. It was then to administer the oath of office to the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, and resign the executive power at once into their hands."
On May 13 the Convention dissolved not to meet again. The New York Council of Safety was thus left in a position identical with the Council of Safety of Vermont, representing the highest power in the State with no other authority to check or control it. The Convention had intended that it should be relieved of its duties, in a little over a month, but the uncertainties of the times delayed the elections and the response of those elected, so that it was not until the last of July that the Governor took the oath of office, and the Assembly did not meet until October."
The Assembly was in session but one day. It at once elected a new Council of Safety after the model of the last, in which every member of the legislature could sit and vote, and which was to continue, it vaguely provided, "so long as the necessities of the State require."' The fear of the British army then in New York caused the delegates to think rather of protecting themselves and their families than of serving the State. It was impossible, they wrote in excuse to the Governor, to keep the legislature together on so critical an occasion." The Council of Safety therefore did not escape from legislative duties. It was also obliged to take an ever increasing share in the executive department.
On July 30, George Clinton had left his post in the army to become Governor of New York, and the Council of Safety at that time explicitly gave tip to him all executive power." The newly made Governor, however, remained but a short time, returning soon to his troops. ‑The impossibility of the same person filling at once the position of Brigadier‑General and of State Governor, of executing the duties of a military officer and a civil magistrate led inevitably to the neglect of one department. Clinton chose to devote himself to the army and the Council was obliged to assume and fulfill his executive duties." The Council took up the task only gradually and with reluctance, at first asking the Governor's approbation of any step which it took independently. In time, however, the initiative came to rest with it and it proceeded almost entirely on its own responsibility.
Executive and legislative duties the Council had been obliged to assume. It refused, however, to take upon itself judicial duties, except in so far as its freedom as a legislature made it necessary, in accordance with a former vote of the Convention, to review the proceedings of the court-martials and either give or withhold its approval. The Convention had erected courts of justice and had appointed judges to administer them. To these, therefore, the Council referred all civil cases." Some few Tories they examined, but the Committee for Detecting Conspiracies was the body before which such cases were regularly carried.
The Council voted itself twenty shillings a day remuneration, claiming that the preceding Convention had authorized such payment, although no vote to that effect appears on the records. It was not unreasonable, however, for the members to give themselves some compensation for a long and arduous service.
A panic came over New York in the summer of 1777, which even the surrender of Saratoga did not allay. The counties implored help or declared they must yield to the enemy. During the long days of uncertainty and peril the Council was constantly occupied in keeping courage in the faint‑hearted by messages of exhortation and rebuke. Troops were sent when possible to the relief of threatened points. Even Clinton was asked to bring his army to the north. The militia were backward in enlisting and in taking the field. The Council was obliged to order that all persons under sixty who had been previously exempt from military duty by reason of their professions or *other cause, must now answer the draft." The Council was also busy providing the army with war stores, food and clothing.
During the troubled period of its existence the duties of the Council bore little resemblance to those which the government of a State in peace would be called upon to perform. Disintegration was characteristic of the period. Each locality managed itself, and looked after its own affairs, while the central government was concerned chiefly in raising and maintaining an efficient army in the field. Supreme power in the State' it was true, was theoretically lodged in the hands of the few men of the Council, but with no power to enforce their will in the counties, and with their attention completely absorbed in providing means to repel an enemy, there was no danger that the power thus intrusted would develop into a practical tyranny over the inhabitants. The Council, moreover, was conservative and cautious. What the day demanded it provided for, but it had no desire to frame any new policy for the State or to attempt to enforce it. That it felt was to be left to the regular Assembly.
In December the Governor issued a proclamation calling the legislature together on January 5, 1778, and the Council notified the members by letters. An attempt was made to hold a preliminary convention on December 17, to prepare some matters for the Assembly, but not enough members responded to make this practicable. At length, on January 5, the Senate and House of Assembly met, and the Council of Safety gave over its power into their hands."
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