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Democracy in New Netherland.

Gov. Wilhelm Kieft (q. v.) had resolved to chasten the Raritan Indians for a grave offence. He called upon the people to shoulder their muskets for a fight. They knew his avarice and greed, and withal his cowardice, and boldly charged these things upon him. “It is all well for you,” they said, “who have not slept out of the fort a single night since you came, to endanger our lives and our homes in undefended places,” and they refused to obey. This attitude of the people transformed the governor. He invited (Aug. 23, 1641) the heads of families of New Amsterdam to meet him in consultation on public affairs. They assembled at the fort, and promptly chose twelve citizens to represent them. So appeared the first popular assembly, and so was chosen the first representative congress in New Netherland. It was a spontaneous outgrowth of the innate spirit of democracy that animated the people. The twelve were the vigorous seeds of that representative democracy which bore fruit in all the colonies more than a century later. Again, when the colony was threatened with destruction by the Indians, Kieft summoned the people into council (September, 1643), who chose eight men as the popular representatives to act with the governor in public affairs. Again when Gov. Peter Stuyvesant (q. v.) found the finances of the colony of New Netherland in such a [67] wretched condition that taxation was necessary, he dared not tax the people without their consent, for fear of offending the States-General, so he called a convention of citizens, and directed them to choose eighteen of their best men, of whom he might select nine as representatives of the tax-payers, and who should form a co-ordinate branch of the local government. He tried to hedge them around with restrictions, but the nine proved to be more potent in promoting popular liberty than had Kieft's twelve. They nourished the prolific seed of democracy, which burst into vigorous life in the time of Jacob Leisler (q. v.). Stuyvesant tried to stifle its growth. The more it was opposed, the more vigorous it grew.

Late in the autumn of 1653 a convention of nineteen delegates, who represented eight villages or communities, assembled at the town-hall in New Amsterdam, ostensibly to take measures to secure themselves from the depredations of the barbarians around them and sea-rovers. The governor tried in vain to control their action; they paid very little attention to his wishes or his commands. He stormed and threatened, but prudently yielded to the demands of the people that he should issue a call for another convention, and give legal sanction for the election of delegates thereto. These met in New Amsterdam on Dec. 10, 1653. Of the eight districts represented, four were Dutch and four English. Of the nineteen delegates, ten were of Dutch and nine were of English nativity. This was the first really representative assembly in the great State of New York chosen by the people. The names of the delegates were as follows: From New Amsterdam, Van Hattem, Kregier, and Van de Grist; from Breucklen (Brooklyn), Lubbertsen, Van der Beeck, and Beeckman; from Flushing, Hicks and Flake; from Newtown, Coe and Hazard; from Heemstede (Hempstead), Washburn and Somers; from Amersfoort (Flatlands), Wolfertsen, Strycker, and Swartwout; from Midwont (Flatbush), Elbertsen and Spicer; and from Gravesend, Baxter and Hubbard. Baxter was at that time the English secretary of the colony, and he led the English delegates. The object of this convention was to form and adopt a remonstrance against the tyrannous rule of the governor. It was drawn by Baxter, signed by all the delegates present, and sent to the governor, with a demand that he should give a “categorical answer.” In it the grievances of the people were stated under six heads. Stuyvesant met this severe document with his usual pluck. He denied the right of some of the delegates to seats in the convention. He denounced the whole thing as the wicked work of Englishmen, and doubted whether George Baxter knew what he was about. He wanted to know whether there was no one among the Dutch in New Netherland “sagacious and expert enough to draw up a remonstrance to the Director-General and his council,” and severely reprimanded the new city government of New Amsterdam (New York) for “seizing this dangerous opportunity for conspiring with the English [with whom Holland was then at war], who were ever hatching mischief, but never performing their promises, and who might to-morrow ally themselves with the North” --meaning Sweden and Denmark. The convention was not to be intimidated by bluster. They informed Stuyvesant, by the mouth of Beeckman, that unless he answered their complaints, they would appeal to the States-General. At this the governor took fire, and, seizing his cane, ordered Beeckman to leave his presence. The plucky ambassador coolly folded his arms, and silently defied the magistrate. When Stuyvesant's anger had abated, he asked Beeckman's pardon for his rudeness. He was not so complaisant with the convention. He ordered them to disperse on pain of his “high displeasure.” The convention executed their threat by sending an advocate to Holland to lay their grievances before the States-General.

It has been observed how the first germ of democracy or republicanism appeared in New Amsterdam, and was checked in its visible growth by the heel of power. It grew, nevertheless. It was stimulated by the kind acts of Gov. Thomas Dongan (q. v.); and when the English revolution of 1688 had developed the strength of the people's will, and their just aspirations were formulated in the Bill of [68] Rights, it sprang up into a vigorous fruit-bearing plant. Its power was manifested in the choice and administration of Leisler as ruler until a royal governor was appointed, and his death caused the line of separation between democracy and aristocracy—republicanism and monarchy — “Leislerians” and “Anti-Leislerians” —to be distinctly drawn. During the exciting period of Leisler's rule, the aristocratic or royalist party were led by Nicholas Bayard (q. v.), a wealthy and influential citizen, who was warmly seconded by Robert Livingston (q. v.). These two men were chiefly instrumental in bringing Leisler to the scaffold and treating his family and friends in a shameful manner. This conduct was continued until the Earl of Bellomont succeeded Fletcher as governor, when the “Anti-Leislerians” were reduced to a minority, and kept quiet for a while. After the death of Bellomont (March 5, 1701), John Nanfan, his lieutenant, ruled for a while. Nanfan favored the democratic party. As soon as it was known that Lord Cornbury (q. v.), a thorough aristocrat and royalist, had been appointed governor, Bayard and his party heaped abuse not only upon the dead Bellomont, but upon Nanfan. The latter saw that Bayard was on the verge of a pit which he had digged himself, and he pushed him into it. Bayard had procured an act, in 1691, aimed at Leisler and his supporters, providing that any person who should in any manner endeavor to disturb the government of the colony should be deemed “rebels and traitors unto their majesties,” and should incur the pains and penalties of the laws of England for such offence. Bayard was arrested on a charge of treason, tried, convicted, and received the horrid sentence then imposed by the English law upon traitors—to be hanged, quartered, etc. Bayard applied for a reprieve until his Majesty's pleasure should be known. It was granted, and in the mean time Cornbury arrived, when all was reversed. Bayard was released and reinstated. The democrats were placed under the lash of the aristocrats, which Bayard and Livingston used without mercy by the hand of the wretched ruler to whom they offered libations of flattery. The chiefjustice who tried Bayard, and the advocate who opposed him, were compelled to fly to England. From that time onward there was a continuous conflict by the democracy of New York with the aristocracy as represented by the royal governors and their official parasites. It fought bravely, and won many victories, the greatest of which was in a fierce battle for the freedom of the press, in the case of John Peter Zenger (q. v.).


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