Aftermath of the Dongan Charter

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Two Parties

This quick destruction of their long sought liberty stirred up rebellious feeling more fierce than the spirit which in earlier days prompted petitions and protests. But the people no longer were united in their action; they were slowly dividing into two parties. One class known as aristocrats or tories was made up of the soldiers and the many royal officers stationed in the colony; to these were added many of the settlers, who grown rich were aping the customs and ideas of the aristocratic party of England. Against the combination of tories, governor and king, the party of the people , the democratic party, waged a long and determined contest. Bitterness was added to the struggle at this time by religious troubles. James II was a catholic; and he had ordered Governor Dongan to introduce that religion as the established form. But Dongan, himself a catholic, would do nothing that was intolerant or illiberal. Still the protestants of the colony were too ready to imagine "Popish plot," some of them having suffered many things for the sake of their religion in the old countries.

The English Revolution of 1688

While the colonists were thus stirred up about matters of religion and politics, they were more excited by the news that the English people after enduring for three years the reign of James II. had welcomed to their shores William of Orange, stadtholder of Holland, with his army and had forced James to flee into France. This was the Revolution of 1688, a revolution without a battle, a victory of parliament over king; for from this time parliament was supreme and the power of the king decreased.

The people of New York heard of the crowning of William with joy, the more because he was a protestant and a Dutchman. When they learned that the citizens of Massachusetts had put the unpopular Andros in prison they were undecided whether or not to obey Nicholson, he being the officer of the deposed monarch. All things were unsettled and the weak-willed Nicholson was not the man for the time. Such a man, however was found.

Jacob Leisler

There lived in the colony, a certain man, a native of Germany, a zealot in religion, of little learning, rich, brave and an intense lover of liberty. His name was Jacob Leisler. To him, being a captain of colonial troops, came the dissatisfied band of Militia which then happened to be on duty. They persuaded him to lead them in an effort to take the fort from the control of Nicholson. When Nicholson proved himself too weak to force an issue and sailed for England, Leisler entered the stronghold and took upon himself the duties of governor.

He was the first man who came from the people to rule the people. Rebel, fanatic and usurper he may have been; patriot, hero and martyr, he surely was. The council refused to act with him and withdrew to ALbany, where they resisted the force under Leisler's son-in-law Milborne, until forced by fear of the invasion of the French from Canada, to admit the troops of the usurper.

Administration of Leisler

The head of the colony styled himself lieutenant-governor and was earnest and active in carrying out the perplexing duties of the position. He sent an army against the French who were invading the Mohawk valley and had burned Schenectady; he joined with the men of New England in an expedition by sea to Canada; he improved the fort of New York, planting about it a battery of six guns, which marks the place and gives the name to the modern park, the Battery; he sent evidence of his faithfulness to King William and of his readiness to give up the colony to the governor sent by his majesty. His mind saw beyond the bounds of one colony and took in the needs of the colonial brotherhood. He was the first man to propose a convention of the American provinces. But he was a century ahead of the people.

Arrest of Leisler

Aftermath of the Dongan Charter, Leisler's signatureMeanwhile nearly two years of Leisler's rule were past and the year 1691 came before Sloughter, the governor appointed by the new king arrived in New York. It happened that Captain Richard Ingoldsby, in charge of Sloughter's troops, reached New York long before his commander. Ingoldsby demanded the fort and was refused on the ground that he had no authority to govern the colony. Leisler resisted a siege and defended his post even to the shedding of blood; but at the same time he declared himself ready to give up his position when Sloughter should appear and present his credentials. And so he did. But no sooner was Sloughter in office than the enemies of Leisler caused his arrest and in their bitter hatred secured a sentence of death. When they seemed likely to be baffled by Sloughter's dislike to sign the death warrant, they called to their murderous design the ready help of liquor, plied the governor with wine at a party and from the drunken man obtained his signature.

Two days later, on a Saturday morning of May, 1691, as most accounts say, Sloughter lay in a drunken slumber. Without the rain fell and through its beating, Leisler and Milborne were led to the gallows. About them the people crowded ready to rush forward at their death and seize some memento. To the sheriff asking "if he were ready to die," Leisler answered "yes". As the handkerchief was put about his face, he said, " I hope these eyes shall see our Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven. I am ready." Thus died the champion of a cause, which by his death was aroused to victory. With Bacon of Virginia, he was in spirit the ancestor of the Revolutionary heroes. Before the waning century was gone, his body was raised to lie in state, a royal governor did honor to his memory and the parliament of England relieved his family and exonerated his administration.