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New York from 1820 to 1860


Erie canal in New York
Erie canal in New York

From 1820 to 1860, a growing number of Americans participated in government affairs, as many states extended the right to vote and established more direct elections for governor and president. In 1821 New York gave almost all white men of legal age the right to vote, eliminating a requirement that voters be property owners. A property requirement continued to apply to free blacks until 1874, limiting the number who could vote. During this period a new two-party political system emerged in the United States. The parties became important forces in organizing voters to support candidates and issues. New York played a crucial part in this process.

The ruling Democratic-Republican Party in New York State had two factions. The Clintonians, led by Governor De Witt Clinton, tended to advocate a strong government led by wealthy commercial interests and favored internal improvements to aid the growth of business. Opposing the Clintonians was the Albany Regency, led by lawyer and legislator Martin Van Buren. It favored states’ rights and had the general support of the farmers, mechanics, and small business owners. The regency supported the presidential campaign of war hero Andrew Jackson, who claimed to be the champion of the common people. In elections in 1828, Van Buren won the New York governor’s race and Jackson was elected president. Their party, known from that point as the Democratic Party, pioneered the use of many political techniques: massive rallies and parades, campaign workers to get out the vote, newspaper publicity, and buttons and hats with the candidate’s name and face on them. Van Buren became vice president under Jackson in 1832 and in 1836 was the first New Yorker to be elected president of the United States.

In New York City, the regency had the support of the Tammany Society, the local political machine. The society, founded as a charitable and patriotic group, gained more and more influence as immigrants settled in the city. Tammany Society politicians helped the newcomers adjust to American life, become naturalized citizens, and often get city jobs. In return, Tammany received their loyalty and their votes. New York also gave rise to the Anti-Masonic Party, which formed to oppose the influence of Freemasons, a fraternal group, in politics. It claimed the Freemasons, whose members took an oath of secrecy and practiced mysterious rituals, were antidemocratic.

Opposition to the Freemasons began after William Morgan, a Freemason who was about to reveal the secrets of the order, disappeared in 1826 in western New York and was widely believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by fellow Freemasons. The party developed a national following but dissolved about 1834 to become part of the Whig Party, a conservative, business-oriented group. Whigs in New York, under the leadership of Thurlow Weed, held many state offices in the 1840s.

By 1850 both the Whigs and the Democrats had split into factions over the issue of slavery. Two former Whig leaders, New York City newspaper editor Horace Greeley and former New York Governor William Seward, played roles in organizing the national Republican Party, a coalition of groups that opposed slavery. Another change in the political makeup of New York occurred in the 1840s with the end of the manorial system, one of the last remnants of colonial New York. In 1839 the Antirent War broke out when farmers on the Van Rensselaer estate in the Albany region refused to pay back rent. The rebellion spread to farmers on neighboring estates and won the support of many politicians. As a result, in 1846 the state constitution was amended to break up the holdings of the landed aristocracy, and small farmers were able to own their own farms. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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