J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

“The Indiscretion of a very few Persons of the lowest Class”

The burning of effigies in New York City on 14 Nov 1768 prompted a strong response from the royal governor of that colony, Sir Henry Moore.

It came in the form of a message to the colony’s legislature one week later, delivered by a deputy secretary named (wait for it) Goldsbrow Banyer:
Some Intimations having been given to the Mayor and Magistrates of this City, in the Course of the Week before last, of a Design to disturb the public Peace, by a Riot; the Zeal shew’d by them on this Occasion, together with the laudable Declaration of the Inhabitants, of their Willingness to assist and support them, in maintaining the Tranquility of the City, gave me Hopes, that nothing of so illegal and dangerous a Tendency, would be attempted: A few ill-disposed Persons have, nevertheless, eluded the Vigilance of the Magistrates, and ventured to execute their Purpose, by exciting a Riot last Monday Evening.

As these turbulent Proceedings, at a Juncture so peculiarly critical, may occasion Imputations injurious to the Colony, I have requested the Magistrates to exert themselves for the Discovery of the Rioters, and with the unanimous Advice of his Majesty’s Council, issued a Proclamation, offering a Reward of Fifty Pounds, to be paid upon the Conviction of the Contrivers, and chief Promoters of this Outrage. And as I have no Doubt of your Readiness to prevent the Mischiefs of a Measure, daring and insolent in itself, previously disavow’d by the Inhabitants, and seemingly calculated to insult the several Branches of the Legislature now sitting; I flatter myself, you will concur with me, in the necessary Steps to prevent the Colony from suffering any Detriment, and by making a proper Provision, enable me to fulfil the Engagements I have entered into for this Service.
In other words, Moore had promised a reward of £50 and was now asking the assembly for £50.

The Massachusetts General Court would have laughed at such a request. But the New York legislature was dominated by large landowners who had worked well with Gov. Moore. The next morning the assembly voted to grant the £50 and respond to the governor’s address with one of its own.

To head the committee writing that address, the assembly chose rookie lawmaker Philip Schuyler (shown above). He returned with the document, and on 23 November the legislators voted on it. The Livingstons and their many allies supported it, so of course their rivals the DeLanceys and three supporters voted against it. Probably the DeLanceys opposed the Whiggish protest that Schuyler’s committee slipped into what otherwise reads like slavish assent:
We his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the General Assembly of the Colony of New-York, having taken your Excellency’s Message of Yesterday, in our most serious Consideration, beg Leave to assure your Excellency, that, tho’ we feel in common with the Rest of the Colonies, the Distresses occasioned by the new Duties imposed by the Parliament of Great-Britain, and the ill-policed State of the American Commerce; yet, we are far from conceiving, that violent and tumultuous Proceedings will have any Tendency to promote suitable Redress. . . .

It is with Pleasure that we can assure your Excellency, that these disorderly Proceedings, are, as appears to us, disapproved by the Inhabitants in general; and are imputable only to the Indiscretion of a very few Persons of the lowest Class. . . .
Speaker Philip Livingston signed that address on behalf of the assembly. The following afternoon, Gov. Moore told the legislators that “your readiness to support the dignity and authority of government, cannot fail of being attended with the most favorable consequences to the colony, and render abortive any future attempt to disturb the public tranquility.” So everyone was in agreement.

The assembly went back to their chamber, made itself a committee of the whole (so they didn’t have to keep such detailed records), and discussed “proper and constitutional resolves, asserting the rights of his Majesty’s subjects within this colony, which they conceive have been greatly abridged and infringed, by several acts passed by the last parliament of Great Britain.” In sum, most New Yorkers were just as opposed to the Townshend Acts as the Massachusetts Whigs. They just didn’t like riots. Especially riots about some local issue in Boston.

TOMORROW: The reaction back in Boston.

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