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1777, the political majority in the assembly controlled the choice of the council of appointment, composed of one senator from each senate district. It so happened, there was not, at this time, a single federal senator from two of the districts, and the majority in the assembly were forced to choose two members of the council who had been elected as republican. This was a gloomy prospect for those who were hopefully looking to the enjoyment of the "spoils of victory." While the republicans were reposing in security, supposing every thing would be safe with the casting vote of their favorite governor, the dominant party were actively engaged in looking up some disaffected republican senator, who could be brought over to their views. The constitution of the state had given the civil list appointments into the hands of the federalists, and all they lacked was instruments by which to exercise their power. They however found the man they wanted, in the person of Mr. Robert Williams, of the Middle district, who had been a Burrite, Lewisite, Clintonian, and was elected to the senate by the republicans. He, it appears, was one of the trading politicians of that day, who set themselves up to the highest bidder; and he met the fate in after life that all such men deserve — the scorn and contempt of his former friends, and the studied neglect of those he had recently served. The federal council, after its organization, went to work with a zeal that met a warm response from its friends in every quarter of the state; but was far from being very agreeable to their opponents. This council appears to have done a pretty large and extensive business in the way of removals and appointments to office.
The party in power were no doubt induced to this course in view of the election of governor, about to take place, in the spring of 1810. The federalists had contested the election the previous year on the merits of the measures pursued by the national administration, and had succeeded. Those questions, though of grave importance, still remained to pass the ordeal of the popular judgment at the ballot box, but were not the only elements that entered into the contest, which became unusually excited and animated. The federalists were in office, and the reelection of Governor Tompkins would postpone to an indefinite period all hope to the federal party of a permanent restoration to power in the state and union; and the republicans were smarting under their recent defeat and consequent loss of office, by the treachery, as they alleged, of one who should have been a friend.
Mr. Hammond says, that "contrary to the expectation of both parties, the republicans were not only successful, but their success was complete. They achieved an entire and complete overthrow of their opponents. Tompkins was reelected by about ten thousand majority. The republican candidates for the senate succeeded in all the four districts, and in the assembly the republicans had a majority of almost two to one."
It does not come within the objects of this publication to discuss the causes which produced the above result, or to speculate upon motives that may or may not have actuated political men or parties. At the election in April, 1810, the republican party in the county regained its ascendency, and the members of the new council of appointment were careful to revise and correct, in 1811, all the mistakes of their immediate predecessors.
A word of explanation should here be given in reference to the spirited, uniform success of the republican party in the county during the period of nineteen years. I have stated one exception. On a further examination, I find another. At the spring election, in 1815, Henry Hopkins, a gentleman who had uniformly acted with the federal party, was elected to the assembly with John McCombs and William D. Ford. One of the republican candidates first put in nomination died a few days before the election, and Mr. Hopkins was chosen by a majority of nineteen votes over George Paddock, who was taken up and supported by the republicans.
Many of the leading republicans in the county were, between 1816 and 1820, known as Clintonians; they sustained the measures of Governor De Witt Clinton, and selected candidates to the assembly friendly to that gentleman, who were of course chosen. I believe the members elected in the county, the three years previous to 1820, did not act with the bucktail opposition (so called) against the governor. Disaffection in the republican ranks manifested itself pretty decidedly throughout the state, towards the close of the governor's first term, and a meeting was called at the Court House in Herkimer, in the spring of 1819, to organize and nominate an assembly ticket. The meeting, although not very numerous, was composed of a considerable number of active republicans, and attracted some attention. John Herkimer, then one of the county judges, and afterwards member of congress, was appointed chairman. Michael Hoffman, Esq., submitted a series of resolutions, setting forth the grounds of complaint against the governor, and among them was one condemning, in pretty strong terms, the action of the council of appointment in removing Martin Van Buren, and appointing Thomas J. Oakley, a leading and distinguished federalist, to the office of attorney general. The resolutions were adopted and published, with my name appended as secretary. For this act of insubordination, the secretary was complimented with a supersedeas as a justice of the peace at the following July session of the council of appointment. The same meeting nominated candidates for members of assembly in opposition to the ticket already in the field friendly to Governor Clinton.
This division among the republicans brought out the federalists, who, on the eve of the election, nominated a full assembly ticket, which was chosen by a handsome majority, although the anti-Clintonian or bucktail republicans abandoned their ticket, and generally voted for the Clintonian candidates.
The result of the election showed a clear federal majority in the county at that time, and this was probably the fact; not arising out of any material change in the political sentiments of the population within the territorial limits of the county before 1817, but from the annexation, in that year, of the three eastern towns from Montgomery county, Salisbury, Manheim and Danube.
The federal party in the county, like that of the republican in Oneida, although twenty years in a minority, was neither dead nor asleep. Its wakeful and recuperative faculties were extremely facile. Whenever at a gubernatorial or senatorial election, it became expedient to poll a full freehold vote, their strong and tried men were put upon the local tickets, and the elections were canvassed with a zeal and animation that betokened a confident assurance of success. The annexed towns had usually given a pretty strong and reliable aggregate federal majority, when attached to Montgomery county. Of the candidates presented by the federalists in 1819, one was selected from Manheim, a gentleman of influence and weight of character, with a view, no doubt, of impressing our new neighbors with the notion that their interests were to be carefully looked after, and their prominent men not neglected. Candidates were taken by that party from each of the remaining towns at the two succeeding elections. In adopting and pursuing this policy, the federal party, under the circumstances, evinced a good deal of political skill. I well remember speaking with a Clintonian republican, Robert Shoemaker, on the subject, who remarked, it would do very well unless it provoked jealousy in other parts of the county.
At the succeeding spring elections, in 1820 and 1821, the federalists achieved two more victories in the county, and then rested upon their honors more than a quarter of a century. It had, I believe, become a fixed common law principle with the political parties in the county, when it was entitled to three members of assembly, to select one of German and two of English descent, as candidates. This rule may not have been observed in every instance during thirtysix years, and if not, the exception was extremely rare.
The contest for governor in 1820, between the bucktail and Clintonian parties was, no doubt, one of the most severely contested of any that had taken place in the state for many years. The freehold vote in the county was 1226 for Clinton, and 947 for Tompkins. Mr. Clinton's majority in the state was only fourteen hundred and fifty-seven, and although he escaped defeat, his opponents held the political power of the state by having a working majority in each legislative branch. The federalists as a party supported Mr. Clinton, notwithstanding some fifty high-minded gentlemen, of great personal worth, talents and wealth, renounced their connection with that party, declared it dissolved, in a published manifesto, and avowed their intention of supporting Mr. Tompkins. A portion of the old republican party adhered to Mr. Clinton, and a perfect reunion of the dissevered fragments did not take place until General Jackson's election in 1828, and in the meantime most of the high-minded gentlemen had gone over to the Adams party. This brief view of the aspect of affairs outside of the county, seems necessary to enable us to appreciate more justly the true state of things at home. There were several provisions in the constitution of 1777, framed and adopted while the country was in a state of war, and when it was believed too many guards could not be thrown around the exercise of the powers of self-government, such as the veto power, vested in a council of revision, composed of the chancellor and justices of the supreme court, who held their offices during good behavior; the power of appointing all the civil and military officers in the state vested in the governor for the time being, and four senators, and the restriction upon the elective franchise, confining the choice of governor and senators to those citizens who owned a freehold of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, which attracted public attention, and became the subject of discussion among politicians and in the public press. This subject, if properly managed, could be used as an effective instrument to produce a political crisis, and the opportunity was not neglected