Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cornbury, however, did the democracy a good turn by forthwith drowning the memory of its shortcomings in the torrent of his own follies and misdeeds. He was very nearly an ideal example of what a royal governor should not be. He was both silly and wicked. He hated the popular party, and in all ways that he could he curtailed the political rights of the people. He favored the manorial lords and rich merchants as against the commonalty; but he did all he could to wrong even these favorites when it was for his own interest to do so. He took bribes, very thinly disguised as gifts. He was always in debt, and was given to debauchery of various kinds. One of his amusements was to masquerade in woman's garments, being, of all things, inordinately proud that when thus dressed he looked like Queen Anne. He added bigotry to his other failings, and persecuted the Presbyterians, who were endeavoring to get a foothold in the colony; he imprisoned their ministers and confiscated their little meeting-houses. In this respect, however, he was but a shade worse than the men he ruled over; for the Assembly had passed a law condemning to death all Catholic priests found in the colony,—a law of which the wickedness was neither atoned for nor justified by the fact that the same measure of iniquity was meted out to the Protestants in the countries where the Catholics had control. He appropriated to other uses the moneys furnished by the Assembly to put New York harbor into a state of defense; the result being that a French war-ship once entered the lower bay and threw the whole city into terror. Finally, the citizens of all parties became so exasperated against him as to clamorously demand his removal, which was granted in 1708; but before he left the colony he had been thrown into prison for debt. In dealing with him the Assembly took very high ground in regard to the right of the colony to regulate its own affairs, insisting on the right of the popular branch of the government to fix the taxes, and to appoint most of the public officers and regulate their fees. Resolutions of this character show that during the score of years which had elapsed since the downfall of the Stuarts, the colony had made giant strides toward realizing its own rights and powers. With all their faults, the Leislerians had done good service in arousing the desire for freedom, and in teaching men—if often only by painful example and experience—to practise the self-restraint which is as necessary as self-confidence to any community desirous of doing its own governmental work.

Theodore Roosevelt, New York, (VII, 15)

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