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Amidst a revolution and civil war, New York’s patriot leaders faced difficult challenges including British occupation and divided loyalties. In response, they created various committees for public safety to address threats. However, those residents who actively supported the British were not the only targets. Rather than merely focus on loyalists, the committees for public safety sought to eliminate disaffection. The charge of disaffection also included those inhabitants who threatened the cause by refusing patriot authority, professing neutrality, or were deemed of “equivocal character.”
Rather than rehabilitate alleged enemies, these institutions punished and intimidated in an effort to create order and unity. To preserve a fragile independence movement, these institutions employed controversial methods including, but not limited to: summoning the accused, detaining those deemed suspicious, monitoring inhabitants’ movement, extending oaths of allegiance, and curbing liberties. New York’s patriot leaders considered such efforts as necessary to establish security. Studying the role committees for public safety performed illuminates the divisive nature of the American Revolution and the lengths to which New York’s leaders went to establish unity. Beginning with the creation of the Committee of Safety, this article then explores the various incarnations of the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies. Charged with policing disaffection, these institutions performed an invaluable task. Aside from examining the creation and activities of these institutions, this article also uncovers the harsh realities of those inhabitants targeted by the committees. Finally, the article concludes with the institutions’ demise.