• The New York Patriot Movement: Partisanship, the Free Press, and Britain’s Imperial Constitution, 1731–39

In 1730s New York, a group of partisan politicians led by Lewis Morris aligned themselves with a broader British movement known as Patriotism. Like their counterparts across England, Scotland, and British America, the New York Patriots advocated for a protofederalist imperial system and argued that British subjects everywhere were entitled to certain constitutional liberties—religious freedom, trial by jury, and a free press. The Patriots organized a political party that included a base of urban artisans and an editorial mouthpiece, the New-York Weekly Journal. They challenged New York governor William Cosby’s executive prerogative over the colony’s judiciary and press, culminating in a libel trial for Patriot printer John Peter Zenger in 1735. The New York Patriots’ success in winning Zenger’s acquittal rallied Patriots across the British Empire: like-minded Britons used the case to bolster free speech against escalating Whig censorship. The rise of New York’s Patriot movement shows that eighteenth-century American politics were increasingly becoming linked to British partisan ideas, organizations, and divisions. Ultimately, the Patriots’ campaign against Cosby was not a fight against one arbitrary governor; rather, it was an extension of a broader campaign against Whig hierarchical governance across the British Empire.

ON October 29, 1733, Westchester County held a by-election for its seat in the New York General Assembly, pitting schoolmaster William Forster against the former New York chief justice Lewis Morris. According to the New-York Weekly Journal’s account, the fight was a high-stakes one for New York’s two political groups, with “the Court and Country’s Interest . . . exerted (as is said) to the Utmost.” Both sides certainly turned out their troops in full force on election day. On the “Court” side, Forster paraded around the local green flanked by colonial dignitaries and 170 men on horseback, his supporters shouting “No Land-Tax” all the while. But Forster’s display was outmatched by Morris, who was accompanied by two trumpeters, three violinists, three hundred men on horseback, and “a greater Number [of freeholders] than had ever appear’d for one Man since the Settlement of that County.” These “Country” freeholders displayed a golden banner that read “King George, Liberty and Law” and chanted “no Excise” while they marched. When the votes were finally cast, Morris proved the victor, winning 231 of the contest’s 382 votes. Electoral celebrations reached to New York City, where Morris’s arrival was marked by a gun salute, a banquet, and throngs of well-wishers. The newspaper concluded its report on a note of triumph: “Thus ended the Westchester Election, to the general Satisfaction.”1 [End Page 33]

The Westchester election illustrates that New York in the 1730s was a colony riven by contentious partisan divides. Of course, that fractious political culture has long been acknowledged in the historiography on eighteenth-century New York. As Patricia U. Bonomi puts it, the colony “positively echo[ed] with political strife.”2 Though much of this literature attributes New York’s turbulent political culture to its population’s distinctively heterogeneous ethnic, religious, and economic makeup, some historians have connected New York’s political instability to broader imperial ideas and divisions.3 Stanley Nider Katz, for instance, argues against viewing New York as “a closed, provincial system,” asserting that New York’s patronage-based links to British politicians created a colonial political culture that “mirrored the factionalism and confusion of early Georgian England.” Alan Tully also acknowledges that New York colonists, well-versed in the political battles of Westminster, adopted “those facets of English opposition polemics that best served their purpose.” However, Tully rejects the idea that New York’s factions had any direct relationship to Britain’s political parties, labeling such a typology as “reductionist” in nature.4

Katz’s and Tully’s arguments fit well into the influential historiography on the English intellectual roots of the American Revolution, as best exemplified by the work of Bernard Bailyn and Jack P. Greene. According to this tradition, English opposition ideas articulated during the late Stuart and early Hanoverian periods “had a peculiar relevance and force in the American colonies.” The opposition’s conspiratorial worldview—with its constant warnings of encroaching tyranny—seemed to match the reality of colonists’ politically subordinate circumstances. Colonists, exhibiting “a strong predisposition . . . to cultivate idealized English values,” took up these inchoate English ideas and transformed them into a distinctively American revolutionary cause. In its obsession with the dangers of corruption, arbitrary power, and executive overreach, America’s revolution was the product of a radical strain of British political thought.5 [End Page 34]

The Westchester election of 1733, however, suggests that British partisanship was expanding across the Atlantic in a manner that was not inchoate or conspiratorial but rather ideologically coherent and organizationally sophisticated. The “Court” and “Country” designations used by the New-York Weekly Journal were the same ones given to the ruling Whig party and its parliamentary opposition in Britain’s press. The slogans of “No Land Tax” and “No Excise” also referenced a largely English partisan conflict: the Excise Crisis, which had come close to felling the mighty Whig ministry earlier that same year. In Britain’s parliamentary elections of 1734, “No Excise” would be the opposition’s rallying cry.6 In using such recognizably partisan language, the competitors at Westchester seemed to be pledging their allegiance to opposing sides in the political war being waged across the Atlantic.

The political labels most familiar to early American historians—“Court” and “Country”—were fluid terms, used by contemporaries as a shorthand to signify the party in power and the party or parties that opposed it. When administrations changed, so too did the personnel in the two groups.7 However, other contemporary political labels bore more ideological import: Whig, Tory, and a relatively new category, Patriot.

First emerging in England in the early 1720s, the Patriots were a radical Whig faction that fought against Prime Minister Robert Walpole for control of the party before breaking ties with the Whigs entirely in 1725. Ideology lay at the heart of this Whig split. In particular, the Patriots took issue with the Whig Party’s increasingly Anglocentric imperial policy, which [End Page 35] hinged on creating a more hierarchical system of commerce and governance. The Whigs also prioritized the interests of West Indian sugar colonies and promoted peaceful relations with France and Spain. The Patriots, by contrast, sought to build an expansive British Empire in which the interests of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the British colonies all held equal weight. They advocated for diversified colonial economies and an aggressive foreign policy to protect British America from the incursions of France and Spain. The Patriots also sought to secure the rights of British subjects on both sides of the Atlantic, shoring up protections of habeas corpus, due process, trial by jury, and free speech.8 To implement their ideological program, Patriot leaders such as William Pulteney recruited British merchants and trades-people whose livelihoods depended on an expansive Atlantic commerce to their cause. They bolstered this support by coordinating the popular opposition to Walpole’s excise taxes on salt, tobacco, and wine.9 Most effectively, Patriots harnessed the British press to circulate their ideas, printing pamphlets, satires, and a wildly successful newspaper called the Craftsman, which by the early 1730s had an estimated weekly readership of more than ten thousand. These Patriot publications were swiftly recycled in newspapers around the British Atlantic, causing the movement to take root in places such as Scotland and the new British colony of Georgia.10

New York too was a place where Patriot politics found purchase, with the colony serving as a staging ground for partisan battles about the rights and responsibilities the British state owed its imperial subjects. During the controversial administration of Governor William Cosby (1732–36), a group of New York politicians adopted Patriotism as an effective channel for organizing their own resistance to the Whig state’s imperial program, protesting [End Page 36] the administration’s attempts to strengthen control over New York’s courts, tax system, and press. Led by the Westchester election’s victor, Morris, in just a few years these Patriot colonists built a movement that had an impressive press operation, ties to larger British and American Patriot networks, and an ideology that shared British Patriotism’s core values while at the same time addressing concerns specific to New York. For a time this group managed to seize power within New York’s political system and left in its wake a colony with a transformed sense of its own legal and political autonomy.

Patriotism’s rise in New York centered on two moments of political drama: the Judiciary Crisis of 1732–33, during which Morris and his allies challenged the Whig government’s authority over colonial justice by proposing a protofederalist model of an imperial judiciary that balanced British authority with local autonomy; and the libel trial of printer John Peter Zenger, which sparked an empire-wide debate about state censorship and the public’s role in policing governmental abuses of power. In both of these crises, Morris and his followers advanced a substantially similar agenda to their Patriot counterparts abroad. But in so doing, the New York Patriots did not passively carry out the dictates of a British party; instead, they actively shaped Patriot ideological arguments on civil liberties across the British Atlantic. What had begun as an English partisan movement had by the 1730s transformed into an imperial one.

There was a long history of British partisanship bleeding into New York’s local political divisions, stretching back at least to Leisler’s Rebellion in 1689–91. Inspired by Britain’s so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Leislerians who seized control of New York governance drew much of their political platform of representative government and freer trade directly from the English Whig Party. The Anti-Leislerians, on the other hand, shared ideological affinities with the Tories and successfully mobilized preexisting political relationships with English Tory leaders to have Jacob Leisler removed from power and executed in 1691.11 These loose transatlantic alliances did not disappear upon Leisler’s brutal death. In the following decades, power in New York seesawed back and forth between the former Leislerians and Anti-Leislerians, depending on the currents of Whig and Tory power across the Atlantic. For example, Governor Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, who was appointed by a moderate Tory ministry, favored Anti-Leislerians and implemented recognizably Tory reforms such [End Page 37] as strengthening the Anglican colonial establishment.12 These policies were largely reversed under his successor, Robert Hunter, a dedicated Whig who was raised Presbyterian.13

This political whiplash did abate somewhat with the ascendancy of the Whig Party in both Britain and New York in the mid-1710s. But despite narratives describing the 1710s to 1730s as a political era devoid of ideological stakes, transatlantic partisan ideas continued to have a measurable impact on New York politics.14 At the same moment that the British Whigs began to divide over the nation’s foreign policy toward France, so too did New York politicians. In the 1720s, two groups began to emerge with competing positions on the profitable Albany-based trade with the Great Lakes Indigenous nations, which relied heavily on French Canadian intermediaries. The faction led by Morris, James Alexander, Rip van Dam, and Robert Livingston, much like Britain’s Patriots, viewed French commercial expansion in the Great Lakes region as a threat. To protect British America’s geopolitical security and economic growth, they sought to place restrictions on French tradespeople operating in Albany. By contrast, the group led by Adolph Philipse, Stephen De Lancey, and Peter Schuyler, much like Britain’s Whigs, believed this trade to be a financial boon for the Hudson River valley and thus promoted peaceful commercial relations with French Canada.15 Despite their sharp ideological divides regarding the colony’s relationship to French Canada, the two factions still cooperated at moments when New York’s clear economic interest was at stake. For instance, both groups lobbied against Parliament’s Sugar Act of 1731, a measure that would [End Page 38] hurt New York merchants and rum manufacturers by raising the cost of molasses.16 Though a similar bill eventually passed, some New York colonists hoped that their united stand had taught the Whig ministry a lesson about this top-down style of imperial governance. As Cadwallader Colden confidently predicted, “For the future [they] will think it adviseable to give the Plantations an Opportunity to make their objections before any Acts of great consequence.”17

Unfortunately for Colden and like-minded New Yorkers, these hopes of a less hierarchical imperial authority would not be borne out. Since at least the 1690s, the British state had steadily increased its military and economic presence in British North America through the expansion of departments such as the Navy Board and the Board of Trade.18 Though British Patriots were eager to use this new state capacity to aid and extend American commerce, the Whig ministry had become determined to tighten control over a region they had long believed was less “usefull” to Britain than colonies could and should be.19 In New York, members of the ministry planned to continue this process of increased imperial oversight by overhauling the colony’s judicial system, and in 1732, they appointed a new governor they knew would be willing to take on the fight. The ensuing imperial conflict would bring New York’s preexisting divides to the fore once more, further incorporating the colony’s factional politics and its local Patriot movement into a broader British partisan system. [End Page 39]


William Cosby’s appointment as governor of New York would have come as a surprise to no one. To be sure, Cosby’s leadership résumé was hardly inspiring: he had little governing experience other than a stint as a military official in Minorca, where he may have been charged with illegally appropriating a shipment of Portuguese snuff.20 But Cosby’s sterling Whig credentials far outweighed the minor issue of alleged governing malfeasance. He was married to Grace Montagu and therefore enjoyed family connections to Whig ministerial officials such as his wife’s brother, the 1st Earl of Halifax, and her cousin, the Duke of Newcastle, the secretary of state. It was Newcastle who secured Cosby’s appointment as governor of New York in 1732, and he proved to be a powerful supporter of Cosby throughout his short but scandal-ridden tenure as a colonial governor.21

The first major controversy of Cosby’s gubernatorial career emerged within days of his arrival in New York City in August 1732, and like many political disputes during the tumultuous decade, it centered on a conflict between Patriot notions of colonial rights and Whig demands for executive authority. Council president Rip van Dam—a member of the proto-Patriot Lewis Morris faction—had been serving as acting governor before Cosby’s arrival in New York and during that time had taken the full governor’s salary with the approbation of New York’s assembly and council. This decision represented a break with tradition, as acting governors usually only received a moiety, or half, of a royal governor’s salary. Still, the council’s rationale for paying Van Dam the full salary was straightforward: as councillor James Alexander explained, “no reason would be shown why for like services the like reward should not be.”22 But this reasoning failed to sway Governor Cosby. Upon his arrival, the new governor demanded that Van Dam reimburse him the customary moiety drawn during his absence.23 When Van Dam refused, the new governor took legal action against the council president.

In suing Van Dam, Governor Cosby had two apparent options. The first and most straightforward was to sue him in an ordinary court of law [End Page 40] and have the case decided by a common-law jury. But against a popular local politician such as Van Dam, Cosby’s chances of winning a favorable verdict in a jury trial were slim. The second option was to pursue the suit in a juryless chancery court. On its face, suing in chancery had a certain legal rationale, but in practice, there were serious problems with a governor suing in chancery.24 For one, chancery courts—frequently used to collect a hated land tax called a quitrent—were extraordinarily unpopular. In fact, Cosby’s immediate predecessor as governor, John Montgomerie, had refused to hold them entirely for fear of the public “clamour against it.”25 More significantly, chancery courts were controlled by the crown, and thus the presiding judge was the colonial governor himself. Were Cosby to sue in chancery court, he would be rendering judgment on his own suit, setting up an awkward—and likely unconstitutional—conflict of interest.

Governor Cosby, unsatisfied with his two legal options, creatively decided to make for himself a third. In the English legal system, there existed a court of exchequer that could exercise jurisdiction over both common-law cases, which had a jury, and equity cases, which did not. Cosby’s solution to his dilemma was to invest the existing New York Supreme Court with the equity powers of an exchequer court. The governor’s ploy was a clever one, as it used a local institution for crown purposes, thereby giving the proceeding the appearance of impartiality while still allowing him to avoid a jury trial that he would almost certainly lose.26 Cosby’s odds in front of the supreme court, moreover, were much higher: two of the court’s three judges—James De Lancey and Frederick Philipse— were members of the anti-Morris faction, which had allied itself to the new Whig governor soon after his arrival. They could therefore be counted on to rule in his favor.27 [End Page 41]

Governor Cosby’s judicial triumph, however, would not be as total as he had hoped, due in large part to the obstruction of one man: Morris, who just happened to be the chief justice of the New York Supreme Court. After the case was argued in front of the supreme court on April 9, 1733, Chief Justice Morris read out a statement prepared in advance declaring that a colonial governor could not single-handedly invest the supreme court with equity powers. He then dramatically left the bench in protest.28 Though the remaining two justices still ruled (as expected) in favor of the court’s authority, Morris’s stormy exit caused quite the public stir, as no doubt it was intended to do. And public interest in the case was compounded by Morris’s publication of his minority opinion for all New Yorkers to read.29

Chief Justice Morris’s stand infuriated Governor Cosby, who determined that such defiance could not go unpunished. In August 1733, Cosby removed the long-serving judge from his position as chief justice, appointing De Lancey in his stead.30 In a letter to Newcastle, Cosby justified the decision to remove Morris by claiming that the man did not respect his authority as the king’s representative. “There is an absolute necessity to insist upon the Kings just prerogative,” the governor wrote his superior in anger. Cosby had been forced to make a stand here, he asserted, to prevent a “madman” such as Morris from entirely undermining British control over its dominions.31

As Cosby’s aggressive defense of crown authority shows, for the Whig government the New York Judiciary Crisis of 1732–33 had larger stakes than [End Page 42] just the partial payment of a governor’s salary. In fact, the controversy lays bare the long-standing Whig agenda to take more direct control over the justice system in New York and the British Empire more broadly. Since the late 1720s, the Whig Board of Trade had been encouraging New York officials to hold more governor-controlled chancery courts and criticizing them when they neglected to do so.32 When Cosby was appointed governor in 1732, Horace Walpole, the brother and right-hand man of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, urged Cosby to make chancery courts one of his first priorities. As Cosby recounted in a letter to Newcastle, “Your Grace remembers how often Mr. Walpole has desired that I should hold Courts of Equity towards supporting the Kings prerogative, as well as to recover his right it being very seldom done by former Governors here.”33 Though Cosby erected a court of exchequer rather than chancery, it accomplished much the same purpose, giving the crown a juryless court to pursue unpopular suits. And the Whig Board of Trade praised Cosby effusively for his creative solution: “We think you did very well not to admit the arguing of any exceptions against the Jurisdiction of that Court.”34 In his campaign to erect a court of exchequer, Cosby was not acting independently but rather implementing a key plank in the British Whig agenda to reform New York’s judiciary.

The Whig ministry was determined to hold chancery and exchequer courts in New York to bolster ministerial finances and executive authority. At their most basic level, these courts were powerful—and underutilized— tools for raising revenue for the crown, which made them especially appealing to the notoriously frugal Walpole ministry. By the 1730s, New York was one of the few colonies left in America where the crown still exercised a right to collect the quitrents tax, a holdover from feudal law. But New York landholders avoided paying quitrents whenever possible and were often abetted in this tax evasion by local juries, which typically ruled against the crown in revenue matters.35 As New York attorney general Richard Bradley opined in 1734, “It is but too manifest that juries here very rarely find for the King tho’ the charge be never so well supported by evidence.”36 Because chancery and exchequer courts were staffed by the governor and his appointees rather than by juries, they were extremely favorable environments for royal tax collection suits. The Whig Board of Trade made the financial [End Page 43] motive quite explicit, instructing governors to hold chancery courts “for recovering the arrears of Quit Rent due to His Maj[es]ty.”37 The Walpole ministry’s preference for juryless courts in New York was motivated in large part by a desire to more efficiently extract revenue from the colony.

Raising taxes was not, however, the only reason the Whig government was so singularly focused on New York’s court system. As suggested by Governor Cosby’s constant references to the “Kings prerogative,” the Whigs also wanted to strengthen their authority over colonial governance. Many Whigs believed that crown authority was under attack in British North America, particularly in New England, which had a somewhat deserved reputation as a region of radical rabble-rousers. Four years before Cosby’s 1732 arrival in New York, the Massachusetts colonial assembly had refused to pay Governor William Burnet a fixed salary, leading to a constitutional standoff that made it all the way to Parliament before being resolved by Burnet’s convenient death in a carriage accident.38 Though New York did not have the same radical reputation as Massachusetts, many Whigs argued that it too needed to be brought more firmly under imperial control. As Cosby warned Newcastle not long after landing in New York, “the example and spirit of the Boston people begins to spread amongst these colonys in a most prodigious manner,” necessitating the granting of “more power” to governors “to manige these people.”39 Chancery and exchequer courts were a logical way to expand governors’ power. In British North America as a whole, these courts would give governors a friendly forum for pursuing litigation. And in New York in particular, they would provide governors with a great measure of financial autonomy. If supplied with a steady stream of quitrents, Cosby would not be solely reliant on the colonial legislature to raise money for crown expenses. He could therefore fulfill the duties of his office in a more independent fashion, without compromising his agenda to ensure that his salary—unlike Governor Burnet’s in Massachusetts—would continue to be paid.40

In the Whigs’ conception, then, a governor’s power over colonial judiciaries was immense: he had a right to institute new courts, preside over them, and remove and appoint judges at will. In supporting this almost absolutist version of a royal governor’s judicial prerogative, the Whig campaign for equity courts was at its core an attempt to strengthen the crown’s control over its colonies by creating a more hierarchical American judiciary. [End Page 44]

Morris and his allies had a very different conception of the imperial judiciary: one in which power was shared among local authorities, the Westminster government, and the people at large. Morris best articulated this protofederalist model of a judiciary in a 1734 pamphlet entitled Some Observations. According to him, the extent to which English laws and legal institutions applied in America was very much an open question, “often Debated, but never satisfactorily resolv[e]d.” Such ambiguity might be theoretically problematic, but in practice, Morris contended, it had led to a mutually beneficial situation in which British sovereignty was balanced with the practical needs of particular localities. For instance, English land and game laws forbidding subjects from felling trees or killing deer made little sense in “an uninhabited Country” and were therefore rightly absent from colonial legal codes.41 This same principle also applied to English legal institutions such as exchequer courts, which were “peculiarly adapted to England, and cannot be in Force any where else.” Like game laws, these courts were impractical in a “new discover’d Country” where ordinary courts of law could easily handle what little revenue the king had to collect. According to Morris, then, the New York judicial system, though it shared certain traditions with the English judiciary, was not dependent upon it and, in fact, warranted a fair share of local autonomy.42 In line with the British Patriots’ desire to foster a less Anglocentric empire, Morris and his supporters sought to protect New York’s distinct legal institutions and practices.

Though particular codes, customs, and courts did not always extend from England to America, the Morrisites claimed, English liberties most certainly did. As Alexander wrote in a letter to Morris, colonists enjoyed the same rights as “what Englishmen are intitled to by the original Constitution of their mother Country.”43 Trial by jury was one of the most important of these rights, with Alexander calling it “the greatest bulwark of the subjects Liberty.”44 But Morris and his allies also believed that colonists had the [End Page 45] right to a balanced governing system, including a representative legislature and an independent judiciary in which judges could decide matters according to solid legal principles rather than a colonial governor’s wishes and whims. “If Judges are to be intimidated so as not to dare to give any Opinion but what is pleasing to a Governour, and agreeable to his private Views,” Morris noted, people would rightly lose faith in the “Freedom and Independency of those who are to Judge of them.”45 Morris and like-minded New Yorkers found Cosby’s exchequer court dangerous, then, not because it collected a hated tax but because it was believed to infringe on two dearly held rights: jury trials and balanced government.

Though many aspects of the Judiciary Crisis—particularly the emphasis on an exchequer court and quitrents—were specific to colonial New York, the standoff between Cosby and the Morrisites was also part of a broader imperial debate about judicial sovereignty and British liberties. In Scotland, the issue of how to maintain an independent Scottish judiciary within a unitary British political union was an ever-contentious one. The parliamentary inquiry into the Porteous Riots of 1736, for example, seemed to many Scottish Patriots a violation of their nation’s right to administer justice without interference from Westminster.46 The notion that jury trials were an inviolable British right was another idea that had a growing resonance across the British Empire during the 1730s. In England, the virulent Patriot opposition to Walpole’s excise scheme in 1733 was driven at least in part by the populace’s fear of property being seized without the protection of a jury trial.47 And even in Scotland, where the judiciary had traditionally operated without juries, Patriot politicians began experimenting with the idea of instituting jury trials to ensure that Scots would enjoy the same “Libertys which the English have.”48

New York’s Judiciary Crisis therefore exemplified an empire-wide ideological divide over how to administer justice across a polity with diverse economic needs and political traditions. Those on the side of Morris and his New York allies believed sovereignty could be shared between imperial administrators and local authorities and that subjects across the empire had certain legal rights that were inviolable. Those on the other side, such as Governor Cosby, believed that outlying regions of the empire needed to be fully integrated into a hierarchical imperial judiciary, with the Whig [End Page 46] ministry in Westminster serving as final arbiter. Though Cosby’s triumph in the Van Dam salary case was a victory for the latter viewpoint, the debate was far from over in both New York and the empire at large.


In the midst of the New York Judiciary Crisis, those colonists who stood opposed to Governor William Cosby’s aggressive defense of royal prerogative had begun mobilizing themselves into an organized political body. This group drew much of its ideology, its tactics, and even its name from Britain’s newly founded Patriot Party. The anti-Cosby leaders gave their group a variety of different labels, including “Independent Whigg” and “Country,” but Patriot was the one that seemed to stick.49 In their publications, they devoted entire articles to “the Character of a Patriot,” identified allied city magistrates and grand juries as “Patriots,” referred to Lewis Morris as “the generous Patriot,” and described the goddess Liberty as “the Patriots Guide.”50 By 1734, the label was such a common one for the group that even the pro-Cosby New-York Gazette used it, though always with an ironic gloss. The paper referred to Morris and his allies as “our Modern pretended Patriots,” “mock Patriots,” and “Red-hot Patriots.” “There is scarce any thing so much talk’d of and so little practiz’d as Patriotism,” the paper complained bitterly. Any man who “joyns to [the opposition] Party,” it clarified, “is not an honest Man or a good Patriot . . . whatever Shape he puts on.”51

The New York Patriots’ political leadership drew almost exclusively from the Morris faction of the 1720s. These men had all held important political offices in the colony: Rip van Dam was a former acting governor; Morris, of course, was a former chief justice; his son Lewis Morris Jr. was a leader in the New York General Assembly; and two other prominent Patriots—James Alexander and Cadwallader Colden—were active members [End Page 47] of the governor’s council.52 Of these, it was Morris Sr. who served as nominal head of the movement. He was the most politically seasoned of the group: by the early 1730s, he already had decades of political experience in both New York and New Jersey, and he had even advocated successfully to have one governor—the unpopular Lord Cornbury—recalled.53 Van Dam was a political veteran as well, and his popularity in New York City in particular was a great boon to the movement, with the elderly statesman proving adept at mobilizing “the mob” in support of the Patriot cause. And Alexander spearheaded the Patriots’ press wing, churning out pamphlets and articles to articulate Patriot ideas to a broad New York populace. Together, these three were the movement’s most energetic organizers, and by 1734 they were meeting regularly—by some reports, several nights a week—to better coordinate their political activities.54

The New York Patriots’ most pressing organizational goal was to align their group with the British Patriots so as to give their movement broader legitimacy in British imperial politics. Many of the politicians who comprised the Patriot leadership in New York already had preexisting personal and commercial connections to Patriots abroad, which they drew upon to help win British support for their cause. Colden, for instance, had strong Patriot ties: the Patriot John Ker, 1st Duke of Roxburghe, was a family friend, and London merchant and Patriot member of Parliament Micajah Perry was a regular correspondent. In 1733–34, Colden asked the latter to lobby the Board of Trade against Cosby, but Perry demurred, noting (probably rightly) that he was so “out of favour” with the Walpole ministry that any personal advocacy on the Morris party’s behalf “would rather do you hurt than good.”55 Morris also had family ties to the Patriot opposition through his son-in-law Matthew Norris, whose father, Sir John Norris, was a prominent naval officer and Patriot member of Parliament.56 Throughout the court battle with Cosby, Morris wrote his son-in-law regularly to keep him abreast of the situation, and Matthew Norris loyally pledged his support, vowing to do everything in his power “to see you tryumph over y[ou]r [End Page 48] Enemies.” Norris lived up to these promises too, serving as a valuable London point person for the New York Patriots throughout the 1730s: he organized petitions on their behalf, relayed messages between Patriots in London and New York City, and used his Admiralty connections to put pressure on the Whig ministry to recall Governor Cosby.57

Eventually, Morris also traveled to London himself, both to appeal his removal as chief justice and to help shore up British Patriot support for the New Yorkers’ burgeoning movement. A supporter’s poem laid out the expedition’s ambitious goals: “There may he plead his injur’d Country’s Cause / Restore its Rights, its Liberties, its Laws / May wish’d Success attend the Patriots Toil.” During his yearlong mission to the imperial capital from 1735 to 1736, Morris dined, drank, and strategized with such influential Patriots as James Oglethorpe, John Norris, and Joseph Jekyll. Even Frederick, Prince of Wales, a Patriot sympathizer, promised his support for Morris’s cause.58 The New York Patriots, then, actively sought to integrate their campaign against Cosby into the larger British Patriot movement and had some early success in enlisting British Patriots to serve as their liaisons and political backers abroad.59

While reaching out to allies abroad, the New York Patriots were also building support for their movement at home, and they proved enormously successful in doing so. This success was due in large part to their skillful use of the press—and, in particular, a weekly newspaper—to articulate their ideas, organize political activities, and ultimately win New Yorkers to the Patriot cause. The Patriots’ press campaign began in earnest in the midst of the Judiciary Crisis, when the Patriot leadership hired John Peter Zenger as their party’s official printer. Zenger was a Palatine refugee to New York, and before joining the Patriots, he had apprenticed under William Bradford, the [End Page 49] publisher of the Cosby-controlled New-York Gazette.60 With Zenger in their camp, the Patriot leaders began printing pamphlets as fast as they could write them; Alexander did most of the editorial heavy lifting.61 Much of the material Zenger printed was recycled from London opposition pamphlets and newspapers; in particular, the Zenger press operation drew heavily from the Craftsman and Cato’s Letters. As Governor Cosby complained in a letter to the Board of Trade, “the most virulent libels, Scurrilous and abusive pamphlets publish’d against the Ministry, and other persons of Great honnour and quality in England were reviv’d and reprinted here.”62 By late 1733, the city was “swarm[ing]” with such prints, a testament to the Zenger press’s ability to distribute Patriot publications quickly and efficiently, as well as to the populace’s hunger for reading them.63

A partisan newspaper, the New-York Weekly Journal, was the centerpiece of the Patriots’ press offensive, playing a pivotal role in the colony’s political battles of the next decade. One of the newspaper’s primary tasks was to communicate the Patriots’ ideology to the wider New York populace. The Journal did more than parrot Patriot ideas from London papers; it also applied those ideas to local circumstances, showing its readers how Whig governance was hurting their colony and how the Patriot agenda could ameliorate these problems in concrete ways. Thus, the paper took up the British Patriots’ militant anti-French foreign policy, warning readers that the Whigs’ appeasement of the French left New Yorkers defenseless against future Bourbon incursions from Cape Breton and New York’s western frontier.64 And regarding political economy, the paper adopted the British Patriots’ call for state investment in burgeoning imperial industries, promoting a bounty system for New York’s nascent manufactures such as “Naval Stores, Flax, Silk, and Pot-Ashes.”65 [End Page 50]

The vast majority of the paper, however, was devoted to constitutional concerns, particularly those related to Governor Cosby’s supposed abuses of power as a colonial executive. The New-York Weekly Journal frequently employed the “corrupt Minister” rhetoric that was used to such good effect in London publications such as the Craftsman, simply substituting Cosby for Robert Walpole. As Cosby complained to the Board of Trade, the Journal often transcribed anti-Walpole screeds almost in their entirety, making a few small “alterations as served to incense and enrage the people against the Governour” instead of the prime minister.66 In addition to these more general critiques, the Journal condemned Cosby for constitutional violations specific to New York: for example, his creation of the exchequer court and his refusal to recuse himself from council votes.67 But the newspaper’s favorite topic by far was Cosby’s flagrant violations of colonists’ individual liberties—in particular, the rights to religious freedom, trial by jury, and free speech.68 As a publication whose raison d’être was to give voice to opposition political ideas, the Journal defended freedom of the press with especial verve, calling it “the greatest jewel that adorns our Government.” When Zenger was arrested in 1734 for publishing writings critical of Cosby, the subject took on an even greater urgency, with entire issues devoted to the interdependent relationship between a free press and a free government. The New-York Weekly Journal’s overarching message, then, was that Governor Cosby’s Whig administration was not just inept but immanently dangerous. In disregarding British liberties such as a free press, it threatened everything from the core values of the British system of government to the “Subversion of the Constitution” itself.69 Patriotism, the journal claimed, [End Page 51] was the only movement that would stand firm against these abuses and ensure New Yorkers enjoyed the same constitutional rights as Britons.

Public outreach was one of the New York Patriot movement’s greatest strengths, with leaders going to then-exceptional—and ultimately successful—lengths to connect with ordinary New Yorkers and mobilize them in support of the Patriot cause. As research by Adrian Howe has demonstrated, Patriot leaders made a concerted effort to enlist in their campaign urban artisans and members of the city’s sizable Dutch community.70 In focusing their recruitment effort on these groups, the New York Patriots followed the political playbook of their British counterparts, whose base consisted of urban artisans living in port cities such as London, Bristol, and Edinburgh.71 To target New York’s artisan class, the writers of the New-York Weekly Journal focused their articles on economic issues of great importance to the shipwrights, carpenters, and other small-scale tradespeople whose livelihoods depended on maritime commerce. For instance, Patriot authors published a series of articles on the repeal of the tonnage duties on foreign shipping vessels, which many artisans blamed for a recent economic decline in the port’s carrying trade. Zenger also published a pamphlet penned under the artisanal pseudonym of “Timothy Wheelwright” that encouraged tradespeople to support the cause of Morris and his allies.72 To target the colony’s Dutch residents (many of whom were artisans themselves), the Patriot leaders strategically endorsed members of the Dutch Reformed Church for positions as city aldermen, drew on Van Dam’s connections to the Dutch community, and on one occasion even went so far as to accuse their political opponents of harboring anti-Dutch prejudice. In its issue of October 6, 1735, the New-York Weekly Journal charged a Cosby supporter with stating that a vote for a Patriot candidate was akin to “raising the Dutch Interest, and depressing the English Interest.” “We know of no Distinction among us at present,” the newspaper proclaimed, “but [those] who are . . . Enemies to Arbitrary Power or to the Way of Governing by mere Will and Pleasure and [those] who are not so.”73 [End Page 52]

The New York Patriots bolstered their claim of being the people’s party by consistently paying tribute to popular opinion in their publications. In a 1735 issue, the Journal claimed that the mob was a force of political good rather than ill, asserting that “however meanly some People may think about the Populace or Mob of a Country, it is certain, that the Power or Strength of every free Country depends entirely upon the Populace.” “When the Governors and the People in general are of different Sentiments,” the article continued, “the Liberties of that Country must be at an End, or their Government must be speedily changed.”74

The New York Patriots, like their British counterparts, found that this strategy of appealing directly to the people for support served their cause well. Within just a few years of the movement’s emergence in New York, the Patriots had already made great strides in winning colonists—particularly inhabitants of New York City and its environs—over to their side. Though it would be all but impossible to quantify exactly how many supporters the Patriots had in New York City in the early 1730s, anecdotal evidence suggests that Patriot partisans outnumbered Whigs there by as early as 1734. Abigaill Franks, a prominent Jewish merchant’s wife with no known prior partisan affiliation, provides some insight into the city’s swift embrace of the movement. In late 1733, she reported in a letter to her London-based son that “the Court [was] Very much disliked,” predicting that Cosby could “hardly regain the E[s]teem of the People.”75 Cosby’s decision to institute an exchequer court in the colony was “as Much Caviled at as the Excise Scheme with you,” she claimed, and the participation of Whig officials such as Frederick Philipse in the affair “Lost [them] Very much of the People’s good will.”76 The Patriot leadership in New York certainly believed that they had the city’s loyalty. While organizing a petition campaign in 1734 to support Morris’s mission to London, Alexander bragged that “very few in the whole City will refuse Signing.” And Alexander was confident that his party [End Page 53] could count on the city’s neighboring counties as well, soliciting signatures for his petitions in both Queens and Westchester County.77

Though such consensus was no doubt exaggerated, the reports of Whig officials seem to confirm the picture of New York City as a Patriot enclave. A Patriot ticket almost swept the board in the magistrate elections of 1734 and 1735, securing most of the key city offices for the party.78 As the Cosbyite councillor George Clarke admitted to the Board of Trade, “the Majority of the Corporation [are] entirely at the Beck of the Faction.” Clarke also complained that “men of Low class were easily persuaded to their measures.” Howe gives a more precise picture of who those “men of Low class” were. In analyzing the only two extant lists of Morris’s supporters, Howe shows that the party “was composed predominantly of poor to middling artisans, a slight majority of whom were members of the Dutch Reformed community.”79 In other words, the Patriots’ campaign to recruit city artisans and Dutch voters to their cause had paid real dividends in terms of electoral support. Still, Whig officials were confident that Patriot support did not reach far outside city limits. As Clarke asserted, “the Defection is chiefly confined to the City . . . we hear nothing of it from the Counties.”80 And Clarke may well have been right. Though colonists living in agricultural regions adjacent to the city, such as Westchester, were as fully engaged in the Patriot movement as any city dweller, there were few signs of partisan upheaval in the colony’s interior. The Hudson Valley was a Cosby stronghold, and though New York’s communication infrastructure was expanding rapidly in the 1730s, it was still not advanced enough to effectively spread Patriot publications—and hence Patriot ideas—much beyond the colony’s coastal and riverside settlements.81 The New York Patriot movement, [End Page 54] then, could perhaps more accurately be labeled the New York City Patriot movement.

Even if largely confined to the city and its environs, New York Patriotism still made astounding progress from 1732 to 1735. In just four years, a group of local elites had created a Patriot organization that very much resembled its counterpart in Britain, with strong ties to a transatlantic network of political allies, an editorial mouthpiece to articulate the group’s creed, and the electoral support of urban artisans. With such organizational resources at hand, by 1735 the Patriots were in a position to seriously confront Governor Cosby over his alleged abuses of executive power. The stakes could not have been higher, for the Patriots sincerely believed that British liberty itself was imperiled. As Morris declared, “the Seeds are sown w[hi]ch will one day rise to maturity either in the destruction of the Constitution or fixing of it on so firme a foundation as not to be Shaken.”82


In the midst of this period of rapid growth, the New York Patriots were simultaneously facing a political conflict with Governor William Cosby that represented their best chance yet to advance their movement’s agenda on an imperial stage. However, the crisis came with extreme risks for its lead actors—especially for the Patriots’ unfortunate printer, John Peter Zenger. His trial for libel in 1735 has long been represented in history textbooks as a landmark case in American jurisprudence and an example of the colonies’ divergent path from Britain in defending free speech.83 Contemporaries, however, saw the trial in more overtly political and more broadly imperial terms: as a partisan battle over executive prerogative, British civil liberties, and, yes, free speech that resonated across the British Empire as a whole.

Since the creation of Zenger’s press and the New-York Weekly Journal in 1733, Governor Cosby had been actively campaigning to silence them. James Alexander and Lewis Morris, widely known to be the authors of Zenger’s “virulent libels,” had wisely shielded themselves from legal action by keeping their contributions anonymous.84 So Cosby instead focused his [End Page 55] attention on Zenger himself. Over the course of 1734, Cosby and his allies on the New York Council made two separate attempts to have a grand jury indict the printer for libel, but in both cases, the grand jury refused to act. Undaunted, Cosby next tried to enlist the New York General Assembly in his campaign against the newspaper, asking that four issues of Zenger’s paper “be burnt by the Hands of the common Hangman.” When the assembly tabled the request, Cosby and the council ordered the Court of Quarter Sessions, made up of city magistrates, to act in their stead. These officeholders also refused to do the governor’s bidding, sending Cosby an angry missive stating that they were “under no Obligation to obey [the order]” as their compliance would be “opening a Door for arbitrary Commands” with potentially “Dangerous Consequences.” Cosby went ahead with burning the offensive issues anyway, though according to Zenger the ceremony did not make the desired impression on the New York populace because only a councillor, a few officers, and one enslaved person were in attendance.85

The normal judicial channels exhausted, Cosby turned to the only option remaining to him: to proceed against Zenger by information. Prosecuting by information was a tactic that allowed for an attorney general—in this case, Cosby supporter Richard Bradley—to commence legal proceedings without a grand jury indictment, an attractive option for the crown in cases where a defendant’s person or cause was popular.86 On November 17, 1734, upon a warrant from the governor and council, Zenger was finally arrested and thrown into the “common Goal [Gaol] of this Citty,” where he was stripped of “Pen, Ink, or Paper.”87 No doubt intending to keep Zenger away from his press, James De Lancey set bail for the impoverished printer at the exorbitant rate of four hundred pounds, more than “20 times his Estate” and “ten Times” what he could raise from sympathetic donors.88 With a trial date set for mid-1735, Zenger was left to stew in his cell, where Cosby and his Whig allies hoped he could do little damage.

However, the New York Patriots—including Zenger himself—were determined to turn the situation to their political advantage, committing all their organizational resources to stoking popular anger against Cosby’s [End Page 56] Whig administration. Zenger’s press continued to operate throughout his imprisonment, thanks in large part to the heroic efforts of his wife, Anna, who kept the family business running by communicating with her husband “through the Hole of the Door” of his jail cell.89 Publishing the New-York Weekly Journal every Monday except the one following Zenger’s surprise arrest, she defiantly included article after article defending free speech, including one pointed excerpt from Cato’s Letters noting that “the best Way to prevent Libels, is not to deserve them.”90

While the Zengers printed on, Alexander and his allies made their own attempts to keep the printer’s plight in the public eye. One of their literary efforts was a series of satirical ballads about the burning of the New-York Weekly Journal. A particularly biting one personified the supposedly libelous issues of the paper as “motherless twins” who had been sentenced to die for their “prophetick cries”:

But when the great men came to hearthe Crys they made begun to fearleast that the vulgar charmed therebywould make them rue their villany. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .[They] brought them to a hall where sateThe judges in great pomp and stateWho without pity or remorseOh! Cruel arbitrary course!instead of singing lullabycondemned those babes in flames to fry.91

Though not great poetry, the verses accomplished their purpose: to mock the Cosby government for responding to political criticism with such “pompous” severity. The governor’s overreaction made him look ridiculous, the ballad suggested, and also implied that he was guilty of the crimes of which he had been accused. As the trial approached, the Patriots did everything in their power to keep “the Eyes of the Colony” upon Cosby’s [End Page 57] misdeeds and Zenger’s sufferings, knowing that such popular scrutiny would be to their advantage.92

The Patriots would need all the help they could get, as from the beginning of the trial in August 1735, it seemed clear that the presiding judge, Cosby’s ally De Lancey, was determined to secure a guilty verdict. When Zenger’s lawyers, William Smith and Alexander, challenged De Lancey’s judicial commission, De Lancey, out of pique, had “their Names . . . struck out of the Roll of Attornies of this Court.” This maneuver not only prevented Alexander and Smith from representing Zenger in the present trial but also forbade them from practicing their profession in the colony in perpetuity, a harsh sentence to say the least.93

For Zenger, stripped of his attorneys and facing a hostile judge, the case looked bleak.94 Luckily for the unfortunate printer, though, his Patriot patrons had one final political trick at their disposal: hiring Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton. Upon their disbarment, Alexander and Smith secretly contacted Hamilton to see if he might be willing to represent Zenger in their stead, and he agreed to take on the difficult case.95 The choice of Hamilton was a wise one: as Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Hamilton had a reputation for integrity and the requisite stature to face down any attempts by Chief Justice De Lancey to control the verdict. And his firm Patriot principles ensured that he was ideologically, as well as professionally, committed to securing his client’s acquittal.96 Hamilton’s appearance as Zenger’s attorney thus spoke to the Patriots’ growing political network in British North America. Patriot sympathizers up and down the Atlantic coast were following the conflict in New York with interest, as it was a battle in which they too had a stake.97 [End Page 58]

The defense Hamilton laid out for his client was not entirely new: many of its tenets had already been articulated in pamphlets and articles authored by New York Patriots. But it was certainly bold. Expanding on Morris’s earlier case for imperial legal pluralism, Hamilton argued that a colony’s laws could—and should—differ from England’s when local circumstances demanded it: “What is good Law at one Time and in one Place is not so at another Time and in another Place.” Whereas statutes such as libel might make sense in Westminster, where there was a real danger of riot and revolt, New York was too far removed from the center of power for political attacks to “be attended with those dangerous Consequences.” Moreover, any such laws must be balanced by the privileges of British citizenship, one of the most important of which was the “Right publickly to remonstrate . . . Abuses in Power.”98 Hamilton, like Morris before him, thus used his legal platform to advance a pluralist, rights-based, and altogether Patriot model of an imperial judiciary.

Hamilton then made his most controversial claim yet: that even if libel statutes were necessary in New York, the New-York Weekly Journal’s articles did not qualify as libel because they were true. Rejecting English legal precedent, which regarded all written attacks on state authority to be libelous, Hamilton claimed that it was “fals[e]hood [that] . . . make[s] the Libel.” Before Hamilton could go further, Justice De Lancey—seeing the case slipping away from him—forbade the attorney from presenting any evidence whatsoever as to the articles’ truth or falsehood. But Hamilton would not be silenced so easily. Realizing that he would get no further with the judge, he turned instead to the jurors, urging them to rely on their own knowledge of Cosby’s misdeeds to come to a decision as to Zenger’s guilt or innocence: “the Facts which we offer to prove were not committed in a Corner; they are notoriously known to be true; and therefore in your Justice lies our safety.”99 With this charge, essentially a plea for jury nullification, Hamilton was paying tribute to another key Patriot precept: that the people—not state officials—were the source of political authority and could serve as a check on arbitrary power. Hamilton then concluded his case, asking the jurors to act on behalf not simply of their colony but of British subjects everywhere:

The Question before the Court and you, Gentleman of the Jury, is not of small nor private Concern, it is not the Cause of a poor [End Page 59] Printer, nor of New-York alone, which you are now trying: No! It may in its Consequence affect every Freeman that lives under a British Government on the Main of America. It is the best Cause; It is the Cause of Liberty; and I make no doubt but your upright Conduct, this Day will not only entitle you to the Love and Esteem of your Fellow-citizens; but every Man who prefers Freedom to a Life of Slavery.100

With this rousing call to action, Hamilton universalized the New York Patriots’ cause, assuring his audience that with this small verdict they had the opportunity to win a victory for all American colonists and for all lovers of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic. In voting for Zenger’s innocence, the jurors were participating in a political decision of imperial consequence. It was a compelling case, and ultimately a winning one: the jury took but ten minutes to reach a verdict of not guilty.101

In most historical accounts, the narrative of Zenger’s trial ends with this verdict and the public celebrations it inspired: courthouse “Hurra’s,” gun salutes, and a ceremonial awarding of the freedom of New York City to Hamilton.102 But for the New York Patriots, the trial was, as Hamilton’s closing statement suggested, only one battle in a wider imperial struggle about censorship that had begun before Zenger’s arrest and continued long after his acquittal. London political newspapers of the time were suffering from the same kinds of government-sponsored intimidation seen in New York. From 1726 to 1731, the Whig ministry brought a total of eleven libel charges against Richard Francklin, the printer of the London Patriot newspaper the Craftsman, and the government was finally successful in winning a guilty verdict with the eleventh, which was tried in 1731.103 Francklin, like Zenger, was imprisoned for long stretches of time in an attempt to curb production of his opposition publications.104 Patriots recognized that these prosecutions followed a similar pattern, with Morris remarking to Alexander in 1735 that “the case of Francklin the printer of the crafts man . . . is Parralel with Zengers.”105 The Walpole ministry used legal suits to harass other London printers critical of the Whigs as well, including Nathaniel Mist of Mist’s Weekly, Thomas Payne of the True Briton, and Henry Haines, [End Page 60] another printer of the Craftsman.106 Governor Cosby’s crusade against Zenger, then, was just one part of a larger Whig crusade across the British Empire to stifle political criticism against their regime.

Aware of this escalating pattern of Whig censorship, the New York Patriots were determined to use the Zenger case to bolster the cause of free speech for Patriots everywhere, and so they swiftly employed Zenger’s press to spread news of their successful stand. Immediately after his release from prison, Zenger declared that he intended to print an account of his trial “that the World may see how unjust my Sufferings have been.”107 He soon made good on that promise, publishing A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger in 1736. The pamphlet, which was likely authored by Alexander, began to capture a transatlantic audience in 1737, when the Whig ministry initiated a new censorship campaign that included both a stage licensing bill and a bevy of litigation against anti-Whig newspapers.108 London opposition newsman John Wilford republished Zenger’s account of his trial in late 1737 or early 1738 to immediate popular interest, with the pamphlet going through four editions in a year. Boston and Dublin presses published the pamphlet in 1738. And Patriot newspapers soon picked up Zenger’s story too. From November to December 1737, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published a series of articles authored by Alexander that defended Hamilton’s interpretation of libel on legal and historical grounds.109 The London Patriot newspapers Craftsman, Common Sense, and Old Common Sense all got in on the act as well, publishing articles praising Zenger’s victory, upholding the necessity of free speech in securing a free constitution, and suggesting that Britain needed to be as vigilant as the [End Page 61] city of New York in defending its liberties.110 From an imperial perspective, Hamilton had been right: Zenger’s trial was not “of small nor private Concern” but rather seemed to have struck a chord in both Britain and America.111

With the Zenger case, then, the New York Patriots had contributed to an empire-wide discourse about the constitutional importance of a free press, ensuring that the issue became a firm part of the Patriot party platform in the 1730s. They had advanced the idea that executive prerogative should be balanced with British individual liberties, of which the rights to legal due process and political speech were two of the most important. And they had asserted the legitimate role that the people—whether serving on a jury, singing a partisan ballad, or huzzahing in a courthouse—played in the political process. Of course, debates over the lengths and limits of British liberty were by no means decided with the Zenger trial. But as a rallying point for Patriots from Philadelphia to London, Zenger’s victory was important in justifying Patriotism’s rights-based agenda, as well as connecting the New York Patriots’ cause more concretely to a wider imperial movement.


Governor William Cosby died in March 1736, less than a year after his stinging defeat in the John Peter Zenger trial. While on his deathbed, Cosby attempted one final time to defend Whig executive authority in the colony by suspending Rip van Dam from his position on the council, thereby preventing the Patriot leader from serving as acting governor upon Cosby’s death.112 The governor’s order so outraged New York Patriots that they initiated a seven-month campaign to challenge the authority of Cosby’s handpicked successor, George Clarke.113 After the Whig ministry [End Page 62] upheld Van Dam’s suspension, support for restraining executive power in the colony grew even stronger. In 1739, the New York General Assembly passed an appropriations bill giving itself final say on practically every aspect of the colony’s finances, from issuing currency to paying officials’ salaries. As Clarke complained in a letter to the Board of Trade, they make “the Governour and every officer in this Government dependant on them alone.”114 It was exactly the outcome Cosby had feared—and Patriots had dreamed of—in the heady days of exchequer courts, newspaper burnings, and libel trials half a decade before.

The partisan questions and controversies that wracked Cosby’s administration outlived the unpopular governor because the New York Patriots were not fighting just one arbitrary governor or one sycophantic council: they were fighting the Whig imperial system itself. In attempting to preserve an independent judiciary in the colony, the Patriots were up against a Whig ministry that was instructing its governors to create courts in which verdicts were determined by crown officials rather than juries. In promoting a proto- federalist notion of sovereignty within which local institutions and even the people themselves had some measure of influence over their colony’s governance, the Patriots were opposing a ministry that believed that a functional empire depended on a rigid hierarchy. In defending British liberties such as free speech, the Patriots faced off against a ministry that had been actively suppressing opposition presses for a decade through libel prosecutions and censorship bills. And in attempting to set clear limits on executive prerogative, the Patriots were confronting a Whig ministry that believed its authority in America needed to be expanded, not constrained, and had consistently upheld Governor Cosby’s right to create courts, prosecute critics, and remove colonial officials for merely opposing his will. In short, the New York Patriot movement—in its ideas, policies, and practices—was striking at the very heart of the Whig imperial project.

The New York Patriots were not alone in this fight. Political actors on both sides of the Atlantic engaged in the same struggle to create a more equitable British state. New York opposition leaders such as Lewis Morris and James Alexander self-identified as Patriots, used British Patriot electoral slogans such as “No Excise,” and reprinted London Patriot publications such as the Craftsman to distribute to local audiences. New York Patriots [End Page 63] reached out to like-minded partisans in London and neighboring colonies for aid in their campaign against Cosby and the Whig system he represented and received political support in return. And particularly with the Zenger trial, the New York Patriots made vital contributions to British Patriotism, ensuring that freedom of speech and the protection of jury trials would be central to the movement’s agenda in the years to come. The New York Patriots’ opposition campaign of the 1730s thus shows that American politics were becoming integrated into an imperial system of partisanship and party affiliation, a process that would have revolutionary implications in the second half of the eighteenth century. [End Page 64]

Amy Watson

Amy Watson is a USC Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of the Early Modern Americas/Atlantic World at the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

She would like to thank Wayne Bodle, Christian Burset, Megan Cherry, Amy Dunagin, Joanne Freeman, Michael Hattem, Daniel Hulsebosch, Allan Macinnes, William Offutt, Steve Pincus, and the anonymous readers for the William and Mary Quarterly for their insight on this project. She also received useful feedback from members of the January 2017 Early Modern Empires and International Security Studies workshop at Yale University and the October 2018 North American Conference on British Studies in Providence, R.I. Research for this article was supported by the Yale MacMillan Center, the Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Yale International Security Studies Program, the Huntington Library, and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.


1. “On this Day, Lewis Morris Esqr.,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 5, 1733, [2–3] (“Court and Country’s,” [2–3], “No Land-Tax,” “no Excise,” [3]), [4] (“Westchester”); “New-York, Nov. 5,” ibid., [4] (“King George”).

2. Patricia U. Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York (New York, 1971), 11.

3. For New York’s heterogeneous makeup, see Bonomi, Factious People, 53–55, 281–83; Michael Kammen, Colonial New York: A History (New York, 1975), xvi–xvii, 203–6; Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730 (Princeton, N.J., 1992), 81–110, 155–86; Goodfriend, Who Should Rule at Home? Confronting the Elite in British New York City (Ithaca, N.Y., 2017), 30–41.

4. Stanley Nider Katz, Newcastle’s New York: Anglo-American Politics, 1732–1753 (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), viii (“provincial”), 49 (“mirrored”); Alan Tully, Forming American Politics: Ideals, Interests, and Institutions in Colonial New York and Pennsylvania (Baltimore, 1994), 105 (“facets”), 232 (“reductionist”). For a similar perspective on the connection between New York and British partisanship, see Benjamin H. Newcomb, Political Partisanship in the American Middle Colonies, 1700–1776 (Baton Rouge, La., 1995), 13–18.

5. Bernard Bailyn, The Origins of American Politics (New York, 1968), 3–58 (“peculiar,” 13); Jack P. Greene, “Political Mimesis: A Consideration of the Historical and Cultural Roots of Legislative Behavior in the British Colonies in the Eighteenth Century,” American Historical Review (AHR) 75, no. 2 (December 1969): 337–60 (“predisposition,” 344). See also Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, enlarged ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1992). Though they draw similar conclusions as to the influence of English political ideas on American politics, Bailyn and Greene differ as to “which strands of English political thought were the most important in the colonies.” For Greene’s critique of Bailyn’s approach, see Greene, AHR 75: 338–41 (quotation, 339).

6. For examples of “No Excise” used as an electoral slogan in 1733–34, see Thomas Hurdis to Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, Aug. 16, 1733, Newcastle Papers, Add. MS 32688, fol. 110, British Library (BL), London; J. Butler to Newcastle, Aug. 16, 1733, ibid., fol. 111; Thomas Pelham to Newcastle, Sept. 3, 1733, ibid., fol. 240; L. N., The Kentish Election, A New Comedy (London, 1735), 18, 54, 56. For more on the Excise Crisis, see Paul Langford, The Excise Crisis: Society and Politics in the Age of Walpole (Oxford, 1975).

7. During the administration of Sir Robert Walpole (1721–42), the Country party was an anti-Whig coalition between two ideologically distinct groups: the Tories and Patriots. Linda Colley makes a similar argument about the Country party’s coalitional structure in Colley, In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party, 1714–1760 (Cambridge, 1982), 97. There were consistent themes in “Country” rhetoric no matter the personnel, most notably a focus on state corruption. See Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), esp. 5–7; H. T. Dickinson, Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London, 1977), esp. 169–92; W. A. Speck, Stability and Strife: England, 1714–1760 (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), esp. 222–26.

8. For more on the English origins and ideology of Patriotism, see Steve Pincus and Amy Watson, “Patriotism after the Hanoverian Succession,” in The Hanoverian Succession in Great Britain and Its Empire, ed. Brent S. Sirota and Allan I. Macinnes (Woodbridge, U.K., 2019), 155–74. For a literary perspective on Patriotism’s rise, see Christine Gerrard, The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725–1742 (Oxford, 1994). Recent scholarship by Sarah Kinkel, Justin du Rivage, and James M. Vaughn has explored Patriotism as an ideological grouping in a later period, the 1740s– 60s. See Kinkel, “Disorder, Discipline, and Naval Reform in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain,” English Historical Review 128, no. 535 (December 2013): 1451–82; du Rivage, Revolution against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence (New Haven, Conn., 2017), 24–52; Vaughn, The Politics of Empire at the Accession of George III (New Haven, Conn., 2019), 50–87.

9. For more on Patriot popular politics in English cities, see Nicholas Rogers, Whigs and Cities: Popular Politics in the Age of Walpole and Pitt (Oxford, 1989); Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715–1785 (Cambridge, 1995).

10. [Caleb D’Anvers], The D’Anverian History of the Affairs of Europe, For the Memorable Year 1731. . . . (London, 1732), 80. For Scotland, see Amy Watson, “Patriotism and Partisanship in Post-Union Scotland,” Scottish Historical Review 97, no. 1 (April 2018): 57–84. For Georgia, see Steve Pincus, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government (New Haven, Conn., 2016), 25–51.

11. The affinities between the Anti-Leislerians and Tories included a preference for commercial monopolies, Anglicanism, large manorial estates, and restrictions on office holding. Megan Cherry’s book project will examine the transatlantic political alliances at play in the rebellion; Cherry, “New York Asunder: Leisler’s Rebellion in Colonial New York, 1689–1691” (unpublished manuscript, July 2019). For an alternative explanation of Leisler’s Rebellion that stresses religious divisions, see David William Voorhees, “The ‘fervent Zeale’ of Jacob Leisler,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 51, no. 3 (July 1994): 447–72.

12. Patricia U. Bonomi, The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in Early America (Williamsburg, Va., and Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998), 45, 58–76.

13. Appointed by the Whig-dominated Godolphin ministry, Robert Hunter pursued Whig policies such as Palatine immigration and the manufacture of naval stores. See Stephen Saunders Webb, Marlborough’s America (New Haven, Conn., 2013), 291–329; Megan Cherry, “Colonial Policy in North America, 1689–1717,” in Sirota and Macinnes, Hanoverian Succession, 119–35.

14. There is a long debate among historians of colonial New York as to the role ideology played in the colony’s politics. One school argues that politics in this era were ideologically fluid and defined by factional infighting over power and patronage. See Katz, Newcastle’s New York, 56–58. The second interpretation claims that political divisions were, in fact, rooted in ideological divisions over political economy, religion, and constitutional issues. For a classic version of this argument, see Milton M. Klein, “Democracy and Politics in Colonial New York,” New York History 40, no. 3 (July 1959): 221–46. See also Tully, Forming American Politics, 241–49.

15. In 1720, Morris and his followers, who dominated the assembly, passed a law forbidding commerce with French merchants in Albany. The group hoped this stricture would encourage New York merchants to establish a direct trade with the Indigenous nations of the Great Lakes region. This law was repealed in 1726 after Philipse and his followers came to power. See Bonomi, Factious People, 90–94. Bonomi and other historians have termed New York’s two groups the “landed” and “merchant” factions (ibid., 56–75). However, these labels are misleading because members of both groups dabbled in a diverse array of commercial activities.

16. The Sugar Act of 1731, which was eventually passed in revised form as the Molasses Act of 1733, made importing molasses from the French and Dutch West Indies prohibitively expensive. Despite the act’s anti-French position, English Patriots strongly opposed its passage, arguing that it privileged the interests of West Indian sugar colonies over the economically diversified North American colonies. See The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons from the Restoration to the Present Time. . . . (London, 1742), 7: 133–36. For an example of New York’s lobbying effort, see Rip van Dam to Lords of Trade, Nov. 2, 1731, in Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York; Procured in Holland, England and France (DRCHSNY), ed. E. B. O’Callaghan (Albany, N.Y., 1855), 5: 926–27.

17. Cadwallader Colden to Micajah Perry, n.d., in The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, vol. 2, 1730–1742 (New York, 1919), 31–34 (quotation, 31).

18. For the expansion of the British fiscal-military state, see John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783 (New York, 1988). For the rise of the Board of Trade, see Alison Gilbert Olson, Making the Empire Work: London and American Interest Groups, 1690–1790 (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), esp. 56–60. For the military aspect of this expansion in North America, see Webb, Marlborough’s America, esp. 291–329. The trend of increased imperial oversight undermines the notion of Britain’s “salutary neglect” of its colonies in the early to mid-eighteenth century; James A. Henretta, “Salutary Neglect”: Colonial Administration under the Duke of Newcastle (Princeton, N.J., 1972).

19. See Micajah Perry to Cadwallader Colden, Dec. 27, 1731, in Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 2: 45–48 (quotation, 2: 46). During the parliamentary debates over the Sugar Act, the Whigs made it clear that they thought the West Indian colonies were more valuable to the empire than the North American colonies. See also History and Proceedings of the House of Commons, 7: 209–19.

20. Wayne Bodle is working on a project that reevaluates William Cosby’s tenure in Minorca and casts doubt on the alleged crimes he committed there as part of a reconsideration of his significance as the royal governor of New York and New Jersey during the 1730s; Bodle, “To Repair Whose Broken Fortune? Problem Portraits, Snuff Politics, and the Search for the Historical Cosby” (paper given at the Lees Seminar, Rutgers-Camden/McNeil Center, Camden, N.J., Feb. 3, 2017). Evidence of the snuff charge comes from a pamphlet circulated by Cosby’s political enemies entitled Bonaventura Capedevilla of Lisbon, Merchant, Complainant: Against the Honourable Collonel Cosby, Late Governor of the Island of Minorca: The Said Capedevilla’s Case. . . . (London, [1735?]).

21. Mary Lou Lustig, Privilege and Prerogative: New York’s Provincial Elite, 1710–1776 (Madison, N.J., 1995), 40–42.

22. James Alexander to Cadwallader Colden, Feb. 21, 1731/2, in Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 2: 49–51 (quotation, 2: 50).

23. “Order of Council for Mr V D by the Attorney General,” Nov. 29, 1732, box 1, folder 6, MssCol 2165, New York Colony Miscellaneous Collection (NYCMC), Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division (MARBD), New York Public Library (NYPL).

24. New York’s chancery court was used periodically in suits to collect governmental fees, so it was a logical venue for a suit to collect a governor’s salary.

25. Governor John Montgomerie to Lords of Trade, Nov. 30, 1728, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 874 (quotation). For more on the long history of resistance to chancery courts in New York, see Stanley N. Katz, “The Politics of Law in Colonial America: Controversies over Chancery Courts and Equity Law in the Eighteenth Century,” in American Law and the Constitutional Order: Historical Perspectives, ed. Lawrence M. Friedman and Harry N. Scheiber (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 46–52; Joseph H. Smith, “Adolph Philipse and the Chancery Resolves of 1727,” in Courts and Law in Early New York, Selected Essays, ed. Leo Hershkowitz and Milton M. Klein (Port Washington, N.Y., 1978), 30–45.

26. For a good summary of the distinctions between common law, chancery, and exchequer courts and the legal issues at stake in Cosby’s decision to invest the supreme court with exchequer powers, see Daniel J. Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664–1830 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2005), 58–62.

27. Several leaders in the anti-Morris faction—especially Francis Harison and George Clarke—had preexisting economic ties to Cosby and other prominent English Whig politicians such as James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, and Martin Bladen. The men were all joint claimants in a dispute over a land grant on the border of New York and Connecticut. Over the course of the 1730s, Chandos and Bladen corresponded regularly with Harison about New York’s partisan divides and intervened on the Cosby group’s behalf with the Board of Trade. For more on this dispute, see Letterbook of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, Stowe Papers, MssST 57, Huntington Library (HL), San Marino, Calif., esp. vols. 41–44.

28. The Arguments of the Council for the Defendant, in Support of a Plea to the Jurisdiction, Pleaded to a Bill Filed in a Course of Equity, at the Suit of the Attorney General, Complainant, against Rip van Dam. . . . (New York, 1733), 49–50. Before leaving the bench, Morris further thwarted the governor’s counsel by refusing to allow arguments on any issue other than the court’s equitable jurisdiction. See Joseph H. Smith and Leo Hershkowitz, “Courts of Equity in the Province of New York: The Cosby Controversy, 1732–1736,” American Journal of Legal History 16, no. 1 (January 1972): 1–50, esp. 21–22.

29. Lewis Morris, The Opinion and Argument of the Chief Justice of the Province of New-York, Concerning the Jurisdiction of the Supream Court of the Said Province to Determine Causes in a Court of Equity (New York, 1733). In taking this position against the court’s authority, Morris was reversing his previous support of crown prerogative in erecting equity courts, a position he had held as recently as 1732. Morris’s lack of ideological consistency on this issue has contributed to his historical reputation as an opportunist. Whether sincere or not, Morris justified his shift with exhaustive personal research into the case law of the issue. See Eugene R. Sheridan, Lewis Morris, 1671–1746: A Study in Early American Politics (Syracuse, N.Y., 1981), 149–50.

30. “Copy of Minutes of Council in Appointing Ja Delancey and Frederick Phillipse [1st] and 2nd judges of New York,” Aug. 23, 1733, box 1, folder 6, MssCol 2165, NYCMC, MARBD, NYPL.

31. William Cosby to the Duke of Newcastle, May 3, 1733, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 947 (“absolute”), 950 (“madman”).

32. Lords of Trade to Governor John Montgomerie, May 28, 1729, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 876–77; Lords of Trade to President Van Dam, Feb. 4, 1731/2, ibid., 5: 931.

33. Cosby to Newcastle, May 3, 1733, ibid., 5: 950.

34. Lords of Trade to William Cosby, Sept. 5, 1735, ibid., 6: 35–36 (quotation).

35. Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire, 60. For a contemporary explanation of New Yorkers’ hatred of both quitrents and equity courts, see Governor William Burnet to Lords of Trade, Dec. 21, 1727, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 846–48.

36. Richard Bradley to Lords of Trade, Nov. 23, 1734, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 18.

37. Lords of Trade to President Van Dam, Feb. 4, 1731/2, ibid., 5: 930–31 (quotation).

38. Cosby to Newcastle, May 3, 1733, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 950 (quotation); Mary Lou Lustig, “Burnet, William (1688–1729),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford, 2004), 8: 934–35.

39. William Cosby to the Duke of Newcastle, Oct. 26, 1732, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 5: 937.

40. Hulsebosch, Constituting Empire, 62.

41. Lewis Morris, Some Observations on the Charge given by the Honourable James De Lancey, Esq; . . . to the Grand Jury, the 15th Day of January, 1733[/4] (New York, 1734), 9–11 (“Debated,” 9, “uninhabited,” 11). For the most comprehensive study of colonial America’s pluralistic legal codes and their slow convergence toward a common law system, see William E. Nelson, The Common Law in Colonial America, 4 vols. (Oxford, 2008–18).

42. Morris, Some Observations, 9–11 (quotations, 11). There is an abundance of literature on the legal roots of American federalism within the eighteenth-century British Empire. For example, see Jack P. Greene, Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607–1788 (Athens, Ga., 1986), esp. 172–74. For a more recent approach to this topic, see Alison L. LaCroix, The Ideological Origins of American Federalism (Cambridge, Mass., 2010).

43. James Alexander to Lewis Morris, Jan. 6, 1734/5, in Eugene R. Sheridan, ed., The Papers of Lewis Morris (Newark, N.J., 1993), 2: 126.

44. James Alexander, “Observations on Gazette No. 434,” n.d., MssCol 37, John Peter Zenger Trial Collection, MARBD, NYPL.

45. Morris, Opinion and Argument, 10–14 (quotations, 14).

46. For a contemporary account of the Scottish fear of losing judicial independence, see David Erskine, Lord Dun, to James Erskine, Lord Grange, Mar. 8, 1737, Papers of the Erskine Family, GD 124/15/1469, National Records of Scotland (NRS), Edinburgh.

47. Caleb D’Anvers, An Argument against Excises: In Several Essays, Lately Published in the Craftsman, and Now Collected Together (London, 1733), 14–15.

48. James Erskine, Lord Grange, to Alexander Hume-Campbell, 2d Earl of March-mont, Dec. 12, 1733, Papers of the Family of Hume of Polwarth, GD 158/1339/6, fols. 10–11 (quotation, fol. 10), NRS.

49. “The Remainder of the Letter,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 19, 1733, [1] (“Whigg”); “On this Day, Lewis Morris Esqr.,” ibid., Nov. 5, 1733, [2] (“Country”).

50. “The first essential Ingredient,” New-York Weekly Journal, Jan. 27, 1734 [1735], [1] (“Character”); “As your Journal is designed,” ibid., Jan. 28, 1733 [1734], [2] (“Patriots”); “No More, great Jove,” ibid., Feb. 3, 1734 [1735], [4] (“generous”); “As the Annual Choice of our City Magistrates,” ibid., Sept. 27, 1736, [4]. For further examples of this opposition group identifying itself with the “Patriots” label, see “I Met the other Day,” ibid., Feb. 17, 1734 [1735], [1]; “I Can’t say that I am surpris’d,” ibid., Mar. 25, 1734, [1–4]; “The last words and testament of the song on the election condemned to be burnt by the C—t [Court] partie” and “Assist O God my muse with rage divine,” MssCol 15701, Poems and Songs about New York under Governor William Cosby, MARBD, NYPL.

51. “You may inform the Publick,” New-York Gazette, Sept. 12–19, 1737, [3] (“Modern”); “That the nation,” ibid., Mar. 3–11, 1734/5, [2] (“mock”); “Mr. Bradford,” ibid., June 3–10, 1734, [3] (“Red-hot”); “Mr. Bradford,” ibid., Apr. 8–15, 1734, [2] (“scarce”), [3] (“joyns”). For further examples, see “As the Patrons of Zenger’s Journal,” Feb. 18–25, 1733/4, [3]; “My Countrymen and fellow Subjects,” ibid., Mar. 11–18, 1733 [1734], [3]; “Mr. Bradford,” ibid., May 27–June 3, 1734, [3]; “The humble Addres of his Majesty’s Council,” ibid., Dec. 2–9, 1734, [1]; “From the Whitehall Evening-Post,” ibid., Feb. 3–11, 1734 [1735], [1].

52. Though initially closely aligned to the Patriot/Morris party, Cadwallader Colden gradually distanced himself from the group’s adversarial politics over the course of the early 1730s, attempting to remain neutral in the colony’s divisions. See John M. Dixon, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca, N.Y., 2016), 137–38.

53. Partisan shifts in power in Westminster may have played a larger role in Corn-bury’s recall than Morris’s advocacy against him. See Bonomi, Lord Cornbury Scandal, 162.

54. William Cosby to Lords of Trade, Dec. 6, 1734, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 21.

55. Micajah Perry to Cadwallader Colden, Mar. 19, 1733/4, in Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 2: 106. It is unclear from the letter whether Colden wanted help in a land grant dispute against Cosby or in having Cosby recalled.

56. “Norris, John,” in Romney Sedgwick, The House of Commons, 1715–1754 (London, 1970), 2: 298–99.

57. Matthew Norris to Lewis Morris, Jan. 28, 1734, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 83–85 (quotation, 2: 84); Norris to Morris, Feb. 7, 1734, ibid., 2: 86–89; Norris to Morris, Nov. 6, 1735, ibid., 2: 201.

58. “Portsmouth, New-Hampshire, Decem. 27,” New-York Weekly Journal, Feb. 3, 1734, [3–4] (quotation, [4]), repr. in Robert Hunter Morris, An American in London, 1735–1736 (offprint from Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, April and July 1940), ed. Beverly McAnear (Philadelphia, 1940), 176, 179, 194–95. See also Lewis Morris to James Alexander, Feb. 8, 1734/5, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 133–35; Morris to Alexander, Feb. 24, 1734/5, ibid., 2: 138–44; Morris to Alexander, Oct. 24, 1735, ibid., 2: 195–96. Ultimately, the Board of Trade ruled that Cosby had not “sufficient reason to displace [Morris].” According to James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, the decision went in Morris’s favor only because “the Governor’s chief friends,” including Whig ministers Henry Pelham and the Duke of Newcastle, were out of town on the day the decision was made. See Chandos to George Clarke of New York, Nov. 14, 1735, Letterbook of Chandos, vol. 46, Stowe Papers, MssST 57, HL.

59. For more on this common practice of lobbying for American interests in London, see Olson, Making the Empire Work.

60. John Peter Zenger, “Peter Zenger’s Prologue and Epilogue to the Farce,” MssCol 37, Zenger Trial, MARBD, NYPL; “Mr. Zenger,” New-York Weekly Journal, Dec. 17, 1733, [1].

61. For drafts of Alexander’s political writings published anonymously by Zenger, see MssCol 37, Zenger Trial, MARBD, NYPL.

62. Cosby to Lords of Trade, Dec. 6, 1734, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 21 (quotation). See for example “From the Craftsman,” New-York Weekly Journal, July 28, 1735, [1], which includes material from “having mention’d the jury act,” Craftsman, Jan. 1, 1731/2 (London, 1737), 8: 259; “Mr. Zenger,” New-York Weekly Journal, Feb. 25, 1733/4, [1], which includes material from Cato, “To the Author of the London Journal,” June 10, 1720, in [John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon], The Fifth Collection of Cato’s Political Letters in the London Journal (London, [1721]), 18–25.

63. Members of N.Y. Council to the Duke of Newcastle, Dec. 17, 1733, Colonial Office 5/1086/73, National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew.

64. “Below is a Paper,” New-York Weekly Journal, Dec. 3, 1733, [1]; “I am told your Encouragement,” ibid., Dec. 17, 1733, [1]; “Be pleased to give Room in your Paper,” ibid., Jan. 7, 1733 [1734], [3].

65. “London, March 12. The Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of Trade,” New-York Weekly Journal, June 9, 1735, [2] (quotation). See also “Philadelphia, November 6,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 17, 1735, [4]; “Letter to Zenger for Gazette 482,” [ca. 1734/5], MssCol 37, Zenger Trial, MARBD, NYPL.

66. Cosby to Lords of Trade, Dec. 6, 1734, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 20–24 (“alterations,” 6: 21). For examples of “corrupt Minister” rhetoric, see Cato, “Mr. Zenger,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 12, 1733, [1], which includes material from “To Caleb D’Anvers,” Oct. 26, 1728, in Caleb D’Anvers, Craftsman (London, 1731), 3: 265; “Mr. Zenger,” New-York Weekly Journal, Feb. 18, 1733/4, [1], which includes material from [John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon], The Third Collection of Cato’s Political Letters in the London Journal (London, 1721), 5–12.

67. See “Mr. Bradford,” New-York Weekly Journal, Apr. 1, 1734, [1–3]; “A Continuation of a Letter from Middletown,” ibid., Sept. 16, 1734, [1–3]; “Sejanus,” ibid., Feb. 17, 1734 [1735], [1–3].

68. For religious liberty, see “From Cato’s Letters,” New-York Weekly Journal, Aug. 25, 1735, [1–2]. For trial by jury, see “Of all the Prerogatives,” ibid., July 28, 1735, [1–3]. For free speech, see “I beg you will give the following Sentiments,” ibid., Feb. 18, 1733/4, [1–2]. This Patriot program of securing individual liberties did not extend to New York’s population of enslaved people, and many of the Patriot leaders in New York were slave-holders themselves. Lewis Morris, for instance, was one of the largest slaveholders in the region. See Sheridan, Lewis Morris, 10–11.

69. “The first essential Ingredient,” New-York Weekly Journal, Jan. 27, 1734/5, [2] (quotations). For more on freedom of the press, see “The Liberty of the Press,” ibid., Nov. 12, 1733, [1–2]; “The Remainder of the Letter, Concerning the Liberty of the Press,” ibid., Nov. 19, 1733, [1–2]; “As I am not sure,” ibid., Nov. 11, 1734, [1–3].

70. Adrian Howe, “Accommodation and Retreat: Politics in Anglo-Dutch New York City, 1700–1760” (Ph.D. diss., University of Melbourne, 1982), 324–25.

71. For more on the British Patriots’ base of supporters, see Watson, Scottish Historical Review 97: 74.

72. “As I often frequent the Coffee House,” New-York Weekly Journal, Mar. 18, 1733 [1734], [1]; “New-Brunswick, Mar. 27, 1734,” ibid., Apr. 8, 1734, [1]; “In your Journal No. 20,” ibid., Apr. 22, 1734, [1]; Timothy Wheelwright [John Peter Zenger], King’s County, the 12th of September, 1734 ([New York, 1734]), Early American Imprints, ser. 1, no. 3853.

73. “Notwithstanding,” New-York Weekly Journal, Oct. 6, 1735, [4] (quotations). For the Morris group’s campaign to target artisans and Dutch colonists, see Howe, “Accommodation and Retreat,” 251–96. For Dutch efforts to challenge English cultural authority in New York City during this period, see Goodfriend, Who Should Rule, 45–76. Zenger was also a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a substantial part of his printing business came from the publication of Dutch-language religious texts. See Goodfriend, Who Should Rule, 61. For the heightened importance of popular politics in British American cities such as New York City during this period, see Gary B. Nash, “The Transformation of Urban Politics, 1700–1765,” Journal of American History 60, no. 3 (December 1973): 605–32.

74. “From the Political State,” New-York Weekly Journal, Oct. 6, 1735, [3] (quotations). Patriot leaders’ public support for popular sovereignty did not always align with their private views on the matter. In particular, Cadwallader Colden and Lewis Morris’s private letters and papers show that they often expressed skepticism about the ability of the broader populace to participate in politics in a reasoned, enlightened fashion. Dixon, Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden, 134–35; Morris to the Duke of Newcastle, June 2, 1732, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 8–12.

75. Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, Dec. 16, 1733, in Edith B. Gelles, ed., The Letters of Abigaill Levy Franks, 1733–1748 (New Haven, Conn., 2004), 17.

76. Abigaill Franks to Naphtali Franks, June 9, 1734, ibid., 23 (quotations), 25.

77. James Alexander to Lewis Morris, Dec. 30, 1734, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 124.

78. For reporting on these Patriot magistrate victories, see “I have received a Coppy of a Letter,” New-York Weekly Journal, Oct. 7, 1734, [1]; “We are the Subscribing Free-holders,” ibid., Oct. 7, 1734, [1–2]; “Continuation of the Letter in our last,” ibid., Oct. 28, 1734, [1–3]; “The Characteristic of a good and bad Magistrate,” ibid., Sept. 23, 1735, [2–3]; “I Am fully sensible,” ibid., Sept. 27, 1735, [1–2]; “Notwithstanding,” ibid., Oct. 6, 1735, [4]. For a ballad about the election, see A Song Made upon the Election of New Magistrates for this City (New York, 1734).

79. George Clarke to Lords of Trade, Oct. 7, 1736, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 78 (“Majority”); Howe, “Accommodation and Retreat,” 298–369 (“composed,” 299). Howe uses a 1734 petition supporting Morris and a 1737 petition supporting Cornelius Van Horne to arrive at these numbers. She argues that many individuals who signed these two petitions were new freemen, suggesting that they had registered in direct response to the Morris campaign. See ibid., 292–94.

80. Clarke to Lords of Trade, Oct. 7, 1736, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 80 (quotation), 78.

81. Because of their region’s close ties to the Albany “Indian trade” via French Canada, inhabitants of the Hudson Valley had strong economic reasons for supporting the Whig/Cosby faction. For more on New York’s growing communication infrastructure, see Alyssa Zuercher Reichardt, “War for the Interior: Imperial Conflict and the Formation of North American and Transatlantic Communications Infrastructure, 1729–1774” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2017). See also Kammen, Colonial New York, 296–97.

82. Lewis Morris to James Alexander, Feb. 25, 1735/6, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 245.

83. For just a small sampling of such textbooks across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, see George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent (Port Washington, N.Y., 1885), 2: 254–55; Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, New Basic History of the United States (Garden City, N.Y., 1968), 86; Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, brief 4th ed. (Boston, 1996), 80.

84. Cosby to Lords of Trade, Dec. 6, 1734, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 21.

85. [James Alexander], A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, Printer of the New-York Weekly Journal ([London, 1738?]), 1–5 (“burnt,” 2, “Obligation,” 4).

86. Henry Mares, “Criminal Informations of the Attorneys-General in the King’s Bench from Egerton to North,” in Law and Legal Process: Substantive Law and Procedure in English Legal History, ed. Matthew Dyson and David Ibbetson (Cambridge, 2013), 172–73.

87. “Gentlemen, Ladies and Others,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 25, 1734, [1].

88. James Alexander to Lewis Morris, Jan. 17, 1734/5, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 129–30 (“20 times”); [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 5 (“ten Times”).

89. “Gentlemen, Ladies and Others,” New-York Weekly Journal, Nov. 25, 1734, [1] (quotation). Such leadership was not unusual for printers’ wives, who were often intimately involved in the day-to-day business of a family press. Paula McDowell, The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace, 1678–1730 (Oxford, 1998).

90. “I Intend in this, and my next Letter,” New-York Weekly Journal, Dec. 9, 1734, [1–3] (quotation, [3]).

91. [David Humphreys?], “The Lamentable Story of two fatherless and motherless twins,” MssCol 15701, Poems and Songs about New York under Governor William Cosby, MARBD, NYPL; also reprinted in David S. Shields, Oracle of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690–1750 (Chicago, 1990), 166–67, 251–52.

92. Alexander to Morris, Jan. 17, 1734/5, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 129–30 (“Eyes,” 2: 129).

93. James Alexander and William Smith, Complaint of James Alexander and William Smith to the Committee of the General Assembly of the Colony of New York (New York, 1735), 2–3 (quotation, 3), 11. See also “As the Silencing of your Council,” New-York Weekly Journal, May 5, 1735; [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 7–9.

94. Chief Justice De Lancey appointed Cosby placeman John Chambers as Zenger’s counsel. Despite his partisan affiliation, Chambers stood firm against the attempts by Cosby’s allies to control jury selection. For more on Chambers, see Eben Moglen, “Considering ‘Zenger’: Partisan Politics and the Legal Profession in Provincial New York,” Columbia Law Review 94, no. 5 (June 1994): 1495–524.

95. [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 12.

96. Edgar J. McManus, “Hamilton, Andrew,” American National Biography Online, February 2000, https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0100364.

97. Andrew Hamilton may well have followed the Cosby conflict in the press before being asked to participate in it, as the Philadelphia newspaper the American Weekly Mercury had devoted the majority of its Dec. 14–21, 1733, issue to Cosby’s alleged mismanagement as governor, focusing particularly on the Judiciary Crisis; [Philadelphia] American Weekly Mercury, Dec. 14–21, 1733, [2–4]. The Pennsylvania Gazette also reported on Morris’s mission to London on Feb. 11, 1735; “Philadelphia, February 6,” [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 11–18, 1734/5, [3]. A number of newspapers in America and Britain reported on Zenger’s arrest for libel, including “New York, Nov. 25,” New England Weekly Journal, Dec. 2, 1734, [2]; “We hear from New-York,” [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette, Jan. 11–18, 1734/5, [3]; “We hear from New York,” [London] Daily Journal, Jan. 23, 1735, [1].

98. [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 14–15 (“what is good,” 15, “attended,” 14), 21 (“publickly”).

99. Ibid., 15 (“fals[e]hood”), 18 (“Facts”).

100. [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 29.

101. “To my Subscribers and Benefactors,” New-York Weekly Journal, Aug. 18, 1735, [1].

102. Ibid., [1] (quotation); [Alexander], Brief Narrative of the Trial of John Peter Zenger, 30–31.

103. Michael Harris, London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole: A Study of the Origins of the Modern English Press (London, 1987), 146–47.

104. Lewis Morris to James Alexander, Mar. 31, 1735, in Sheridan, Papers of Lewis Morris, 2: 151.

105. Morris to Alexander, Feb. 24, 1734/5, ibid., 2: 143.

106. Harris, London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole, 142. For the Haines case, see Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, to the Duke of Newcastle, July 22, 1737, Newcastle Papers, Add. MS 32690, fols. 303–304, BL.

107. “To my Subscribers and Benefactors,” New-York Weekly Journal, Aug. 18, 1735, [1].

108. Stanley Nider Katz makes a strong case for James Alexander’s authorship based on correspondence between Alexander and Andrew Hamilton in “A Note on the Text,” in A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, Printer of the New York Weekly Journal, ed. Katz (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), 36–38, esp. 36. For the original edition of the pamphlet, see [James Alexander], A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger, Printer of the New-York Weekly Journal (New York, 1736). For the 1737 Whig censorship effort, see Harris, London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole, 147.

109. James Alexander, “James Alexander’s Response: The Pennsylvania Gazette Essay,” in Katz, Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, 181–202. For one of John Wilford’s four editions, see John Peter Zenger, The Tryal of John Peter Zenger, of New-York. . . . (London, 1738). For the Boston and Dublin editions, see A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger. . . . (Boston, 1738); John Peter Zenger, The Trial of John Peter Zenger, of New-York, Printer. . . . (Dublin, 1738). For the Pennsylvania Gazette’s series, see “To the Author of the Pennsylvania Gazette,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov. 10–17, 1737, [1–2]; “Continuation of the Letter Began in our last,” ibid., Nov. 17–24, 1737, [1–2]; “Continuation of the Subjects in our last,” ibid., Nov. 24–Dec. 1, 1737, [1–2]; “The remainder, promised in our last,” ibid., Dec. 1–8, 1737, [1–3].

110. “To the Author of Old Common Sense,” [London] Old Common Sense: or, The Englishman’s Journal, Dec. 10, 1737, [1]; “This Day is Publish’d,” [London] Common Sense: or, The Englishman’s Journal, Dec. 31, 1737, [3];”There are several Points of Liberty,” [London] Country Journal: or, The Craftsman, Jan. 21, 1737/8, [1]; “The Subject of libels concluded,” ibid., Apr. 29, 1738, [1].

111. For the Zenger case discouraging colonial officials from prosecuting journalists for libel, see Alison Olson, “The Zenger Case Revisited: Satire, Sedition and Political Debate in Eighteenth Century America,” Early American Literature 35, no. 3 (2000): 223–45.

112. “At a Council summoned on the 24th of Nov 1735,” MssCol 2165, box 1, folder 6, NYCMC, MARBD, NYPL. Upon a New York governor’s death or incapacitation, executive power was supposed to devolve to the most senior member of the council until the ministry could name a replacement. Rip van Dam would have been the most senior councillor if not for his suspiciously timed suspension.

113. The campaign in support of Rip van Dam’s right to the acting governorship included pamphlets, newspaper articles, a petition drive, and even a mass Patriot exodus from the New York General Assembly. For examples of these efforts as well as George Clarke’s response, see Van Dam, To All to Whom These Presents Shall Come or May Any Way Concern; Rip van Dam Sendeth Greeting (New York, 1736); Van Dam, Copy of a Letter from Rip van Dam, Esq; to the Several Members of That General Assembly of New-York That Stood Adjourned to the Last Tuesday of March, 1736 (New York, 1736); George Clarke to Lords of Trade, Apr. 7, 1736, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 50–51; Clarke to Lords of Trade, May 3, 1736, ibid., 6: 52–53; Clarke to the Duke of Newcastle, May 3, 1736, ibid., 6: 53–55; Adolph Philipse to Clarke, Apr. 29, 1736, ibid., 6: 55–56.

114. George Clarke to Lords of Trade, Apr. 24, 1739, in O’Callaghan, DRCHSNY, 6: 141–42 (quotation, 6: 141). For more on this appropriations bill, see Clarke to the Duke of Newcastle, Nov. 30, 1739, ibid., 6: 149–50; Clarke to Lords of Trade, Nov. 30, 1739, ibid., 6: 150–52; Clarke to Lords of Trade, Jan. 28, 1739/40, ibid., 6: 158–59; Clarke to Lords of Trade, June 13, 1740, ibid., 6: 160–61.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.