Friday, November 30, 2018

Daisey History Six: Renters

Mr. Daisey has moved on to his next gig, but still, we persist.

Daisey's sixth entry into his  People's History talks about the imbalance between those with power and those without. He talks a great deal about his personal experiences renting in Brooklyn, but the historical entry come from the Anti-Rent War.

What, you've never heard of it? The ANTI-RENT WAR. 1830's? New York State? No?

Hey, it got a historical marker and everything!
Yeah, this falls in the hole between 1812 and 1860, but it is extremely instructive as to how change gets made from below, as opposed to being granted from above.

Not-so-short version: The Hudson River Valley ran for a couple centuries on a feudal-style manor system run by patroons, who were the major land-holders. The inhabitants were effectively tenant farmers, who did not have control over the land they farmed. The patroons held a lot of the power, including control of the local courts and law enforcement, getting a big chunk when leases were sold, and a serious taste of the gross productivity.

In 1839, the tenant farmers revolted and refused to pay. The ruling patroons sent in tax collectors - they were tarred, feathered, and run off. They sent in a posse of 500 men. THEY were surrounded and run off. An agent of the patroons was killed. Finally the State itself declared it was an insurrection, sent in the military, and made arrests. Eighty-four anti-renters were arrested, thirteen was convicted, two were condemned to the gallows.

But the anti-renters transformed into a political force in NY State, a faction that contributed to vote out the then-current governor for a more progressive one. The convicted anti-renters were pardoned, and the feudal patroon system itself was disassembled in the New York Constitution of 1846. So, ultimately, the anti-renters won. Long fight, but they won.

It is an interesting story, and generally forgotten.

And what's interesting is that there as SO MANY stories like this that are sidelined, sidebarred, forgotten. Whiskey Rebellion. Shay's Rebellion. Pullman Strike. Haymarket. Occupy. They get moved off to the side, treated as exceptions to the rule as opposed to how things really move forward around here. Particularly if they have long-term results as those involved get a place at the table.

Wikipedia, interestingly enough, soft-pedals the Anti-Rent War in its entry. They blame the previous patroon for the uprising, who was too easy on the tenants, so that his heirs roused their anger by adhering to the established feudal laws. It ignores the Panic of 1837, which put the economic pressure on the patroons to demand their money and on the inability of the tenants to pay. It mentions but does not explain the "Calico Indians" (not Native Americans, but rather white dudes dressed up as false Indians, much like the Boston Tea Party). There is a mention how the soon-to-be-ex governor tied to get disguises outlawed, echoing the modern complaints again the Black Block protesters. Oh, and two of the anti-rent ringleaders would go on to help found the Republican Party. Howboutthat?

Yet this is a pattern we see again and again - Rebellion, Violence, Repercussions. Accommodations, Change. It doesn't always go through the full cycle, and does not always represent forward progress. But it is a theme that is showing up again and again in these discussions. And perhaps the real narrative that we're looking at in our history.

More later,