The Lordly Hudson

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The following war years in the valley were filled with heroic action, exasperating frustration, tragic events, and the sort of grim humor that is inevitable in days of hardship. The storming of Stony Point and the surrender of Burgoyne were greeted with wild celebration; the breaking of the channel-barring chain by the British ships, the burning of Kingston, and the treachery of Benedict Arnold were met with an aghast silence; Baron von Steuben’s triumphant announcement that he had caught a whale while fishing in the river (it turned out to be an eel), and General George Clinton’s escape from the redcoats by descending the Palisades in a slide that took the seat out of his trousers and left his chafed backsides glowing in the dust like a ruddy September moon peeping through a cloud bank, set off paroxysms of laughter.

Perhaps the hardest condition for both sides to bear during the years of the long fight in the valley was that of bitter dissension among neighbors. Loyalists who sincerely felt that armed revolt was unjustified looked upon their rebelling neighbors as deserving of the hangman’s noose, and those sympathetic with the Continental armies were even more strongly convinced that Tories were traitors and should suffer the consequences. The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown set the land ablaze with the fires of victory, and by their light many a worthy family, exiled by circumstance, sadly packed its worldly goods and set out for the colder and less settled land of Canada.

No sooner had Evacuation Day removed the British soldiery from Manhattan than the great experiment, a union of the American states, occupied the minds of the valley residents. They intended to have their share in creating the pattern that the nation would follow, and they battled for it with intelligence and zeal. At the convention in Poughkeepsie in 1788, George Clinton and his Hudson Valley neighbors fought bitterly against New York’s ratifying the newly drawn Constitution unless it included a specific bill of rights. Though they finally allowed ratification, it was with the express understanding that amendments including such a bill would be introduced for the consideration of the Federal Congress at the first opportunity.

 

The people of the Hudson Valley continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century to contribute to the developing political structure. The Alien and Sedition Laws, which included unreasonable curbs on freedom of speech, had no sooner been passed by a Federalist Congress during the John Adams administration than they aroused strong public resentment. When the Democrat-Republicans invoked them against Harry Croswell, editor of a newspaper in the river town of Hudson, New York, Federalist Alexander Hamilton made his way to Albany and there, in the crowning speech of his career, made certain of their repeal.

Eight shoemakers of the town of Hudson combined to establish a living wage for themselves and called a strike when it was not granted them. Indicted on a charge of conspiracy, they were tried and acquitted- winning the nation’s first recognition of the right to collective bargaining.