The economic history begins here at a time when people survived by farming in small villages and were pre-occupied by the demands of growing food. They were, in fact, quite successful, a feat that was accomplished by a balance between food and population supply. Unlike the many greedy European settlers who soon were to invade their home, they had no desire to build up their wealth and obtained all of their necessary goods through labor instead of trading with other communities. 2 The elimination of the Original People was not caused a single group of settlers, which most colonies had experienced, but three diverse peoples from three nations.
The Dutch arrived first in 1629 and were followed by Swedish traders. The English did not disembark until the 1660’s, at which point Fleming begins his commentary, leaving the reader questioning exactly what kind of situation the British Empire had entered. 3 When historians take on th task of writing about the Revolutionary War, it tends to be difficult for them to not show a bias towards one side. Flemming even admits that, “depending on who is quoted, a writer can make New Jersey sound like a volcano of revolutionary ardor-or a swamp of un enthusiasm for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. 4 By comparing Flemming’s account of the Revolutionary War to The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley, by Adrian C. Leiby, this statement becomes even more evident. Leiby, though he provides a description of the role of the Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground which Flemming ignores, reveals his prejudices against the loyalists instead of allowing the reader to realize that both sides had their positive and negative characteristics.
At points, he describes the rebels as the “good men”, and openly agrees with their decision to live “impoverished and die in British prisons rather than submit to British oppression… to whom generations unborn owe eternal gratitude. 5 Though sometimes incomplete, Flemming provides a picture of this war without this tendency to exhibit favoritism. He avoids glorifying New Jersey, showing its tendencies to both support independence as well as withdraw to the comfort of the imperialistic system. There was obvious tension between New Jersey and the Parliament. Like other colonies, they resisted the taxation attempts of the Stamp and Townsend Act, but their protests were always mild compared to the violence that exploded in the surrounding states. New Jersey tended to shift its attention to itself when its many colonial conflicts arose.
6 Another factor that reduced New Jersey’s level of enthusiasm was the colony’s rustic lifestyle. Its largest populated city, Elizabethtown, only had 1,200 inhabitants. This was far less than its neighbors, New York and Philadelphia. New Jersey also lacked a newspaper, “the other indispensable engine of eighteenth-century agitation”. Their imperial connection also helped New Jersey’s economy and made it feel protected between its two large and aggressive neighbors.
Governor Franklin also played a role in creating a more favorable view of England when he announced that the king wanted to settle the dispute and, as proof, gave New Jersey permission to print 100,000 pounds of paper money. 7 Flemming also points out, though, that New Jersey did show signs of independence and that the fight for this was won more by force than persuasion. Early on when New Jersey had a proprietary government, they discovered that the people’s representatives could limit, if not control, the governor’s power by “pulling tight on the purse strings”. Sensing this trend towards independence, Governor Hunter traveled to London in 1719, informed the Parliament of this trend, and recommended that the crown should pay the governor’s salary so he would not be dependent on the assembly, yet he was ignored, a treatment that the colonies were growing used. 8 In 1728, Jerseyans once again showed frustration with their rulers. They felt that, in order to become a more prosperous colony, it was necessary to have their own governor instead of sharing one with New York.
All of their governors, after all, spent most of their time in New York, and they were being neglected because of their larger neighbors booming economy and population. They petitioned the crown for a separate governor, and though ignored for ten years, Lewis Morris was appointed as New Jersey’s first separate royal governor. 9 When the time came to fight in the Revolutionary War, though, New Jersey’s citizens were often shoved onto the battle line instead of going by their own free will. Presbyterian revolutionists took control of this situation by exhibiting aggressive behavior towards all forms of opposition.
Men who spoke out against the rebel government were fined, arrested, and required to post a bond assuring their future good behavior. In most counties, loyalist and moderates were intimidated into silence or forced to face the violent tactics of the rebels. Voting was also cast by voice, which meant a man had to publicly state the side that he supported, exposing him to even more aggression. 10 Throughout Flemming’s historical account, he also examines themes that occurred during the development of New Jersey.
One of the most evident is the new colony’s resistance to taxation. At the beginning of the settlement of New Jersey, a grace period had been granted before quitrents were to be paid. In 1670, when the current governor, Philip Carteret, announced that the expiration date had been reached and taxes must be paid, his unpopularity increased greatly and payments were few and slow. In order to receive any of this levy, harsh consequences were implemented. Anyone who refused could face having his “cattle, grain, furniture, or other moveable goods seized by a constable to settle the debt. Jerseyans powers were also limited by restricting the vote to only freemen, a stature of which only the governor could decide.
11 The French and Indian War reveals, once again, how Jerseyans resisted the payment of taxes. To help finance the war, London permitted the assembly to issue massive amounts of paper money. This flood of currency and the presence of the British fleet increased the price of everything, and, as a result, created an artificial prosperity. New Jersey, given the opportunity to increase the flow of money, made large requisitions to support the war and viewed the paper money as a relatively painless method to show their support. They, in fact, ended up issuing around 300,000 pounds, a balance that they had hoped to pay off by issuing even more paper money. Parliament proceeded to bar all future issues of this form of currency in America, and New Jersey, the colony with the largest per capita debt, was now faced with paying off their balance by direct taxation.
They were enraged to be disbursing high taxes to their legislature but became even more infuriated when the Parliament began, for the first time, to tax Americans as well. They presented them with the Stamp Act, a law that taxed newspapers and a wide range of legal documents. Though New Jersey protests were mild, they made it clear that they were opposed to this act. Even lawyers of the colony declared that they would “cease all legal activity in the colony… rather than pay the tax”.
The Townsend Acts of 1768, another attempt to tax Americans, was greeted by New Jersey, as well as other colonies, with a boycott against British manufacturers. The fact is, though, that Jerseyans had enjoyed the protection of England without being taxed for many years, and when their assistance was finally requested to pay of the mother country’s debt, they were unwilling to let go of this cushy plan. 12 Once again, during the Revolutionary War, the residents of New Jersey resisted paying taxes that actually supported the fight for independence, and the group that suffered this time was their own army. In 1775 the Provincial Congress had its second meeting, at which it found necessary to raise thirty thousand pounds in new taxes in order to form sixteen regimes, seven independent battalions, and a company of rangers. Of course, when Congress asked Jersey men for their support, they were answered with a resounding no. Then, while in Morristown, the army suffered through the worst winters of the century while their supply system collapsed because Congress had stopped printing money in order to decrease inflation.
New Jersey soldiers found themselves living in poverty and hunger, and still, the state that they were protecting refused to pay taxes to relieve them. In fact, the legislature hesitated to impose them for fear of alienating their citizens. 13 Another theme in New Jersey history that Flemming examines is the tension between aristocrats and the average man. Lord John Berkley and Sir George Carteret, the two proprietors who were granted New Jersey, certainly felt this clash of classes when settlers refused to pay them quitrents. A proprietary government was not a popular idea among Jerseyans, many of who disapproved of their aristocratic privileges and felt that they had earned nothing to deserve power in New Jersey.
In fact, many of the colonists were descendents of men and women who had escaped England before the Civil War to escape aristocratic persecution for their refusal to join the Anglican Church. 14 Voting was also a mounting issue between the proprietors and the average man, or anti-proprietor. In both East and West Jersey, proprietors attempted to keep their enemies out of the political process, denying them this right by stating that only someone with a land title could vote. Even when the anti-proprietors finally won control of the assembly, their enemies, who had the power to choose the judges, retained control of the courts.
These appointed judges consistently back the proprietors in suits over contested land, often reversing the decisions of juries. Consequently, the people retaliated with their only defense, mob violence. 15 Proprietors also tended to corrupt the political process in order gain power over the common man. When a proprietor found himself lagging behind his foe in an election, the sheriff had the power to suspend the election for days at a time in order to give the proprietor a chance to increase his votes.
Another abused technique was known as “colonizing”. Dozens of men from distant counties were imported to Perth Amboy on election day and were granted a sliver of land in exchange for their vote for the proprietor. 16 Eventually, the battle between proprietors and common men lessened, but New Jersey’s industrial growth and the government’s initial support of monopolies created another similar clash, this time between the industrial aristocrat and the common man. Though technology began to advance after the civil war, it caused the increase in human exploitation. In Paterson, industrialists held absolute control over their workers. The Society of Useful Manufactures formed at a time when this town did not even have its own government, and the S.U.M. was quick to makes its presence and power known by owning and running everything.
When Paterson finally did receive a town charter, it gave only minimal powers to the common people and permitted the S.U.M. to maintain its tax-free status. This new form of aristocracy was actually worse than the proprietors. The industrialists were isolated from the government and seemed to get away with anything. They abused every ounce of power that they could attain, “corrupted the legislature, the courts, and the newspapers to maintain their advantages”. Like the land-monopolizing proprietors of the eighteenth century, they would reap a whirlwind of violence”. 17 Though Flemming analyzes many important points of New Jersey history, one missing element in his account is the creation of a picture of what New Jersey looked like during its developing years.
The most he dedicates to this less than a page, in which he describes how the state had acquired the nickname, “the Garden Colony. He describes the cultivated farms in the Raritan and Hackensack valleys, the richness of New Jersey’s soil, and the falls of the Passaic very briefly, and never quite illustrates the environmental changes that occurred during the Industrial Revolution besides stating that many roads were developed. 18 By reading a book that concentrates on the beauty that New Jersey once and still has in a smaller portion, though, it is easier to understand what initially attracted settlers. In The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee, a picture is painted of old New Jersey, where forests of pine, cedar and oak thrived. Flemming’s major misconception, though, is his claim that the Civil War revealed New Jersey’s tendency to lean towards being a border state, “in heart and mind, in politics and economics… separated only by and accident of geography from the rebellious South”.
20 He supports this reasoning with facts about geography and the economy, but one cannot rely on these facts to see the New Jersey’s true outlook on slavery. It is easy to see, though, why he, as well as many other historians, would follow this assumption. In Jersey Blue, William Gillette points out this rationalization as well as its pitfalls. New Jerseyans, like the southerners, held a firm belief in state rights as well as the right of secession. The extreme southern part of this state was also well below the Mason-Dixon line, and it was also the last state north of this line to abolish slaver in the antebellum years. New Jersey factories also manufactured many products for southern trade, one of the few facts that Flemming uses to support his view.
The fact, though, is that even though these statements hold some truth, they are presented one-sided. Not only is the claim that New Jersey was the only northern state that somewhat relied on the South for economic stability false, much of their improvement and prosperity was actually primarily due to their location between New York and Philadelphia. Furthermore, once cannot prove that trade patterns establish political positions. 21 There are five main reasons, though, as to why New Jersey did not join the abolitionist movement. Jerseyans preferred “caution, not heedless, dangerous radicalism, unilateral idealism that nullified an obnoxious federal law at will”, and the majority of their religious denominations also did not tend to back abolitionism. The state also did not have a substantial northern territory, as the other free border states did, and its immigration, by the time the abolitionist movement was born, had been reduced to New Jersey’s native born.
Most importantly, though, was that Jerseyans eliminated their slaves by law through gradual steps, allowing abolishment to occur by peaceful means instead of detrimental ones. 22 It is true that abolitionism was not a major issue in New Jersey politics during the antebellum period, but this did not mean sympathy or support of slavery. The majority of New Jerseyans, in fact, looked down upon and distrusted slave owners. Flemming even mentions New Jersey slavery sympathists, such as Quaker John Woolman, a resident of Mount Holly, New Jersey, who began the antislavery movement in America by publishing a pamphlet called Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes: Recommended to the Professors of Christianity. In the years before the Revolution, he and other Jersey Quakers presented a number of petitions to the legislature asking for new laws prohibiting the importation of slaves and allowing them to be freed without posting the two hundred pound bond that was required. 23 Flemming’s historical account of New Jersey provides a clear picture of the politics and economy of New Jersey, but at the same time leaves out pieces of history.
To his credit, though, he presents an unbiased view of both sides during the revolutionary and civil war, allowing the reader to understand the positives and negatives of the opposing points of view. Perhaps, though, it would be more appropriate to call his book An Abbreviated History of New Jersey, instead, because the title of his book, itself, is a misconception.
Citations 1. Flemming, 4 2. Clemens, 13 3. Clemens, 15 4. Flemming, 49 5. Leiby, 15 6. Flemming, 45 7. Flemming, 49 8. Flemming, 27 9. Flemming, 31-32 10. Flemming, 57-58 11. Flemming, 9-10 12. Flemming, 41-45 13. Flemming, 74 14. Flemming, 9-10 15. Flemming, 15-16 16. Flemming, 27 17. Flemming, 110-112 18. Flemming, 41 19. McPhee, 20. Flemming, 116 21. Gillette, 3-10 22. Gillette, lecture 12 23. Flemming, 41-42.