New York City History – Peace and Prosperity (1815 – 1825)


With the restoration of tranquility the whole aspect of New York City was transformed as if by magic. Stores and warehouses long closed were freshly furbished and thrown open, newspapers were filled with advertisements, government stocks advanced, streets became clogged with vehicles once more, the hum of industry was heard on every side, and men with starving families found ready employment. The ship-yards were literally alive, and commerce plumed her white wings in preparation for flight to all quarters of the globe. The harbor was a peculiarly animated picture as the ice disappeared; and its beauty and its magnitude were appreciated as never before. “Neither Naples nor Constantinople united the various advantages of sea and river communication for which New York is distinguished,” wrote an English annalist of the period; while another writer described the “capacious bay formed by the conflux of the two great rivers and surrounded by protecting headlands,* as sufficiently extensive to “float in perfect safety all the combined navies of the world.”

The population of New York City, according to the census taken in 1814, was a fraction over 92,000, inclusive of nearly one thousand negro slaves. The war had interrupted public improvements of every description, as well as the general business of the metropolis. But the city was still wealthy with the fruits of her wonderful progress since the Revolution, and her leading citizens had lost none of their broad intelligence, liberal views, and energetic activity. The talent, enterprise, and genius of all America poured in; and those who were fortunate enough to obtain a foothold, quickly embodied the spirit of the New York people. Capital was not confined exclusively to business, nor to the city limits; it began, almost simultaneously with the marvelous leap of the city forward on her grand career of prosperity, to flow into works of internal improvement all over the country in never-ceasing streams.

The treaty of peace was ratified by the President on the 17th of February. The corporation of New York appointed the 19th as a day of prayer and thanksgiving to be observed by the various churches of the city and the religious observances were of peculiar solemnity and interest. By order of the corporation, also, a grand illumination of the “City Hall and all inhabited dwellings” took place on the evening of the 22d, attended by a most brilliant and costly display of fireworks. As soon as preparations could be perfected, a “superb ball” was given in honor of the joyful peace. Washington Hall, in Broadway, contained a great dancing-room, sixty by eighty feet, which was arranged for this occasion to present the appearance of a magnificent pavilion or temple, with eighteen pillars, on each of which was the name of a State; it was styled the “Temple of Concord.” At the end of the room, under a canopy of flags, and surrounded with orange and lemon trees filled with fruit, was the “Bower of Peace.” The guests numbered six hundred, and the newspapers of the day pronounced the scene “a picture of feminine loveliness, beauty, fashion, and elegance not to be surpassed in America”

The glad tidings of peace was received in Canada with transports of delight; and there was great rejoicing in England. The treaty had not secured all that was desired. Neither country was exactly satisfied with the particular details of the agreement, but it guaranteed the positive and permanent independence of the United States, and the perpetuation and growth of free institutions. It was, moreover, an acknowledgement on the part of the Great Britain of the existence of a formidable rival for the supremacy of the seas.
Its first article provided for the termination of hostilities by land and by sea. The second related to the period after which the capture of prizes should be deemed invalid. By the third article all prisoners of war taken on either side were to be restored as soon as practicable after the rectifications of the treaty. By the fourth, the conflicting claims of the two nations in reference to islands in the bay of Passamaquoody were referred to two commissioners who should be appointed, one from each government. The fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth articles, related to questions of boundary. By the ninth, it was agreed that both parties should put an end to hostilities with the Indians. The tenth related to the traffic in negro slaves, to promote the entire abolition of which both parties agreed to use their best endeavors. Singular as it may seem, no mention was made in the treaty of the causes which led to the quarrel. Great Britain quietly abandoned her encroachments upon American commerce, and the right of search and impressment was heard no more.

The American diplomatists at Ghent gave a public dinner to the ministers from Great Britain prior to leaving the continent; the Intendant of Ghent, and numerous distinguished gentlemen were present. Everything indicated that the most perfect reconciliation had taken place between the two nations. Lord Gambier arose to give the first toast, “The United States of North America,” but was prevented by the courtesy of John Quincy Adams, who gave, “His Majesty, the King of England” upon which the music struck up “God, save the King.” Lord Gambier then gave as a second toast, “The United States, etc,” and the music played “Hail Columbia.” A supplement to the treaty for the regulation of commercial intercourse was to be negotiated in London, and Gallatin and Clay proceeded at once to that city. Adams waited for his family, then on a long and perilous journey from St. Petersburg to Paris, and thereby witnessed the meteoric return of Napoleon from Elba, who without firing a gun drove Louis XVIII, from the throne to which he had just been restored by the combined armies of the world. Ere long a commercial convention was signed, copied substantially from Jay’ treaty, but with an additional proviso for absolute reciprocity in the direct trade, by the abolition on both sides of all discrimination. This convention was ratified by the President on the 22d of December, and has ever since formed the basis of
commerce and trade between the two countries.

Prior to the adjournment of Congress, measures were taken for the adjustment of national affairs in accordance with the new order of things. An appropriation was made for rebuilding the public edifices lately burned by the British in Washington. System of finance were discussed for the maintenance of the public credit and the extinction of the national debt, amounting to $120,00,000; and diplomatic relations were re-established with the nations of Europe. John Quincy Adams was appointed minister to the Court of St. James, and was regarded in England as a statesman of unsurpassed general information, with a critical knowledge of the politics of the world. Albert Gallatin, whose gifts in diplomacy had been of signal value when the scales were trembling in the balance, was sent to France. William Harris Crawford having asked permission to return; and James A. Bayard was appointed to succeed Adams at St. Petersburg, but as seized with an alarming
illness and hastened home to die.

The devastating effects of the war were severely felt in New York. And yet the interruption to foreign trade had given birth to many branches of domestic manufacture. The people on the borders of the state were in serious distress, and appealed to the city for relief. It was only a few months since upwards of seven thousand dollars had been sent to the sufferers on the Niagara frontier alone, of which three thousand was voted by the corporation, three thousand raised by private subscription, and the balance contributed by the Episcopal churches. Steps were taken to meet the fresh demand, and philanthropists and philosophers consoled themselves, at first with the glaring ostentation of brilliant and heroic achievements destined to reflect the highest luster upon the American name, and rank the United States among the first nations of the earth and then in the study of their lasting significance.

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