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Buffalo Convention

Spirit of the Times Batavia, Genesee County, New York State

February 16,1827

Agreeable to notices given in every town in the district of country called the Holland Purchase, comprising the counties of Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Chautauque, Cataraugus, and Allegany; delegates, (to the number of one hundred and forty,) from every town excepting four, attended at the Court House, Buffalo, on Wednesday last; when General Peter B. Porter, was chosen President, and S. Cumings, Esq. of Batavia, and John Dexter, Esq., of Mayville, appointed Secretaries.

A Committee of three from each County was appointed to report resolutions, and the Convention adjourned till 9 o'clock on Thursday morning. They re-assembled on Thursday and adopted the following Address and Resolutions:--

The committee have given to the subject referred to them on yesterday the most deliberate and anxious examination. The present assemblage of citizens of the first intelligence from every part of the Holland Purchase, has enabled them to obtain the most satisfactory information in regard to the state of the country. These gentlemen concur in representing the inhabitants of their respective towns, as deeply and almost universally indebted to the Holland company; as greatly impoverished by the constant calls of that debt, and the heavy contributions which they are obliged to make for roads and other public improvements; and depressed and discouraged by the general gloom which the extraordinary policy of that company has spread over the whole face of the country.

Such is the uniformity of the condition among the inhabitants of every part of the purchase, that a description of the affairs of a single settler will present a fair picture, with some slight shades of difference, of the pecuniary situation of two thirds, of our population.

This settler comes into the country some twelve or fifteen years ago, and entered into a contract with the agent of the Holland company for the purchase of 200 acres of wild and heavily timbered land, at the price of four dollars an acre, payable in six or eight yearly instalments, subject to an annual interest of seven per cent, on the whole. He was, at that time, in the prime and vigor of life, and brought with him, as the sum of his earthly possessions, and the basis of his future fortunes, a wife and perhaps one or two young children; with a few hundred dollars worth of property consisting of some necessary articles of household furniture, a poor supply of farming utensels, and a dozen head of oxen cows and sheep. By fifteen years of unremitted labor, aided by the most rigid economy, he has been able to reclaim and bring into a state of cultivation, forty or fifty acres, of his land--to feed and clothe his family--to erect indifferent buildings for their protection--to meet series of taxes and contributions which, if imposed on an independent farmer in the more improved parts of the country, would be deemed appropriate, and to pay one half or three quarters of the accruing interest on his land debt.

He now finds that his family has increased upon him in number & expense; that his physical powers are materialy impaired if not entirely wasted by labor and privation; that his buildings are in state of dilapidation; that his debt to the Holland company, which was originally $800, has by the accumulation of interest beyond what he has been able to meet, increased to 1000, or 1200 dollars; and that in the mean time, the general condition of the country as regards the comforts and advantages of civilization and improvement has been but little ameliorated. His only means, in prospect, for the discharge of his land debt, are dependent on the sale of the few products of his farm that will bear transportation to the market; and, generally speaking, the distance to this market is so great, and the state of the roads so wretched that he often fails to realize from sales of beef, pork, wheat, corn, oats, flax and wool, which are the staple commodities of the country, more than the actual cost of their production. The heavy articles of wood and timber in which his land abounds, and the minor commodities which are important items of thrift and wealth to farmers who live in the neighborhood of towns, such as butter, cheese, milk, veal, pigs, poultry, garden and field vegetables, &c. are sources of no profit to him, because he is not within reach of buyers and consumers. And this settler is now seriously balancing in his own mind, whether he shall, with his family, abandon the fruits of fifteen years of labor, and seek a more auspicious country; or remain where he is, a prey to the caprice of the Holland company.

The radical error in the system of this company is exhibited in their uncreasing effort to seize and abstract from the country the whole of its available capital. The capital of a farmer consists in his horses, oxen, cows, and sheep, carts, waggons, ploughs, and labor-saving machines, without the use of which it is impossible for him to reclaim and render his land productive, and successfully compete with farmers in other parts of the country who are in a situation to avail themselves of these advantages.--But the moment a settler is discovered to be in possession of property of this description, the mistaken seal of the a_ents to make the utmost possible collections for the company often drives him to the necessity of disposing of them and thus dispossess him of the means of a profitable cultivation on his farm--or of the farm itself.

The art however of settling a new country and rearing it to a sate of prosperity and independence, is not confined to the mere science of husbandry, or the business of clearing and cultivating the soil, but embraces, also, the policy of providing a market for the advantageous disposal of its products. The obvious measures which this policy dictates are, the construction of good roads, and other facilities of travel and transportation; establishment of towns; and introduction of labor-saving machines, for the encouragement of commerce and manufactures, which are the hand maids of agriculture, and without the aid and co-operation of which it cannot flourish.

The Holland Company have not only neglected to devote any part of their capital to objects of this kind, but have effectually prevented its introduction from abroad, by referring those encouragements to men of enterprise and wealth, which they have been sure to meet with in every other part of the country: and the consequence is, that the Holland Purchase, provided by nature with all the requisites to make it the garden of the state, actually exhibits, at this time, less evidences of enterprise and improvement, than are to be found on the most sterile tracts within our boundaries.

The embarassments which the intrinsic defects in the policy of the company, have brought on the inhabitants, have been greatly augmented by the operations of the new system of settlement lately adopted by the United States,--who are now selling lands of equal quality and situation, at the distance of one day's sail to the west, for less than half the prices charged by the Holland Company. For the last four years, hordes of emigrants, amply provided with money and means for the improvement of a new country, have been passing through our territory, while scarcely an individual who possessed the means of continuing his journey, has deigned to stop on the Holland Purchase: and yet this disheartening spectacle appears to have been viewed with the most stoic indifference by the Company, who have adopted no correspondent measures to countervail the effects of this new policy of the United States.

 

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The committee are unanimously and thoroughly convinced that the country does not, at this time, possess the means of paying one half of its land debts: and that a perseverance in the present policy of the Company will be calculated to diminish, rather than increase the future ability of the settlers to meet their engagements. And, delicate as the subject confessedly is, we ought not perhaps on this occasion to suppress the expression of our fears, that the measures recently resorted to, of expelling by legal process, whole families from land, and possessions on which they have spent years of labor and perhaps made considerable payment, because they cannot perform impossibilities, will, if persisted in, produce a state of feeling and excitement dangerous to the tranquility, as well as subversive of the prosperity of the country. Such fears were entertained, and openly and forcibly expressed on the floor of Congress, in relation to a class of settlers similarly situated, and had no small influence in producing the recent change in the land system of the United States. To tell these suffering and disappointed men that these coercive measures are only the remedies which the law has prescribed for the violation of contracts voluntarily entered into, and that the agents have not the power to compromise with misfortunes, & arrest the operations of law, neither satisfies their reason, nor assuages their feelings. If the settlers are culpable for entering into engagements which it is out of their power to fulfill, the company are scarcely less so, in a moral point of view at least for having excited such engagements. They invited these people to their lands, with a perfect knowledge that they had no means of paying for them, other than those which the land itself would furnish; and encourage them to believe that their means were ample. Nine tenths of the settlers at the time of their arrival o the purchase, were entire strangers to the economy of settling a new country. They saw that the lands were rich, and that nothing was required to render them productive but to fell the timber and reclaim the soil, which they possessed the physical power of effecting. They therefore bound themselves to pay the price exacted by the company, rather because it was exacted, and because other settlers, as ignorant as themselves of the capacities of an uncultivated country had agreed to pay the same, than from their own estimates of a species of property to which they had not been accustomed, and the value of which must depend on various future contingencies, and on no one more than on the conduct of the venders themselves.

Your committe are of opinion that under the present state of things, the only prompt & effectual remedy that can reach the great body of our population and restore the country to a state of health and vigor, must depend on the good sense and voluntary concessions of the company itself: and the immediate application of such a remedy would, in our humble belief, be as advantageous to the interest of the company, as it would be consolatory to the feelings of its debtors.

The agents of the company, as we have before intimated, are not ignorant of the fact that the great mass of settlers have no other means of paying their land debt, than the cultivation of the land itself will furnish; and the least knowledge of the motives of human action must convince them that, from the moment a settler discovers that his farm is charged with a debt beyond what these means can meet, the effect of the discovery will be to paralyze his ambition and relax his exertions; and thus deprive the company of the only fund and pledge which the nature and character of this kind of contract can ever give for the payment of any part of the debt.

That the lands of the Holland Company are thus overcharged has been proved after an experience of more than twenty years, by a body of settlers, no where surpassed in habits of industry and economy: and the universal conviction of this fact is already manifesting itself in the relaxed energies and general despondency that pervade the whole purchase. The remedy which we would respectfully suggest, and which we sincerely hope may be applied is--That the Holland Company should at once, make an important reduction in the prices of their unsold lands; and in the same proportion, relinquish a part of the nominal debt due from each settler, on condition of his appearing at the office within a given time, paying a fixed proportion of the remainder, and taking a new article for his farm on an extended credit, subject to the payment of an annual interest of five or six per cent. The benefits of such a change would not be more sensibly felt by the settler, in the diminution of his debt, than in the facilities which it would afford for the payment of what remains. The reduced price of land would at once attract the attention of emigrants, and arrest a large proportion of the capital now passing to the west, and give new life and vigor to our settlements. It would moreover enable the poorer classes of the present settlers to sell a portion of their lots, and improvements to those more wealthy adventurers, and thereby pay for the residue. The Committee believe that, if measures shall be taken to convey to the principals of the Holland Company a correct knowledge of the condition of their settlers (of which we have reason to believe they are at present in a state of ignorance) the disclosure will be followed by measures of relief not unlike those we have suggested: and we have accordingly recommended that a correspondence be opened with them for this purpose. But if they shall be so blinded to their interests as to refuse a compromise, we still think an appeal to the legislature, which is the constituted guardian of our rights, cannot fail to produce an important amelioration in the condition of those settlers at least, who have already adventured so much on their present possessions as to forbid an abandonment of them.

By far the most burdensome tax which the inhabitants of the Purchase are called on to pay, is that which is levied for the construction and repair of roads and bridges. This tax is raised either by one or two separate yearly assessments founded on different principles. The first, which may be called the primary road tax, is of a mixed character, and consists of a personal or capitation tax of two days labor to each inhabitant, and a property tax on the same individuals proportioned to the value of their respective estates, and may and often does, amount to an assessment of 40 days labor to a single person. It is confined exclusively to residents, and its aggregate amount on the whole, Holland Purchase, is estimated at raising of $100,000 annually. The other, which may be called the supplemental tax, is optional with the inhabitants of the respective towns, who (in addition to the primary tax) are authorised to raise the sum not exceeding $250, to be levied on the whole property of the town, whether owned by residents or non-residents. But in most instances the primary tax, which cannot be dispensed with operates so severely as to forbid the imposition of the supplemental tax, in which case non-residents are entirely exempted from the road tax. It is a general rule that property should be taxed in proportion to its productiveness--and hence the modern practice of taxing income. But it is not a little singular that, in direct violation of this principle, the basis of the road tax imposed on inhabitants of this Purchase, is the estimated value of property, the principal item of which is the farm on which he lives; which he has never paid for, and which is still actually the property of the Holland company. Instead, therefore, of paying taxes, on income, or even on property, he is actually paying them on a debt for which debt he is at the same time paying interest, while the real proprietor of his farm, as well as the adjoining lands for whose benefit these monies are raised and expended, pays nothing.

Such are the general views which the committee have taken of the important subject referred to them; and in conformity with these views we beg leave to submit to the convention the following resolutions for its consideration and adoption.

Resolved, That the purposes for which this convention has been organized, will require the continuation of its powers and functions until its objects shall have been accomplished; and it is therefore declared that the association, which shall hereafter bear the name of "The Agrarian Convention of the Holland Purchase," shall be continued from year to year, until formally dissolved by its own act; that it shall open annually at the Village of Buffalo, (unless some other place shall hereafter be assigned,) on the first Wednesday of January; and at such other times and places as, by special act or provision of the association may be appointed; that the present members shall retain their situations until the close of the current year and until replaced by the election of new members; that it be recommended to the inhabitants of the respective towns on the purchase to choose annually in the month of December, members to serve in the convention of the succeeding year; and the seats of the existing members at the time of such election shall be thereby vacated at the close of the year, with the exception of those who for the time being may be members of any committee who shall retain their situations until the close of the succeeding January session, although they may not have been elected delegates for that __ . Resolved, That __ be appointed to consist, of f__ __ and to be called the comm___ __petitions and correspondence, with power to appoint and remove its own chairman.--It shall be the duty of this committee immediately to propose for the signatures of the members of this convention, a petition to our state legislature representing the unequal and oppressive operation of the present system of taxation, as applicable to the counties embraced in the Holland purchase; and the injustice of those provisions of the present law by which the property of the inhabitant of the purchase is subjected to the payments of a burthensome tax, for the support of roads, bridges, common schools and other public establishments, while property of precisely the same description belonging to the Holland Company and other non-residents and holders, is almost, entirely exempted from such taxation, and praying for such a modification of the law as shall render these public contributions more just and equal--the said committee shall also propose and cause to be printed a petition of similar import, to be circulated for the subscription amongst the inhabitants of the purchase generally; said committe is also authorized and requested to despatch with all convenient speed, a sub-committee, to consist of not less than two nor more than five members, to the seat of government, to aid and co-operate with the members of the legislature from the counties of Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Erie, Chautauque, Cattaraugus, and Allegany, in effectuating the objects of such a petition. It shall also be the duty of the said committee to open a correspondence with the principals or agents of the Holland Company, or with both of them, to represent to them the depressed and embarrassed condition of the settlers on their lands, and the ruinous effects of the policy which they are now pursuing, and to endeavor to effect a compromise of the debts now due, and such a change of system in regard to future sales of their land, as may best subserve the interests of both parties, and that they be authorised to send an agent to Philadelphia or to Holland, for the purposes of holding personal conferences, and better conducting the negotiations with which they are charged. And the said committee shall have the power to vary their measures & proceedings as circumstances may require. And this convention hereby pledges itself to use its best exertions to provide funds for paying or reimbursing the necessary expenses which said committee may incur in the discharge of their duties.

Resolved, That a committee be appointed, to consist of fifteen members, of whom each county shall furnish at least one, and to be called the committee of Finance and accounts with similar powers in regard to its chairman. It shall be the duty of this committee, immediately to open a subscription amongst the members of this convention and other citizens now assembled at this place, for the purpose of raising the necessary funds to defray the expenses of printing, &c. that shall have been incurred in the business of this convention, up to the close of its present session. They shall make an estimate of the probable expenses to be incurred by this convention and its committees during the current year; apportion the same from the best data in their possession among the several towns on the purchase, according to their supposed population and wealth; appoint a collector in each town, and furnish him with a subscription roll and the amount to be raised by him. They shall also appoint a treasurer, to whom the several subscription lists and monies collected shall be returned, and it shall be their duty to audit and pay out of monies thus collected for the necessary contingent expenses of the convention and of the committees employed in its service. The preceding committees shall respectively prepare and present in writing to this convention on the first day of its next meeting, detailed reports of their proceedings; and similar reports shall be required at all subsequent meetings of the Convention. Resolved, That the Committee of Petitions and Correspondence is hereby vested with a discretionary power to call special meetings of this Convention, giving not less than thirty days notice of the time and place of meeting in the several newspapers printed on the Purchase, and sending by mail or otherwise copies of such notices to the Sheriffs of the respective counties.

P.B. Porter, President, S. Cumings, J. Dexter, Secretaries. *

-Submitted by Linda C. Schmidt

 

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