Search billions of records on

The Welsh In Oneida County, New York  |  Evans  |  The Welsh and Politics |  21

To Oneida

  << Prev  Next >>

V. The Welsh and Politics

Two branches of the same stock could hardly differ more than do the Welsh and the Irish, and if there is one point of difference more marked than another, it is the attitude of the two peoples toward politics. That inborn aptitude for political things which characterizes the Irishman is lacking in the Welsh. Why that is so is no part of our subject, but the fact remains and is as true of the Welshman in America as of his brother in Wales. Where he has not been indifferent to politics, he has been opposed to the taking of any part in them further than voting.  Particularly has he had a prejudice against his preachers or members of the church intermeddling in political affairs. (1) As a result the strongest and the best men among them in America have paid little attention to the arts of politics and their race has had but slight representation in the affairs of government. Not that the Welsh have stood calmly by when any moral question had stood out clearly as an issue. The part they played in such cases will be considered presently. This indifference to politics has not been so marked in recent years; the younger generation has been educated by the schools, the older by the Welsh newspapers and both by their intercourse with those who are active in politics, to a fuller appreciation of their rights and duties as citizens. As they have become amalgamated with the Americans, they have tended to develop a larger interest in the governmental affairs of the country.

It is interesting to see what are the offices which have been filled by Welsh in Oneida County. (2) Up to 1850 no Welshman had been sent to the New York State Assembly from Oneida County; none of the sheriffs, save perhaps they ran elected that year, was a Welshman and none of the county clerks had been of Welsh blood. The only Welsh district attorney could claim but a portion of his ancestors among the Welsh and they had long lived in America. The same was true of the only Welshman among the surrogates of the county. (3) This almost total absence from the politics of the county must not be ascribed entirely to the Welsh distaste for politics. It is to be remembered that among the early comers but a small proportion was familiar with the English language and had, therefore, little opportunity to mix in politics. And for the most part they were farmers and mechanics unfitted by education to fill the offices of surrogate, county clerk, district attorney or member of assembly.

The next half-century, when the second generation had matured, saw a much greater number of Welsh in the politics of the county, but the records are not available to demonstrate it. The Welshman took a somewhat larger part in local politics. In Remsen none of the offices of account was filled by a Welshman until 1839, when Evan Owens became supervisor. From then on this office was held almost continuously by Welshmen. (4) But it is to be remembered that for the most of this time three-fourths at least of the inhabitants were Welsh. In Floyd township there was a strong settlement of Welsh and yet not until 1874 do we find a Welsh name among the supervisors. (5) We can hardly imagine, if there had been a similar settlement of Irish in the town, that the list would not have been well filled with O'Briens and Murphys long before 1874.

Tradition has it in Oneida County that the Welsh voted with the Whig Party so long as that party lasted. But this is much to be doubted. It is more likely that they were nearly evenly divided, though any preponderance would be with the Whigs. The votes in Remsen and Steuben for governor of the state furnish good evidence for an estimate. In these two townships during the period it seems fair to count the Welsh as close to three-fourths of the total vote, (6) and the results obtained do not warrant the statement that the Welsh as a body of Whigs. The table from Pomroy Jones shows the votes in Remsen and Steuben for governor of New York State from 1836 to 1850. (7)

So the Welsh stood in politics in 1840, a small majority perhaps for the Whigs. In that year was begun the abolition movement among them which was destined to excite more political feeling than any thing before or after. Up to that time little attention was paid by the Welsh to the subject of slavery. They were opposed to the institution on principle but it did not immediately concern them and they were content to leave it alone. They had no more love for the abolitionist than the ordinary Northerner at that time. The few abolitionists among the Welsh in Oneida who had agitated the subject during 1839 had received very little sympathy. (8) They were thought a group of dreaming radicals and ignored. The Welsh were soon, however, to find this small group growing, and the principles of abolition were soon to become a live issue among them.

Robert Everett, the editor of
Y Cenhadwr from its establishment in 1840, had been interested in the cause of the slave even before coming to this country. He had welcomed anti-slavery speakers in his church at Winfield and had observed keenly the slavery controversies in Congress. By 1840 he had concluded that there was no hope for action against slavery in the Democratic or Whig parties and so had abandoned the Whigs for the Liberty Party, formed that year. (9) He was not of that radical type of abolitionist that was represented by William Floyd Garrison. He urged the sin of slavery and considered it would be a great gain for the South should their slaves be emancipated at once, but he recognized the limitation of government and was content to urge the abolition of the interstate slave trade and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and slavery in the districts under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

When Everett began editing
Y Cenhadwr in 1840, he found the Welsh nominally hostile to slavery, but really paying little attention to it and voting regularly with the Whig and Democratic parties which refused to do aught for the limitation or destruction of it. Indeed both parties were resolutely ignoring the slavery question. Nothing was being done by either of the parties to aid the slave and Everett, with the power of his magazine to work with, felt unable to remain quiet. He had to show to his fellow Welshmen the need for action in the cause of the slave and to convince them that abolition measures were necessary. In the first year of Y Cenhadwr he gave but little space to anti-slavery articles, perhaps because he was restrained by the two other editors, (10) but with the second year, when he had almost complete control, the whole power of the paper was brought to the support of anti-slavery. At first with articles showing the sin and cruelty of slavery, the Cenhadwr soon was demanding reform, that abolition measures be taken. Everett had to educate his brother Welshmen to the position he occupied and it was not to be done in a day.

Through Everett's efforts in
Y Cenhadwr and the work of the English abolitionists in the Friend of Man, which was published in Utica, a few Welsh began gradually to come over to the cause led by their pastors. December 27th, 1841 there was organized in the Welsh Congregational Church of Utica a Welsh Anti-slavery Society. Seventeen members made up the society and at a second meeting, January 10th of the following year, twenty more joined. The Society among other resolutions voted: "That it is a duty resting upon as a Welsh nation to endeavor to free the slaves in the United States" and took the following pledge: "We whose names are below for the purpose of securing the freedom to the slaves in America and the restoration of freedom to the country, bind ourselves to exhort to the extent of our power; to enlighten and convince our fellow countrymen of the truth of human freedom; we promise to consider the cause our very own for the purpose that we may endeavor to the extent of our power to win others to the cause of anti-slavery; and we who have the suffrage, promise to vote for those nominated for office by the anti-slavery party, unless we believe that the candidate or candidates are unfit for office. (11)

The example of the Utica society was soon followed by the band of converts which followed Everett's lead in Steuben. At Capel Ucha, his church, they met in the evening of January 27, 1842 and formed the "Welsh Anti-Slavery Society of Steuben, Remsen, Trenton and Vicinities". Everett was made president and Reverend J. W. Jones treasurer. The resolutions adopted were similar to those of the Utica society. It is not known how many joined the society, but the number was small. (12) Two years later a third anti-slavery society was established among the Welsh, this one in Holland Patent. (13)

Cenhadwr supported and encouraged these societies and in January 1843 Everett began issuing Y Dyngarwr, a small monthly devoted to the interests of anti-slavery and temperance. Many articles showing the evils of slavery and the need of abolition were given, for which there was not room in Y Cenhadwr. Everett, recognizing the important part which the Welsh ministers could play in forming the ideas of their people, send Y Dyngarwr to them free. When, from lack of support, he was forced to give up its publication at the end of 1843, he still continued his work for anti-slavery in Y Cenhadwr.

Though Everett and his co-laborers were working diligently, they found but few converts and met with much opposition. In 1840 the Liberty Party, which was the party of the abolitionists, save those of the radicals like Garrison, received but two votes in Remsen and three in Steuben. A year's work by the abolitionists showed slight results when at the next election in 1841 seven from Remsen and six from Steuben were with the Liberty Party. (14) Everett had felt opposition keenly in the falling off of the subscription list of the
Cenhadwr. Most of the Welsh in the south and the border states refused longer to take the magazine after anti-slavery articles began appearing in it and many of their northern sympathizers also ceased their support. Everett's family had to exist on the smallest sum possible, while all available funds were used in the support of Y Cenhadwr, which showed a deficit each year. It was partly the fear that his list would continue to fall off and he would have to give up altogether the publication of the magazine, primarily a religious paper for the Welsh Congregationalists, that induced Everett to establish Y Dyngarwr, putting in it many anti-slavery articles that otherwise would have appeared in Y Cenhadwr.

Everett and the others kept up their fight for abolition and the Liberty Party and soon they had won to their support Morris Roberts of Remsen, aside from Everett himself, the strongest and most influential of the Welsh Congregational ministers of Oneida. It was a movement in which the leaders were at first far ahead of their followers, and though it was joined shortly by James Griffiths and Samuel Williams, the Congregational pastors at Utica and Deerfield respectively, the rank and file still remained faithful to the old parties.

<< Prev  Next >>