To James Fenimore Cooper, who always felt himself to be a passionate advocate of democracy, property rights were vital to the democratic system. His most emphatic statements on the subject were made in a series of essays entitled THE AMERICAN DEMOCRAT (1838) where he stated: “As property is the base of all civilization, its existence and security are indispensable to social improvement.” In the 1830’s, he felt its “existence and security” were in grave jeopardy. In the 1840’s the situation, in Cooper’s view, became even worse and stimulated The Littlepage Trilogy, the first of which is SATANSTOE.
The initiating events were a series of antirent wars which took place in upper New York State from 1839 to 1846. The issue involved attempts by the rich descendants of early Dutch settlers to collect long neglected rent payments from tenant farmers who held their land through perpetual or long-term leaseholds. The tenants reacted strongly, even violently, against what they felt to be a grossly unfair arrangement, eventually winning the right to purchase their lands outright. Although Cooper felt the long-term leasehold system to be archaic and inefficient, he saw the antirent agitation as a threat to the rights of property itself, and so he fought against this latest evidence of “leveling” with the only weapon he had, his pen.
It was Cooper’s intention in the Littlepage Trilogy to follow a single family of landed...
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