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Second Earl of Limerick, b. 1634, at Castletown Kildrought, now Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland ; d. at London, 1715. He was the youngest son of Sir John Dongan, Baronet, Member of the Irish Parliament; an uncle, Richard Talbot, was afterwards created Earl of Tyrconnel, Lieutenant-Governor of Ireland ; and another, Sir Robert, married Grace, daughter of Lord Calvert, Baron of Baltimore. At the death of Charles I, the family, devoted to the Stuarts, removed to France. Thomas served in an Irish regiment, participated in all Turenne's campaigns under the name of D'Unguent and rose to the rank of colonel in 1674. After the Treaty of Nimeguen (1678) he returned to England in obedience to the order of the English Government recalling all British subjects in French service. Through the Duke of York, a fellow-officer under Turenne, he was appointed to high rank in the army designated for service in Flanders, and was granted an annual pension of £500. The same year (1678) he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Tangiers. In 1682 the Duke of York, the Lord Proprietor, selected Dongan to govern the Province of New York, then bankrupt and in a state of rebellion. In this office Dongan proved himself an able lawgiver, and left an indelible mark on political and constitutional history. He convened the first representative assembly of New York Province on 14 Oct., 1683, at Fort James within the present boundaries of the city of New York. This assembly, under the wise supervision of Dongan, passed an act entitled "A Charter of Liberties"; decreed that the supreme legislative power under the Duke of York shall reside in a governor, council, and the people convened in general assembly; conferred upon the members of the assembly rights and privileges making them a body coequal to and independent of the British Parliament; established town, county, and general courts of justice ; solemnly proclaimed the right of religious liberty; and passed acts enunciating certain constitutional liberties, e.g. no taxation without representation; taxes could be levied only by the people met in general assembly; right of suffrage; no martial law or quartering of the soldiers without the consent of the inhabitants; election by majority of votes; and the English law of real property.
Thus to Dongan's term as governor can be dated the Magna Charta of American constitutional liberties, for his system of government became the programme of continuous political agitation by the colonists of New York Province during the eighteenth century. It developed naturally into the present state government, and many of its principles passed into the framework of the Federal Government. Moreover, a rare tribute to his genius, the government imposed by him on New York Province, 1683, was adopted by England after the American War of Independence as the framework of her colonial policy, and constitutes the present form of government in Canada, Australia, and the Transvaal. Dongan signed the Charter of Liberties 30 Oct., 1683, and on the following day solemnly proclaimed it at the City Hall of New York City. The Duke of York signed and sealed the Charter 4 Oct., 1684; but never returned it, probably for reasons of prudence, for at the time Charles II had, by a quo warranto proceeding, abolished the Charters of New England, and the Charter of Pennsylvania granted in 1684 distinctly admits the right of Parliament to tax the colonies. Dongan established the boundary lines of the province by settling disputes with Connecticut on the East, with the French Governor of Canada on the North, with Pennsylvania on the South, thus marking out the present limits of New York State. By treaty with the Indians made at Albany, New York, 1684, in presence of Lord Howard, Governor of Virginia, Dongan obtained the written submission of the Iroquois to the Great Sachem Charles, on two white deer-skins, and outlined the masterly Indian policy which kept the Five Nations friends of England and a barrier between the English and French possessions in North America, a policy afterwards maintained with success by Sir William Johnson. At the death of Charles II, 1685, James Duke of York was proclaimed king, and New York became a royal province.
The Board of Trade and Plantations, under whose supervision the province passed, vetoed the Charter of Liberties and James approved the veto. The colonists were disappointed, but such was the moral strength of Governor Dongan that we find no trace of popular resentment. In 1685 Dongan established a post office in New York for the better correspondence of the colonies in America. In 1686 he granted charters to the cities of New York and Albany ; the former remained unchanged for 135 years and forms the basis of the existing city government; the latter was superseded only in 1870, notwithstanding the extraordinary development in civil and political institutions. Dongan established a college under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers Harvey (his own private chaplain ), Harrison, and Gage in New York City, and advised that the King's Farm, a tract beyond the walls of the then existing city, be set aside for its maintenance. The king vetoed the grant, and in 1705 this land became the property of Trinity Church. He planned that a mission of English Jesuits be permanently established at Saratoga, New York, on land purchased by him for the purpose; that a settlement of Irish Catholics be founded in the centre of the Province; and that an expedition be made to explore the Mississippi River and take possession of the great valley then made known by the explorations of La Salle. These plans were set aside by the king.
In 1687, the Assembly of New York was dissolved by the king, and in 1688 Andros was appointed Governor of the consolidated Provinces of New York and New England. Dongan refused command of a regiment with the rank of major-general, retired to his estate on Staten Island, New York, but was obliged to flee for safety in the religious persecution aroused by Lesler in 1689. In 1691 he returned to England. By the death of his brother William (1698), late Governor of the Province of Munster, Ireland, whose only son, Colonel Walter, Lord Dongan, was killed at the battle of the Boyne, Dongan became Earl of Limerick. In 1702 he was recognized as successor to his brother's estates, but only on payment of claims of the purchasers from the Earl of Athlone. Dongan died poor and without direct heirs. By will, dated 1713, he provided that he be buried at an expense of not over £100, and left the residue of his estate to his niece, wife of Colonel Nugent, afterwards Marshal of France. The tribute of history to his personal charm, his integrity, and character, is outspoken and universal. His public papers give evidence of a keen mind and a sense of humour. He was a man of courage, tact, and capacity, an able diplomat, and a statesman of prudence and remarkable foresight. In spite the brief term of five years as Governor of New York Province, by virtue of the magnitude, of the enduring and far-reaching character of his achievements, he stands forth as one of the greatest constructive statesmen ever sent out by England for the government of any of her American colonial possessions.