The setting of the play is circa 1647, on the day when Pieter Stuyvesant is to assume the title of Governor of New Amsterdam. The day also happens to be Hanging Day, and the council of the city have a hard time finding somebody to hang, despite several of them being guilty of hanging offenses. There is also a hero, Brom Broeck, a poor knife-sharpener who is in love with Mynheer Tienhoven's daughter and suffers from a strange disorder which brings him into conflict first with the council and then with Stuyvesant. Ever since coming to America, Brom has found himself unable to take orders from anybody.
A film version was released in 1944.
- Arranged Marriage: Mynheer Tienhoven arranges for his daughter Tina to marry Governor Stuyvesant, though she remains in love with The Hero, Brom.
- Cardboard Prison: The council find that they have nobody to hang on Hanging Day because all the inmates of the jail got out through a hole. The hole, cut by a previous prisoner, had been there at least since last December, but the councilmen couldn't agree who should fix it. The hole is closed with an iron grating just in time to prevent Brom from escaping.
- Democracy Is Flawed: The show's primary moral that a government run by a council of fat and stupid men is better than one run by a dictator.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Stuyvesant is depicted as a fascist dictator; the anachronism of this receives Lampshade Hanging.
- Hypocritical Humor: Particularly evident in Stuyvesant's New Era Speech.
- Lemony Narrator: The show begins with Washington Irving sitting down to write a history of old New Amsterdam. He wants his book to sell, so he'll make it amusing and romantic and avoid unsavory political details that might offend aristocratic descendants. He has to intervene in the action a couple of times to keep it that way.
- New Era Speech: Stuyvesant, upon becoming governor of New Amsterdam, makes a magnificently hypocritical speech, promising freedom of coercion to everyone so long as they do just as they are told and guaranteeing enough for every person to live on "unless it be my personal opinion that he is not worthy to live." The speech culminates in a Villain Song inaugurating "an age of strength through joy."
- Opening Chorus: "Clickety-Clack" is a typical opening chorus sung by Dutch Maidens washing the steps, though it's actually the second song in the show, the first being part of the long Opening Monologue.
- That's an Order!: Schermerhorn, the town marshal, tells Brom he will go to jail, without giving him a reason because no law can be found to hang him with. Brom asks Schermerhorn whether he is giving him an order, and Schermerhorn tries again: "Vill you go to jail? Please?" Brom doesn't take that as an order.
- Villain Love Song: Stuyvesant's "September Song."