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Alexander, De Alva Stanwood / A Political History of the State of New York, Volumes 1-3
file was produced from images generously made available
by Cornell University Digital Collections)

[Transcriber's Notes:

Inconsistent spellings and hyphenations such as "re-election" and
"reŽlection" have been conformed, and obvious typographical errors
have been corrected.

The original contains an index in Volume II covering Volumes I and II.
Volume III, which was published later, contains an index covering all
three volumes. Therefore, the Volume II index has been omitted.

The original of Volume III refers to both "Appleton's _Encyclopedia_"
and "Appleton's _Cyclopśdia_." The correct title, as used in Volumes I
and II, is "Appleton's _Cyclopśdia_" and has been corrected in Volume






_Member of Congress, Formerly United States Attorney for the Northern
District of New York_





Copyright, 1906


The preparation of this work was suggested to the author by the
difficulty he experienced in obtaining an accurate knowledge of the
movements of political parties and their leaders in the Empire State.
"After living a dozen years in New York," wrote Oliver Wolcott, who
had been one of Washington's Cabinet, and was afterwards governor of
Connecticut, "I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a
labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the
managers." Wolcott referred to the early decades of the last century,
when Clintonian and Bucktail, gradually absorbing the Federalists,
severed the old Republican party into warring factions. In later
years, Daniel S. Dickinson spoke of "the tangled web of New York
politics"; and Horace Greeley complained of "the zigzag, wavering
lines and uncouth political designations which puzzled and wearied
readers" from 1840 to 1860, when Democrats divided into Conservatives
and Radicals, Hunkers and Barnburners, and Hards and Softs; and when
Whigs were known as Conscience and Cotton, and Woollies and Silver
Grays. More recently James Parton, in his _Life of Andrew Jackson_,
speaks of "that most unfathomable of subjects, the politics of the
State of New York."

There is no attempt in this history to catalogue the prominent public
men of New York State. Such a list would itself fill a volume. It has
only been possible, in the limited space given to over a century, to
linger here and there in the company of the famous figures who rose
conspicuously above their fellow men and asserted themselves
masterfully in influencing public thought and action. Indeed, the
history of a State or nation is largely the history of a few leading
men, and it is of such men only, with some of their more prominent
contemporaries, that the author has attempted to write.

It would be hard to find in any Commonwealth of the Union a more
interesting or picturesque leadership than is presented in the
political history of the Empire State. Rarely more than two
controlling spirits appear at a time, and as these pass into apogee
younger men of approved capacity are ready to take their places. None
had a meteoric rise, but in his day each became an absolute party
boss; for the Constitution of 1777, by creating the Council of
Appointment, opened wide the door to bossism. The abolition of the
Council in 1821 doubtless made individual control more difficult, but
the system left its methods so deeply impressed upon party management
that what before was done under the sanction of law, ever after
continued under the cover of custom.

After the Revolution, George Clinton and Alexander Hamilton led the
opposing political forces, and while Aaron Burr was forging to the
front, the great genius of DeWitt Clinton, the nephew of George
Clinton, began asserting itself. The defeat of Burr for governor, and
the death of Hamilton would have left DeWitt Clinton in complete
control, had he found a strong man for governor whom he could use. In
1812 Martin Van Buren discovered superiority as a manager, and for
nearly two decades, until the death of the distinguished canal
builder, his great ability was taxed to its uttermost in the memorable
contests between Bucktails and Clintonians. Thurlow Weed succeeded
DeWitt Clinton in marshalling the forces opposed to Van Buren, whose
mantle gradually fell upon Horatio Seymour. Clustered about each of
these leaders, save DeWitt Clinton, was a coterie of distinguished men
whose power of intellect has made their names familiar in American
history. If DeWitt Clinton was without their aid, it was because
strong men in high position rebelled against becoming errand boys to
do his bidding. But the builder of the Erie canal needed no
lieutenants, since his great achievement, aiding the farmer and
enriching the merchant, overcame the power of Van Buren, the
popularity of Tompkins, and the phenomenal ability of the Albany

In treating the period from 1800 to 1830, the term "Democrat" is
purposely avoided, since all anti-federalist factions in New York
claimed to be "Republican." The Clay electors, in the campaign of
1824, adopted the title "Democrat Ticket," but in 1828, and for
several years after the formation of the Whig party in 1834, the
followers of Jackson, repudiating the title of Democrats, called
themselves Republicans.

For aid in supplying material for character and personal sketches, the
author is indebted to many "old citizens" whom he met during the years
he held the office of United States Attorney for the Northern District
of New York, when that district included the entire State north and
west of Albany. He takes this occasion, also, to express his deep
obligation to the faithful and courteous officials of the Library of
Congress, who, during the years he has been a member of Congress,
assisted him in searching for letters and other unindexed bits of New
York history which might throw some light upon subjects under

The author hopes to complete the work in an additional volume,
bringing it down to the year 1896.


BUFFALO, N.Y., March, 1906.




















XVII. BANKS AND BRIBERY. 1791-1812 186



XX. A GREAT WAR GOVERNOR. 1812-1815 219



















On the 16th of May, 1776, the second Continental Congress, preparing
the way for the Declaration of Independence, recommended that those
Colonies which were without a suitable form of government, should, to
meet the demands of war, adopt some sufficient organisation. The
patriot government of New York had not been wholly satisfactory. It
never lacked in the spirit of resistance to England's misrule, but it
had failed to justify the confident prophecies of those who had been
instrumental in its formation.

For nearly a year New York City saw with wonder the spectacle of a few
fearless radicals, organised into a vigilance committee of fifty,
closing the doors of a custom-house, guarding the gates of an arsenal,
embargoing vessels ladened with supplies for British troops, and
removing cannon from the Battery, while an English fleet, well
officered and manned, rode idly at anchor in New York harbour.
Inspiring as the spectacle was, however, it did not appreciably help
matters. On the contrary, it created so much friction among the people
that the conservative business men--resenting involuntary taxation,
yet wanting, if possible with honour, reconciliation and peace with
the mother country--organised, in May, 1774, a body of their own known
as the Committee of Fifty-one, which thought the time had come to
interrupt the assumed leadership of the Committee of Fifty. This
usurpation by one committee of powers that had been exercised by
another, caused the liveliest indignation.

The trouble between England and America had grown out of the need for
a continental revenue and the lack of a continental government with
taxing power--a weakness experienced throughout the Revolution and
under the Confederation. In the absence of such a government,
Parliament undertook to supply the place of such a power; but the
Americans blocked the way by an appeal to the principle that had been
asserted by Simon de Montford's Parliament in 1265 and admitted by
Edward I. in 1301--"No taxation without representation." So the Stamp
Act of 1765 was repealed. The necessity for a continental revenue,
nevertheless, remained, and in the effort to adopt some expedient,
like the duty on tea, Crown and Colonies became involved in bitter
disputes. The idea of independence, however, had, in May, 1774,
scarcely entered the mind of the wildest New York radical. In their
instructions to delegates to the first Continental Congress, convened
in September, 1774, the Colonies made no mention of it. Even in May,
1775, the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia cautioned John Adams not to
use the word, since "it is as unpopular in all the Middle States as
the Stamp Act itself."[1] Washington wrote from the Congress that
independence was then not "desired by any thinking man in America."[2]

[Footnote 1: E.B. Andrews, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 2: _Ibid._, p. 172.]

The differences, therefore, between the Committees of Fifty and
Fifty-one were merely political. One favoured agitation for the
purpose of arousing resistance to the King's summary methods--the
other preferred a more orderly but not less forceful way of making
known their opposition. Members of both committees were patriots in
the highest and best sense, yet each faction fancied itself the only
patriotic, public spirited and independent party.

It was during these months of discord that Alexander Hamilton, then a
lad of seventeen, astonished his listeners at the historic meeting "in
the Fields,"[3] with the cogency of his arguments and the wonderful
flights of an unpremeditated eloquence while denouncing the act of
Parliament which closed the port of Boston. Hamilton had already been
a year in America attending the Elizabethtown grammar school,
conducted under the patronage of William Livingston, soon to become
the famous war governor of New Jersey. This experience quickened the
young man's insight into the vexed relations between the Colonies and
the Crown, and shattered his English predilections in favour of the
little minds that Burke thought so ill-suited to a great empire. A
visit to Boston shortly after the "tea party" seems also to have had
the effect of crowding his mind with thoughts, deeply and
significantly freighted with the sentiment of liberty, which were soon
to make memorable the occasion of their first utterance.

[Footnote 3: City Hall Park.]

The remarkable parallel between Hamilton and the younger Pitt begins
in this year, while both are in the schoolroom. Hamilton "in the
Fields" recalls Pitt at the bar of the House of Lords, amazing his
companions with the ripe intelligence and rare sagacity with which he
followed the debate, and the readiness with which he skilfully
formulated answers to the stately arguments of the wigged and powdered
nobles. Pitt, under the tuition of his distinguished father, was
fitted for the House of Commons as boys are fitted for college at
Exeter and Andover, and he entered Parliament before becoming of age.
Hamilton's preparation had been different. At twelve years of age he
was a clerk in a counting house on the island of Nevis in the West
Indies; at sixteen he entered a grammar school in New Jersey; at
seventeen he became a sophomore at King's College. It is then that he
spoke "in the Fields"--not as a sophomore, not as a precocious youth
with unripe thoughts, not as a boy orator--but as a man speaking with
the wisdom of genius.

After the meeting "in the Fields" patriotism proved stronger than
prejudice, and in November, 1774, the Committee of Fifty-one gave
place to a Committee of Sixty, charged with carrying out
recommendations of the Continental Congress. Soon after a Committee of
One Hundred, composed of members of the Committees of Fifty and
Fifty-one, assumed the functions of a municipal government. Finally,
in May, 1775, representatives were chosen from the several counties to
organise a Provincial Congress to take the place of the long
established legislature of the Colony, which had become so steeped in
toryism that it refused to recognise the action of any body of men who
resented the tyranny of Parliament. Thus, in the brief space of
eighteen months, the government of the Crown had been turned into a
government of the people.

For several months, however, the patriots of New York had desired a
more complete state government. All admitted that the revolutionary
committees were essentially local and temporary. Even the hottest Son
of Liberty came to fear the licentiousness of the people on the one
hand, and the danger from the army on the other. Nevertheless, the
Provincial Congress, whose members had been trained by harsh
experience to be stubborn in defence and sturdy in defiance, declined
to assume the responsibility of forming such a government as the
Continental Congress recommended. That body had itself come into
existence as a revolutionary legislature after the Provincial Assembly
had refused either to approve the proceedings of the first Continental
Congress, or to appoint delegates to the second; and, although it did
not hesitate to usurp temporarily the functions of the Tory Assembly,
to its great credit it believed the right of creating and framing a
new civil government belonged to the people; and, accordingly, on May
24, 1776, it recommended the election of new representatives who
should be specially authorised to form a government for New York.

The members of this new body were conspicuous characters in New York's
history for the next third of a century. Among them were John Jay,
George Clinton, James Duane, Philip Livingston, Philip Schuyler, and
Robert R. Livingston. The same men appeared in the Committee of
Safety, at the birth of the state government, as witnesses of the
helplessness of the Confederation, and as backers or backbiters of the
Federal Constitution. Among those associated with them were James
Clinton, Ezra L'Hommedieu, Marinus Willett, John Morin Scott,
Alexander McDougall, John Sloss Hobart, the Yateses, Abraham, Richard
and Robert; the Van Cortlandts, James, John and Philip; the Morrises,
Richard, Lewis and Gouverneur, and all the Livingstons. Only two
illustrious names are absent from these early patriotic lists, but
already Alexander Hamilton had won the heart of the people by his
wonderful eloquence and logic, and Aaron Burr, a comely lad of
nineteen, slender and graceful as a girl, with the features of his
beautiful mother and the refinement of his distinguished grandfather,
had thrown away his books to join Arnold on his way to Quebec. These
men passed into history in companies, but each left behind his own
trail of light. Where danger called, or civic duties demanded prudence
and profound sagacity, this band of patriots appeared in council and
in the camp, ready to answer to the roll-call of their country, and by
voice and vote set the pace which achieved independence.

The new Provincial Congress met at the courthouse in White Plains on
July 9, 1776, and, as evidence of the change from the old institutions
to the new, it adopted the name of the "Convention of the
Representatives of the State of New York." As further evidence of the
new order of things it declared that New York began its existence as a
State on April 20, 1775. It also adopted as the law of the State such
parts of the common and statute law of England as were in force in the
Colony of New York on April 19, 1775.

By this time the British forces had become so active in the vicinity
of New York that the convention thought it advisable to postpone the
novel and romantic work of state-making until the threatened danger
had passed; but, before its hasty adjournment, by requesting officers
of justice to issue all processes and pleadings under the authority
and in the name of the State of New York, it served notice that King
and Parliament were no longer recognised as the source of political
authority. This appears to have been the first official mention of the
new title of the future government.[4] When the convention reassembled
on the first day of the following August it appointed John Jay
chairman of a committee to report the draft of a state constitution.

[Footnote 4: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

Jay was then thirty-one years old, a cautious, clever lawyer whose
abilities were to make a great impression upon the history of his
country. He belonged to a family of Huguenot merchants. The Jays lived
at La Rochelle until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove the
great-grandfather to England, where the family continued until 1686,
when Augustus, the grandfather, settled in New York. It was not a
family of aristocrats; but for more than a century the Jays had ranked
among the gentry of New York City, intermarrying with the Bayards, the
Stuyvesants, the Van Cortlandts and the Philipses. To these historic
families John Jay added another, taking for his wife Sarah Livingston,
the sister of Brockholst, who later adorned the Supreme Court of the
United States, and the daughter of William, New Jersey's coming war
governor, already famous as a writer of poems and essays.

Jay's public career had begun two years before in connection with the
revolutionary Committee of Fifty-one. He did not accept office because
he loved it. He went into politics as he might have travelled on a
stage-coach at the invitation of a few congenial friends, for their
sake, not for his own. When he took up the work of organisation,
therefore, it was with no wish to become a leader; he simply desired
to guide the spirit of resistance along orderly and forceful lines.
But soon he held the reins and had his foot on the brake. In drafting
a reply to resolutions from a Boston town meeting, he suggested a
Congress of all the Colonies, to which should be referred the
disturbing question of non-importation. This letter was not only the
first serious suggestion of a general Congress, placing its author
intellectually at the head of the Revolutionary leaders; but the
plan--which meant broader organisation, more carefully concerted
measures, an enlistment of all the conservative elements, and one
official head for thirteen distinct and widely separated
colonies--gradually found favour, and resulted in sending the young
writer as a delegate to the first Continental Congress.

It was in this Congress that Jay won the right to become a
constitution-maker. Of all the men of that busy and brilliant age, no
one advanced more steadily in the general knowledge and favour. When
he wrote the address to the people of Canada, his great ability was
recognised at once; and after he composed the appeal to Ireland and to
Jamaica, the famous circular letter to the Colonies, and the patriotic
address to the people of his own State, his wisdom was more frequently
drawn upon and more widely appreciated than ever; but he may be said
to have leaped into national fame when he drafted the address to the
people of Great Britain. While still ignorant of its authorship,
Jefferson declared it "a production of the finest pen in America."




It was early spring in 1777 before John Jay, withdrawing to the
country, began the work of drafting a constitution. His retirement
recalls Cowper's sigh for

"... a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumours of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful and successful war,
Might never reach me more."

Too much and too little credit has been given Jay for his part in the
work. One writer says he "entered an almost unexplored field." On the
other hand, John Adams wrote Jefferson that Jay's "model and
foundation" was his own letter to George Wythe of Virginia. Neither is
true. The field was not unexplored, nor did John Adams' letter contain
a suggestion of anything not already in existence, except the election
of a Council of Appointment, with whose consent the governor should
appoint all officers. His plan of letting the people elect a governor
came later. "We have a government to form, you know," wrote Jay, "and
God knows what it will resemble. Our politicians, like some guests at
a feast, are perplexed and undetermined which dish to prefer;"[5] but
Jay evidently preferred the old home dishes, and it is interesting to
note how easily he adapted the laws and customs of the provincial
government to the needs of an independent State.

[Footnote 5: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.

The legislative branch of the government was vested in two separate
and distinct bodies, called the Assembly and the Senate. The first
consisted of seventy members to be elected each year; the second of
twenty-four members, one-fourth to be elected every four years.
Members of the Assembly were proportioned to the fourteen counties
according to the number of qualified voters. For the election of
senators, the State was divided into "four great districts," the
eastern being allowed three members, the southern nine, the middle six
and the western six. To each house was given the powers and privileges
of the Provincial Assembly of the Colony of New York. In creating this
Legislature, Jay introduced no new feature. The old Assembly suggested
the lower house, and the former Council or upper house of the
Province, which exercised legislative powers, made a model for the
Senate.[6] In their functions and operations the two bodies were

[Footnote 6: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 7: _Ibid._, Vol. 2, p. 610.]

The qualifications of those who might vote for members of the
Legislature greatly restricted suffrage. Theoretically every patriot
believed in the liberties of the people, and the first article of the
Constitution declared that "no authority shall, on any pretence
whatever, be exercised over the people of the State, but such as shall
be derived from and granted by them." This high-sounding exordium
promised the rights of popular sovereignty; but in practice the makers
of the Constitution, fearing the passions of the multitude as much as
the tyranny of kings, deemed it wise to keep power in the hands of a
few. A male citizen of full age, possessing a freehold of the value of
twenty pounds, or renting a tenement of the yearly value of forty
shillings, could vote for an assemblyman, and one possessing a
freehold of the value of one hundred pounds, free from all debts,
could vote for a senator.

But even these drastic conditions did not satisfy the draftsman of the
Constitution. The legislators themselves, although thus carefully
selected, might prove inefficient, and so, lest "laws inconsistent
with the spirit of this Constitution, or with the public good, may be
hastily or unadvisedly passed," a Council of Revision was created,
composed of the governor, chancellor, and the three judges of the
Supreme Court, or any two of them acting with the governor, who "shall
revise all bills about to be passed into laws by the Legislature." If
the Council failed to act within ten days after having possession of
the bill, or if two-thirds of each house approved it after the Council
disapproved it, the bill became law. This Council seems to have been
suggested by the veto power possessed by the King's Privy Council.

The supreme executive power and authority of the State were vested in
a governor, who must be a freeholder and chosen by the ballots of
freeholders possessed of one hundred pounds above all debts. His term
of office was three years, and his powers similar to those of
preceding Crown governors. He was commander-in-chief of the army, and
admiral of the navy. He had power to convene the Legislature in
extraordinary session; to prorogue it not to exceed sixty days in any
one year; and to grant pardons and reprieves to persons convicted of
crimes other than treason and murder, in which cases he might suspend
sentence until the Legislature acted. In accordance with the custom of
his predecessors, he was also expected to deliver a message to the
Legislature whenever it convened. To aid him in his duties, the
Constitution provided for the election of a lieutenant-governor, who
was made the presiding officer of the Senate.

The proposition that no authority should be exercised over the people
except such as came from the people necessarily opened the door to an
election of the governor by the people; but how to restrict his power
seems to have taxed Jay's ingenuity. He had reduced the number of
voters to its lowest terms, and put a curb on the Legislature, as well
as the governor, by the creation of the Council of Revision; but how
to curtail the chief executive's power in making appointments,
presented a problem which gave Jay himself, when governor, good reason
to regret the manner of its solution.

The only governors with whom Jay had had any experience were British
governors, and the story of their rule was a story of astonishing
mistakes and vexing stupidities. To go no farther back than Lord
Cornbury, the dissolute cousin of Queen Anne, not one in the long
list, covering nearly a century, exhibited gifts fitting him for the
government of a spirited and intelligent people, or made the slightest
impression for good either for the Crown or the Colony. Their
disposition was to be despotic, and to prevent a repetition of such
arbitrary conduct, Jay sought to restrict the governor's power in
making appointments to civil office.

The new Constitution provided for the appointment of sheriffs, mayors
of cities, district attorneys, coroners, county treasurers, and all
other officers in the State save governor, lieutenant-governor, state
treasurer and town officers. Some members of the convention wished the
governor to make these appointments; others wanted his power limited
by the Legislature's right to confirm. Jay saw objections to both
methods. The first would give the governor too much power; the latter
would transfer too much to the Legislature. To reconcile these
differences, therefore, he proposed "Article XXIII. That all officers,
other than those who, by this Constitution, are directed to be
otherwise appointed, shall be appointed in the manner following, to
wit: The Assembly shall, once in every year, openly nominate and
appoint one of the senators from each great district, which senators
shall form a Council for the appointment of the said officers, of
which the governor shall be president and have a casting vote, but no
other vote; and with the advice and consent of the said Council shall
appoint all of the said officers."[8]

[Footnote 8: "The clause directing the governor to _nominate_ officers
to the Legislature for their approbation being read and debated, was
generally disapproved. Many other methods were devised by different
members, and mentioned to the house merely for consideration. I
mentioned several myself, and told the convention at the time, that,
however I might then incline to adopt them, I was not certain, but
that after considering them, I should vote for their rejection. While
the minds of the members were thus fluctuating between various
opinions, I spent the evening of that day with Mr. Morris at your
lodgings, in the course of which I proposed the plan for the
institution of the Council as it now stands, and after conversing on
the subject we agreed to bring it into the house the next day. It was
moved and debated and carried."--John Jay, _Correspondence and Public
Papers_, Vol. 1, p. 128. Letter of Jay to Robert R. Livingston and
Gouverneur Morris, April 29, 1777.]

This provision was simply, as the sequel showed, a bungling
compromise. Jay intended that the governor should nominate and the
Council confirm, and in the event of a tie the governor should have
the casting vote. But in practice it subordinated the governor to the
Council whenever a majority of the Assembly was politically opposed to
him, and the annual election of the Council greatly increased the
chances of such opposition. When, finally, the Council of Appointment
set up the claim that the right to nominate was vested concurrently in
the governor and in each of the four senators, it practically stripped
the chief executive of power.

The anomaly of the Constitution was the absence of provision for the
judicature, the third co-ordinate branch of the government. One court
was created for the trial of impeachments and the correction of
errors, but the great courts of original jurisdiction, the Supreme
Court and the Court of Chancery, as well as the probate court, the
county court, and the court of admiralty, were not mentioned except
incidentally in sections limiting the ages of the judges, the offices
each might hold, and the appointment of clerks. Instead of recreating
these courts, the Constitution simply recognised them as existing. The
new court established, known as the Court of Errors and Impeachment,
consisted of the president of the Senate, the senators, the
chancellor, and the three judges of the Supreme Court, or a major part
of them. The conception of vesting supreme appellate jurisdiction in
the upper legislative house was derived from the former practice of
appeals to the Council of the Province,[9] which possessed judicial
as well as legislative power. The Constitution further followed the
practice of the old Council by providing that judges could not vote on
appeals from their own judgments, although they might deliver
arguments in support of the same--a custom which had obtained in New
York from the earliest times.[10]

[Footnote 9: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 10: _Duke's Laws_, Vol. 1, Chap. 14.]

In like manner provincial laws, grants of lands and charters, legal
customs, and popular rights, most of which had been in existence for a
century, were carried over. The Constitution simply provided, in a
general way, for the continuance of such parts of the common law of
England, the statute law of England and Great Britain, and the acts of
the legislature of the Colony of New York, as did not yield obedience
to the government exercised by Great Britain, or establish any
particular denomination of Christians, or their priests or ministers,
who were debarred from holding any civil or military office under the
new State; but acts of attainder for crimes committed after the close
of the war were abrogated, with the declaration that such acts should
not work a corruption of the blood.

The draft of the Constitution in Jay's handwriting was reported to the
convention on March 12, 1777, and on the following day the first
section was accepted. Then the debate began. Sixty-six members
constituted the convention, a majority of whom, led by John Morin
Scott, believed in the reign of the people. The spirit that nerved a
handful of men to embargo vessels and seize munitions of war covered
by British guns never wanted courage, and this historic band now
prepared to resist a conservatism that seemed disposed simply to
change the name of their masters. Jay understood this feeling. "It is
probable that the convention was ultra-democratic," says William Jay,
in the biography of his father, "for I have heard him observe that
another turn of the winch would have cracked the cord."[11]

[Footnote 11: William Jay, _Life of John Jay; Jay MSS._, Vol. 1, p.

Jay was not without supporters. Conservatives like the Livingstons,
the Morrises, and the Yateses never acted with the recklessness of
despair. They had well-formed notions of a popular government, and
their replies to proposed changes broke the force of the opposition.
But Jay, relying more upon his own policy, prudently omitted several
provisions that seemed to him important, and when discussion developed
their need, he shrewdly introduced them as amendments. Upon one
question, however, a prolonged and spirited debate occurred. This
centred upon the freedom of conscience. The Dutch of New Netherland,
almost alone among the Colonies, had never indulged in fanaticism, and
the Constitution, breathing the spirit of their toleration, declared
that "the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and
worship without diminution or preference shall forever hereafter be
allowed within the State to all mankind." Jay did not dissent from
this sentiment; but, as a descendant of the persecuted Huguenots, he
wished to except Roman Catholics until they should deny the Pope's
authority to absolve citizens from their allegiance and to grant
spiritual absolution, and he forcefully insisted upon and secured the
restriction that "the liberty of conscience hereby granted shall not
be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify
practices inconsistent with the safety of the State." The question of
the naturalisation of foreigners renewed the contention. Jay's
Huguenot blood was still hot, and again he exacted the limitation that
all persons, before naturalisation, shall "abjure and renounce all
allegiance to all and every foreign king, prince, potentate, and
state, in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil."

Jay intended reporting other amendments--one requiring a similar
renunciation on the part of all persons holding office, and one
abolishing domestic slavery. But before the convention adjourned he
was, unfortunately, summoned to the bedside of his dying mother.
Otherwise, New York would probably have had the distinction of being
first to set the example of freedom. "I should have been for a clause
against the continuance of domestic slavery," he said, in a letter
objecting to what occurred after his forced retirement.[12]

[Footnote 12: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.
126. "Such a recommendation was introduced by Gouverneur Morris and
passed, but subsequently omitted."--_Ibid._, p. 136, _note_.]

Although the Constitution was under consideration for more than a
month, haste characterised the close of the convention's
deliberations. As soon as Jay left, every one seemed eager to get
away, and on Sunday, April 20, 1777, the Constitution was adopted as a
whole practically as he left it, and a committee appointed to report a
plan for establishing a government under it. Unlike the Constitution
of Massachusetts, it was not submitted to the voters for ratification.
The fact that the delegates themselves had been elected by the people
seemed sufficient, and two days after its passage, the secretary of
the convention, standing upon a barrel in front of the courthouse at
Kingston, published it to the world by reading it aloud to those who
happened to be present. As it became known to the country, it was
cordially approved as the most excellent and liberal of the American
constitutions. "It is approved even in New England," wrote Jay, "where
few New York productions have credit."[13]

[Footnote 13: _Ibid._, p. 140.]

The absence of violent democratic innovations was the Constitution's
remarkable feature. Although a product of the Revolution, framed to
meet the necessities growing out of that great event, its general
provisions were decidedly conservative. The right of suffrage was so
restricted that as late as 1790 only 1303 of the 13,330 male residents
of New York City possessed sufficient property to entitle them to vote
for governor. Even the Court of Chancery remained undisturbed,
notwithstanding royal governors had created it in opposition to the
wishes of the popular assembly. But despite popular dissatisfaction,
which evidenced itself in earnest prayers and ugly protests, the
instrument, so rudely and hastily published on April 22, 1777,
remained the supreme law of the State for forty-four years.

Before adjournment the convention, adopting the report of its
committee for the organisation of a state government, appointed Robert
R. Livingston, chancellor; John Jay, chief justice of the Supreme
Court; Robert Yates, Jr., and John Sloss Hobart, justices of the
Supreme Court, and Egbert Benson, attorney-general. To a Council of
Safety, composed of fifteen delegates, with John Morin Scott,
chairman, were confided all the powers of the State until superseded
by a regularly elected governor.




After the constitutional convention adjourned in May, 1777, the
Council of Safety immediately ordered the election of a governor,
lieutenant-governor, and members of the Legislature. The selection of
a governor by ballot interested the people. Although freeholders who
could vote represented only a small part of the male population,
patriots of every class rejoiced in the substitution of a neighbour
for a lord across the sea. And all had a decided choice. Of those
suggested as fittest as well as most experienced Philip Schuyler, John
Morin Scott, John Jay and George Clinton were the favourites. Just
then Schuyler was in the northern part of the province, watching
Burgoyne and making provision to meet the invasion of the Mohawk
Valley; George Clinton, in command on the Hudson, was equally watchful
of the movements of Sir Henry Clinton, whose junction with Burgoyne
meant the destruction of Forts Clinton and Montgomery at the lower
entrance to the Highlands; while Scott and Jay, as members of the
Council of Safety, were directing the government of the new State.

Schuyler's public career began in the Provincial Assembly of New York
in 1768.

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Main -> Alexander, De Alva Stanwood -> A Political History of the State of New York, Volumes 1-3