Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview
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document is remarkable for the continuity it maintains with earlier political practice. The assembly, with some changes, is the assembly of the colonial period; the senate replaces a council which had, by that time, become the upper house of legislature; and the governor is a slightly revised version of the colonial royal governor. The courts, with the exceptions of the chancellor (who assumed responsibility for equity and probate functions) and the new Court of Impeachment and Errors, remained as they had been in the colonial period. The common law, the laws of England, and colonial laws were continued in effect, with the exceptions noted in Article XXXV. To prevent interminable litigation, the constitution validated all inheritable land titles and leases granted by the King of England (Art. XXXVI). 66

Among the reasons for the success of the 1777 Constitution was the fact that its creators did not tamper with those aspects of the governing process which had proven their effectiveness. That continuity, combined with the moderate character of the document, enabled it to achieve a legitimacy which in turn accounted for the relatively smooth transition from colony to constitutional republic.

Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates and Letters and Other Notices of Public Affairs, the Whole Forming a Documentary History of the Origin and Progress of the North American Colonies . . . in Six Series, 9 vols. ( Washington, D.C.: M. St. Clair Clark, 1837-1853), 4th Series, VI, p. 1338, hereafter cited as American Archives.
Ibid., 5th Series, I, 1391. The preamble to the 1777 Constitution contains a similar statement.
"The respectful Address of the Mechanicks in Union for the City and County of New York, represented by their General Committee", American Archives, 4th Series, VI, p. 895.
Ibid., 5th Series, I, 1466. The members of the committee consisted of John Jay, John Sloss Hobart, William Smith, William Duer, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Livingston, John Broome, John Morin Scott, Abraham Yates, Jr., Henry Wisner, Sr., Samuel Townsend, Charles DeWitt, and Robert Yates. James Duane was added to the committee in September 1776. Of these, Hobart and Townsend never attended committee sessions. Generally considered conservatives or traditionalists were Jay, Morris, Livingston, Duer, and Duane. Those who could be classified as moderate majoritarians were Abraham Yates, Jr. (chair), Robert Yates, Henry Wisner, Charles DeWitt, and John Morin Scott. The difficulty and danger of classifying delegates is revealed most clearly in the case of John Morin Scott, who is classified by most commentators as a majoritarian but who voted to support an upper legislative house not based on any form of representation. See Bernard Mason, The Road to Independence: The Revolutionary Movement in New New York, 1773-1777 ( Lexington:


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Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York
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