Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

9
On the Threshold of the Twentieth Century: The Constitution of 1894

BETWEEN 1846 and 1894, the Empire State's pre-eminence grew at a rapid pace. The nation's leader in commercial and financial activity had within its borders the largest city in the country. These signs of progress were accompanied by a host of problems, most of which can be categorized under three headings: canals, corruption, and cities. In addition, the judiciary -- which had been the object of numerous amendments, a constitutional convention in 1867, a constitutional commission in 1872, and a judiciary commission in 1890 -- remained in need of reorganization.

In accordance with the every-twenty-year requirement clause of the 1846 Constitution, the question of whether the voters wished to call a convention to revise and amend the constitution was placed on the ballot in 1886. The voters approved the proposal for a second time, in this instance by an overwhelming majority of 574,993 to 30,766. Despite this unambiguous mandate for constitutional revision, a convention was not convened until 1894.

The eight-year delay in convening a constitutional convention can be explained by examining the partisan divisions within New York State's government during these years. Democratic Governor David B. Hill disagreed with the Republican-dominated legislature over the procedure for selecting convention delegates. Hill proposed election of delegates from the state's congressional districts, which had been redistricted by the Democrats in 1883, while Republicans proposed delegate election from assembly districts, which had been redistricted by the Republicans in 1879. 1

The deadlock was broken in 1892, when the Democrats gained control of both the executive and legislative branches of the government. Parties had monopolized the delegate selection process since 1821. In his annual message to the legislature in 1887 Governor Hill suggested an alternative to the party responsibility theory and the non-partisan

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