Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

3
Establishing the New
Government: 1777-1800

ON MAY 3, 1777, the convention appointed a Council of Safety to govern the state during the interim between the adoption of the constitution and its implementation. The convention also elected Robert Livingston as Chancellor, John Jay as Chief Justice, and Robert Yates and John Hobart Sloss as associate justices of the Supreme Court. Egbert Benson was appointed attorney general. Except Benson, all were members of the Committee on Government, which drafted the constitution.

If the high property requirement for voting in the gubernatorial election for governor was intended to ensure conservative control of that office, it failed from the beginning, as evidenced by the election of George Clinton over the conservative candidate, Philip Schuyler. At that same election members of the senate and assembly were elected. On September 10, 1777, the two houses of the first legislature met in the courthouse in Kingston to hear Governor Clinton,'s speech. The election, however, did not terminate the convention or the Council of Safety. When the legislature convened in October it assembled as a convention to provide for the safety of the state and thus appointed a new Council of Safety. It was one thing to write and adopt a constitution, literally under the gun, but it was quite another to carry on constitutional government during armed conflict. The tasks confronting New Yorkers were daunting: a viable government had to be erected; a war had to be fought and financed; Tories, of whom there were many, had to be suppressed; and chaotic socio-economic conditions had to be addressed. 1 The ruthless policies adopted in New York were likely related to the size of the loyalist population in the state and to the fact that British forces occupied New York City for so long. 2 These extraconstitutional bodies were given the same authority as the former convention and council: the power to govern. From April 3, 1775, the date of the last meeting of the colonial assembly, until January 15, 1778 when the legislature resumed session, all legislation enacted was by these conventions and councils. Their extra-constitutional -- not to say unconstitutional -- status raised a number of questions. When the legis-

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