Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

6
Commerce, Canals, and
the Common Man:
The Constitutional
Convention of 1846

[The] first constitution ever formed that rested
not nominally but, in fact, on a popular
foundation.

Churchill Cambreling, convention delegate, 1846

CONTINUING SCHOLARLY CONTROVERSIES over the meaning of Jacksonian Democracy notwithstanding, New York did, in fact, experience an egalitarian revolution between 1815 and the Civil War. 1 The liberalization of suffrage in the 1821 Constitution was the first constitutional manifestation of this revoluation. Another manifestation was the 1821 convention's decision to build a constitutional amendment procedure into the new constitution. The process of liberalization and democratization did not cease with the adoption of the 1821 Constitution. Of the eight amendments added to that constitution between 1822 and 1846, five expanded popular participation in government. The office of justice of the peace was made elective in 1822; universal white male suffrage was adopted explicitly in 1826; city mayors were made elective in 1833 and 1839; and all property qualifications for holding any public office were abolished in 1846. Prior to the 1846 convention the fundamentals of political democracy were in place, with the significant exceptions of the restrictions on political participation by African- Americans and women. Political democracy was no longer the divisive issue it had been in the revolutionary confederation and early national periods, but the egalitarian impulse had not fully expended itself. Demands came from a variety of quarters to give the people a more direct voice in their government.

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