Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

7
The First Failure: The Constitutional Convention of 1867

To remold the organic law of the first Commonwealth of the world, Empire in name and Empire in fact. 1 William Wheeler, convention president

THE 1846 CONSTITUTION was twice amended between 1847 and 1866. A number of amendments involving the judiciary, African-American suffrage, gubernatorial succession, and prohibition were proposed, but failed to pass. The one major change effected by constitutional amendment during this period concerned the state's canals. The 1846 provisions compelled the state to adopt a pay-as-you-go policy with regard to canals, but the detailed proscriptions and prescriptions soon outlived their usefulness as the financial posture of the state changed. In 1851, barely five years after the adoption of a new constitution, the need for new measures permitting the enlargement of the canal system was recognized. Standing in the path of that project were the constitutional proscriptions on debt assumption and canal policy. Governor Washington Hunt recommended, and the legislature adopted, the first of a long series of attempts by the government to evade the debt restrictions in the constitution. The legislation authorized the issuance of canal revenue certificates, but the state would be under no obligation to redeem them beyond what might be provided by canal revenues. The validity of this statute was challenged in Newell v. People ( 1852). The Court of Appeals, unwilling to close its eyes to the obvious subterfuge, held that the statute contravened the provision barring assumption of debt without a referendum, and the provision regulating the disposition of canal revenues. 2 A constitutional amendment adopted in 1854 eliminated the obstacle posed by Newell, but other provisions

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