Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

of control by the Republicans in 1868, the disillusionment with Republican policies in general and with African-American suffrage in particular, and the determined opposition of the Democrats account for the constitution's rejection in 1869. What would have happened if the convention had submitted its work in November 1867 (the originally scheduled date), before the Democrats captured the governorship? If the timing of the constitution's submission was crucial to its defeat, then the convention would have to shoulder most of the responsibility for the failure. The delegates could have completed their work in the allotted time if they had not tolerated absenteeism of an almost scandalous degree, and if they had not adopted the practice of adjournments from Friday to Tuesday. On more than one occasion the convention could not conduct its business for lack of a quorum. 59

If the criterion for judgment is the adoption of a constitution, then the 1867 convention was a short-term failure but a long-term success. Most of the significant proposals adopted at the 1867 convention eventually were incorporated in the constitution: home rule, some executive consolidation, prohibition against search and seizure, provisions addressing bribery in public office, a court of claims, free instruction in public schools, and the current structure of the Court of Appeals. For the next forty years, reformers developed both organizational structures and coherent theories to launch and sustain a crusade for state government reorganization and municipal reform. In addition, the recommendation requiring only a majority of those voting, rather than of those eligible to vote, to sustain a call for a constitutional convention found its way onto the reformers' agenda, ultimately gaining a place in the 1894 Constitution. The 1867 convention also set a precedent for future constitutional assemblies by submitting its work in parts.

Whatever valid charges can be leveled at the chamber door of the convention, lack of foresight is not one of them. The people of the state eventually recognized the convention's wisdom, paying it a final tribute by adopting, in one form or another, most of its recommendations.


NOTES
1.
Reports of the Proceedings and Debates of The Convention for Revision of the Constitution of the State of New York, 1867-1868, 5 vols. ( Albany: Weed Parsons & Co., 1868), I, p. 19. Hereafter cited as Proceedings and Debates 1867
2.
7 N.Y. 9 ( 1852).
3.
For full discussion of these reforms see James C. Mohr, The Radical Republicans and Reform in New York During Reconstruction

-134-

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