NEW YORK CONSTITUTION OF 1777

NEW YORK CONSTITUTION OF 1777

NEW YORK CONSTITUTION OF 1777

NEW YORK CONSTITUTION OF 1777

The first constitution of the state of New York was adopted on Sunday, April 20, 1777, at
Kingston, New York, by a convention of dele-
gates empowered by the people of the colony to
establish a state government. It marks the birth
of the state of New York. The constitution was
not submitted to the people for ratification, but
it became effective immediately upon its adop-
tion by the convention.

The New York Constitution of 1777 was
framed amidst the chaos of the Revolutionary
War. Three men were instrumental in drafting
the constitution: JOHN JAY, ROBERT R. LIV-
INGSTON, and Gouverneur Morris. All three
were affluent young men (ages 30, 29, 24, respec-
tively, at the time of their appointments) with
little experience in public affairs. John Jay is gen-
erally credited as being the primary author of
the constitution.

The first constitution faithfully adhered in
many respects to the English constitutional sys-
tem of government. Some delegates, however,
were incensed upon discerning minor devia-
tions from ENGLISH LAW in the proposed consti-
tution. The patterning of the New York
Constitution of 1777 after the English govern-
mental prototype was not actually inconsistent
with the objectives of the Revolutionary War.
Even though there were structural similarities
between the system of government set forth in
the New York Constitution of 1777 and the Eng-
lish system, the impact of the laws upon the lives
of the people of New York and their British
counterparts was different, due to the abandon-
ment by America of the class system of govern-
ment that prevailed in England. The
oppressiveness of English rule was eradicated,
but the valid fundamental legal principles were
retained. The English constitutional system of
government was applied to the extent that its
principles conformed to the concept of a repub-
lican form of government. The reliance upon the
English system was also attributable to the inex-
perience of the draftsmen, who felt comfortable
with the basic precepts and established tradi-
tions of English law. Even they realized, however,
that some changes were essential. The people of
New York were permitted to choose the chief
executive instead of having sovereign authority
do so on their behalf. It also was deemed neces-
sary to alter the parliamentary system, and as a
result, the House of Lords and the Colonial
Council were transformed into the state senate.
On April 20, the entire proposed constitu-
tion was presented, and, after several inconse-
quential revisions and some major ones, it was
read and adopted by a vote of 32–1. John Jay was
not present for the adoption of the constitution,
since he had been called away as a result of his
mother’s death on April 17. He had wanted to
include certain amendments to the constitution,
and he expressed dismay over what he perceived
to be its rather hasty adoption. The fact that less
than one-third of the entire convention
attended the discussions of the constitution was
attributable to compelling personal reasons and
the exigencies of the Revolutionary War. The
turmoil created by the latter factor explains why
the constitution was adopted on a Sunday; the
delegates convened whenever possible, irrespec-
tive of weekend dates.

The New York Constitution of 1777 was a
relatively brief document that covered only a few
topics. Some significant provisions, particularly
those pertaining to the Council of Revision and
the Council of Appointment, were added while
the constitution was being evaluated by the con-
vention.

The resolutions adopted by the Third
Provincial Congress, providing for the election
of the convention, and the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, which has been set out in its entirety,
comprise the preliminary segment. The body of
the constitution contains forty-five brief sec-
tions, which were labeled “articles” at that time.
The powers granted to the new government are
expressed in rather austere language. The
framers retained the essential nature of the colo-
nial government but removed its royal features.
The judicial system of the colony and the local
governments generally remained unaltered.
The constitution delineates new executive
and legislative branches, administrative author-
ity, and abstract rights, which are few in number
and concise, including, but not limited to, VOT-
ING RIGHTS, freedom of religion, and the right
of trial by jury. Although the constitution cre-
ated the legislative, executive, and judicial
branches of government, the framers combined
their functions due to their ignorance of the
concept, significance, and ramifications of the
SEPARATION OF POWERS. In addition to law-
making power, they vested the legislature with
executive authority through the Council of
Appointment, which consisted of four senators
selected annually by the assembly. The higher
courts were granted authority over legislation
through the Council of Revision, comprised by
the judges of the supreme court, the chancellor,
and the governor. As a result, the governor’s
power was severely circumscribed. Since he was
under the control of the Council of Appoint-
ment, the governor was divested of the responsi-
bility for official appointments. He also was
deprived of unabridged VETO power, because
the judges of the Council of Revision could
overrule him.

The constitution has a few provisions per-
taining to the separate powers of the senate and
assembly, including the power of the assembly to
issue ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT and to choose
the members of the Council of Appointment.
The legislature was authorized to elect the state
treasurer, administer contracts with Indians, and
to naturalize ALIENS. The U.S. Constitution,
however, eventually preempted this right of nat-

Posted in History | Comments Off