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most notable instance, and that which made the most lasting impression on state and national institutions, was the establishment of the freedom of the press. This was brought about through the trial and acquittal of John Philip Zenger (1732) on the charge of libel for criticising in the newspaper, which he edited, the administration of Governor Cosby.
New York and the Revolution.-During the period immediately preceding the Revolution, the cause of the colonies received hearty support in New York. The outbreak of hostilities found it ready to act, and on May 1, 1775, a "Committee of One Hundred" was organized to secure the coöperation of all the inhabitants of the colony in armed resistance to Great Britain. On May 22, 1775, the first "Provincial Congress" convened at New York. This revolutionary government assumed the powers of the old legislature and proceeded to "institute and establish a government to secure the rights, liberties and happiness of the good people of the colony."
Other congresses followed on December 6, 1775, May 18, 1776, and at White Plains, July 9, 1776. The last approved the Declaration of Independence, adopted at Philadelphia July 4, and on July 10 changed its name to "The Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York." It assumed the conduct of New York's affairs in the war, and on August 1, 1776, appointed a committee, including, among others, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Robert R. Livingston and Robert Yates to prepare a "form of perpetual government," which was adopted April 20, 1777, as the First Constitution of the State of New York.
THE STATE CONSTITUTIONS.
The State of New York has had four Constitutions, those of 1777, 1821, 1846, and the present one, adopted
1. Constitution of 1777.-The Constitution of 1777 contained a review of the oppressive acts of the English government, a reference to the "resolve" of the Continental Congress recommending the establishment of a republican government in each colony, a statement approving the Declaration of Independence, and, as its first article, an assertion that:
"No authority shall
be exercised over the people and members of this State, but such as shall be derived from and granted by them."
The State Government was divided into three branches -Legislative, Executive and Judicial.
Legislative; Senate and Assembly.--The Legislature consisted of a Senate and Assembly, the Senate composed of not less than twenty-four nor more than one hundred freeholders, elected from four senate districts for terms of four years; the Assembly composed of not less than seventy, nor more than three hundred members elected by counties annually.
Officers and Powers.-The presiding officer of the Senate was the Lieutenant-Governor, and that of the Assembly, a Speaker, selected by it from its own number. Each house was the judge of its own members, and in each a majority constituted a quorum.
Executive; Governor.-The Governor was a freeholder, elected for a term of three years. He was commanderin-chief of the militia and admiral of the navy of the State. He had power to convene the legislature, and, except in the case of convictions for murder or treason, to grant pardons and reprieves. His principal duties were to issue an annual message, correspond with other States and the Continental Congress, and enforce the laws.
Lieutenant-Governor.-The Lieutenant-Governor, a freeholder, was elected at the same time and for the same term as the Governor, whom he succeeded in case of vacancy in that office, and was in turn succeeded by the president pro tempore of the Senate.
Executive Councils.-The power of appointment was vested in a Council of Appointment, consisting of the acting Governor and one Senator from each of the four senate districts. Another council, the Council of Revision, consisting of the acting Governor, the Chancellor and Judges of the Supreme Court, was empowered to revise the acts of the legislature—a power similar to the veto power of the President. There was also a State Treasurer chosen by the legislature.
Judicial. The Courts of the State were as follows:
A Court for the trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, consisting of the president of the Senate, the Senators, the Chancellor and the Judges of the Supreme Court. As a Court of Impeachment it possessed powers similar to those of the United States Senate. (See Book I., page 156.) As a Court for the Correction of Errors, it heard appeals from the Court of Chancery, and from the Supreme Court.
The Court of Chancery, first established in 1683. It possessed equity jurisdiction (see Book I., page 162) and was presided over by the Chancellor.
The Supreme Court, established in 1691, with power to try law cases (see Book I., page 162), civil and criminal, and was called a Court of Oyer and Terminer * when trying persons charged with crimes.
The Court of Common Pleas, established in 1686, was continued in the several counties with limited civil jurisdiction.
The Court of Sessions, established in 1683, was preserved in each county with criminal jurisdiction.
Justice Courts, established in the early colonial period, were continued in towns and counties with petty civil and criminal jurisdiction.
Suffrage and Elections.-The right of suffrage was limited to free male citizens of full age with certain property qualifications, among which was one requiring that the voter must be a freeholder to vote for Governor or Senators. It was provided that the legislature might require elections to be by ballot, which was first done in 1778 in the case of Governor, and in 1787 in the election of members of the legislature.
Delegates to Congress were made elective by the legislature. The Chancellor, Judges of the Supreme Court, County Judges, Sheriffs and several other officers were named by the Council of Appointment. Town officers, as supervisors, town clerks, etc., were elective.
Bill of Rights.-Among the protective provisions of
Oyer and Terminer.-A legal term meaning " to hear and decide."
the Constitution it was guaranteed that no man should be disfranchised or deprived of any of his rights unless by law of the land, or the judgment of his peers; that no man should be hindered in the free exercise of religion or the right to bear arms; that no acts of attainder should be passed; and that ministers of the gospel were ineligi ble to hold office.
2. The Constitution of 1821; Legislative. - By the second Constitution the Senators were to be elected from eight Great Districts, and the Assembly was to consist of one hundred and twenty-eight members; no member of the legislature could at the same time be a member of Congress, or hold any office under the United States or any civil office by appointment of the Governor of the State.
Executive. To the qualifications for Governor and Lieutenant-Governor it was added that they should be native-born citizens of the United States, thirty years of age and five years residents of the State; and the term of office was reduced to two years. In addition to the Governor's powers under the former constitution he was given the power of appointment with the consent of the Senate, and a qualified veto power similar to that of the President.
The Councils of Appointment and Revision were abolished.
Other executive officers were the Treasurer, Secretary of State, Comptroller, Attorney-General, Surveyor-General, and Commissary-General, all of whom were to be chosen by the legislature.
Judicial. The former Courts were continued, but it was provided that the State might be divided by the leg