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The several members elected at the last election in the eight senate districts of this State, whose names are designated with an asterisk, having taken and subscribed, before his honor REUBEN H. WALWORTH, Chancellor of this State, the oath required by law:
The Senate proceeded to choose, by ballot, a President pro tempore, and the ballots having been taken and counted, it appeared that WILLIAM M. OLIVER was duly elected; and being conducted to the chair by Mr. McLean and Mr. Tallmadge, addressed the Senate as follows:
Gentlemen of the Senate:
The unexpected honor which you have conferred by electing me to preside over your deliberations, calls for my warmest gratitude; and permit me to assure you, that this mark of your confidence and respect, will be gratefully remembered to the latest period of my life. The various duties resting upon me as President of the Senate, shall be faithfully, and I trust impartially discharged. Conscious of my inexperience, I shall confidently rely upon that friendship which you have hitherto shewn me, for favor and assistance, in the discharge of my arduous duties.
Having one common object in view-the happiness and prosperity of that people who have confided their interest to our deliberations, it should be our pride, as well as our duty, to devote our time and talents, with the most untiring industry, to their permanent welfare. The consideration, that we have in some measure contributed to the prosperity of the state, can alone repay us for the labours which we are called upon by our station to perform.
This free republic is not exempted from party struggles. To the great republican party of the state and nation, I am firmly attached, believing that on its ascendency depends, in a great measure, the safety of our free institutions.
I shall deem it my duty to contribute, on all proper occasions, to its prosperity.
I trust that no consideration will induce me to depart from an impartial discharge of the duties which my clevation to this station have imposed upon me.
Ordered, That Mr. Todd and Mr. Allen wait upon his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, and inform him that the Senate are met, have chosen the Hon. William M. Oliver President pro tempore, and are ready to proceed to business.
Ordered, That Mr. Benton and Mr. Eaton wait upon the Assembly with the like message.
A message was received from the Assembly, delivered by Mr. Mann and Mr. Bradish, informing, that they were organized and ready to proceed to business.
Mr. Todd reported that Mr. Allen and himself had waited upon his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, and delivered the message of the Senate, when he was pleased to say, that as soon as he received a similar message from the Assembly, he would transmit a message to both branches of the Legislature.
Mr. Benton reported that Mr. Eaton and himself had waited upon the Assembly, and delivered the message of the Senate.
A message from his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, delivered by his private secretary, was received, and read in the words following, to wit:
Gentlemen of THE SENATE, AND OF THE ASSEMBLY:
In compliance with the constitution, I proceed to lay before you the condition of the State, and to suggest for your consideration such matters as I deem conducive to its welfare.
In looking back upon the past year, we see abundant reason to be thankful to Almighty God, for having spared us from the ravages of disease, for having prospered the industry of the country, and for having made us conscious of our national advantages, and content with our condition.
Although in some sections of the State an unusual excitement has prevailed, I am happy to have it in my power to say, that it has not originated in a desire to change our constitution, or in a distrust of the integrity of our laws; but in an honest zeal, overflowing its proper boundaries, misdirected in its efforts, and carrying into public affairs matters properly belonging to social discipline. Such feelings cannot long exist beyond the limits of their proper sphere of action; and it is a source of gratification, that in this instance they give evidence of speedily subsiding into their natural and healthful channel.
One of the most important incidents to a government resting upon the public will, and peculiar to it, is the constant observation of the public eye, and its rigid scrutiny into the conduct of public functionaries; tending to keep them within the limits of their authority, and in the active performance of the duties pertaining to their important trusts. No officer is so high or so humble, as not to be awed by its presence, or to be made conscious of its power. This searching operation is prompt to detect abuses, to discover impure motives, and to expose offenders to the corrective tribunal. Our fellowcitizens are sufficiently enlightened to know all the advantages they enjoy under the government of their choice; they have manifested an increasing attachment to it, and have been conspicuously auxiliary in supporting the laws and constituted authorities, and in promoting measures for improving the condition of the State.
From the period of the adoption of the constitution of the United States, we have progressed in testing the federal system, with cautious steps, under the guidance of instructed public sentiment; and although doctrines have, from time to time, been honestly advanced, and incipient measures taken, at variance with constitutional restrictions, and deemed adverse to the true interests of the people, they have found a prompt corrective in the public voice. During the present Administration, the sound sense, enlightened views, and ardent patriotism of the Executive, leave no room to doubt, that the known landmarks of the Constitution will be respected, that the sovereignty of the States will not be violated, and that measures, warranted by plain constructions only, will be pursued in direct reference to the public good.
We are, happily, at peace with all the world; and relying upon the spirit of justice which has always dictated our dealings with other nations, and continues to influence our national councils, we have great reason to hope that all causes of complaint against foreign powers will be amicably removed, and that we shall not soon be called upon to rally around our national head to enforce our just claims, or resist unjust aggressions. In a state of peace, the financial resources of the general government greatly exceed the amount required for its ordinary expenses; and under a system of strict economy, and with a due regard to so desirable an event, our national debt, which was incurred during the revolutionary and late wars, will, in the course of five or six years at most, be extinguished. Our government will then present a new claim to the affections of its citizens, and to the admiration of the world, founded upon the novel spectacle of a great nation paying off a great national debt.
In the course of my administration, I have been repeatedly called upon to exercise the constitutional power of pardoning convicts. The painful duties connected with that trust, I have endeavored to perform with a due regard to the objects of punishment; and I have, in many instances, been compelled to resist the most earnest and affecting appeals to my sympathy, supported often by petitions signed by the most intelligent citizens, and those whose official stations have given them the best opportunities of knowing the unworthiness of the suppliants. During the past year, there have been four convictions for murder, in each of which executions have taken place : But I have pardoned from the state prison, twenty-eight convicts. Nearly all those pardons were granted in cases, where; first, great doubts of guilt were certified to me by the courts before whom the convictions took place, and those doubts appeared to me to be well founded, on examining a full statement of the cases; secondly, on personal examination, and inquiry of the keepers of the prison and the presiding judges, as to certain convicts for whom petitions had not been presented, I deemed them fit objects of mercy; and thirdly, from want of sufficient latitude of discretion in the courts, sentences too severe were necessarily imposed.
The punishment of criminals is one of the most interesting subjects which can engage the attention of the Legislature; and although our criminal code has been recently very ably revised, and its features much softened, yet I consider it my duty to bring it again to your notice. We have been gradually relaxing the severity of punishments, until our laws relating to them have a decided character of mildness; still it behoves us to consider, whether the great objects of punishment will not be better attained by farther mitigations.
We derive our classification of crimes from the English laws; and many of their distinctions have arisen from the state of society, and the structure and peculiar policy of that government. It is a serious question, whether the moral turpitude of crimes, or the policy of the government, requires that the existing artificial gradations should continue to influence, to their present extent, the punishments prescribed for them.
Our revised code imposes the punishment of death for arson of the first degree; and empowers the court to imprison for life, for
certain kinds of rape, mayhem, attempt to poison, arson, burglary, forgery, robbery and murder. I submit to your consideration, whether the punishment by death ought to be extended beyond the crimes of treason and murder; and whether it is politic to imprison for life in any case, except on second conviction. I am persuaded, from observation, that a period of ten years' imprisonment in our best regulated state prisons, is, in most cases, sufficient to subdue the moral, mental or physical faculties of the most obdurate man. An imprisonment for life is rarely, if ever, where the convict's life is not near its natural close, or unexpectedly terminated, carried into effect. The public sympathy becomes awakened in behalf of the most atrocious life convict; and if he is imprisoned on a first conviction, pious and humane hopes are entertained that he is a renewed man, and that the discipline of the prison has purified his heart, and corrected his evil propensities. These considerations are urged with zeal for his pardon, after a brief imprisonment, and have been so far successful, that I can assert from an inspection of the prison books, that there are now in the prison at Auburn comparatively few of that class of convicts, who have served a longer period than five years.
One of the great objects of punishment, is the reformation of the offender. It has been the hope of the philanthropist, and I indulge the belief that it has now become, to a certain extent, the feasible object of the legislator. An amount of punishment which will receive the sanction of public feeling, executed to its full extent, will have a more salutary effect in restraining crime, than greater severity, which enlists public sympathy into the service of those combined outlaws, who make it a part of their operations to procure pardons for their associaties in crime. We can indulge but a faint hope of reformation in one, who has suffered a term of punishment in a state prison, without correction of his evil propensities; and the public owes it to the safety of the citizens, to shut out from the world, in most cases for life, those who are returned to prison on second convictions.
As intimately connected with this subject, I earnestly solicit your attention to the condition of our county gaols, and the punishments for petty offences. The greatest defect in our former mode of treating state convicts, was the necessity of imprisoning them, of all ages and grades of crime, in the same room, whereby they mutually contaminated each other; and those who entered fresh in crime, came out adepts in all the arts of mischief. Success has crowned our efforts to correct this evil in our state prisons, by means of separate dormitories, and associated silent labor; but our work will be incomplete until our county gaols cease to be the primary schools of vice. As they are now constructed, the novice, the youthful transgressor, and the merely suspeeted, are crowded into rooms with the petty convict, the old marauder, the confederate, and the graduate of many prisons. Secluded from observation, and compelled to be idle, they indulge in wicked discourse, and such social vices as are within their means of enjoyment: Here, the arts of accomplishing deeds of villany are communicated, and illustrated by tales of adventures, and all the captivating minutiae of heroic and eventful
lives, until the novice becomes initiated in the mysteries of crime, and waits impatiently for an opportunity to commence a career of wickedness. I submit to your consideration the propriety of enlarging the provisions of the Revised Laws, so as to prepare the way for executing a plan of separating offenders, confined in county prisons on sentences, from those who are committed on suspicion; providing separate dormitories for all; and for the regular daily employment of convicts at some useful trades. By these means, the County expenses of prisons, as well as the amount of crime, would be very much diminished.
The expense to counties, under our present system of supporting convicts in county gaols, is very considerable; and those who have had experience in the proceedings of criminal courts, know, that very inadequate punishments are frequently inflicted for misdemeanors, in consideration of the burdens which a protracted imprisonment imposes.
The convictions for petit larceny, second offence, are very numerous, and constitute a large proportion of the inmates of our state prisons. There are now in the state prison at Auburn eighty-one of that class of convicts (a great proportion of them boys, from twelve to twenty years of age, and blacks, male and female) out of six hundred and twenty-seven-the whole number confined there; and fifty-seven out of five hundred and eighty-four, the whole number of convicts now in the state prison at Sing-Sing. Persons are convicted, a second time, for trifling larcenies, and often sent to the state prison, it is believed, to relieve a neighborhood of a pauper, or of an idle or troublesome person. Should they be included within county arrangements, it might save the state much expense hereafter, in the multiplying or enlarging our magnificent and costly edifices for state convicts.
The evils of county gaols, to which I have alluded, are more apparent in our large cities, where great numbers of all conditions are huddled together in an atmosphere most pestilential in its physical and moral effects. The experiment for remedying these evils, might be made there, and the propriety of extending the principle to other counties, or several associated counties, determined. So far as relates to the punishment of petty convicts, the city of New-York has already erected a building upon this plan.
I advert with great satisfaction to the high state of improvement, and prosperous condition, of our state prisons. That at Sing-Sing is not yet finished, but the prison at Auburn has been in operation a sufficient time to enable us to judge of the influence of our system of prison discipline in reforming offenders, and its bearing upon the finances of the state. The reputation which this system has already acquired, not only with our sister states, but in Europe, is a matter of just state pride; and should stimulate us to further endeavours to aid the cause of humanity at large, by the influence of our example. The radical vice of old prisons is corrected in the plan of our buildings, which are constructed with a separate dormitory for every convict. Workshops are built in long lines. The convicts are employed, during the day, at all the various mechanic arts; and each man may be put to that business which suits his capacity, his health, and