POST WRITTEN BY: Marie S. Newman (Library Director, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University)
A new exhibit, “The Path to Statehood,” opened on November 8 at the New York State Museum in Albany. The exhibit was curated by the New York State Archives. The exhibit is limited in duration and will close on November 27. Featured are foundation documents of New York State and the United States, including the state’s first constitution, which was adopted in 1777, during the Revolutionary War. Among those who led in the creation of the first state constitution were John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, and Robert R. Livingston. The federal Constitution was adopted ten years later, in 1787, and both constitutions helped to establish stability after the turmoil of the Revolution. New Yorkers were deeply involved in the debates over the federal Constitution, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay arguing forcefully in support in The Federalist Papers.
New York has had four constitutions, which were adopted in 1777, 1821, 1846, and 1894. Constitutional conventions were held in 1801, 1867, 1915, 1938, and 1967; changes to the state constitution and major amendments were proposed, but most were ultimately rejected by the voters. In November 2017, New Yorkers will again be asked to vote on whether to hold another constitutional convention. To understand the voting process, consult this flow chart and read the accompanying text.
The New York State Library offers a collection of online materials dealing with New York’s constitutional conventions and constitutional history, including Charles Z. Lincoln’s 1905 authoritative five-volume treatise, The Constitutional History of New York. The Law Library has many books on the New York State constitutional history, including the following:
William A. Polf, 1777, the Political Revolution and New York’s First Constitution (JK3425 1777 .P64 1977)
Bicentennial Minutes: New York’s Role in the Ratification of the Constitution: A Compilation of Articles Originally Published in the New York State Bar News (KF4541.A2 B53 1988)
Peter J. Galie & Christopher Bopst, The New York State Constitution, 2d ed. (KFN5680 1894.A6 G348 2012)
Peter J. Galie, Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York (KFN5681 .G35 1996)