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Constitutions and Constitutional Conventions
New York's first state constitution preceded and influenced the development of the United States Constitution. In drafting state constitutions prior to the ratification of the national constitution, New York and its fellow original states established a tradition of dual constitutionalism that endures to this day. In establishing the basic framework of state government and protecting the rights of individuals, state constitutions serve functions parallel to the national constitution. However, as is the case with New York, state constitutions are able to go further in protecting certain individual rights and protecting the environment than the national constitution.
New York has adopted four constitutions (1777, 1821, 1846, and 1894) and held eight constitutional conventions (1801, 1821, 1846, 1867, 1894, 1915, 1938, and 1967). The Constitution of 1894, revised in 1938 and amended over 200 times, remains in place today. As provided in this document, the state legislature can propose a constitutional convention at any time, subject to approval by the electorate. However, the state constitution also mandates that the question of whether to hold a convention be submitted to the electorate every twenty years.
The holdings of the New York State Archives documenting the development of the state constitution prior to 1900 are generally limited to engrossed copies of proposed or adopted versions. However, post-1900 holdings include administrative and financial records of conventions, published reports, transcripts of proceedings, and records of individual convention committees.
New York State Constitutions and Constitutional Conventions from 1777 to 1965
1777 New York State Constitution
The New York State Archives holds a manuscript draft of the first state constitution (1777) containing numerous strikeouts, additions, and corrections. Constitutional scholars reason that the document's provisions for a strong executive and institutional checks and balances foreshadowed and influenced the thought process that produced the federal Constitution in 1787.
A1802 First Constitution of the State of New York, 1777. New York (State). Secretary of State. 0.3 cubic feet (1 volume).
1801 New York State Constitutional Convention
The 1801 constitutional convention was the only one in the state's history called for limited purposes. The convention met for two weeks to accomplish a reorganization of the state legislature and confirmation of the powers of the Council of Appointment. The State Archives holds the engrossed text of the amendments signed by Aaron Burr, convention president, and James Van Ingen and Joseph Constant, convention secretaries.
A1803 Amendments to the first state constitution, 1801. New York (State). Secretary of State. 0.2 cubic feet (1 item).
1821 New York State Constitutional Convention
The constitutional convention of 1821 resulted in the first submission of a new constitution for approval by the state's electorate. Approved by a wide margin, the new constitution included a bill of rights and removed property qualifications for white male voters, yet expanded property qualifications for African Americans. The document redistributed appointment power, placed veto power in the hands of the governor, and established a formal mechanism for amending the state constitution. The State Archives holds the engrossed copy of the 1821 constitution and a roll of delegates to the convention.
A1804 Second Constitution of the State of New York, 1821. New York (State). Secretary of State. 0.3 cubic feet (1 item).
A3304 Roll of Delegates to the 1821 Constitutional Convention, 1821. New York (State). Dept. of State. 0.5 cubic feet (1 item).
1846 New York State Constitutional Convention
Despite the approval of several amendments by formal procedures included in the 1821 constitution, voters overwhelmingly approved the call for a constitutional convention in 1846. The convention resulted in the drafting of what would become the third state constitution following voter approval by a margin of 2.5 to 1. The third constitution abolished all remnants of feudal land ownership, extended constitutional protection to local governments, and reorganized the judiciary. The question of equal suffrage for African Americans was submitted to voters as a separate referendum and was rejected. The State Archives holds the engrossed copy of the 1846 constitution and a roll of delegates to the convention. A small quantity of additional convention records are closed to research due to severe burn damage.
A1805 Third Constitution of the State of New York, 1846. New York (State). Secretary of State. 0.3 cubic feet (1 item).
A3305 Roll of delegates to the 1846 Constitutional Convention, 1846. New York (State). Dept. of State. 0.1 cubic feet (1 item).
1867 New York State Constitutional Convention
The 1867 constitutional convention was the first to result from a provision in the third constitution requiring that the electorate be polled every twenty years regarding the need for a convention to revise and amend the same. The convention focused heavily on alterations to the judicial system, and related amendments were submitted independently to voters and approved in 1869. The proposed constitution and a separate, African American suffrage amendment were both rejected by voters. The State Archives holds the engrossed copy of the proposed constitution.
A1806 Proposed Constitution of the State of New York, 1867-1868. New York (State). Secretary of State0 0.3 cubic feet (1 bound volume).
1894 New York State Constitutional Convention
The 1894 constitutional convention resulted in the drafting of the document that, while amended numerous times, remains the state's constitution to the present day. The new constitution reorganized the state's appellate court system and created the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. It also stipulated that the state forest preserve be kept "forever wild," erected a merit-based civil service system, and introduced measures aimed at reducing electoral fraud. The State Archives holds the engrossed copy of the 1894 constitution.
A1807 Fourth constitution of the State of New York, 1894. New York (State). Secretary of State. 0.3 cubic feet (1 volume).
1915 New York State Constitutional Convention
Delegates to the 1915 constitutional convention once again proposed the drafting of a new document. The changes proposed addressed the consolidation of state government departments, the role of the executive in the state budget process, and the streamlining of state financing. The proposed constitution was rejected by more than a 2 to 1 margin, in part because it was submitted for approval in its entirety, rather than as unique amendments or groups of amendments. In any case, the majority of changes proposed were later approved as individual amendments to the existing constitution. The State Archives holds the original manuscript version of the proposed constitution, as well as convention administrative records, transcripts of proceedings, and records of individual convention committees.
1938 New York State Constitutional Convention
Convening in the wake of nearly a decade of economic depression, the 1938 constitutional convention was forced to reconsider the role of government in times of social distress and economic hardship. The convention resulted in the submission of nine separate amendments to the voters, six of which were approved. Those approved addressed labor rights, housing, social welfare, civil liberties, and equal protection under the law regardless of race or religion. The State Archives holds the certified copies of the amendments approved by the convention, as well as convention administrative and financial records, transcripts of proceedings, and records of individual convention committees.
1965 New York State Constitutional Convention
While dozens of individual constitutional amendments were approved in the decades following the 1938 convention, the state legislature called for a constitutional convention in 1965 to address legal issues concerning the state's legislative apportionment. The convention resulted in a new document that sought, in addition to ending legislative control over apportionment, to eliminate the ban on state aid to sectarian schools and increase the state's financial contribution to the support of welfare programs. The proposed constitution was submitted for approval in its entirety, which as it had in 1915, resulted in voter disapproval by a margin of greater than 2 to 1. The State Archives holds convention administrative records, published reports, transcripts of proceedings, records of individual convention committees, and records compiled by individual delegates.