History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Celebrations of the State of New York
Prepared pursuant to a Concurrent Resolution
of the Legislature of 1878 and Chapter 391 of the Laws of 1879
By Allen C. Beach, Secretary of State.
Weed, Parsons & Co. Printers 1879.
Historic Kingston, the First Formation of The State.
The celebration at Kingston, Monday, July 30, 1877. Selected Orations from the celebration.
|Old State House, at Kingston|
Address of Hon. Chauncey M. Depew
Centennial celebrations crowd upon us. Appropriate commemorations of events of the revolutionary period are the pleasure and duty of the year. Most of them are upon historic battle fields, and recall the feats of arms of our victorious ancestors.
The occasion which calls us together has deeper significance than any battle. It is the anniversary of the declaration and establishment of those principles of constitutional liberty, without which the continental soldier had fought and died in vain. The story of the formation and expression of popular opinion upon popular rights during the colonial era, its development in the Constitution of 1777, and its results for a century, can only be sketched in the limits of an address. Unlike the other colonies, New York had no chartered rights; there were no limitations on the royal prerogative, and it was only by long and continued struggles that any immunities or privileges were secured. The Dutch had brought with them from Holland ideas of toleration a liberty, of which that country was for a time the only asylum in the world; the English colonists were firm in their devotion to representative government. By every process short of revolution during the period of the English rule the arbitrary exactions of the Royal governors were resisted, and the demands for an assembly of the people never ceased. The claim was based upon the natural and inherent rights of a free people.
In 1683, the home government, unable longer to resist, called together an assembly elected by the people. It was the dawn of representative government in New York. The first assembly of our ancestors immediately asserted and enacted into laws the fundamental principles of civil liberty. They passed a law for a triennial assembly; they declared all power to vest in the Governor, Council and people met in general assembly. The privileges of members of Parliament were conferred upon the assembly and its members; their consent must be had to the levy of any tax, and all the guarantees contained in Magna Charta, in the bill or rights, in the habeas corpus act, together with trial by jury, and freedom of conscience in matters of religion, were declared to be the rights, liberties and privileges of the inhabitants of New York. They created the township--that school of self-government--provided the civil divisions upon the plan which has substantially prevailed ever since, and organized superior and inferior courts for the administration of justice. The rights and liberties thus established were often violated and arbitrarily suspended or denied, but every repetition of such tyranny only served to inflame to passionate devotion the people's love of liberty, and to prepare the way for the Declaration of Independence. Ninety-three years after this memorable assertion of popular rights, petition and remonstrance having alike failed, the people determined to peril life and fortune to maintain and enlarge them. In 1776, New York was without a regular government. The Council was dissolved; the General Assembly prorogued, and the Royal Governor a fugitive under the protection of the guns of the British fleet.
The Provincial Congress sitting in New York owed its existence to the necessities of the time. It was a revolutionary body, its only charter an election by the people. On the 15th of May of that year the Continental Congress, then sitting in Philadelphia, adopted a resolution requesting the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies "where no government sufficient for the exigencies of their affairs had been established, to adopt such government as should, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and America in general."
They also recommended the suppression of all authority derived from the crown of Great Britain, and the assumption and exercise of government under authority from the people of the colonies. Of the thirteen colonies, all, except Rhode Island and Connecticut, adopted the recommendation. Their charters did not reserve to the crown the control over or veto upon their internal affairs, and with them such action was unnecessary. Virginia's constitution was first, and New York's fifth, in the order of adoption.
A few days after the passage of this resolution the Provincial Congress met in New York. Governor Morris, a delegate from the county of Westchester, then but twenty-four years of age, signalized his entrance into public life, by urging immediate action, in a speech remarkable for its courage and radicalism, and its strong presentation of the though of the time. He boldly declared that reconciliation with the mother country was a delusion, and that peace, liberty and security could only be had by independent government, and moved that a committee be appointed to draw up a plan for the frame of a government.
These men, acting upon well-understood principles, and jealous of every assumption of power, thought that this Congress was not elected for this purpose.
A committee was finally appointed, to whom the whole subject was referred, and on the 27th of May they reported "that the right of framing, creating or remodeling civil governments, is and ought to be in the people, "that the old form of government was dissolved and a new form was absolutely necessary, and that, as doubts existed whether the Provincial Congress had power to act, the people of the colony be called to elect a new Congress specially instructed upon the question of a new government. This report is remarkable as the earliest, clearest and most emphatic declaration of the doctrine of popular sovereignty. It was New York's contribution to American liberty, learned by more than half a century of incessant struggle of the representatives elected by the people with the representatives of the royal power.
The report of the committee was adopted, and on the 31st a series of resolutions, prepared by Mr. Jay, were passed, calling upon the several counties to elect a new body, with power to form a new government, and instructed also upon the question of united colonial independence. In the meantime the seat of war was transferred to New York. On Sunday afternoon of the 30th of June, the British fleet and army under Lord Howe having entered the harbor, the Congress, apprehensive of an attack by the enemy, resolved that the next Congress should meet at White Plains, in the county of Westchester, and adjourned. On the 9th of July, 1776, the newly-elected delegates met at the court house in that place and elected General Woodhull President,and John McKesson and Robert Berrian Secretaries. During the forenoon a letter was received from the delegates of New York, in the Continental Congress, enclosing Declaration of American Independence, which had been adopted on the 4th.
It was immediately read and referred to a committee, consisting of Messrs. Jay, Yates, Hobart, Brashier and Wm. Smith. It was a critical moment for these men. They had been just elected; only a few hours had elapsed since they had qualified and entered upon their duties, and now their first legislative act was to make up their record upon an issue which, if successful, made them patriots; if it failed, traitors and felons. How firm was their resolve; how clear their purpose; how serene their minds, is evidenced by the fact that on the afternoon of the same day the committee reported resolutions concurring in the Declaration, fully adopting it, and instructing our delegates in the General Congress to support the same, and give their united aid to all measures necessary to obtain its object.
The convention immediately adopted the report. On the morning of the next day, the 10th of July, this body "Resolved and ordered, that the style and title of this House be changed from that of the 'Provincial Congress of the Colony of New York,' to that of 'The Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York,'" and thus on the 10th day of July, 1776, the State of New York was born. In the afternoon of the 10th, they resolved to enter on the 16th upon the formation of a State government, but by that time the situation of affairs here became too alarming for deliberation. Washington was contemplating the abandonment of New York. British ships of war were anchored off Tarrytown, within six miles of where they were sitting. Their whole attention was occupied in raising troops and supplies, and providing for the public order. On the 16th they postponed the question till the 1st of August. In the meanwhile they provisionally ordained that all magistrates and civil officers, well affected toward independence, continue the exercise of their duties until further orders, except that all processes thereafter must issue in the name of the State of New York, and declared it to be treason and punishable with death for any one living within the State and enjoying the protection of its laws to adhere to the cause of the king of Great Britain or levy war against the State in his behalf.
With dangers threatening on every hand, the British fleet in possession of New York bay, the Hudson river and Long Island sound, a veteran army in overwhelming numbers but a few miles distant, thus boldly and fearlessly did the Representatives of New York assert her sovereignty. On the 27th of July the convention found it necessary to remove to Harlem, and there, on the 1st of August, on motion of Governor Morris, and seconded by Mr. Duer, a committee was appointed to prepare and report a constitution or form of government.
This committee was composed of the most eminent men in the convention and in the commonwealth. For a generation after independence was achieved a majority of them continued to receive, in positions of honor and trust, the highest marks of the confidence and affection of their countrymen. Their labors in the Cabinet and in congress, in the State Legislature and upon the bench, and in the diplomatic service, form the brightest pages in the history of the nation and the State.
John Jay was Chairman, and his associates were Governor Morris, Robert R. Livingston, William Duer, Abraham and Robert Yates, General Scott, Colonel Broome, Mr. Hobart, Colonel DeWitt, Samuel Townshead, William Smith and Mr. Wisner. The Committee were to report on the 16th of August, 1776; but such was the perilous condition of the State, and so manifold the duties of the members of the convention, that no report was made till March, 1777. The convention meanwhile, by the alarming situation of affairs, was migrating from place to place, and performing every class of public duty. It was a committee of public safety; it was providing the ways and means to continue the contest; its members were now serving in the Continental Congress, and again with the army; they were acting as judges and negotiators. Today they were flying before the enemy, tomorrow furnishing protection for the sorely pressed Commonwealth. At one time meeting at Kingsbridge, then at Odell's in Phillip's Manor, then at Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, and finally at Kingston. At Fishkill, they supplied themselves with arms and ammunition, and thereafter legislated with their swords by their sides, literally building the peaceful fabric of constitutional government, in the very presence of the alarms; the perils and the carnage of war. On the 6th of March, 1777, at Kingston, the committee appointed to prepare a form of government were required to report on the following Wednesday, and on that day, the 12th, the committee made a report which was read by Mr. Duane.
The draft was drawn by John Jay, and is in his handwriting. This draft was under discussion until the 20th of April, and underwent some amendments and additions. The leading minds in the debates, and in the introduction of the amendments adopted were John Jay, Governor Morris, Robert R. Livingston and Mr. Duane. The constitution, however, was finally passed almost as it came form the hands of Mr. Jay, and was adopted with one dissenting voice on the 20th of April, 1777. It was the evening of Sunday, the President, General TenBroeck, was absent, and also the Vice President, General Pierre Van Cortlandt, but revolutions know neither days nor individuals, General Leonard Gansevoort, acting as President pro tem., attested the document.
The same night Robert R. Livingston, General Scott, Governor Morris, Abraham Yates, John Jay and Mr. Hobart were appointed a committee to report a plan for organizing and establishing the form of government. They next directed one of the secretaries to proceed immediately to Fishkill, and have five hundred copies of the constitution, without the preamble, and twenty-five hundred with the preamble printed, and instructed him to give gratuities to the workmen to have it executed with dispatch. They then resolved that the constitution should be published on the next Tuesday, in front of the Courthouse, at Kingston; and the village committee were notified to prepare for the event. This latter body seem expeditiously and economically to have performed their duty by erecting a platform upon the end of a hogshead, and from this, Vice President Van Cortlandt presiding, Robert Berrian, one of the secretaries, read this immortal document to the assembled people. The convention having promulgated their ordinance for the formation of the State government, and filled up, provisionally, the offices necessary for carrying it on until an election could be had, and appointed thirteen of their number to act as a committee of safety until the Legislature should assemble, adjourned sine die on the 13th of May, 1777. Thus passed into history this remarkable convention. In lofty patriotism, steadfastness of purpose, practical wisdom and liberal statesmanship, it had few, if any, equals, even among the legislative bodies of extraordinary merit which marked the era. Its address to the people drafted by Jay, and declared by Jefferson the ablest document of the period, is a most compact and eloquent statement of the fundamental principles of free government, and was republished by Congress for the whole country, and translated into foreign tongues. Of the many distinguished men who were its members three stand out conspicuously, and form an unequaled triumvirate of social distinction, character, culture and intellect. They were John Jay, Governor Morris, and Robert R. Livingston. All young men, possessing the best education of the time, belonging to the wealthiest families in the State, by birth and opportunity certain of royal favor, and having the largest stake in loyalty and stable government. They yet risked all, and periled their lives, for civil liberty and self government. John Jay became Governor and cabinet minister and foreign envoy, and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Governor Morris distinguished himself in the councils of the nation and the diplomatic service of the country. Robert R. Livingston rendered the most eminent services, both to this State and the United States, and in foreign courts. Their examples, efforts and contributions in educating the nerving the colonies to the Declaration of Independence, in the events which led to the recognition of the Republic, and in molding the internal regulations and foreign policy of the new government, are the special pride of New York and the glory of the nation. No one can today read the Constitution of 1777, without wondering how little we have been able to improve upon it in one hundred years. When we consider that purely representative government was then an almost untried experiment, this instrument becomes more and more an enduring monument to the wisdom and foresight of its framers. It begins with a preamble setting forth the causes which led to the formation of a separate government, and the authority conferred upon the convention by the people to do this work. It recites at length the Declaration of Independence, and the unanimous resolution of the convention on the 9th of July, 1776, endorsing the declaration and instructing the New York delegates in the Continental Congress to give it their support. By virtue of which several acts and recitals, says the preamble "All power whatever in the State hath reverted to the people thereof, and this Convention hath, by their suffrages and free choice, been appointed and authorized to institute and establish such a government as they shall deem best calculated to secure the rights and liberties of the good people of this State."
Its first section, which was unanimously agreed to, is the keynote of its spirit. It ordained, determined and declared that no authority, on any pretense whatever, should be exercised over the people of member of this State, but such as should be derived from and granted by the people.
The declarations of 1683 were to secure for British colonists every liberty granted by the crown to the British subject. The purpose of the men of 1777 was to substitute the popular will for the royal prerogative,and natural rights for charters wrung from the reluctant hands of hereditary power.
Their experience with the colonial Governors had made them jealous and suspicious of individual authority, and so, to prevent the passage of laws inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution, or the public good, they placed the veto power in the hands of a council of revision, consisting of the Governor, the Chancellor,and the Judges of the Supreme Court. All bills passed by the Legislature were to be submitted to them, and their veto was absolute, unless the vill was re-passed by two thirds of each House.
It followed the English model in its Legislature, and created two bodies, Senate and assembly, and vested in the all legislative power. The Senate, twenty four in number, was to be elected for four years by the freeholders of their districts having freeholds of the value of over one hundred pounds, and the Assembly of seventy members for one year, by freeholders possessing freeholds of the value of twenty pounds, or renting tenements of the yearly value of twenty shillings and paying taxes. Provision was made of increasing both branches, but the Senate was never to exceed one hundred or the Assembly three hundred. It was the universal belief of the time that those who paid the taxes and supported the government should govern. Universal suffrage was not deemed an inherent right, but a privilege to be hedged about with restrictions and limitations, and while we have enlarged the limit, our legislation has always held to the theory, until recently, as to people of color, and still as to women, and minors, and others. It was the change of sentiment on this great question which led to the convention and new constitution of 1821. The executive power was bested in a Governor and Lieutenant Governor, to be chosen for three years,and to this term we have returned by an amendment adopted in 1874. The judicial power was bested in a Chancellor, and Judges of the Supreme Court; and local county courts and a probate judiciary were constituted, and they respectively held during good behavior, and until sixty-five years of age; while a final appellate court, both in law and equity, was formed by the Senate, the Chancellor, and the Judges of the Supreme Court. Says the most eminent authority of our time: "The first New York Judiciary administered public justice and protected private rights during the whole period of its existence, in a manner which satisfied our people and won applause from all disinterested observers."
The appointing power was vested in a council of appointment, consisting of four Senators, selected annually by the assembly who, with the Governor, were to form the council. To this body was given the appointment and removal of all officers in the State, except the chancellor, judges of the supreme court, and first judges of the counties. As the State increased in wealth and population, the power and patronage of this council became enormous. It controlled the politics of the Commonwealth for forty years, and, at the time of its abolishment, had within its gift fifteen thousand offices. Such parts of the common law of England and the statute law of Great Britain and the colony of New York, not inconsistent with the independence of the State, as were in force on the 19th day of April, 1775, were declared to be the law of new York, thus deliberately fixing in the fundamental law the day when the British soldiers fired upon the patriots a Lexington, as the close forever of the supremacy of British authority.
The manner of voting was the subject of much discussion in the convention. The object was to get the freest and most unbiased expression of the popular will. At first the advocates of the viva voce vote seemed to have the majority; but this convention was wonderfully free from prejudice, or pride of opinion, or slavery to precedent. As stated in the constitution, their object was to do that which best "would tend to preserve the liberty and equal freedom of the people." They were willing to fairly try any reasonable experiment. While the vote by ballot was negated by two thirds, a compromise was adopted by thirty three to three, ordaining that, after the termination of the war, the Legislature should provide for all elections by ballot, and if, after full and fair trial, it was found less conducive to the safety and interest of the State, the viva voce practice might be restored. In 1787 the requisite law was enacted for voting by ballot, and that method has continued ever since.
The question of religious tolerance excited great interest and the longest debate. By personal experience and family tradition these men were very familiar with the results of bigotry and intolerance. With the exception of Holland, there was scarcely a place in the world where religious freedom was permitted. John Jay, true to his Huguenot recollections and training, threw the weight of his great influence and ability on the side of restriction. He moved to "except the professors of the religion of the church of Rome, until they should take oath that they verily believed that no pope, priest, or foreign authority, hath power to absolve the subjects of the State from allegiance, and unless they renounced the false, wicked and damnable doctrine that the pope has power to absolve men from their sins;" this having been voted down by nineteen to ten, it was then moved, "that this toleration shall not extend to justify the professors of any religion in disturbing the peace or violating the laws of this State." This too was rejected, and the convention, to their immortal honor and glory, established liberty of conscience in these memorable words: "This convention doth, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State, Ordain, determine and declare that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed within this State, to all mankind." Thomas Jefferson forced a like expression from Virginia, but with that exception, New York alone among the thirteen States began its existence with absolute and untrammeled religious liberty.
The Constitution provided for the naturalization of foreigners, for trial by jury, for a militia service with recognition of the Quakers, and for the protection of Indians within the State limits. Acts of attainder were prohibited, no person was to be disfranchised, except by law of the land or the judgment of his peers; freedom of debate in legislative bodies was secured; parties impeached or indicted for crimes were to be allowed counsel as in civil cases, and the Legislature was prohibited from instituting any court except such as should proceed according to the course of the common law. Pause for a moment and reflect upon the conditions under which this Constitution was prepared and adopted. Its framers in perpetual peril of their lives at some period during their deliberations, every county in the State invaded by the enemy, devoting most of their time to the public defense and the protection of their families, without precedent to guide them, save the English model, their own experience, and thoughtful study of the principles of liberty. "Our constitution," said Mr. Jay in his letter to the President of the convention, "is universally approved even in New England, where few New York productions have credit." The verdict of posterity is unanimous and emphatic, that it deserves a high place among the few immortal documents which attest and determine the progress of the people, and the growth and defense of human liberty. Its principal features were incorporated into the Constitution of the United States, and followed by a majority of the New Commonwealths, which from time to time were admitted into the Union. The men, whose virtues we celebrate here today, did not build better than they knew. It is the crowning merit of their work that it fulfilled its purpose. The peril of their position, the time, nearly the darkest and most hopeless of the revolution, so purified their actions and intensified their thoughts, that reason became almost prophecy. The brilliance of the promise is equaled by the splendor of the performance. The salient principles of the old Constitution underlie the new, and every present effort to abandon other experiments and restore the ancient forms, is the best tribute posterity can pay to the marvelous wisdom of the members of our first State Convention. The Constitution of 1777 remained in force for over forty years, and then, with some minor modifications, the extension of suffrage,and the concentration of more power in the Governor, it continued substantially unchanged until 1846. The public improvements of the State, its growth in population and local necessities demanded some amendments,and to provide for the public debt and limit the debt contracting power and to enlarge the Judiciary, the Convention of 1846 was called together. Wile preserving many of the essential features of the old Constitution, this Convention made changes which radically altered our scheme of State administration. The Governor was stripped of nearly all power, the authority of the Legislature was restricted, and appointments of office, and local administration given directly to the people. The whole civil service, which for seventy years had been appointed by the Council of Appointment and the Governor and senate, was reduced to elective offices. The judiciary, which had been selected by the Executive, and held it place during good behavior, was submitted to popular nomination and election, and very short terms of service. The whole instrument is a protest against the concentration of power in any branch of the government, and a demand for its surrender at the shortest possible intervals by the Executive, the legislative and the judicial officers, back again to the people. It cut up and subdivided for the election of the Legislature, the large districts, with their guarantee of larger men for representatives, and made statesmanship difficult in proportion as it multiplied the opportunities and increased the influence of the local politician. It so widely distributed official authority and responsibility that each soldier of a vast army of placement was accountable only to the hazards of a reelection at the end of a brief tern, and the Governor was the head of an administration beyond the reach of appointment, removal or control by him. The wisdom of the revolution, especially in the judiciary, has never ceased to be doubted, and within the past five years, by duly adopted amendments, more permanency and dignity have been given to our higher and appellate courts, by reorganizing them upon a more harmonious basis, with more symmetry and concentration and longer terms of service. The tendency of recent Constitutional reform has been to old methods in respect to the Executive, both in regard to his length of service and general powers,and happily to drive from the Legislature special legislation for the benefit of individuals, corporations or localities, and compel the enactment of such general laws as will bear equally in both grant and limitation upon all, giving to none the exclusive benefits and franchises of the State. But the methods provided by the Constitution of 1846 to preserve the credit of New York, to reform and simplify the practice and codify the laws, are worthy of all praise, and have been adopted by a large number of the other States. Let us hope that very soon our fundamental law may be still further amended to stop the increase of local and municipal debt, the source and fountain of extravagance, peculation and fraud, and the greatest curse of our time.
This brief review of our constitutional history leads naturally to an inquiry as to what practical results have been obtained by these principles and plans of government. The first election for State officers and members of the Legislature was held in June, 1777, in all the counties not in possession of the enemy, by the officers appointed by the convention. A majority of the council of safety sought to control the matter by nominating Philip Schuyler for Governor, and George Clinton for Lieutenant-Governor. As Jay said, in proclaiming these nominations: "Our Constitution is universally approved and does honor to our State. Let us not lose our credit in committing the government of it to men inadequate to the task. These gentlemen are respectable abroad. Their attachment to the cause is confessed and their abilities unquestionable. Let us endeavor to be as unanimous as possible."
Notwithstanding this powerful nomination, forty-one candidates ran, 13,179 votes were case,and General George Clinton was elected both Governor and Lieutenant-Governor. He resigned the latter office, and General Pierre Van Cortlandt, as President of the Senate, became Lieutenant-Governor. The newly elected Governor was cast in the mold of the sternest and most inflexible patriotism. The highest office in the gift of the people had come to him unsolicited, but he hesitated long before accepting it. Regardless of personal sacrifice or ambition, he wanted first clearly to see whether his duty to the cause could be best performed in the field or the executive chair. The council of safety, restive under their great responsibilities, demanded that he immediately leave his command and assume the helm of State.
Washington and Putnam advised his acceptance, and among the expressions of opinion from all quarters, the Consistory of the Dutch Reformed Church at Kingston, addressed him a most earnest appeal and congratulation. "From the beginning of the present war," they said, "the Consistory and people of Kingston have uniformly been attached to the cause of America, and justify, upon the soundest principles of religion and morality, the glorious revolution of a free and oppressed country. Taken then, with the acclamation and fullest confidence of the public--take, sire, the government into your hands, and let the unsolicited voice of the whole State prevail upon you to enter upon this arduous task. The Consistory esteem themselves especially happy in having cause to believe that religious liberty, without which all other privileges are not worth enjoying, will be strenuously supported by your Excellency."
He yielded his own judgment to the universal anxiety, and the 30th of July, 1777, was fixed for the inauguration. And so, one hundred years ago today, upon this spot, the council of safety surrendered its power, General George Clinton was inaugurated Governor, and the state of New York, under a Constitution and duly organized government, began its history. He came from the very presence of the enemy to assume the robes of office, to return to his post when the ceremony was over, and the proclamation which made him Governor, General and Commander of the Militia and Admiral of the Navy of the State, was the first State paper bearing the startling attest, "God save the People." Forts Clinton and Montgomery were attacked in the Highlands, Herkimer was battling in the Valley of the Mohawk, Burgoyne was marching from the north, and it was months before he could summon from the field and gather in council the first Legislature.
New York had but two hundred thousand people; was without manufactories or internal improvements, and hemmed in and invaded on every side by hostile fleets and armies. One hundred years have passed, and today in the sisterhood of States, she is the empire in all that constitutes a great Commonwealth. An industrious, intelligent and prosperous population of five millions of people live within her borders. In the value of her farms and farm products, and in her manufacturing industries, she is the first State in the Union. She sustains over one thousand newspapers and periodicals, has eighty millions invested in church property, and spends twelve millions of dollars are year upon popular education. Upward of three hundred academies and colleges fit her youth for special professions, and furnish opportunities for liberal learning and the highest culture, and stately edifices all over the State, dedicated to humane and benevolent objects, exhibit the permanence and extent of her organized charities. There are three hundred million of dollars in her savings banks. Three hundred millions in her insurance companies, and five hundred millions in the capital and loans of her State and National Banks. Six thousand miles of railroads, costing six hundred millions of dollars, have penetrated and developed every accessible corner of the State, and maintain against all rivalry and competition her commercial prestige.
In 1825 a cannon was fired upon the Battery in New York city, in response to the reverberations of the guns from Sandy Hook, its echoes were caught and repeated by another shot at the Palisades, and so from Tappan Zee to the Highlands, and along the Catskills and the Valley of the Mohawk, and past the falls of the Genesee, till lost over the lake at Buffalo, the thunders of artillery announced, in one hour and twenty minutes, the whole length of the State, that the water of the lake had been wedded to the ocean, and the Erie canal was completed. It marked a new era in the prosperity of the State and the history of the nation. It sent the tide of emigration to the northwest, developing there great agricultural States, and added immensely to the wealth of New York. All honor and gratitude to the men who at that early day had the courage and foresight to plan and pursue these great public improvements, and whose wisdom has been proven by a repetition of the lessons of the ages, that along the highways of commerce reside population, wealth, civilization and power. The glory of each State is the common property of the nation, and we make this day our Centennial exhibit. Our inquiry has shown that we need not step beyond our own boundaries to find illustrious annals and noble examples. We are rich in battlefields, decisive in results upon the freedom of the nation. Jay, Morris and Livingston, Schuyler and Montgomery, Clinton and Herkimer, Hamilton and Kent, are names which will live among the soldiers, patriots and sages of all time. In every crisis of its history, the virtue, courage and wisdom of the people have been equal to the needs of the present and the wants of the future.
Let us welcome the second century and enter upon its duties with the stern purpose and high resolve to maintain the standard of our fathers in the public and private life of the State and the honorable superiority of New York in the Federal Union.
Address By Rev. John C. F. Hoes, D. D.
Late Pastor of the Reformed Protestant Church of Kingston
Mr. President--Ladies and Gentlemen:
A few weeks since, I was in the State library at Albany, searching its archives for information relative to the early settlement of Kingston, and the establishment of the Reformed Dutch Church in this place, when I found among the Clinton papers an autograph letter, which it is deemed proper and appropriate should be read on this Centenary occasion. It was written by the Rev. Dr. George J. L. Doll, in behalf of the Consistory of the Church of Kingston, of which he was at that time pastor, and addressed to His Excellency George Clinton on the occasion of his inauguration as the first Governor of the State of New York. The Consistory was composed of the following named gentlemen: Elders-- Johannes Van Keuren, Heiman Roosa, Benjamin Ten Broeck, Ezekiel Masten. Deacons-- Gerrit Freer, Abraham Elmendorf, Conrad Newkirk, Tobyas Swart. Kerkmeester or Church Warden --William Elting.
Dr. Doll was the last of that venerable catalogue of divines, commencing with the Rev. Hermanus Bloom in 1659, who were thoroughly educated in the universities of Holland and German, and who, as pastors, preached in the Dutch language to the people of this place and its vicinity. His ministry commended in 1775, and terminated with his death in 1811. He was the father-in-law of the late Hon. James Vanderpoel, his granddaughter was the wife of the late John Van Buren, and daughter-in-law of the late ex-President Van Buren.
The Reformed Dutch Church of which Dr. Doll was pastor for the period of thirty-six years was established in 1659--that is, one hundred and eighteen years before the inauguration of George Clinton as the first Governor of the State of New York.
The church edifice in which Dr. Doll commenced his ministry in Kingston was dedicated to the worship of God by the Rev. George Wilhelmus Mancius, November 29, 1752, N. S., and was burned on the 16th of October, 1777, when Kingston was taken by the British under General Vaughn. There are good reasons to believe that the British forces were at first reluctant to burn the church, but when they learned of the patriotism of Dr. Doll and his consistory as expressed in the letter I am about to read, they no longer hesitated sacrilegiously to apply the torch to the house of God, and also to the parsonage in which the patriotic Dominie lived. It is only a few weeks since that I first learned of the existence of anything which would give a true conception of this church. And I take the liberty of holding up to your view the only picture in existence of this ancient and venerable house of the Lord, made by A. Billings, 125 years ago. In this church either in its original form or as it was rebuilt after having been burned by the British in the Revolutionary war, the people of God worshipped until 1833, when it was succeeded by a more modern structure, which in its turn was succeeded in 1852 by the present commodious and attractive edifice. But I will no detain you longer by giving a history of the church of Kingston, but will proceed to read the letter of Dr. Doll, to which these remarks are designed only to be introductory.
Letter of Dr. Doll
To His Excellency, George Clinton, Esq., Governor, General and Commander-in-Chief of all the Militia, and Admiral of the Navy of the State of New York:
May it please your Excellency -- At the commencement of the New Constitution, and at the very hour of your inauguration, the Minister, Elders and deacons of the Reformed Dutch Church of Kingston, in consistory assembled, beg leave to congratulate your Excellency upon the highest honors the subjects of a free State can possess, and to assure you of the part they bear in the public happiness of this occasion.
From the beginning of the present war, the Consistory and the people of Kingston have been uniformly attached to the cause of America, and justify upon the soundest principles of religion and morality the glorious revolution of a free and oppressed country. Convinced of the unrighteous design of Great Britain upon their civil and religious privileges, they choose, without hesitation, rather to supper with a brave people for a season, than to enjoy the luxuries and friendship of a wicked and cruel nation.
With an inexpressible perseverance, which they trust the greatest adversity and persecution will never change, they profess to your Excellency their interest in the Continental Union and loyalty to the State of New York.
While the Constitution is preserved inviolate, and the rulers steer by that conspicuous beacon, the people have the fairest prospects of happiness and success. With you they choose to launch, that future pilots may form a precedent from your vigilance, impartiality and firmness, and the system obtain an establishment that shall last for ages. For as nothing can be more agreeable to the conscious patriot than the approbation of his country, so nothing can more promote the general good than placing confidence in established characters, and raising merit to distinguished power.
Take, then, with the acclamations and fullest confidence of the public -- take, Sir, the government into your hands, and let the unsolicited voice of a whole State prevail upon you to enter upon the arduous task.
All ranks, in placing you at their head, have pledged their lives and fortunes to support and defend you in this exalted station, and the Consistory of Kingston cheerfully unite in the implicit stipulation, and promise you their prayers.
As a reformation in morals is the immediate object of the Consistory of Kingston, they esteem themselves especially happy in having cause to believe, that religious liberty (without which all other privileges are not worth enjoying) will be strenuously supported by your Excellency; and they congratulate themselves and the State, that God has given them a Governor who understands,and therefore loves the Christian Religion, and who in his administration will prove a terror to evil doers, and an example and patron to them that do well.
Signed by order of the Consistory, August 2, 1777. J. L. Doll. Praescs.
Address of Hon. George H. Sharpe
When the consolidation of the Roman Empire seemed to be well nigh attained, at about the commencement of the Christian ear, Caesar Augustus instituted or revived the secular games. They were intended to mark the Centennial periods of Rome. Heralds were employed to convoke the people by a solemn summons in these words: Convenite ad ludos spectandos, quos nec spectavit quisquam, nec spectaturus est. They were invited to a spectacle which no one present had ever beheld, and which no one present would ever behold again. At the special celebration spoken of Horace prepared the hymn, which was sung by a chorus of youths and maidens. We can well believe that at these Centennial epochs the most popular orators were called to celebrate in fitting terms the great deeds of their ancestors. While the glories of Rome would form the general theme, a particular recital would be rendered to commemorate the successes of the hundred years just past. And when such an epoch had been marked by some of the mightiest achievements of Rome, care would be taken that a minute narrative should be made of the incidents and actors who figured in the triumphs. It has been therefore thought proper that, in addition to the broader discourse to which you have been called to listen, I should endeavor to make a picture to you of the scene and actors when the independent government of this great Commonwealth was first set in motion.
Kingston as connected with the Convention, will then, be my brief topic.
The revolutionary government of this State was carried on by a Provincial congress, issuing out of a convention, and during its recesses its powers were confided to a Committee or Council of Safety. The first, second and their provincial Congresses met in New York. The exigencies of war required the fourth to meet at White Plains, in Westchester County, where the declaration of Independence was read and unanimously agreed to on the 10th of July, 1776. On the 29th of the same month the Provincial Convention adjourned to Harlem, where it Continued for thirty days, when it again adjourned to Fishkill. The accommodations there were insufficient. The Episcopal church had been chosen for the sessions of the conventions, but being very offensive with the dung of dogs and fowls, and without any benches, seats or any other conveniences whatever, it was considered unfit for the use of the Conventions, and the members unanimously agreed to adjourn to the duct church in the same village. Those present from the County were Charles DeWitt and Christopher Tappen. Brief sessions were held until the 15th of October, when the Convention again resigned the care of public affairs to the Committee of Public Safety, and on the 31st day of January, 1777, Messrs. Duane and Robert Yates, having returned from Kingston, reported, in substance, that they had conferred with the committee in Ulster County, and find that if the Conventions should move to that place, fifty members can obtain good accommodations; that the price will be twenty shillings per week, and that the Courthouse, or a large room in the said building, would be convenient for the Convention to meet in.
This village had been already subjected to extraordinary burdens; its jail was made the custodian of a large number of State prisoners, and as it was situated upon the road principally used by troops passing to and from the northern and southern armies, the town committee was frequently obliged to make reclamations for extraordinary acts committed by the troops.
On the 1st of February the Committee of Safety authorized the Committee of Kingston to appoint a guard for the safe custody of the State prisoners, six of the said guard to watch every night; and an allowance of two shillings and six pence was made to each member for every night on duty; and the town committee was authorized to provide candles and firewood for the guard, to be reimbursed out of the treasury of the State.
On the 11th of February Mr. Gansevoort, of Albany, moved that the Convention adjourn, to meet at Kingston on the 19th. Mr. Wisner, of Orange, endeavored to have Goshen chosen instead of Kingston, and moved an amendment to that effect. Debate arose thereon, and the Journal informs us that when the question was put on the amendment it was carried in the negative. Mr. Duane, of New York, then introduced a preamble reciting the great and momentous affairs under the considerations of the Convention, and the necessity of the advice and assistance of all it members, and an order was made that all the members of the Convention should be peremptorily required to given their attendance at Kingston, and letters were written to the committees of the respective counties, enclosing copies of the above resolution, and informing them that it is the intention of the House as soon as they meet in Kingston to proceed to the business of forming a plan of government.
On the 19th of February, 1777, the Committee of Safety assembled at Kingston, there being present only col. Pierre Van Cortlandt, acting President; Messrs. Philip Livingston and Van Zandt, of New York; Mr. Tappen, of Ulster; Mr. Taylor, of Albany, and Mr. Newkirk, of Tryon, the latter county comprising nearly all that part of the State now westerly of Schenectady. No business was done on this first day, except the consideration of a letter from General George Clinton, dated at New Windsor on the 14th instant, informing the committee that pursuant to the resolve of the Convention he had raised five hundred men in the counties of Orange and Ulster.
The Committee of Safety continued its sessions from day to day, with accessions of members, passing upon the most important business relating to this province, a large part of which, including the city of New York, was in the possession of the enemy, the northern and centre portions being threatened by the great invasion of Burgoyne. On the 6th of March the committee yielded its powers to the Convention, of which Brigadier-General Ten Broeck, a member from Albany was President.
Kingston was at this time the third place in size, wealth and importance in the State. I find a census made in 1782, when is is probable that the number of inhabitants did not greatly differ from what it was at the date we are considering. The population of Kingston was then computed at 2,652, and the total population of the county at 16,902.
Within a few days past, in the company of General D. T. Van Buren, I made an examination of the old stone dwellings still standing, which, in all probability, existed essentially in their present condition in 1777. These ancient relics are passing away, may of the best specimens having been removed within late years. There are, however, about forty-eight stone houses presenting substantially the same appearance which they did to the distinguished men who for long months resided here, directing the energies of this province against the mighty armies of Great Britain, and giving the principle of like to the Constitution of an independent State.
In 1777 the greater part of the village still lay within the confines of the palisaded enclosure which had formed the fortified post of the Esopus from the year 1658. This area, comprising about twenty five acres, lay within the boundaries of North Front, East Front, Green and Main streets. The houses were built of blue limestone, the largest proportion of them being only one story high, with an attic; and as the interior walls were made by plastering immediately upon the stone, very little woodwork was found inside of them. I call attention to this fact because it is frequently stated in various writing, permanent and fleeting, that but one house is standing today in Kingston in the likeness it exhibited during the revolutionary war. At the time the village was fired by Baughn's troops, in October, 1777, the inhabitants had ample warning of the disaster; and although, by reason of the absence of the greater part of the male population at Saratoga or with the Southern army, they were unable to resist the invader, a great part of their household goods and movable effects was sent to Hurley or Marbletown. The inflammable material, therefore, remaining within these stone walls was small in amount, and where the house was not large the fire was not sufficiently strong to crack the walls. The renewal, therefore, of the doors, shutters and roofs would restore the dwelling to its former external appearance, and such restoration was likely to be made by the mechanics of the day after the old models.
The village was mainly within the ancient precincts, but had overflowed somewhat toward Hurley, and more extensively over the plains on the south. Some of the larger houses, like Molly Elmendorf's, which stood between the present site of the Kingston Bank and Mr. Howard Chipp's, and the Vanderlyn mansion, which occupied the space across Wall street between the present sites of the Ulster County and State of New York Banks, received so much injury from the intensity of the fire, on account of their size, that they were suffered to fall into ruin. And I have been told by those now living that they played as children within the walls and under the arches of these ruins, seeming to them of vast size, and constraining sentiments of awe and veneration. Others of the larger houses were only partially rebuilt, the new courses of stone being laid in the same position as the old ones. Of these, Christopher Tappen's mansion, late on the corner of Wall and North Front; the large Tappen house, still occupying the triangle on Green Street; the old Bruyn mansion, with its handsome hipped roof, on the corner of North Front and crown; Bogardus' tavern, afterward called the Constitution House, standing where William F. Romer's residence now is, and the old Hasbrouck homestead, lately on East Front street at the easterly termination of Main, are fair specimens, and will readily be recalled by most of those who hear me. Bogardus' tavern, with the Elmendorf hose diagonally opposite, now owned by General Van Buren, were the two principal hotels, and in them the committees who prepared the Constitution undoubtedly met. The convention, however, sat in the Court House, a substantial building of blue limestone, occupying about the same superficies of ground as the present noble building, and overlooking the fine enclosure and old burying ground of the Dutch church.
The Convention having organized on the 6th of March, we learn from its journal that already on the 12th the committee for preparing and reporting a form or plan of government brought in their report, which was read my Mr. Duane, of New York, in his place.
On the 18th of March, Mr. Governor Morris, of Westchester, moved, and it was seconded, that the members be permitted to smoke in the Convention chamber, to prevent bad effects from the disagreeable effluvia arising from the jail below. A debate arose thereon, and, the question being put, the House divided as follows: For the affirmative, Westchester, four votes; Albany, six votes; Ulster, four votes -- total, fourteen. For the negative, Tryon, three votes; New York, eight votes -- total, eleven. The counties of Dutchess and Orange were divided. This division was immediately followed by a motion of Mr. Jay, which was passed, directing that Captain Platt, Mr. Cuyler and Mr. Duane, be appointed a committee to devise ways and means for clearing the jail below and moving the prisoners.
The Convention proceeded from day to day, transacting its military business and discussing the several sections of the new Constitution; and on the 20th of April, the whole plan of government was read through, the last division being taken upon the two methods of voting at the popular elections -- by ballot or viv voce. On the evening of the same day, which was Sunday, the Constitution or plan of government of this State, as amended, was read throughout, and, the general question being put thereon, it was agreed to by every member present, except Col. Peter R. Livingston, who desired that his dissent thereto be entered on the minutes.
draft of this Constitution was in the handwriting of John Jay, and, containing
a full recital of the Declaration of Independence, is equal, in the dignity
of its language and in the scope of its provisions, to any similar instrument
prepared by the hand of man. The proceedings of the day were closed by the
appointment of Mr. Robert R. Livingston, Gen. Scott, Mr. Morris, Mr. Abraham
Yates, Mr. Jay and Mr. Hobart a committee to report a plan for establishing
the government agreed to by this convention; and it was ordered that one of
the Secretaries should proceed to Fishkill, where Mr. John Holt, the editor
of the New York Journal, and the State printer, was then established. The
Secretary was authorized to direct the printing of three thousand copies of
the Constitution, and to give gratuities to the printer and his workmen, at
his discretion, in order to obtain dispatch, and the printer was ordered to
lay aside all other business. The proceedings of the committee concluded with
the following action by the Convention:
Resolved, That the Constitution of this State be published at the Court house, at eleven of the clock, on next Tuesday morning. Ordered, That the Chairman of the Committee of Kingston be furnished with a copy of the above resolution, and that he be requested to notify the inhabitants of Kingston thereof.
On the following Tuesday, at the hour named, the bells of the Dutch church, the Court house and of Kingston Academy, called the inhabitants to the front of the latter building, where, surrounded by the members of the Convention, the Secretary of that body, standing upon a barrel, read the Constitution to the people.
The little capital of the State began to increase in importance,and on the following Saturday, April 26th, the Convention ordered that the Treasurer of this State advance to John Dumont, Esq., Chairman of the Committee of Kingston, the sum of one hundred pounds to defray the expense of the night watch over the State prisoners and the public records. Meantime some vessels belonging to the Continental congress,which had taken refuge up the Hudson River, and by reason of the enemy's strong naval force at New York were unable to put to sea, had been placed at the disposition of this Colony for the purpose of receiving State prisoners. These vessels lay at Twaalfskill, now Wilbur, one of them being named the Lady Washington; and on the 28th of April the Convention ordered that two hundred men be raised to protect the Continental ships and the public records and treasury of this State against the designs of disaffected people, as well as to guard the different passes and roads frequented by such persons for the purpose of conveying intelligence and going over to the enemy. This force was organized into three companies of able bodied men, well armed and accoutered each with a good musket or fusee, a sword or tomahawk, a powder thorn and bullet pouch or cartouch pouch, and they were officered respectively by Captains Evart Bogardus, Isaac Belknap and Frederick Schoonmaker.
Much time of the Convention was subsequently occupied by the trial of a number of Tories, with which the northern part of our county abounded. The enemy sought to corrupt the farmers of the mountain towns from their allegiance to the State by an offer of one hundred acres for heads of families, and fifty for children, to be partitioned out of such lands as should be confiscated from the patriots. A considerable number, whose trials are set forth at length upon the Journal of the Convention, were found guilty and ordered to be hanged; but it would seem that the gates of mercy were easily opened, as from one cause and another all were reprieved, with the exception of two, Jacobus Roosa and Jacob Middagh; whereupon it was ordered that Egbert Dumond, Esq., High Sheriff, have permission to go aboard all the vessels at the landing, at his pleasure, or to send any person on board who shall be the bearer of a copy of this order, to endeavor to obtain on board who shall be the bearer of a copy of this order, to endeavor to obtain an executioner. It is, therefore, to be presumed that the two traitors who were hanged at this time perished at the hands of one of their royalist sympathizers.
On the 6th of May it was voted that Levi Pawling be first Judge of Ulster, and that Dirck Wyncoop be one other Judge for the same County; and it is interesting to state that Judge Wyncoop's residence is still standing, on Green street, presenting, in all probability, the same appearance that it did to our revolutionary fathers, and is the only house existing in the County, with the exception of the Lounsbery mansion at Stone Ridge, where we can trace the footsteps of Washington.
George Clinton, having in the meantime been appointed a Brigadier-General in the Continental Army, sent to the Convention his resignation of his commission, of like rank, in the militia of Ulster and Orange, and on the 13th of May, having declined to accept the resignation, the Provincial convention adjourned, turning over the business of the State to a Council of Safety, to hold power until the election and qualification of the governor and Legislature. I am at a loss to know whether the Council of Safety continued its sitting in the Courthouse or met in some smaller place; but am inclined to believe, in the absence of evidence, that the Council remained in session in the former building.
At the afternoon meeting of the Council the record tells us that Egbert Benson, Esq., Attorney General of this State, attended the Committee of Safety, and in council took and subscribed on the roll the oath of allegiance to this State and an oath of office.
The election having been held on the 9th of July, the Council, acting as a board of canvassers, declared the result as regards the offices of Governor, Lieutenant-Governor and Senators for the three Districts, George Clinton being found elected to both of the first mentioned offices. A letter was prepared, advising him of the result, and requesting him to make such arrangement of his affairs as to come with all convenient speed to Kingston to take the oath of the office which he should think proper to accept. On the 14th, his letter of the 11th, dated at Fort Montgomery, was received, accepting the office of Governor and resigning that of Lieutenant-Governor.
On the 15 it was ordered that Lieutenant Colonels Elmendorf and Hoornbeck do by drafts out of the regiments of militia under their commands furnish a Captain and detail to guard the prisoners confined in Kingston jail and board the fleet prison, and that said guards be relieved weekly by similar drafts from the same regiments until the companies of guards which this board is endeavoring to raise can be completed.
On the 21st the Council, premising by a preamble that the late Convention had constituted the Council with full powers until a meeting of the Legislature, and had ordained that the executive powers of the State should be vested in the Governor as soon as he should be chosen and admitted to office,and further, that the Council do not think themselves justified in holding and exercising any powers vested in them longer than is absolutely necessary, resolved, "that Brigadier-General George Clinton be, and he hereby is, most earnestly requested to appear before this Council, to take the oath and enter upon the discharge of the important duties of his said office of Governor of this State."
On the 30th of July, which was Wednesday, the Council prepared a letter to his Excellency, General Washington, wherein they convey to him some military information, and conclude by saying: "Governor Clinton will be qualified this date, so that your Excellency's future requisitions from this State will be directed to him." An later, in the journal of the same days, the following entry appears: "His Excellency, George Clinton, duly elected Governor of this State, appeared in council of Safety and took the oath of allegiance to the State, and also the oath of office as Governor, as prescribed by the ordinance of the convention of the representatives of the said State, made and passed the 8th day of May last, for organizing and establishing the government agreed to by the said Convention. The said oaths were administered by the President in council, and are subscribed on the roll by the governor in council." A proclamation was thereupon prepared for declaring the Governor, and an order was made that Mr. John Holt print five hundred copies of the proclamation. It was further ordered that the said proclamation be made and published by the Sheriff of Ulster county, at or near the Courthouse in Kingston, at 6 o'clock this afternoon.
"Resolved and ordered, that Captain Evart Bogardus and Captain John Elmendorf do cause the companies of militis under their respective commands to appear at the Courthouse in Kingston at 6 o'clock this afternoon, properly armed and accoutered, at which time and place his Excellency, George Clinton, will be proclaimed Governor of this State."
With these notes of preparation, on the evening of this day a hundred years ago, the simple but great ceremonial took place. The principal actor in the scene, of course, was George Clinton. The people of the County, with all the other people of New York, owe a great debt of gratitude to many distinguished men of the Revolutionary ear. Their names are emblazoned in the annals of the State and nation, and will live in all future time. But Clinton was a son of this county. Born in our midst, educated upon our soil and ever claiming it as his home, he was the friend and elder brother of our fathers -- cast in the most heroic mold, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. His father was a man of culture, residing near Coldenham, in that part of the County which is now embraced within the limits of Orange, and his personal supervision over the education of his son was aided by the scholarly attainment and discipline of a Scotch minister. The father, and an elder brother of George, James Clinton, gave early proof of military ability. In the old French was, George enlisted in a privateering expedition, and on his return from it he accompanied his brother James, as a Lieutenant, in the expedition against Fort Frontenac, Canada. On his return he studied law at the office of the historian William Smith, one of the most conspicuous advocates at the new York bar, who afterward became Chief Justice of Canada. His abilities and character were soon recognized, and beginning with 1759, he held successively the offices of the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas, Clerk of the Court of Sessions, and Surrogate in this County. In 1768 he was a member of the House of Assembly, under the old colonial government, and was acknowledged as one of the leaders in debate in the resistance which was interposed by the colonial Legislature to the encroachments of the crown. In all the struggles which followed, equal in constancy and dignity to those of any other province, George Clinton, Philip Schuyler and Nathaniel Woodhull, of Long Island, acted the most distinguished parts.
In 1769 he again entered the General Assembly, and continued a member until the adjournment in 1775, which proved its final dissolution. In the same year he was a member of the first Provincial Convention of this province, which assembled on the 20th of April, and two years afterward he was elected one of the delegates to the Continental Congress. On the 19th of December succeeding he was appointed Brigadier-General of the militia of Ulster and Orange, and in June, 1776, we find him again in the Continental Congress. In the next month he was chosen a deputy to the fourth Provincial Congress, which, on the 9th, became the Convention of the representatives of the State of New York; and in August of the same year he was placed in command of all levies for the defense of the Hudson River. In March, 1777, he was appointed by Congress a brigadier-general in the line, with command of the forces in the Highlands, and in May he received the thanks of the New York Convention for his services in Congress and to the Colony and State. As we have seen, on the 9th of July, 1777, he was elected Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, accepting the former office and on October 4th he left the Legislature to take command of Fort Montgomery, threatened by the British, which, under his command, was valiantly defended, against a greatly superior force of the enemy, until night came, when the garrison forced its way through and escaped. His great military object at this time was to prevent a union of the British forces at New York and those under Burgoyne, moving south from Ticonderoga. How well he performed this duty may be gathered from a letter written by Burgoyne to the British Minister, Lord George Germain, on the very day that Clinton was inaugurated Governor, in which Burgoyne says: I have spared no pains to open a correspondence with Sir William Howe. I have employed the most promising rewards; but of ten messengers sent at different times, and by different routes, not one has returned to me, and I am in total ignorance of the situation or intentions of that General."
In a letter to Sir Guy Carleton, General Burgoyne says: "I have no news of Sir William Howe. I have only to add, in regard to my future progress, that I shall be obliged to wait some days of the arrival of provisions and batteaux, by which time I think it probably the enemy will have fallen back to Saratoga, where I mean to attack them if they stand."
They did stand at Saratoga, and if Burgoyne could obtain no information concerning Sir William Howe, he received full advices regarding the Continental army under Gates.
The crowing success of this campaign, which put the cause of American Independence beyond doubt, both here and abroad, was partly due, in the great sweep of the military operations, to the magnificent ability with which Governor Clinton performed his part of the work. In October, 1780, Clinton led, in person the militia to repel the invasion of the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys by Sir John Johnson and Brant, whom he defeated and drove out of the State. Buta why should I recount his services, or the numerous marks of approbation he received for them from his fellow countrymen?
In 1783 he was reelected Governor, and again in '86, in '89 '92 and 1801; and in 1805 he was elected Vice-president of the United States, followed by a reelection to the same office in 1808, and died in Washington on the 20th of April, 1812, being the anniversary of the adoption of the New York Constitution, while administering the second office in the gift of the country, and at the age of seventy three years.
Gen. Clinton was prepossessing in appearance, not tall, but massive in stature. His demeanor was dignified, and his strongly marked face, indicative of courage, decision and energy, would be taken as a type of the best specimens of our Ulster County farmers, broadened by education and participation in important affairs. His portrait in the New York Historical Society represents a bronzed and manly person, carefully dressed in the costume of the day, with short breeches and buckles, and with ruffles in the bosom and at the cuffs. At the time of his inauguration he was in the thirty-eighth year of his age.
Toward evening of the 30th of July, 1777, the bells of the Dutch church, the court house and Kingston Academy were heard ringing out as if for a joyous festival. The people, to whom notice had also been given by the Rev. Mr. Doll on the Sunday preceding, wended their way toward the Courthouse. On either side of tis door, and facing inwards, were raned the companies of Captains Bogardue and Elmendorf. the dark mass of the Courthouse formed the background of the scene, while across the street was the great pile of the Dutch church, with its separate belfry tower up rearing far above it. On the front and right stretched away the mounds marking the graves of the fathers of the inhatibants who were present, and on the left the view was bounded by the Vnaderlyn mansion. The Council of Safety, having met and organized in the courtroom, descended and took their places on the steps of the Courthouse and at the head of the square formed by the military companies. There was the accomplished Pierre Van Cortlandt, President of the Council, who became Lieutenant-Governor under Clinton, and subsequently presided in the Senate of this State with recognized ability and dignity. There was Christopher Tappen, who sister GeorgeClinton had married, who was for long years the leading lay officer of the venerable church of Kingston, and who subsequently sat in the Assembly for three successive years, and was a senator from the middle district in 1797. There was Zephaniah Platt, afterward first Judge of the County of Dutchess and a State Senator, who founded the town of Plattsburg in 1785, and died there in 1807. There, too, was that noble son of Ulster, who subscribed himself Charles Dewitt of Greenkill, and who, perhaps, after Clinton, was the most prominent man from this County during the whole revolutionary period. As a member of the last Legislature which sat under the royal authority he was one of the nine resolute and patriotic men who voted to approve the proceedings of the Continental Congress then sitting in Philadelphia. He was a member of the Committee to prepare a draft of the Consititution, and after the treaty of peace he was chosen a delegate to the Continental Congress. There, too, was the Christian gentlemen, Gilbert Livingston, representing the County of Dutchess, who set one of the earliest examples of practical philanthropy by the liberation of all his slaves. And there were Major Peter Van Zandt and Thomas Tredwell, the latter a graduate of Princeton College, who held successively nearly all the offices in the county of Suffolk, and was reckoned among those of his day who had the best pretensions to scholarship and classical taste.
There, too, were Robert Harper and Matthew Cantine, and next to them Gen. John Morin Scott, who graduated at Yale in 1746, was present with this brigade in the battle of Long Island, and subsequently became Secretary of State of New York. Nor must I pass without special mention the youngest member of the Committee of Safety, for the well bred figure standing on the left of the little semicircle surrounding Clinton is that of Robert R. Livingston, who became the first Chancellor of the State of New York, and in this official capacity administered the oath of office to Washington on his inauguration as first President of the United States. In 1781 Livingston was made Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and in 1801, resigning the Chancellorship, he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France, where he successfully negotiated the treaty for the cession of Louisiana. It is said of him that as an orator and patriot he was so distinguished a person that Franklin in his admiration termed him the Cicero of America.
By the provisions of an act of Congress, each State in the Union is entitled to a place in the Capitol at Washington for the statues of two of its most eminent citizens. The selections have been made, the verdict of posterity had confirmed the judgment of our fathers,and the citizens of New York, whose steps are hereafter guided to the dome of the Capitol, will, in that great companionship of silent heroes, gaze with satisfaction upon the marble features of George Clinton and Robert R. Livingston.
Of the old citizens of this town, who, we find, were not absent with the army of Washington, or at Saratoga, or in the Highlands, we can well imagine the presence of those who bore familiar names. There was the courteous and hospitable Huguenot, Colonel Abraham Hasbrouck, who had just relinquished the command of one of our county regiments. There were Nicholas and Benjamin Bogardus, at the head of the farmers who came from the direction of Hurley. There was Johannis Sleight, Chairman of the Committee of Kingston, and Abraham Hoffman, afterward one of the Judges of the Common Pleas. There was Joseph Gasherie, who became the fist Surrogate of the County, and Abraham B. Bancker, for many years the careful and respected Clerk of the Senate.
Colonel Jacobus S. Bruyn was absent with the tropps at fort Montgomery, but the ladies of his family could be distinguished inthe groups to the left, near the Vanderlyn mansion. There was Old Jeremiah Dubois at the head of the residents of Twaalfskill, and Captain Egbert Schoonmaker, of Coxsing in Marbletown, commanding the guard over the prisoners in the fleet. There, too, were Abraham Delamater and Jacob Tremper; Peter Vanderlyn, and Abraham Van Keuren; Peter Dumond and Peter Jansen; Tobias Van Buren and Peter Roggen; Peter Marius Groen, Jacob Marinus Groen and Henry Schoonmaker; Dr. Luke Kierstadt and Joshua Dubois.
These well known citizens came with their families and colored servants; and with them came the Mastens, Van Steenburghs, Burhanses, Ten Broecks, Beckmans, Swarts, Newkirks, Snyders, Houghtailings, Persens, Eltinges, Elmendorfs and Vosburgs, and many others whose names are familiar in our early records. And the saucy beauty of the wife of Captain Thomas Van Gaasbeck could be easily distinguished as she came with the matrons and maidens from East Front street. John Vanderlyn, the painter, was still an infant, and if present he must have been carried in the arms of one of his family to witness a ceremonial, some of the actors in which he afterward reproduced on canvas -- the likeness of Chancellor Livingston, in the possession of the New York Historical Society, being a specimen of his master hand.
When silence had been commanded by a flourish of the drums of the military companies, Egbert Dumond, the Sheriff of the County, mounted a temporary elevation, and read to the people as follows:
In Council of Safety for the State of New York, July 30, 1777
Whereas, His Excellency, George Clinton, Esq., has been duly elected Governor of the State of New York, and hath this day qualified himself for the execution of his office, by taking in the Council the oaths required by the Constitution of this State, to enable him to exercise his said office; the Council doth, therefore, hereby, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State, proclaim and declare the said George Clinton, Esq., Governor, General and commander-in-Chief of all the Militia, and Admiral of the Navy of this State, to whom the good people of this State are to pay all due obedience, according to the laws and Constitution thereof.
By order of the Council of Safety:
Pierre Van Cortlandt, President.
And them Sheriff Dumond added, in a loud voice, "God save the people."
The authority of the King of Great Britain was paramount in the city of New York and in the whole lower part of the State. The legions of Burgoyne had met with an uninterrupted course of successes, and it did not seem that an adequate force could be raised to prevent the accomplishment of their object -- to occupy a line which should divide all the Eastern States from New Jersey and those south of it. Besides, Col. St. Leger, with a large body of regulars and Indians, was pressing upon our western border and investing Fort Schuyler at the head of the Mohawk. There was not, in fact, during this summer, a county in this State, as it then existed, which escaped a visit fromt he armies of the enemy. In the midst of this portentous crisis George Clinton was inaugurated Governor. In view of the Subsequent events and catastrophe of the Revolutionary war, we amy well say: "For ask now of the days that are past,which were fefore thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
"Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of antoher nation, by tempations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors."
In the middle watches of this summer night, to the imaginative ear the sound of strange footsteps will be borne. If you listen carefully you will hear the measured step of Peter Stuyvesant, as he comes marching up from Rondout with fifty soldiers to save the Esopus. The stately tread of John Jay and the fathers will be discerned as they seek to revisit the scenes of their patriotic endeavor; but if you descry their forms the most resolute and authoritive figure of them all will be that of George Clinton, of Ulster, seven times Governor of the Empire State and twice Vice-president of the Union.
At the Conclusion of Gen Sharpe's Address, letters of regret were read from numerous distinguished people. The following was from Ex-Gov. Horatio Seymour:
To the Hon. T. R. Westbrook. Chairman, etc.:
Dear Sir--I am glad to learn that the formation of our State Government at Kingston one hundred years ago is to be commemorated. It concerns the honor and interests of New York that this should be done. No people can rise to a high degree of virtue or patriotism who do not know about nor care for the achievements of their fathers. The man who learns the history of the Constitution of this State makes no small advance in knowledge of jurisprudence, of political events and of patriotic action. The Revolution was not merely a martial struggle. Graver doubts and fears that those which grew out of the military power of Great Britain disturbed the minds of leading men when they resolved to sever the ties which bound them to that nation.
They had been trained in the faith that its form of government was the most perfect devised by the wisdom of man, their devotion to its dignity and success had been made deep and strong during the hundred years of struggle with France for the control of this continent. For more than a century the British flag was the standard under which they had fought against the invasions of disciplined armies, or the cruel ravages of savage tribes. The wrongs which drove our fathers to resistance cause less fear of war them of the untried political systems which independence would force them to adopt.
New York's Constitution.
When New York framed its Constitution, amid the confusion of civil war, it gave proof that the men of the State were thoroughly versed in principles of civil liberty and good government. It was hailed throughout the country as a triumph for the cause of independence. It was better than a victory upon a battlefield. John Adams expressed the opinions of the best and greatest men of the day when he wrote to John Jay that it exceeded all others in its wisdom. It gave strength and confidence to the patriots of the revolution. The superiority of this Constitution was not accidental, nor was it merely the result of the ability of John Jay and his associates, who put it into form. It was due to a series of causes, beginning with the settlement of the Dutch on the Hudson and running through the whole period of our colonial condition. When the Hollanders settled here they were the foremost people in civilization, learning the commerce. They came here in the heroic age of their country. Holland had maintained its independence in a contest of eighty year's duration against the power of Spain when it overshadowed and threatened the liberties of all Europe. This war with Spain excited the admiration of the world -- it should also excite its gratitude. It was a contest for civil and religious liberty in behalf of mankind.
As this was originally a Dutch colony, the character of that people, and their influence upon our institutions, demand particular attention. These colonists came here in the heroic age of Holland. It was the asylum for the persecuted Puritans, as of those of other creeds. Constitutional liberty was introduced into Great Britain by the revolution which placed upon the British throne the Prince of Orange, who had recently commanded the armies of Holland against those of England. The accession of the Dutch monarch essentially modified the character of the British Government, and invigorated sentiments of freedom in all of her colonies. The Hollanders not only tolerated, but invited different nationalities and creeds to their new settlement. More enlightened than their age, they had made great advances to civil and religious liberty. They rejoiced in the cosmopolitan character of their inhabitants. On the other hand, the vigor of character, the appreciation of education and religion, derived from the Puritans, are manifested in every quarter of our land, in public and private enterprises. Our people required and possess the characteristics derived from both of these sources. He who would seek to deprive the Hollanders or the Puritans of their just share of veneration is unworthy to be the descendant of either.
The world has never witnessed a scene of greater moral beauty than the Bay of New York presented under the Dutch Government, and at a later day, while its just views of liberty continued to influence the community, it had founded, at a period when rights of conscience were not recognized in Europe, save in the limited territories of Holland, there were clustering around the beautiful harbor of New Amsterdam communities representing different nationalities and creeds, living in peaceful intercourse. The Hollanders and Swedes at Manhattan, the Waldenses upon Staten Island, the Walloons and English upon Long Island, and the Huguenots upon the banks of the Hudson, found here a refuge from religious persecution. What civilized Europe denied them, they sought on this spot, still shaded by primeval forests, and still made picturesque by the gliding canoe of the savage. The exiles from Piedmont, from France, from the banks of Rhine, and from Britain, lived here in peaceful concord, as strongly in contrast with the bigotry and intolerance which prevailed elsewhere, as was their civilization and refinement to the wild scenes and savage tribes who surrounded them. At a later day the persecuted Germans from the Palatine were settled on the Mohawk. A colony of Scotch Highlanders, banished for their attachment to the Catholic religion and to the romantic fortunes of Charles Edward, found a home, not unlike their native hills and lakes, in the northern part of our State. The Irish established themselves in Otsego county, and there were settlements of French in Northern and Eastern New York. A small colony of Spaniards once existed near Onondaga Lake, but were destroyed by the Indians. The Welsh came to this country soon after the Revolution. Almost every European tongue has ever been spoken at the firesides of our State, and used on each returning Sabbath in offerings of prayer and praise to the God of all languages an all climes. The names, prominent in the early history of New York and the Union, represent the same number of nationalities. Schuyler was of Holland; Herkimer, of German; Jay, of French; Livingston, of Scotch; Clinton, of Irish; Morris of Welsh; and Hoffman, of Swedish descent. Hamilton was born in one of the English West India Islands, and Baron Steuben, who became a citizen of New York, was a Prussian.
The breadth, liberality and wisdom of the first Constitution of New York and its adaptation to the wants and interests of the mixed population, not only of our State but of the Union, is due to the remarkable fact that upon the committee of thirteen appointed to draft it there were representatives of seven distinct lineages, namely: Dutch, French, Scotch, Welsh, Irish and Swiss.
Not only were the colonists of New York imbued with sentiments of freedom, but they had the earliest and most urgent occasions to assert them. Living without the protection of a charter, for a long time under the control of the private ownership of the Dutch West India Company and the Duke of York, amid the unfavorable influences of great seigniories -- as early ad 1690 they boldly claimed their legislative rights, and resisted "taxation without consent." The contests with the royal governors were conducted on the part of the colonists with signal ability, and their protests and arguments were pronounced by Attorney-General Randolph, of Virginia, to be the ablest expositions of the rights of popular representation. These controversies involved a wide range of discussion, and thoroughly instructed the people of the colony in the principles of constitutional liberty. The contest which commenced in New York between its legislatures and the royal governors extended to other colonies, and excited the public mind from time to time until the era of the revolution. The whole of the American people were then united against the aggressions of the crown. The resolutions of the New York Assembly were drawn up with consummate ability, and to use the language of Pitkin, "breathed a spirit more bold and decided than those from any other colony."
While English character, at the time of the first settlement of its colonies on this continent, made them exclusive in their policy, repelling rather than inviting the citizens of other nations, it still remains true that we mainly owe to them the vigor and mental activity of the American character. After the Dutch King William mounted the British throne, civil liberty and political rights were placed upon a broader and firmer footing. Rapidity gaining commercial supremacy, it acquired not only the wealth and power formerly held by its Dutch rivals, but also its larger and cosmopolitan sentiment with regard to the other nations of the world. Today its civilization its in many aspects more perfect than that of any other people. But this must not blind the student of history to its low state when its American colonies were first planted on our shores. All must see how fortunate it was for the future of our country that the Hollanders first occupied the banks of the Hudson and threw open this gateway to the interior of the continent to all nationalities and to all creeds. The cosmopolitan character of the population of this State gave it from the outset large and liberal ideas of jurisprudence. There is not in the political records of this Union a finer declaration of political rights than was the act passed by the colonial legislature. In 1691, "declaring what are the rights and privileges of their Majesty's subjects inhabiting within their province of New York."
When England first sent its colonies to this continent, its civilization was comparatively at a low ebb. While it could boast of many great statesmen and scholars, the mass of the people, as is shown by its historians, were narrow in their views. Even yet, there lingers in English minds a dislike of all usages an customs of other people. We are apt the charge former bigotry to religious sects, and to make them alone responsible for acts and opinions which were national. Neither liberty nor toleration had free scope under the Tudors or Stuarts. While Cromwell restored for a while the national vigor, religious freedom could not take root when civil war, embittered by sectarian passions, devastated the realm. The contests were mainly to decide which party should gain the power to persecute the others.
Great injustice has been to the first settlers of New England, by charging against them, as peculiarities of theirs, sentiments which pervaded the body of the British people, and which were not merely colonial prejudices nor sectarian bigotries. There has not been in the public mid a just discrimination as to which were colonial and which national errors in policy. This has caused an unjust and widespread prejudice against the founders of the eastern colonies.
When, therefore, and early lawmaker, of Massachusetts, declared his detestation of religious toleration, and stigmatized a country filled with different sects as a "hell above ground," he spoke as an Englishman, not as a Puritan, for his co-religionists in Holland held no such opinions. He uttered the pervading sentiment not only of New England, but of Old England as well. Other sects there agreed with him as to his text, however they might differ as to the application. The Churchman in Virginia was as loud in demands for an established creed, in accordance with his views, as was the Puritan of New England. Although the Catholic proprietor of Maryland extended toleration to all religions, when other sects gained the strength they persecuted those of his own faith. In grand contract with this pervading intolerance was the higher civilization of the Hollanders.
The rebuke given by the directors to one of the governors, who was inclined to persecute the Quakers, is a clear and beautiful illustration of their sentiments: "Let every one remain free as long as he is modes, moderate, his political conduct irreproachable, and as long as he does not offend others or oppose the government. This maxim of moderation has always been the guide of our magistrates in this city (Amsterdam), and the consequence has been that people have flocked from every land to this Asylum. Tread, then, in their steps, and we doubt not you will be blest."
Honor To The Fathers.
At this day in our Union religious intolerance has lost its worst aspects, but it is still our duty to honor the founders of our State in the same loyal spirit which animates the citizens of other sections, when they speak of the virtues of their fathers. This day is more sacred with us as it gives due honor to a people who have lost their control here, and their superior power elsewhere. Our tributes cannot be charged to pride of birth, for but few of our people are of Holland lineage. The writer is proud of his New England descent. Liberal and enlightened sentiments now pervade our land. A people made up of all nationalities cannot long retain provincial views and prejudices. These are fast dying out, even in those States which are one side of the great currents of human movements which are filling our country with a vast and varied population.
May we not fairly claim that the policy of the men of New York, before and since the Revolution, has done much to give our country the benefit of all forms of civilization, and the vigor and liberality which spring from intercourse among those who look upon social and political problems from different standpoints?
As its legislative
halls and its judicial tribunals have at all times been controlled by those
of different European lineage, and its laws and jurisprudence have from the
first been in harmony with the interests and wants of the States which have
come into existence since our Union was formed, New York, for these reasons,
has exerted a great influence upon the political organizations, the legislation
and the jurisprudence of a large portion of our country.
I am truly yours, etc.,
was read, from Chief Judge Church;
Albion, July 19, 1877.
My Dear Judge -- I regret that I shall be unable to attend the Centennial Celebration at your place, but I am gratified that it promises to be a success, as I sincerely hop it may be. A strict and rigid observance of written constitutions is indispensable to the perpetuation of free government, and the occasion will furnish a favorable opportunity of impressing this sentiment upon the people.
Hon. T. R. Westbrook S.E. Church.
Letters were also read from President Hayes, William M. Evarts, Francis Kernan, Governor Robinson, General Dix and others.
In the evening a grand display of fireworks was made.
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