The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 11, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


President Wilson had pursued a policy of peace. Under extreme provocations, it had seemed that we were dangerously nearing war; yet the calm man who held the governmental reins had been imperturbable. Wilson had clearly seen that the alternative to peace was war, and he had decided that even disturbed peace was to be preferred to open war. Both the Allies and the Central Powers were angling for American support. Both would have liked to form alliance with the United States, for the weight of American man-power and resources would inevitably turn the scale; but, as the President said, in October, 196, American had not been able to see the causes, aims, and purposes of either side in the war with any degree of clearness. "It will take the long inquiry of history to explain the war," he said, "but Europe ought not to misunderstand us. We are holding off not because we do not feel concerned, but because when we exert the force of this Nation we want to know what we are exerting it for." The sympathies of Hughes were unquestionably with the Allies, or with the so-called Entente Powers; nevertheless, even he was prepared to go no farther into the war than to defend American rights at sea against the ever-increasing violations of international law, chiefly by the Central powers.

As the election returns began to come in it seemed more than likely that Hughes would emerge as President-elect, but returns from the West lowered the Hughes lead, and eventually Republicans had to concede election to the Democrats. The popular vote was: Wilson, 9,129,606; Hughes, 9,538,221. The Electoral College gave 277 votes to Wilson and Marshall, 254 to Hughes and Fairbanks.

The Presidential elections dwarfed the State pollings. Generally the latter reflected the national vote. In New York, Hughes was given a plurality of 119,812; and Republicans were entirely successful on the State ticket, Whitman defeating Samuel Seabury of New York for the Governorship by a plurality of 163,158. Congressman William M. Calder was advanced to the Senate, defeating Bainbridge Colby (Progressive), and William F. McCombs (Democrat).

The year had hardly passed before the patient man of peace who sat in the white House and had "kept us out of war" for more than two years, realized that no American could, with honor, maintain peace much longer. Ere Spring had come the United States had begun to prepare herself for an active part in the great struggle for liberty and democracy--the most stupendous war of world history. For the next two years, all other issues in State and Nation were subservient to the supreme war effort. Almost all governmental actions in New York State had bearing on, or relation to, the war. It was a war of Nations, not merely of National armies. The State Governors were acting more as commanders-in-chief of State forces, in accord with the National Commander-in-Chief, president Wilson, than as chief administrators of the normal affairs of their State. Whitman's time, during his second term as Governor, was concentrated more upon war measures then upon any other affairs of State; and throughout the State departments the war needs governed almost all executive action. Political partisanship scarcely raised its head--certainly not with obstructive intent. All parties were united in the supreme and extraordinary purpose of the nation. The world, as Wilson said, "must be made safe for Democracy." The mayor of New York, John Purroy Mitchel, was defeated to re-election and soon withdrew from municipal activities, to take a commission in the air forces, perilous work that eventually took his life. Judge John F. Hylan became the War Mayor of Greater New York, and was re-elected in 1921.

To what extent the war influenced one decisions made by the voters of New York in 1917 is somewhat hard to determine; but undoubtedly the fact that the women of New York entered into the war effort as patriotically and self-sacrificingly, and in some respects, as ably, as the men of the empire State, had something to do with the passing of the Woman Suffrage amendment of the State Constitution in 1917. Two years earlier, the people of New York had rejected the constitutional amendment which would have enfranchised women. The events of that first year of war possibly concerted hundreds of thousands of discerning voters who, in 1915, had opposed the Woman suffrage movement. The resubmitted amendment was ratified by a majority of more than 100,000 whereas the attempt two years earlier had been defeated by almost 200,000. All parties were not eager to extend the voting privileges to the women of the State, though none could clearly see to what extent the doubling of the number of voters would affect the party balance.

The first election in which the women of New York were given the right to vote was a special one, on March 5, 1918--to fill vacancies in four Congressional districts of Greater New York. It was an experiment closely, indeed, anxiously, watched. The outcome brought relief to many apprehensive politicians. The party alignment of women voters corresponded generally with the percentages that had formerly prevailed when the voting privilege was accorded to men only.

To all intents a war measure was the Federal prohibition amendment passed by congress and submitted to the States for consideration in December, 1917. The State Legislature had no t completed its deliberations on the national amendment before the time for fall elections; so it became a campaign issue, heatedly discussed. Governor Whitman was in favor of the amendment.

Alfred E. Smith Becomes Governor--The Republican Governor, Whitman, was a candidate for re-election, and was approved by his party, for they could put forward no stronger name. The Democratic nomination was for some time between Horace Greeley--always anxious for public office, and often considered for it, but never succeeding in getting there. On the other hand, Smith, "the city-bred counterpart of the plowboy in politics," #7 was a more attractive political asset, more popular with the people than the average party leader ever becomes, and commonly liked personally by politicians of both parties. Smith, as Assemblyman and sheriff, had held the respect and good will of the State Democrats and of very many Republicans. More recently, as president of the Board of Aldermen of New York City, he had enhanced his reputation as a public servant. He became the Democratic choice, though it is doubtful if he would have won the Governorship, had he not been looked upon as the Anti-Volstead candidate. Whitman received 956,034 Republican and 38,794 prohibition votes, making a total of 994,828. Smith was given 1,009,936 votes.

It was gratifying to the Governor-elect to realize that he was esteemed by many Republicans, but he had been too many years in public life and political activity to imagine that this good will would be strong enough to overcome the partisan spirit in the Legislature. The war was now over, and party was again the main factor in legislative action. A Republican would be inclined, instinctively, to look for points that he might oppose in all Democratic measures. So, with a Republican Assembly and Senate, Governor Smith, a Democrat, could hardly expect that his administration would be altogether smooth. Indeed, he soon found himself shorn of much of the support hat a Governor, to be effective, should have. Still, he, himself, was broadminded enough to attach less importance to partisanship than to efficiency in administrative work. An immediate task that came to him for attention was the re-adjustment of the State to peace conditions. This vital matter he approached in a commendable spirit of true citizenship. Regardless of party affiliation Governor Smith sought the ablest men for his Reconstruction Commission.

Although economy and retrenchment, after the almost inconceivable outpouring of wealth during the war period, were now clamored for, the Governor was shrewd enough to see that economy does not always spell prosperity, and courageous enough to recommend increased expenditure where he saw that it would be for the public good. Especially did he think, in this connection, of condition in the Department of Education. the governor, "strongly recommended that whatever curtailment may be necessary elsewhere, full and adequate provision be made for the education and training of our children." The cost of living had increased so enormously during the war period that salary schedules which had remained unchanged were quite inadequate to meet living conditions. The State was faced with the fact that its various communities were employing 53,000 underpaid school teachers, also with the inevitable certainly that the most capable educators were dropping, or would drop, their professional work and find more lucrative employment in other lines and thus lower the standard of education. Governor smith fully endorsed the opinion of a British educator who said: "That Nation which, after the war, employs the best teachers with the highest pay, will be the best governed and therefore the great Nation." And Governor Smith was not willing that America, or at least the State of New York, should lag behind.

He approached other re-adjustment problems in the same constructive spirit. While his close association and long study of State government enabled him to discern "jokers and political pap" in many items of the annual appropriation bill, and, having detected them to exercise his power of veto with hesitation, he did not shrink from the political consequences that might follow his approval of increased appropriations that could be classed a sound business like investments for the State. No man in the State knew more about State finance than Governor Smith, and no man was more intent upon using State funds for the good of the State. He fearlessly recommended increased expenditure for constructive purposes, but almost $3,000,000, Smith considered, came in no other class than "patronage," and he cut it out of appropriation bills in his first year as Governor. Politicians who longed to fatten themselves in laziness on State "pork" were sent away hungry, though the new Governor was ever willing to provide red-blooded beef for real workers. Governor smith came to be known as the "Veto Governor" to those politicians and State servants who had been accustomed to take much and give little.

When Smith became chief executive he as faced by the fact that the State was served by about 200 different bureaus, boards and departments. To bring the departments, by consolidation, down to businesslike proportions was a Hercules task that could not be accomplished in one or two terms; but it was ever in the mind of governor smith, and after many years he achieved what had set out to do, as we shall see.

He began by re-organizing the Public Service commission in the First District, cutting down the number of commissioners from five to two, but most of his measures were worried to death in a Legislature that was dominantly Republican throughout his first term. The Democrats numbered only 35 in an Assembly of 150 in 1920, 21 Democrats less then in 1919.

The session of 1919 has a unique place in New York political history. Never before had a woman had a Legislative seat in the House, but in 1919 two were seated: Ida B. Sammis of Suffolk, Republican; and Mary M. Lilly of New York, Democrat. Two other Assemblywomen took their places in 1920. On June 10, 19819,. Governor Smith called the Legislature into extraordinary session, to take action "upon the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, extending equal suffrage to women." The women of America owe more to the State of New York than is commonly supposed. The woman Suffrage movement dates back to the first years of the your republic, but not until 1850 was a definite movement begun to organize women to agitate for equal suffrage. The movement went on, fitfully, for the next half-century. Wit the new century it began to take more vigorous life, but it did not gather encouraging force for another decade. When Mr. Charles E. Hughes, during his Presidential campaign in 1916, endorsed the movement, and another great New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, gave it his enthusiastic support, the cause of woman suffrage definitely became a commanding subject of immediate politics. Quick action came thereafter. In 1917 New York adopted equal suffrage, and the example of the leading State of the Union was followed by three other States in the next year, several other states going part of the way in giving women the right to vote for President.

The issue could no longer be evaded by the National Legislature. In January, 1918, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution submitting the suffrage amendment to the States, but the Senate did not concur. So it was necessary to readopt the resolution in the next Congress. This time he Senate fell into line, and on June 4, 1919, adopted Article XIX of the United States Constitution which, as amended, would read in this respect: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Hoping that New York would be among the first of the States to ratify the national amendment, Governor smith, in his proclamation, urged speedy ratification. Women wee entitled to the right to vote. They had earned it, said Governor smith, by "their heroic conduct in the great crisis through which we have so recently passed." The State Legislature thought so also. Meeting in special session on June 16, 1919, they ratified the amendment without a dissenting vote in either Senate or Assembly. Only two States were ahead of New York in ratifying the amendment, Wisconsin and Michigan approving on June 10. On the same day that the Empire State acted, two other States, Kansas and Ohio ratified the article. Illinois might have headed the list, having taken action on June 10, but as an error was made in the State's certification, re-ratification was necessary, on June 17.

The liberalizing of the Workmen's Compensation Law was another important aim of Governor smith during his first term. While Republican opposition defeated most of his re-organization amendments, the Governor made progress in that for the consolidation of the State departments into twenty.

The legislature of 1920 was remarkable for the ousting of five socialists who had gained seats in the Assembly. Thaddeus C. Sweet was speaker, beginning his seventh consecutive term as such, and J. H. Walters was again President pro tem of the Senate. One of the first resolutions moved in the House was one to "investigate the fitness of the five Socialist members to sit in the house, and to suspend them pending inquiry by the Judiciary Committee." Bolshevism was disturbing the world. It seemed to threaten American institutions especially. So both parties found common round in the resolutions that were passed. The five Socialists were suspended temporarily, and on March 30 the Judiciary committee recommended that they be expelled, for they found them to be disloyal to State and nation, in that they belonged to "a disloyal organization composed exclusively o perpetual traitors" intent on over-throwing the government. All were expelled, the vote to expel three who were charged wit having committed "overt acts" being as follows: for expulsion, 96 Republicans and 19 Democrats; against, 11 Republicans and 17 Democrats. Among those who voted in the negative was Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., eldest son of the ex-President. The other two Socialists were not so "red" in activity, but they were also expelled, b y a vote of 104 to 40.

The antipathy to socialism at this time was further emphasized by he passage of three laws of repression, but Governor Smith vetoed all three bills. Indeed, he was far from being among the panic-stricken. In a memorandum attached to these vetoes, Governor smith "sounded a note of Americanism greatly needed at the time. It reaffirmed principles of liberty under law which were handed down from Runnymede to the American Revolution."

The expulsion of the five Socialists did not end this matter. They presented again at special session of the Legislature in September, 19210, having in the meantime been re-elected. Again, the three most obnoxious Socialists were expelled, but the Assembly refused to expel DeWitt and Orr. The vote in their case was; for expulsion, 48; against, 87. Nevertheless, these two members resigned.

The extraordinary session of September, 1920, had been called to consider the housing question, which, in New York City, where the majority of the people were tenants, had become intolerable, owing to the extortionate rentals asked by landlords. Evictions for refusal to pay the ever-increasing rents had agitated and inconvenienced ten of thousands of families in the metropolitan area. Emergency laws were quickly passed, and "it is estimated that 100,000 families were kept in their homes and protected from unreasonable rentals."

Governor Nathan L. Miller--Governor Smith was now almost at the end of his term. The political situation was given added importance by the fact that this was a Presidential year. Since the beginning of the year politicians had been organizing for a great campaign, and Republicans were confident that they would be able to oust the Democrats. The League of Nations had been the cone of contention, and the popular reaction was manifesting itself ominously for Democrats. If the latter, as a national party, should hold steadfastly to the policies so strenuously fought for by the now stricken President they would probably be defeated. Republicans had fought successfully against ratification of the Versailles Treaty, and Wilson had fought as strenuously for it. Wilson had carried his cause direct to the people, and personally, until stricken by the infirmity that swept him out of politics altogether and ultimately to his death; but without avail. The American people did not wish to be again involved in Europe's troubles.

The Republican National Convention opened at Chicago on June 8. The New York delegation came almost empty handed--at least by comparison with that of 1916, when the great names for consideration seemed to be mostly of New Yorkers. Now Roosevelt was dead, Root was abroad, and Hughes did not want the nomination. Dr. Nicholas Murray butler, president of Columbia University, was the choice of the Empire State delegation, but his claims to the nomination were not as generally recognized as those of some of the candidates from other states. General Leonard Wood was the candidate most favored by the East; Governor Frank O. Lowden, of Chicago, was wanted by the Middle West, and Hiram W. Johnson, had strong Pacific Coast support. There were fourteen names on the first ballot, the leaders being Wood, Lowden, Johnson, Sproul, Butler, Harding, Coolidge, in the order shown. Eight ballots kept wood and Lowden deadlocked for first place, and Harding was the candidate who had advanced substantially. On the ninth ballot Harding received 374-1/2 votes and on the tenth secured the nomination with 692-1/2 votes, Wood being next with 156. Calvin Coolidge gained the nomination for Vice-President on the first ballot.

In the Democratic convention, which opened in San Francisco on June 28, New York had no paucity of great names to present. In the first ballot four leading Democrats of the Empire State had place; Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo, Governor Alfred E. Smith, Ambassador James W. Gerard, and Francis Burton Harrison, Governor-General of the Philippine Islands. The New York delegation voted solidly for Smith for six ballots, but as his chances did not improve they divided, most of them voting for James M. Cox, of Ohio, who eventually received the nomination, but not until the forty-fourth ballot. The voting then was: Cox, 702-1/2; McAdoo, 266-1/2; Palmer, 1. Franklin d. Roosevelt of New York, was given the Vice-Presidential nomination by acclamation.

The unofficial State conventions showed that the Republican choice for Governor of New York was Nathan L. Miller, and that the Democrats were unanimously behind governor Smith. The latter seemed to have a hopeless fight before him, for, even in the first days of the campaign, the Republican sentiment seemed overpowering. The political pendulum had swung so far away from the Democrats that not even a candidate of Smith's popularity could hope for success.

The first election returns clearly indicated that the next government would be Republican. When all the popular votes were tallied, it was found that Harding had been given a plurality of more then 7,000,000. #8 Throughout the country the popular votes were showered upon the Republican candidates. In New York State, however, the outstanding Democratic candidate was Governor Smith. A million more votes were polled for him than were cast for the Democratic candidate for president, but he could not quite reach the figures cast for Miller. #9 it is said, however, that 500,000 New York Republicans who voted for Harding thought so much of Smith as Governor that they split their ticket to vote for him. Miller's plurality was only 50,000. Wadsworth, who was standing for re-election as untied States Senator, won by a plurality of 546,286 over Henry C. Walker, of Broome.

When Harding entered the White House, Hughes became Secretary of State, the third New Yorker in succession to hold the chief cabinet office of the Nation. Indeed, of the last seven heads of he State Department, five had been from the Empire state: Elihu Root, appointed in 1905 by President Roosevelt' Robert Bacon, appointed in 1909 during Roosevelt's second term; Robert Lansing, who succeeded Bryan in 1915 and was Wilson's chief diplomatic advisor during all the international entanglements of the war period; Bainbridge Colby, a Republican whom Wilson appointed in 1920 to succeed lancing, upon the latter's resignation; and Charles Evans Hughes, who went in with Harding and carried the burden of the affair of State until the death of the President. In international affairs Hughes, not Harding, was the outstanding figure. "He is probably the only Secretary of State, who has been of such marked ability as to be given almost unrestricted scope in his office, deciding and initiating matters of international moment, instead of merely carrying out the wishes of the President." #10 His constructive statesmanship during the difficult post-war years marks him as one of the greatest Secretaries of State of American history. Seward, Root and Hughes are names that stand out in the records of the State Department. Especially did the personality and merit of Secretary Hughes come brilliantly into world-wide notice during the Disarmament Conference, when some of the world's greatest diplomats gathered at Washington, under him, to consider ways of curtailing naval expenditures which were impoverishing all the first-class powers. The success of that conference was a personal triumph for a great New York statesman.

Meanwhile, Elihu Root was giving his time strenuously and ably to a noble effort to reduce the possibilities of war. For his part in establishing the Permanent Court of International Justice, commonly known as the World Court, at The Hague, he was, in 1926, awarded the Wilson Peace prize. In announcing the award, Norman H. Davis, the president of the Woodrow Wilson foundation, said:

While the specific services for which Mr. Root is to receive the Woodrow Wilson award were rendered in 1920, the importance of the services rendered has been manifested within the last year or so by the growing prestige of the World Court, and its success in preserving peace through the settlement of international questions of a justifiable character.

In the year 1920 the Council of the League of Nations, in accordance with one of the provisions of the Covenant, requested a committee of prominent jurists to draw up a protocol for the establishment of a Permanent Court of International Justice which should be independent of the League itself, and yet part of a system of international cooperation.

The committee of ten chosen represented the leading legal systems and modes of thought of the world, in and out of the League. Of these ten men Mr. Root was one.

The full value of Mr. Root's service to America and the world will be seen more clearly a generation hence than now, but although the United States is not yet a member of the World Court, the founders have the satisfaction of knowing that this international tribunal is well established on a permanent basis, and is functioning effectively, with a membership of forty-seven nations.

In January, 1921, Governor miller took over the reins of government from Governor Smith under far brighter skies than his immediate predecessor had experienced. Smith had found opposition everywhere; Miller found Senate and Assembly even more strongly Republican than ever. Governor Miller had gained an enviable reputation as a corporation counsel, but his theories of government were not in harmony with those of Smith. The re-organization plans of the Democratic Governor were not favored by Miller. He believed that re-origination could be effected with constitutional amendments, but he did little to follow the wish of the Legislature of 1920. Indeed, he furthered the movement that quashed the amendments in the Assembly, and throughout his term as Governor the various bureaus numbers about 180.

One outstanding act of Miller's term, however, was that of April 30, 1921, which authorized the convening of a convention to re-organize the judiciary of the State. It was a convention of lawyers, and although no action immediately resulted the ultimate outcome were the judiciary bills of 1924 and 1925, which amended the judiciary article of the Constitution. This amendment was ratified in November, 1925,--(See Bench and Bar Chapter.)

Several good measures were enacted during Miller's term, and he was able to show some economy in government, but his Board of Estimate and Control and his "scientific budget" did not go all the way that the people wished to go. They did not like his brand of economy. Apparently, they were also bent upon re-organization of departments. It became equally apparent that they had greater confidence in Governor Smith's plan of accomplishing this. Hearst again angled for the Democratic nomination; he would have liked to be the Democratic standard-bearer against Miller in 1922, but when he realized how unanimous was the sentiment for Smith, he withdrew. The ex-Governor was nominated by acclamation, and in November the people sent him back to Albany with a majority of 385,932. #11

Smith Returns to Office--Again, the Democratic Governor was called upon to face a Republican assembly, though in the Senate the Democrats were now in possession of a bare majority. The change in Senate composition, however, did not carry the Governor far. Party was still superior to people. What measures the Democratic Senate enacted could be nullified by the Republican Assembly.

So, little headway could be made with smith's re-organization plans. True, there were some statutory consolidations of State departments, but the executive budget and the four-year term for Governor did not pass both houses. It was futile for the Democratic Governor to point out to the Republican Legislature that under the existing system a new Governor barely had time to familiarize himself with the administrative work of his office before realizing that the time had come for him to concentrate more upon personal politics again--fighting for a second term of two years. It was useless for him to argue that New York City had recognized the folly of the short term and had increased the mayoral term to four years. New York City might meet its administrative problems in any way it chose; the state need not imitate the city. The administrative affairs of the State might be more intricate, but to have a Democratic Governor in office for four years would be a stumbling block tolerated for two years longer then was desirable, thought Republican legislators. Democratic politicians would think the same of a Republican governor. Party is the governor of the legislative machine, and a Democratic Governor does not fit smoothly into a Republican machine.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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