The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
|This body did not take up
their work immediately. Indeed, they did not move until after the people
had acted and ratification of the Constitutional amendment ha made their
work imperative. The governor was not idle. He had no intention of
letting the opportunity slip by. The people had rejected the work of the
Constitutional Convention of 1915 mainly because they had had no
conception of the vital need that existed for revision. On this
occasion, the Governor was determined that they should not cast their
vote blindly. So he called to his aid another commission. At the close
of the legislative session, he asked the New York State Association to
study the subjects of the amendment and make a report which could be
placed in the hands of the voters for their edification before election
day. This useful civic body did not fail the Governor. Their report,
signed by a committee headed by Richard S. Childs, as chairman, was made
public in October, and it was at once widely circulated.
Prefacing the report was a lucid introductory statement written by Governor Smith. It gave the history of the movement clearly, and is the basis of what follows herein. He pointed out that great importance of the amendment, in that it affected "the entire structure and working of the State Government--a measure aimed to modernize a government which the State had entirely outgrown." The amendment would not completely meet the need, but it would be "the first important step in this process of modernizing the Government." The amendment would reduce the number of elective officers from seven to four: Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney-General. It would consolidate the State departments into twenty civil departments instead of about 180. The new departments would be as follows: Executive; audit and control; taxation and finance; law; state; public works; architecture; conservation; agriculture and markets; labor; education; health; mental hygiene; charities; correction; public service; banking; insurance; civil service; military and naval affairs. With two exceptions--Education and Agriculture and Market--the department head would be appointed by the Governor. The Board of Regents would still have power to appoint the Commissioner of Education, and the manner of appointment of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets would be "left to the Legislature to determine." Henceforth, the Comptroller would have no other administrative functions than those of an auditor. The amendment would abolish the Land and Canal Boards and commissioners of the Canal Funds, and also "take out of the Constitution obsolete detailed provisions as to the Public works and prisons Departments and the State Treasurer." It would also simplify and shorten "the constitutional provisions as to the executive organization of the Government."
In this introductory statement Governor Smith reviewed the history of the re-organization movement. Beginning with the Constitutional Convention of 1915, the people were asked to consider a Constitution under which the number of elective officers would be reduced, State departments would be consolidated and departmental heads appointed by the Governor. An executive budget system was also to be introduced. With the failure to ratify the proposed Constitution all re-organization plans has to be set aside. The project lay dormant for some years--until Smith became Governor. Then, in 1919, Governor Smith appointed a Reconstruction commission to study not only the recommendations of the Convention of 1915, but also the governmental systems of other States. The commission duly reported, and their recommendations were discussed in the Legislature and outside. 'They all agreed," says Governor Smith, "that a State Government with a hundred or more officers, boards, commissions and agencies, mostly independent of each other, some appointed by the governor, some by the Legislature, some elected and many ex officio, was a crazy and unworkable structure, that it was wasteful and irresponsible, and that it was bas far as anything could be from the theory of our Federal and State Constitutions that executive power should be vested in a responsible Governor." In general, the commission was in accord with the aims of the Convention of 1915, and recommended a longer term for the Governor and a system of cabinet responsibility.
The recommendations of the Reconstruction Commission did not being Legislative action, but governor smith "kept this subject repeatedly before the legislature in the course of three terms." His annual and other messages to the Legislature testify to his persistence, but until 1925 all measures introduced failed of passage by two Legislatures. Therefore, the proposed amendments could not be submitted to the people. Six years had passed since the Reconstruction Commission had placed their consolidation chart before Governor Smith, and ten years since a similar plan had been recommended by the Convention of 1915, but at least the amendment was ready to submit to the voters. "It has taken all that time," said Governor Smith, "to get this subject finally before the people in a form which has the most unanimous endorsement of the leaders of both parties, students of government, and the press of the State." "I have labored for this improvement in the Government," he added, "in season and out, because I believe, along with Senator Root and others, that it represents a great permanent step in the improvement of State government."
The work of the governor and of the New York State Association, in this preliminary explanatory statement, was well done. It convinced the people. The amendment was therefore ratified in November, 1925, 1,041,420 voting "Yes" and 764,148 voting "No."
The ratification did not change the term of the Governor. He must still come before the people very two years, and must still apply himself to the responsibilities of the chief executive office of the State Government at a lesser salary than that of the departmental heads; but the ratified amendment was at least, a substantial beginning of the re-organization plan. Its proponents were hopeful that no retrograde steps would be made, but that the State would go on to an administrative system commensurate with modern needs, and with the standing of the Empire State among the State sovereignties of America.
About a fortnight after the amendment had been ratified, the unofficial advisory commission appointed by the Republican leaders began their labors. On November 19, 1925, the commission met in New York City. They organized by electing Charles Evans Hughes chairman; John Lord O'Brian, vice-chairman; Walter T. Arnst, secretary, and Charles D. Hilles, treasurer. Sub-committees were at once appointed by Mr. Hughes, and the work went forward. The commission was able to pave the way for the Legislature, so that, during the session of 1926 the necessary laws were passed to enable the reorganized New York State Government to become effective on January 1, 1927, with twenty departments or less.
Smith Four Times Governor--It seemed fitting that Alfred E. Smith, who had done more than any other one man to effect the re-organization should have the honor of ushering in the new system of government. That the people thought so is indicated by the vote of 1926. In Ogden L. Mills, the Republican candidate for the Governorship, Smith found a foeman worthy of his steel. Mills had outstanding qualities, had risen rapidly in the National congress, and was nationally regarded as a "coming man"; indeed, his power in congressional debate and his aptitude for political affairs had so impressed Mark Sullivan, one of the leading political writers of today, that the matter had declared Mills to be "one of the four most capable political leaders of the next generation." The campaign was bitterly fought, and al the power of the Republican organization was exerted to defeat Smith; yet, when the votes were all counted, it was seen that governor Smith had been again re-elected by a substantial majority. The figures were: Smith, 1,515,147; Mills, 1,265,526; Cristman (Independent) 223,885.
Congressman Mills had sacrificed himself for his party in a hopeless attempt to take the Governorship away from the most popular man in the State. Mills was not forgotten by his party, and his subsequent appointment to an important Federal office does not necessarily place him among the "lame ducks." Ogden L. Mills had a logical place in Republican councils at Washington; and when President Coolidge appointed him Under Secretary of the United States Treasury, in February, 1927, he did so because of the New Yorker's demonstrated ability in the handling of financial affairs. Ogden L. Mills is a graduate of Harvard, and veteran of the World War. He hits hard but fairly and has the knack of making both friends and enemies feel that he is ever working for what he thinks are the best interests of all the people, for his State and Nation.
Another Republican who went down to defeat in the campaign of 1926 is James W. Wadsworth, Jr., one of the most capable and influential younger members of the National Senate. He failed to be re-elected for a third term in 1926. His successor in the Senate is Robert F. Wagner, a Democrat of good judicial and public records, an ally of Governor Smith in many political campaigns. Senator Wagner, a genuine New Yorker, has much in common with the Governor. Both have risen from the people, and both, notwithstanding their exalted stations are, and always have been, of and for the people.
The other United States Senator from New York is a man of different type, but nevertheless of sincere public interest and proved democratic spirit. Senator Royal Samuel Copeland is one of America's leading medical specialists. For a decade or more he was professor of ophthalmology and otology at the University of Michigan. He came to New York City in 1908 to take like capacity in, as well as the deanship of the New York Homeopathic Medical College. He became widely known as a specialist, as health commissioner of New York City, and as a writer on medical subjects. In 1922 he defeated Senator William M. Calder, and since had been a national figure, frequently quote in the newspapers--in Senatorial debate. His breezy personality, broad views, obvious logic, and smarting repartee have often enlivened as well as enlightened the National Senate.
On January 1, 1927, Alfred E. smith, proud to be known as a product of New York City's waterfront, began his fourth term as Governor. Only one governor of New York had served more terms. George Clinton, the first Governor of New York, was elected in 1777 and re-elected every third year until 1795, making six consecutive terms. In 1801, Clinton was once more elected; but, with the exception of Tompkins, DeWitt Clinton, Marcy, Hill and Smith, no other Governor of New York has served more than two terms. Tompkins, DeWitt Clinton, and Smith tie with four terms each, Marcy was thrice elected, and David B. Hill was twice elected but also served one year of Grover Cleveland's term, owing to the latter's resignation of the State office to step into the Presidency. No Governor has had such stupendous administrative responsibilities as those so ably shouldered by the present executive. The administrative responsibilities of George Clinton were hardly greater than those of even one of the departmental heads of the existing State Government. If one measures responsibilities by annual expenditure, one might see the difference more clearly. In the first year of the State, the appropriation s for administrative purposes hardly exceeded $100,000 a year. Nowadays, we expect annual appropriation bills to call for almost 2,000 times as much. It is obvious, therefore, that those governmental processes suitable to Governor Clinton's time would hardly meet the needs of the State government of today.
The expansion of the State during the last generation had been enormous. In his inaugural address on January 1, 1927, Governor Smith said:
It was just about twenty-three years ago today that I first saw the Assembly Chamber; in fact, that I first saw the capital city and this building we are now in (the Capitol). As I look back over that period I can visualize to my satisfaction the enormous growth of the State in that period.
When I came into this building first every activity of the State was carried on in here. Even the Court of Appeals met here. The only public office not in the Capitol was the office of State Controller, and that was in a building now occupied by the Court of Appeals. In that twenty-three years the government of the State has so grown that we are this year making a heavy financial appropriation for the construction of a State structure on the site at the rear of the Capitol, a giant building which is to pierce the sky to a height of some twenty off stories.
Meanwhile, all the public offices of the State are spread out throughout the capital city, from Washington Park all the way down to the Union Depot. In fact, we were so much distressed for office space a short time ago that we altered a Turkish bath into an office building and used the swimming pool as a vault for the records.
Not only has the State grown in the volume of business, but she has grown in power and influence and wealth. Twenty-three or twenty-four years ago, the total cost of the government of the State was less than $15,000,000. Last year it was $183,000,000; and in all human probability, when proper provision is made for the growth of our educational system it will, in the next fiscal year, reached close to $200,000,000.
Governor Smith did not see what some saw. These figures to him signified growth of the State, not merely growth of expenditures. As a shrewd executive, he would hardly speak proudly of expenditure if there were not an encouraging reason for it. He does not fear criticism, knowing well that those critics who see only expenditures in the increasing cost of government have the habit of wearing partisan glasses. Still, even the most partisan critic must see that the figures quoted by Governor Smith emphasizes the need that existed of a new system of government. A business that requires $200,000,000 to meet the liabilities of one year surely has need of a business system that is modern. It cannot satisfactorily use the methods of a century ago.
Fortunately for New York, Governor Smith begins his fourth term with power to inaugurate the newest, most efficient system of State government that the combined thought of the leading experts of the greatest American commonwealth could recommend. Constitutional limitations, at the outset, will hamper the full working of the new plan, but, unless partisanship blocks the way, the time will come, it is hoped, when the new system, in the fullness of operations, will yield the State a dollar's worth of service for a dollar spent--a most unusual achievement--in the public service--but nevertheless one that earnest public servants are striving to effect.
At the head of the New York State government on January 1, 1927, were the four elected officers, namely: Alfred E. Smith, Governor; Edwin Corning, Lieutenant-Governor; Morris S. Tremain, Comptroller; and Albert Ottinger, Attorney-General, all elected for only two years. With the Exception of Ottinger, all are Democrats. Next come the appointive officers, the heads of State departments, nearly all appointed for four years. they are:
Executive department, headed by George B. Graves, assistant to the Governor.
Department of Audit and Control, headed by the (elected) comptroller, Morris S. Tremain.
Department of Taxation and Finance, F. M. Loughman, head.
Department of Law, Attorney-General Ottinger, the elected head.
Department of State, Robert Moses, Secretary of State.
Department of Public Works, Superintendent Frederick Stuart Greene, head.
Department of Conservation, MacDonald Alexander, head.
Department of Agriculture and Markets, Berne Parke, commissioner appointed by The Council of Agriculture and Markets, which head the department.
Department of Labor, headed by Dr. James A. Hamilton, Industrial Commissioner.
Department of Education, headed by the regents of the University of the State of New York, who appoint a Commissioner of Education, Dr. Frank P. Graves Being the commissioner and to all intents the head of the department.
Department of Health, headed by Dr. Matthias Nicoll, Commissioner of Public Health.
Department of Mental Hygiene, Frederick W. parsons, head.
Department of Charities, with Charles W. Johnson as Director of Charities.
Department of Correction, headed by a Commissioner of Correction, appointed by the governor, the present superintendent of State Prisons retaining office until the end of his term.
Department of Public Service, headed by the Chairman of the Public Service Commission,
Department of Banking, Superintendent of Banks retains office until end of term.
Department of Insurance, Superintendent of Insurance under the old system Retains office until end of term.
Department of Civil Service, headed by State Civil Service Commission of three Members, appointed by Governor.
These departmental heads are members of the cabinet which Governor Smith has formed. The first meeting of the cabinet was on February 9, 1927, beginning fortnightly meetings. Fourteen members attended the epochal fist meeting. Governor smith was quite Enthusiastic. After the conference, he spoke hopefully to press correspondents of the new "Governor's Council." "It is the right thing," he said. "Periodical conferences of department heads are a matter of routine in every big business establishment. They could not get along without such gatherings. The State, with its highly organized business, can even less afford to dispense with councils of that character." He explained that the "primary purpose of these meetings will be to bring about coordination and cooperation of the activities of the State, and to make the head of one department acquainted with what another department is doing." "We want to benefit in common from the accumulated experience of all." He said: "Where the work of one department is so closely related to that of another. . . . it is of the highest importance that the department heads should be brought together, to discuss problems of mutual concern which they must meet in common."
The business spirit seems to be so predominant in Albany nowadays that one would imagine State government will never again become the battledore or the shuttlecock of politics. Few men in political life, however, would be rash enough to predict this. Politics has always been and probably always will be partisan. Party will be ever the whip of the Legislature, and the Legislature will continue to function as long as our State and nation hold to the democratic form of government. America has no place for the Dictator, except through the manoeuvering of party. The Legislature has it within its power to make the reorganized State government of New York an outstanding success or a miserable costly failure. #15 If the Legislature #16 and Administration cooperate, with efficient public service the dominant aim, the governmental arm of the empire State might well become the outstanding exhibit of American democratic government, just as its Governor, Alfred E. Smith--once a newsboy and four times Governor--stand out among efficient Governors of American commonwealths.
It seems fitting to close this "story of New York" during three centuries with quotations from an interesting article that Governor Smith himself wrote recently, tracing the revisions of the State Constitution since its adoption 150 years ago. The article appeared in the New York "Times" of March 13, 1`927, and in part read as follows:.
One of the events of this sesqui-centennial year of New York State is the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the State Constitution, which occurred yesterday, on March 12. Since 1777 this document has undergone many changes, none more fundamental or more vital than those recently adopted, which entirely reorganized the State Government. It is a tribute to democracy that changes like the last, involving so much thought and such complicated questions, should have been thoroughly discussed throughout the State by leaders of opinion and by the people themselves. . . .Throughout the first hundred years of the State its constitution had to meet a set of facts very
different from those of our present status. Throughout the nineteenth century government was very simple. Population was small, great problems were few, there was little business to transact and little money was required to run the State. The Governor lived in Albany for only part of the year. After the legislative session he retired to his own home in some other part of the State. The Constitutional Conventions of 18094 and 1915 evidenced a growing consciousness that changes were necessary to make the document more adaptable to the needs of a community which had grown to be, industrially and commercially, the largest and most important in the United States.
The realization on the part of some of the leaders. . . that the Government of the State is intended to serve all of the needs of the people and is not just an instrument for the enactment of laws, allotment of appropriations and for judicial determinations, has been one of the basic reason for bringing about changes in the New York Constitution.
As a matter of fact, throughout the 150 years of the existence of the State comparatively few fundamental amendments to the Constitution have been adopted. The Judiciary Article was entirely mended in 1925. The article on State indebtedness was amended in 1920. The articles amending the disposition of canal lands and the acquisition of forest preserves were adopted in 1920 and 1921. It was necessary to adopt a special amendment in order to pay a bonus to the soldiers who fought in the World War. In response to the tendency to give the largest possible measure of self-government to localities, the Home rule amendment was passed and this, as a result, has relieved the statute books of much local legislation.
It is interesting to note that in a period of 150 years, until after 1915, most of the amendments had to do with minor alterations, always seeking to adapt the Government more closely to the changing condition of the State. Because of the amendment to the Constitution limited the bonded indebtedness of the State, it was necessary, in order to take care of needed expansion, to pass a group of financial amendments in 1923 and 1925.
In 1923 the State voted to bond itself for $50,000,000 for the construction of State hospitals, and in 1925 for $100,000,000 for the construction of public buildings, and to authorize $300,000,000 for the elimination of railroad grade crossings. That same year most important changes were made that affected the whole structure of the Government. The State Judiciary System was reorganized, and a consolidation of the whole State Government itself was authorized. These recent amendments are all illustrative of the growing interest in making the State Government more responsive to the people.
The State government has been made responsible as well as responsive. The "sprawling structure" has given way to a compact group of governmental departments with which the Governor has direct connection, with power to remove inefficient departmental heads, and with each departmental executive responsible to the chief executive. As Governor Smith points out, "the present Constitution of New York State makes it possible for government to function in the open and to fix definitely in the Constitution what has been found to be administratively best, while leaving sufficient leeway in the creation of the Executive Department, under the control of the Governor himself, to have a flexible and yet responsible system."
The re-organization has not yet been fully completed. The Legislature took the first step this year in the matter of the executive budget; and it will be necessary for the Legislature of 1928 to confirm their action before this amendment can be put to the people. The same is true of the four-year term for the governor. Also, Governor smith advocates a biennial session of the Legislature, so as to "curtail the making of statute law"; and he sees that the system of county government needs to be reorganized. Furthermore, he would like a change made in the method of amending the Constitution, so as to make it possible for the people, as well as the Legislature, to "suggest amendments to their own Constitution." An editorial in the New York "Times," of march 13, 1927, remarks, we are on the right road, "thanks to the devoted labors of Governor Smith himself, and his Republican associates marshaled by Mr. Root and Mr. Hughes." "Perhaps the new State machinery is creaking just a bit," concludes the editorial, "particularly where existing commissions have had to be adjusted to the stern constitutional requirements that executive departments shall be single-headed, but we have traveled far since the days of Jay, Livingstone, and Morris."
AUTHORITIES.--In the opinion of the compiler, the best work yet written, reviewing the political history of New York is that by the late Dr. DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, and published in 1906 by Henry Holt and Company. His "Political History of the State of New York," is therefore taken as the principal base for the review of the governmental, political, and legislative history of this State.
Other sources drawn from include:
Ray B. Smith's "History of New York State--Political and
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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