Chapter 16 - Outline History of the State of New York

CHAPTER XVI.

THE ERIE CANAL AND RAILROAD - THE STATE ADMINISTRATION - NEW YORK IN THE CIVIL WAR.

THE construction of the Erie and Champlain canals, which had been projected just at the breaking out of the war, had been virtually abandoned by the repeal of the act authorizing the commissioners to borrow funds for the prosecution of the work. But on the termination of the war the policy was revived, and the attention of the people was again called to this great undertaking. The difficulties of the enterprise, however, were formidable. The late war had drawn heavily upon the State treasury. The preliminary measures for the construction of the canals had already been attended with considerable expense, and the people were loath to engage in an enterprise which they plainly foresaw would be so insatiable in its demands upon the public treasury. They were therefore slow to encourage additional legislation for its prosecution, but through the untiring energy and perseverance of De Witt Clinton an act prepared by him was passed in April, 1817, authorizing the construction of the work. Governor Tompkins, having been elected Vice-President of the United States, resigned his office as governor; and in April De Witt Clinton, the ardent and zealous advocate of the system of internal improvement, was elected to succeed him. On the 4th of July 1817, the Erie Canal was commenced at Rome, and in October, 1817, that portion of it between Utica and Rome was opened to navigation.

In 1821 an act was passed by the Legislature authorizing a convention to be called to revise the State constitution. This convention met at Albany, and after a lengthy session adopted a constitution, which was subsequently ratified by the people, and under its provisions the State was governed for a quarter of a century. By the new constitution the time of holding the State elections was changed from April to November, and the officers elected were to enter upon their official duties on the 1st of January. Joseph C. Yates was elected governor in 1822, and was succeeded in 1824 by De Witt Clinton. The Erie Canal having been completed, the first flotilla of canal boats left Buffalo for New York on the 26th of October, 1825. Intelligence of its departure was communicated to New York in one hour and twenty minutes by the discharge of cannon stationed at points within hearing distances of each other along the entire route. The occasion was celebrated with great rejoicing throughout the State.

The first State charter for the construction of a railroad was granted in 1826. The points to be connected were Albany and Schenectady, and the road was completed in 183 1. Although the road was but rudely constructed, the advantages of this new mode of transportation were so obvious that railroads were soon after projected in various parts of the. State.

On the evening of February nth, 1828, Governor Clinton suddenly expired. This unexpected and sad event was deeply lamented throughout the community. Amid discouragements of every kind, and of a magnitude that would have filled ordinary men with dismay, he had persevered with unflagging energy, and accomplished measures which in succeeding years proved eminently beneficial to the best interests of the State. On the death of Clinton, Nathaniel Pitcher, then lieutenant-governor, succeeded to the governorship for the remainder of the term, and in November Martin Van Buren was elected to succeed him. In March following Van Buren was appointed to an office in President Jackson's cabinet, and resigned the governorship, which devolved upon Enos T. Throop, who was elected to the office at the succeeding election in 1830.

In February, 1832, the State Agricultural Society was formed at a convention of its friends in Albany, but received no support from the State until it was reorganized in 1841 and measures were adopted for raising funds and holding annual fairs. In April, 1832, an act was passed chartering a company to construct the New York and Erie Railway, and four years later the comptroller was directed to issue State bonds to the amount of $3,000,000 to aid the enterprise. In November, 1832, William L. Marcy was elected to succeed Throop as governor of the State. In 1833 a legislative act was passed authorizing the construction of the Chenango Canal, connecting the Erie Canal at Utica with the Susquehanna river at Binghamton. In April, 1835, the Legislature passed an act by which the schools in the State were to be provided with libraries. Near the' close of this year a great conflagration occurred in New York city, consuming property to the amount of eighteen millions of dollars.

In 1838 William H. Seward was elected governor of the State, and in 1842 was succeeded by William C. Bouck. After the death of the patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer, disturbances arose in Rensselaer, Albany, and other counties from the tenants refusing to fulfill the obligation of their leases, which in 1844 assumed serious aspects. The tenants organized and arrayed themselves in opposition to the enforcement of legal proceedings, and outrages were often committed upon executive officers in the discharge of their, duties. Many of the tenants on the Van Rensselaer manor were seriously aggrieved by the demands of their landlords under the provisions of ancient leases, which for a long time had been suspended and the revival and enforcement of which threatened to ruin them. Silas Wright was elected governor in November, 1844, and on assuming the duties of chief magistrate in January following called the attention of the Legislature to these anti-rent outrages, which continued to increase. Stringent laws were passed for the punishment of offenders; but the excitement still prevailed, and lawless acts were committed by members of an organization of anti-renters disguised as Indians. These occurred so frequently that it became necessary to order out the military to suppress the insurrection. In 1846 the Legislature passed laws to abolish "distress for rents," and facilitate legal remedies by extending the time for a " re-entry " on lands for its non-payment, and during the ensuing year those who had participated in these outrages were pardoned by a proclamation.

Through the energy and genius of Professor Morse the magnetic telegraph was added to our list of public facilities for intercommunication, and as early as 1845 various lines were in process of construction through the country. A constitutional convention having been called, met at Albany on the 1st of June, 1846, and continued in session upward of four months. The amendments to the State constitution adopted by that body .were ratified by the people in November, and John Young was elected governor of the State.

The annexation of Texas to the Union led to hostilities between Mexico and the United States, and on the nth of May, 1846, Congress declared that by the acts of the Mexicans war existed between the two nations. The Americans were victorious in all important engagements with the Mexican army, and the part taken by the troops from the State of New York was conspicuous and highly creditable to their valor. Peace was concluded on the end of February, 1848. In November of the same year Hamilton Fish was elected governor.

By the census of 1850 it was found that the population of the State amounted to upward of three millions, being an increase of two and a half millions in half a century. In November of this year Washington Hunt was elected to succeed Hamilton Fish as governor of the State, He was a candidate for re-election in 1852, but was defeated by Horatio Seymour. In 1854 an amendment was made to the State constitution requiring the appropriation of an annual sum during a term of four years for the enlargement of the Erie and the completion of other canals in the State. In November of the same year Myron H. Clark was elected governor. In z 855 the State contained about three thousand miles of railroad, constructed at an aggregate cost of $125,000,000. In 1856 John A. King was elected governor, and at the expiration of his term was succeeded in 1858 by Edwin D. Morgan.

A list of the governors of New York, in a single paragraph, with the dates of their election, will be found convenient for reference. From the organization of the State government in 1777, governors have been elected as follows:

In 1777, 1792 and the four intervening elections, and in 1801, George Clinton; 1795 and 1798, John Jay; 1804, Morgan Lewis; 1807, 1810, 1813 and 1816, Daniel D. Tompkins; 1817 (Tompkins having been elected Vice President), 1820, 1824 and 1826, De Witt Clinton; 1822, Joseph C. Yates; 1828, Martin Van Buren; 1830, Enos T. Throop; 1832, 1834, 1836, William L. Marcy; 1838, 1840, William H. Seward; 1842, William C. Bouck; 1844, Silas Wright; 1846, John Young; 1848, Hamilton Fish; 1850, Washington Hunt; 1852, 1862, Horatio Seymour; 1854, Myron H. Clark; 1856, John A. Ring; 1858, 1860, Edwin D. Morgan; 1864, 1866, Reuben E. Fenton; 1868, 1870, John T. Hoffman; 1872, John A. Dix; 1874, Samuel J. Tilden; 1876, Lucius Robinson.

The recognition of slavery in the Territories belonging to the United States having been earnestly combatted for several years, the difficulty finally terminated in a gigantic civil war. On the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1860, upon principles of avowed hostility to the extension of slavery, and the failure to effect a compromise by which slavery should be recognized or tolerated in any portion of the Territories, the Southern States resolved to secede from the Union and organize a separate government. The capture by the Confederates of Fort Sumter was the first overt act of the Rebellion, and upon its occurrence, in April, 1861, active hostilities were begun, and before the close of the year one hundred and fifteen regiments had been put into the field by the State of New York. In July, 1863, during the execution of the draft ordered by an act of Congress for recruiting the Union army, a terrible riot occurred in the city of New York. The police were unable to check its progress, and for several days the city was convulsed and overwhelmed with tumult, rapine and murder. The outbreak was finally quelled by the interposition of the military, but not until a large amount of property had been destroyed and a considerable number of lives lost. The war was prolonged until the spring of 1865, when it terminated with the complete success of the Union cause, and peace has since prevailed.

By the census of 1875 the State was found to contain 4,705,000 inhabitants. Within a period of two and a half centuries this immense population had accumulated, and from the almost pathless wilderness, in the beginning trodden only by wild beasts and savages, it has by industry and enterprise removed the primeval forests, reared large and numerous cities, and constructed vast and magnificent public works, which conspicuously appear in all parts what is justly termed the " Empire State." With the full enjoyment of peace, it continues to advance with accelerated and rapid strides, in accord with its proud and becoming motto, "Excelsior."

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880