« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
political and social, had been, for twenty-two years, intimate and cordial. I had contributed my feeble exertions to his elevation to the senate of the United States, and never regretted having done so. After the development of the difficulties in the democratic party in the state, and they had sufficiently shown themselves prior to the election in 1844, to satisfy any considerate man, that a disruption was at hand, which must soon overwhelm any man occupying the executive chair, I objected to and advised against his acceptance of the office of governor, and thereby vacate his seat in the senate of the United States. Mr. Wright had other friends who viewed this subject in the same light, and who were governed by the same disinterested motives that I was, and they did not hesitate to express their opinions on the subject. I do believe he did not cheerfully consent to leave Washington, and that he had strong forebodings of the fate that awaited him in the event of his coming in direct contact with the bitter family feuds at home. I need not speak of Gov. Wright's character and standing as a public man or private citizen; other and abler pens than mine, have already inscribed a just memorial of them on the page of history. He was a strong, able and popular man. What I have said and shall say in regard to Mr. Wright, may not seem to be exactly in place in the local history of a county which did not claim him as a resident, but I have an object in alluding to him in this place in consequence of his name being connected with our local affairs. His nomination for reelection was apparently acquiesced in by the party, and nothing appeared to disturb the smooth surface except the little anti-rent ripple which originated in Albany, Columbia and Rensselaer counties, and had now began to attract some attention; but there was a secret under-current operating strongly against his success. So confident were his active friends of achieving an easy victory in the state, that in several instances they did not observe due precaution in selecting candidates who could secure the general support of their party friends. Such was the case in respect to the nominee for sheriff in this county, and the nominee for Congress in the district, composed of Herkimer and Montgomery counties. The former was nominated in the county convention by a small majority of a strongly contested vote, and the latter in the district convention by the casting vote of a member, whose object was to present the man who could be the most easily defeated at the polls. Sections of the democratic party in both counties organized opposition to these nominations, presented other candidates, and with the aid of the whigs defeated the regular nominees of the party. Mr. Wright must have been a good deal damaged in this county by this contest among his friends. I say friends, because the successful candidates and their supporters claimed to be his friends. His majority in the county was nine hundred and ninety-four, several hundred less than in 1844.
Previous to 1846, considerable discussion had taken place in the state, respecting its financial condition, and the expediency of imposing restrictions upon the power of the legislature to borrow money, and contract a state debt. The judicial department of the government had been found inadequate, not from the inefficiency of the judicial functionaries, but from want of numbers, to dispatch the business brought before it, and the delays of litigation were nearly equivalent to a denial of justice.
At the legislative session in 1844, the two houses passed the resolutions of which the following are the titles:
1. "Resolution proposing certain amendments to the constitution, in relation to state debt and liability."
2. "Resolution proposing an amendment to the constitution in relation to the court of chancery."
3. "Resolution proposing an amendment to the constitution, in relation to the supreme court."
The amendments embraced in these resolutions came up for consideration at the session in 1845, and were agreed to by two thirds of all the members elected to the senate, but failed of receiving the requisite majority in the assembly. Although there was a Democratic majority in the house, as well as in the senate, a marked diversity of opinion existed among the members of the majority, in respect to the constitutional amendments then under consideration, and the project of calling a convention to revise the constitution of 1821, which had been introduced into the assembly. While one section of the democratic members strongly favored the financial amendments, the other section did not yield them a hearty assent, or its cordial support, although willing to place them before the people for their adoption or rejection. The position of these two sections was reversed on the judicial amendments. The whigs, as a party, generally favored the judicial amendments, but were strongly opposed to the financial. That party however were not inclined to go in favor of any measures, or any policy, which would defeat the calling of another convention, to new-model the constitution. To use their own language," they went for a new deal," with the hope of securing some of the prominent offices of the state from which they had been excluded for nearly twenty years. I shall not attempt to discuss the various questions presented, and views entertained for and against the call of another convention. On one side it was urged that the legislature could not constitutionally pass any law, authorizing the call of a convention, inasmuch as the existing constitution prescribed a mode in which amendments to, or alterations of that instrument could be made entirely different from that then under consideration. On the other side, it was insisted, that the whole subject was at the disposal of the electors, and if on submitting the question to the people, a majority should decide in favor of a convention, that one might, and should be convened. It is quite certain that the convention of 1821 did not suppose that instrument would be altered or changed, except in the manner pointed out in it; and it is equally certain, that the convention of 1846 must have considered the act initiating its existence might be justly characterized as revolutionary: otherwise, direct authority would not have been conferred upon the legislature, to provide for taking the sense of the electors in respect to calling future conventions. The financial convulsion of 1837, and the commercial embarrassments of 1840 and 1841, consequent upon the great inflation of prices in 1839, followed by an unexampled depression in the state stocks, attributed mainly to the recent rapid increase of the state debt, had contributed to infuse into the public mind a strong and settled conviction, that to avoid interminable taxation and embarrassments, the legislative power over the finances and credit of the state, must be strictly defined and limited to a very narrow circle.
The democratic party of this county had taken ground at an early day in favor of an amendment to the constitution, to the effect that every law passed by the legislature proposing to create a debt by the issue of state stock, or impose a tax for certain purposes, in order to become effectual, must besubmitted to, and sanctioned by a direct vote of two majority of the electors of the state, at an annual election. This proposition, subsequently modified and amended, and known as the People's Resolution, was adopted by a convention held in this county, in the year 1837. Its paternity was afterwards attributed to a distinguished politician of the county, through a mistake as to its origin. The rough draft of the resolution was shown to me in my office, by my then law partner, in his own handwriting, and I am confident that he alone was the author of it. The substance of that resolution now composes a part of the seventh article of the present constitution of the state. When first brought out, the project attracted but little attention outside of the county, but it became one of the standing resolutions of the county conventions for several years, and was finally adopted as a cardinal point in the democratic creed, first in the county, and then in the state.
The passage of the law calling the convention originated, I am fully convinced, with the politicians of this county; and, although I do not mean to say their object was confined to the adoption of the financial restrictions, and it probably was not, still that measure incited their unceasing vigilance and most active exertions. The act calling the convention was approved by Governor Wright, and became in form a law. The vote in this county on the question of convention or no convention, was, 4,346 in favor, and 86 against it. At the election of delegates, Michael Hoffman had 1,470, and Arphaxad Loomis 1,468 votes, about two-thirds of the democratic strength in the county. There was no organized opposition, and the scattering vote was small. When this constitution was submitted to the people for adoption, less unanimity seemed to prevail in the minds of the electors. The vote for it was 3,382, against it 1,029, and on the question of admitting our colored population to an equal suffrage with the white, without property qualification, the yeas were 1,442, and the nays 3,156, showing 187 more votes on the equal suffrage question, than the aggregate for and against the constitution. The aggregate of the whole vote for governor in 1844, was a little over 7,295, and in 1846, 5,633. This shows that nearly 3,000 of the electors of the county did not participate, either in the call of the convention, or the adoption of the constitution.
The changes proposed in the fundamental law by the convention of 1846 were much more extensive than those made by the convention of 1821. It was thus that a great revolution in the institutions of a state was brought about, founded, when the movement commenced, on the single complaint against improvident acts of legislation in respect to the finances and credit of the state.
The above figures show that one-half of the electors of the county did not approve of the constitution by an affirmative vote. The convention had incorporated a provision into the constitution restricting the power of the legislature to pass laws of a certain character, except by a majority of all the members elected to each branch, three-fifths of all the members being present, in which case the absence of a