New York's rich constitutional history begins in the 1600's, a few years after the signing of the Magna Carta. After hundreds of years of governance under Colonial-era charters, the first New York State Constitution was created in the midst of the Revolutionary War and adopted in Kingston, NY on April 20, 1777. Since then, there have been eight constitutional conventions and several constitutional commissions held in New York State.
Amendments to the New York State Constitution can only be made by approval of the voters, and can be submitted for their consideration either by the legislative method or the constitutional convention method. New York State is currently governed under the Constitution of 1938 and its amendments.
The State Library's collection includes the official published materials produced by constitutional conventions and commissions as well as many related publications. Selections from this collection were on display on the 7th floor of the library in April and May of 2013.
A timeline of events beginning in the 1500's served as a guide to items in the display cases.
The center display case featured the research of Charles Z. Lincoln, who was a delegate in the 1894 convention. His books are a fundamental resource for New York State Constitutional history; they were displayed next to an original pamphlet from 1777 encouraging New Yorkers to support the state and a copy of a 1776 broadside by Robert Benson proclaiming New York to be sovereign from Great Britain.
The left display case contained images of the men who worked on bringing the Constitution to fruition. There were prints of John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, and Robert R. Livingston, who were leaders in creating the 1777 constitution. There was also a "yearbook" of the 1867 Convention, with photos and signatures of every delegate in an elegantly bound volume. This display case also included images from the title pages of New York State Constitutional history books including one of an early rendition of the state seal and one of an image of the original Capitol Building.
More recent constitutional history was on view in the third display case. Next to large-scale maps of seating charts for the delegates in 1846 and 1867 were documents from the most recent convention, held in 1967. There was a pamphlet created for voter education, a telephone directory with contact information for all of the delegates, including future New York City Mayor David Dinkins, and a photo of the chambers.
Many additional materials relating to New York State constitutional history and constitutional conventions can be found by searching the NYSL online catalog.
A list of Constitutional Convention resources, many available in digital format, can be found on our website.
If you have any questions, please call the Reference Desk at 518-474-5355 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.