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ANNUAL MESSAGE TO THE LEGISLATURE.
JANUARY 4, 1842.
FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SENATE AND ASSEMBLY:
The inhabitants of this state have been permitted again to till the earth in peace, and gather its fruits with gladness. Industry has enlivened our towns, and health has cheered our dwellings. Benevolence has been assiduous in all its interesting offices, and eminently successful in diminishing intemperance, the chief source of suffering and vice. Learning has imparted its instructions, and religion has diffused more widely than ever its renewing and consoling influences. With such distinguished blessings has the Divine goodness crowned the year, although its seasons, as they passed, were shadowed by accidents, on land and water, fearfully destructive of human life; by apprehensions of want; the terrors of mysterious crime; alarms of war; rumors of conspiracy and popular commotion: and the death of a revered chief magistrate, amid the rejoicings which attended his accession. It becomes us, therefore, to commence our deliberations for the public good, with humble acknowledgments of dependence on the Most High, and fervent supplications that he will be pleased to vouchsafe to our country a continuance of the Divine protection and favor.
The duties of the several departments of the administration have been performed with diligence. The new state-hall has been completed, and is no unfit monument of the prosperous condition of the state. I respectfully suggest that engineers and architects should henceforth be required to deposite in the public archives their plans, estimates, maps, and models of canals, railroads, and public edifices.
NOTE.-Governor Seward was compelled to encounter a decided opposition in both branches of the legislature of 1842, and notwithstanding all his efforts to the contrary, the public works of the state were suspended, including the enlargement of the Erie canal. -Ed.
The Asylum for the Insane is ready for the reception of those who are to be its inmates, and it devolves upon you to prescribe the management of the institution. While your sedulous care will overlook none of that unhappy class, prudence, justice, and humanity recommend that persons acquitted of crimes on the ground of mental aberration, should be brought under sanitary discipline.
The geologists are engaged in arranging our extensive cabinet, and in publishing their final reports. The sum of one hundred and four thousand dollars, in four equal annual payments, was appropriated for the survey. Its prolongation another year, by a law passed in 1840, renders it necessary to replenish the proper fund.
The Journals of the Provincial Congress have been printed in pursuance of a resolution of the legislature; and the volumes will be found to contain abundant memorials of the virtues and sacrifices of our ancestors. The government of the Netherlands has opened its archives to our researches with such liberality and kindness as will increase our affectionate veneration for the people to whom the state traces its origin. Great Britain has received our application with less favor. The history of the American colonies is, at least, no unworthy episode in that of England, and its interest will increase with the lapse of time. We can not illustrate the character of our ancestors without illuminating the principles of English liberty, and the genius and virtues of Englishmen. The president of the United States has, at my request, instructed our minister to renew the application.
The resolutions proposing amendments of the constitution, having been published, invite your reconsideration in that spirit of candor, concession, and patriotism, which ought especially to prevail in changing fundamental laws. If the amendments shall be found suitable to promote a more efficient administration of justice, they will be hailed with much satisfaction by the people.
I lay before you a law of Virginia, calculated to embarrass our commerce. The effect of the act is postponed until May next, and the governor is authorized further to suspend it whenever the executive authority of this state shall surrender three persons heretofore demanded by the lieutenant-governor of that commonwealth as fugitives from justice, and the legislature shall repcal the law extending the trial by jury. I have respectfully informed the authorities of Virginia, that my convictions of the illegality of that requisition are unchanged; and that although New York, from motives of self-respect and devotion to the Union, will not retaliate, nor even remonstrate, yet that she can not consent to remain a respondent, since Virginia has seen fit to transcend the sphere assigned her by the federal constitution, and to pass an aggressive law; but that this state will cheerfully return to a discussion of the subject, with a sincere desire to arrive at a conclusion mutually satisfactory and conducive to the general harmony, whenever the effect of that unfortunate statute shall have been removed by the action of our sister-state, or by an overruling decision of the supreme court of the United States. The legislature will decide whether the trial by jury shall be relinquished, and whether a state, which acknowledges no natural inequality of men, and no political inequality which may not ultimately be removed, shall wrest that precious shield from those only, whose freedom is assailed, not for any wrong-doing of their own, but because the greatest of all crimes was committed against their ancestors. Taught as we have been by the founders of the constitution, and most emphatically by the statesmen of Virginia, we can not renounce the principle that all men are born free and equal, nor any of its legitimate consequences. But we can, nevertheless, give to Virginia, and to the whole American family, pledges of peace, affection and fidelity to the Union, by relying upon legal redress alone, and by waiting the returning magnanimity of a state whose early and self-sacrificing vindication of the rights of man has entitled her to enduring veneration and gratitude.
I submit, also, for your information, a correspondence between the governor of Georgia and myself, which my respected contemporary has made a subject of some comment in communications to the legislature of that state.
Nineteen associations under the General Banking Law, and five Safety Fund institutions, have been closed. I recommend that measures be adopted to replenish the Bank Fund without delay, and that it be exempted from liability for private deposites. To guard hereafter, against fraudulent excesses of circulation, I suggest that the Safety-Fund institutions may be required to receive their circulating notes from the bank commissioners, or the comptroller. While I can not doubt that you will adopt these or more suitable measures to sustain the currency and correct abuses in banking, I am sure that no harsh or injurious spirit will be indulged toward institutions which, deriving their powers from public grants, have performed their trusts with general fidelity, and whose stability is intimately connected with the public interests and the general welfare.
More than a hundred years ago, the legislature solemnly denounced a forcible seizure of the lands of the Six Nations, as an act that would be not merely unjust, but perfidious and ungrateful to time-honored and faithful allies. The lapse of time has wonderfully changed the condition and relations of the parties, but it has not diminished the sanctions of justice, nor weakened the motives of philanthropy. I invite your attention, therefore, to the allegation of the survivors of that heroic and unfortunate people, that the late treaty by which they surrendered the remnant of their lands, under the sanction of the government of the United States, was procured by circumvention and fraud.
It is supposed that in reorganizing the congressional districts, you will, as far as possible, adopt the principle that representation is most perfect where the districts are not only equal, but as numerous as the delegates; and it is confidently expected by our fellow-citizens, that you will divide large towns and wards into convenient districts, and direct that the annual elections shall hereafter be held on one and the same day throughout the state.
According to reports received at the state department, there have been four hundred and ninety-seven convictions of felonies, including six capital cases, and about four thousand convictions of misdemeanors and minor offences, showing an increase of felonies by fifty-seven, and of inferior violations of law in a greater proportion. The reformation of offenders has been steadily kept in view in the discipline of the prisons, and no complaint of inhumanity has reached me. The fiscal condition of those penitentiaries is satisfactory; but the employment of the convicts in departments of mechanical industry which bring their fabrics into competition with those of citizens, is a subject of complaint so general and so just, that I am constrained to commend it to your earnest consideration. Every philanthropic mind will cling to the hope, that ultimately the supremacy of the laws may be maintained, without exacting, in any case, a forfeiture of life. Nevertheless, the subject requires most cautious deliberation. The substitution of imprisonment for life would be signally unsuccessful, without such a modification of the pardoning power as might prevent its being employed except in cases where it would seem to be necessary to correct error. One hundred and ninety-seven persons have been consigned for life to the stateprisons within the last twenty-five years, all of whom were pardoned after terms averaging five years and two months, except those who escaped, thirty-two who died, of whom twenty-four did not reach that average period, and twenty-two now in prison, of whom fourteen have not yet been confined so long a term. The average of limited sentences is four years and eight months.
Although more than four thousand persons are annually confined in our county jails, those penitentiaries often exhibit scenes revolting to humanity; and many a youthful prisoner, instead of being subjected to salutary discipline, becomes more depraved. I indulge a hope that this interesting subject, so often fruitlessly submitted to the legislature, will receive your enlightened consideration.
The adıninistration of justice has encountered many and novel difficulties. The sheriff of Albany has been obliged to call forth the armed power of his county in executing civil process; executive interposition has been invoked to suppress riotous disturbances in the counties of Rensselaer and Schenectady; unremitted efforts have failed to bring to light the perpetrators of an appalling crime in the vicinity of the city of New York; and high offenders, who had maintained respectable relations, have escaped, in some instances, after arrest. These incidents suggest inquiries whether the efficiency of the police might not be improved, and whether the number of magistrates authorized to accept bail and discharge on habeas corpus, has not been improvidently enlarged. A subject of Great Britain who, for several years, pursued a desperate enterprise of bringing on a border warfare, by crimes which caused him to be proscribed in both countries, was, with extraordinary efforts, and after irritating delays, brought to justice.