Revolution & The Emerging State

Revolution Era Header

Although New York adopted the Declaration of Independence at a meeting of the Fourth Provincial Congress in White Plains on July 9, 1776, it was not until November 25, 1783 that British troops finally departed from New York. In the midst of the ongoing war, New York drafted and adopted its first constitution, and set up a functioning government.

First Constitution

The New York State Constitution of 1777 continued the English statutory and common law then in force in the Province of New York, provided that it did not conflict with the State’s constitution. In 1788, chapter 46 of the laws enacted that year rendered English statutory law invalid, providing that “none of the statutes of England or Great Britain shall operate or be considered as laws of this State.” The common law was unaffected by this provision, and the State’s second constitution, adopted in 1822, stated that “such parts of the common law and the acts of the legislature of the colony of New York would continue unless altered or repealed or found unconstitutional.”

New York Case Law Develops

Looking at cases decided in those first 70 years, we can see how the New York judiciary resolved the issues encountered by the nascent State. The impact of the War of 1812 and the growing importance of international relations is readily apparent. Case law from this time shows the ongoing chilling effect of criminal libel actions on political speech, and controversies arising from slavery and colonial land tenure continued to populate court dockets. Judicial resolution of cases associated with New York’s growing industrialization and rapidly-developing technology (canals, roads, steamboats and railways) enabled commerce to thrive.

The State and the Nation

The Bench and the Bar included men of outstanding intellect and achievement, who made a tremendous and lasting contribution to the State and the Nation. In their capable hands, jurisprudence developed through the arguments lawyers presented in court and the judicial decisions that resulted. New York’s involvement in the development of the legal framework of the new nation, the ratification of the Federal Constitution and the drafting of Bill of Rights was significant and of lasting value.


Autobiographical Letter by James Kent NYS Ratifies the US Constitution

Important Cases

Animal Law

Pierson v. Post, 1805

3 Cai. R. 175 2 Am. Dec. 264 (1805) Private Property Rights in Wild Animals This New York Supreme Court ...

Comity of Laws

Hitchcock & Fitch v. Aicken, 1803

1 Caines 460 (N.Y. 1803) Recognition in New York of Court Judgment in a Sister State In The Founders' Constitution, ...

Taylor v. Briden, 1811

8 Johns. 173 (1811) Recognition in New York of Court Judgment in a Sister State In The Founders' Constitution, an ...

Conflict of Laws

Rutgers v. Waddington, 1784

State Legislation that Conflicts with the Provision of a United States Treaty is Void This case was heard in the ...

Livingston v. Van Ingen, 1812

9 Johns. R. 507 (N.Y. 1812) New York Steamboat Monopoly In The Founder's Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records ...

Gibbons v. Ogden, 1820

17 Johns. 488 (1820); 22 U.S. 1 (1824) Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution In The ...

Court Jurisdiction

In Re John Van Ness Yates; Yates v. Lansing, 1809-1811

Jurisdictional Conflict between the New York Court of Chancery and the New York Supreme Court of Judicature In The Founders' ...

Criminal Law

Hadden’s Case, 1777

The First Case before the New York State Supreme Court of Judicature Habeas Corpus Thomas Hadden, accused of knowingly passing ...

People v. Levi Weeks, 1800

First Murder Trial in the United States for which there is a Formal Record Gulielma "Elma" Sands disappeared on the ...

People v. Barrett and Ward, 1806

2 Caines 340; 1 Johns. R. 66 (N.Y. 1806) Double Jeopardy In The Founders' Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, ...

People v. Ruggles, 1811

8 Johns. 290 (1811) Blasphemy In The Founders' Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records of debates and early cases) ...

People v. Casborus, 1816

13 Johns. R. 351 (1816) Double Jeopardy In The Founders Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records of debates and ...

People v. Christian Smith, 1817

1 American State Trials 779 (1814) 2 New-York City-Hall Recorder 77 (June 1817) Priest-Penitent Confidentiality A series of disputes that ...

Eminent Domain

Gardiner v. The Trustees of the Village of Newburgh, et al., 1816

2 Johns. Chancery, 162 (1816) Compensation for Property Taken by the Government for Public Purposes In The Founder's Constitution, an ...

Bradshaw v. Rogers & Magee, 1822

20 Johns. 103 (New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1822) 20 Johns. 735 (New York Court for the Correction of ...

Employment Law

People v. Fisher, 1835

14 Wend. 9; 28 Am. Dec. 501 (1835) Collective Bargaining and the Shoemakers Strike in Geneva, New York In the ...

Family Law

In re Waldron, 1816

13 Johns. 418 (1816) "Best Interests of the Child" Standard Following John P. Waldron's marriage to Andrew McGowan's daughter, Waldron ...

International Law

Clarke v. Morey, 1813

10 Johns. R. 70 (1813) Recognition of the Right of an Alien to Sue in New York Courts in Time ...

People v. Alexander McLeod, 1841

25 Wendell 483 (1841) Crimes Committed Under the Authority of a Foreign Sovereign During the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, the ...

Military Law

Vanderheyden v. Young, 1814

11 Johns. 150 (1814) Liability of Military Officers in Officiating in a Court-Martial In The Founders' Constitution, an anthology of ...

People v. Godfrey, 1819

17 Johns. 225 (1819) United States Territory in New York In The Founders' Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records ...

Wilson v. Mackenzie, 1845

7 Hill 95 (1845) Action Against an Officer of the Navy for Illegally Assaulting and Imprisoning a Subordinate While on ...

Public Property — Streets

Livingston v. Mayor of New York, 1831

8 Wend. 85 (1831) Ownership of City Streets In The Founder's Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records of debates ...

Hart v. City of Albany, 1832

3 Paige Ch. 380 (New York Court of Chancery, 1832) 9 Wend. 571 (New York Court for the Correction of ...


Jackson ex dem. People v. Lervey, 1826

5 Cow. 397 (1826) The issue in this case was whether land granted by the State to a soldier who ...

Jack v. Martin, 1834

12 Wend. 311 (New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1834) 14 Wend. 507 (Court for the Correction of Errors, 1835) ...

Evidence — Scientific

Maurice v. Judd, 1818

3 American State Trials 603 (1818) The issue in this case was whether a whale was a fish within the ...

Tort Law

Johnson v. Caulkins, 1799

1 Johns. Cas. 116 (1799) Breach of Promise to Marry In Troy, New York, on July 9, 1797, Miss Johnson ...

Seditious Libel

People v. Frothingham, 1779

Seditious Libel Involving Alexander Hamilton On November 6, 1799, the leading New York Republican newspaper, the Argus, published an extract ...

People v. Croswell, 1804

3 Johns. Cas. 337 (N.Y. 1804) Truth as a Defense in a Libel Action In The Founders' Constitution, an anthology ...

Courts of the Era

The Court of General Sessions, 1683-1847

In New York City, 1683-1962 The Court of General Sessions was a county court established on October 17, 1683 by ...

New York Court of Chancery, 1683-1846

The 1777 Constitution continued in existence the Provincial Court of Chancery and Robert R. Livingston was appointed New York’s first ...

Court of Common Pleas, 1686-1895

The Court of Common Pleas was established by the Dongan Charter of 1686. Also known as the Mayor’s Court, it ...

The New York Court of Admiralty, 1775-1789

On November 25, 1775, the Continental Congress recommended that the Colonies establish Courts of Admiralty to address cases relating to ...

Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, 1777-1846

The Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors was established by the Constitution of 1777. Commonly called ...

NYS Supreme Court

By Chapter 4 of the Laws of 1691, the New York Assembly established the New York Supreme Court of Judicature ...

Judges of the Era

New York Supreme Court of Judicature

Robert Yates

1738-1801 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1777-1790 Chief Justice, 1790-1798 Robert Yates was born on ...

John Sloss Hobart

1738-1805 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1777-1798 John Sloss Hobart was born on May 6, ...

John Jay

1745-1829 Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1777-1778 John Jay was born on December 12, 1745, ...

Richard Morris

1738-1801 Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1779-1790 Richard Morris, third son of Hon. Lewis Morris, ...

Egbert Benson

1746-1833 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1794-1801 In 1775, Benson was a member of the Provincial Congress, ...

Jacob Radcliff

1764-1844 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judiciature, 1798-1804 Jacob Radcliff was born in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, ...

History of the Supreme Court

Duely & Constantly Kept: A History of the New York Supreme Court, 1691-1847


New York Chancellors

Robert R. Livingston

1746-1813 Chancellor of New York, 1777-1801 Robert R. Livingston was born on November 27, 1746, the son of colonial Supreme ...

John Lansing, Jr.

1754-1829 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1790-1798 Chief Justice, 1798-1801 Chancellor of New York, 1801-1814 John Ten Eyck Lansing, ...

James Kent

1763-1847 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1798-1804 Chief Justice of New York, 1804-1814 Chancellor of New York, ...

Nathan Sanford

1777-1838 Chancellor of New York, 1823-1826 Nathan Sanford (sometimes spelled Sandford) was born on November 5, 1777, in Bridgehampton, Long ...

Samuel Jones, Jr.

1769-1853 Chancellor of New York, 1826-1828 Samuel Jones, Jr. was born on May 26, 1769 in New York City. He ...

Reuben Hyde Walworth

1788-1867 Chancellor of New York, 1828-1847 Reuben Hyde Walworth was born on October 26, 1788 in New London County, Connecticut ...

Important Figures

New York Attorneys General, 1777-1846

Richard Varick

1753-1831 Attorney General of New York, 1788-1789 Richard Varick was born at Hackensack, New Jersey, on March 25, 1753. Privately ...

Aaron Burr

1756-1836 Attorney General of New York, 1789-1791 Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756. He ...

Nathaniel Lawrence

1761-1797 Attorney General of New York, 1792-1797 Nathaniel Lawrence was born on July 11, 1761 in Newtown, Queens County, New ...

Josiah Ogden Hoffman

1766-1837 Attorney General of New York, 1798-1801 Josiah Ogden Hoffman was born on April 14, 1766, in Newark, New Jersey ...

Morgan Lewis

1754-1844 Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1792-1800 Chief Justice, 1801-1804 Morgan Lewis was the son ...

Abraham Van Vechten

1810; 1813-1815
1762-1837 Attorney General of New York, 1810; 1813-1815 Abraham Van Vechten was born in Catskill, New York on December 5, ...

District Attorneys, 1777-1846


Notable Attorneys

Alexander Hamilton

1757-1804 Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1757 (or perhaps 1755), in Charlestown on the island of Nevis, British ...

William Sampson

1764-1836 Born on January 26, 1764 to a wealthy Anglican family in Londonderry, Ireland, William Sampson attended Trinity College Dublin ...

Cadwallader David Colden

1769-1834 Cadwallader David Colden was born at Spring Hill on Long Island, New York, on April 4, 1769, the grandson ...

De Witt Clinton

1769-1828 De Witt Clinton was born on March 2, 1769, in Napanock, Ulster County, NY. He was educated at the ...

Daniel Cady

1773-1859 Daniel Cady was born on April 29, 1773 in Caanan, Columbia County, New York. He was educated in the ...

Samuel Young

1779-1850 Samuel Young, born in 1779 in Lenox, MA, moved with his family to Saratoga County, New York as a ...

About the Period

New York Constitutions of 1777 & 1821

The New York Constitution of 1777 (Courtesy NYS Archives)

The New York Constitution of 1777 (Transcript)

The New York Bill of Rights of 1787

1801 Constitutional Amendments

New York Constitution of 1821 (Transcript)

Excerpts from Charles Z. Lincoln’s Constitutional History of New York

Courtesy the New York State Library

Commentary on the 1st NY Constitution

Commentary on the 1787 Bill of Rights

Commentary on the 1801 Amendments to the NY Constitution

Commentary on the 2nd NY Constitution

Other Constitutional Commentaries

The New York State Constitution, 2nd Edition, by Peter J. Galie & Christopher Bopst (London: Oxford University Press, 2012)

New York and the Ratification of the Federal Constitution

The United States Constitution, New York’s Ratification Statement and Instructions to the New York Delegates & Transcript

John Jay’s Letters

John Jay's involvement with the proposed Federal Constitution was greater than would appear from his participation in the Federalist and ...

Kent’s Commentaries

The Founders' Constitution includes the following Commentaries by Chancellor James Kent: Article 1, Section 1, Document 10 James Kent, Commentaries ...

New York Cases included in The Founders’ Constitution

The following New York court cases are include in The Founders' Constitution: Hitchcock & Fitch v. Aicken 1803 People v. Croswell ...

The Anti-Federalist Papers

Unlike the Federalist, the 85 articles written in opposition to the ratification of the 1787 United States Constitution were not ...

The Federalist

In September 1787, the constitution prepared by the Federal Conventions was submitted to the states and within days, letters opposing ...

An Empire of Reason (Video)

A Rein on Government: New York’s Constitution of 1777 and Bill of Rights of 1787 by John P. Kaminski, New York Legal History Vol. 1, No. 1 (2005)

New York State’s Role in the Creation and Adoption of the Bill of Rights by Betsy L. Rosenblatt, New York History (October 1991), pp. 407-420

(The definitive work on New York’s ratification of the Constitution is: The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution: Ratification by the States: New York, Volumes XIX-XXIII, edited by John P. Kaminski et al (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2005))

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