In 1787, the Legislature passed a statutory bill of rights that contained a “due process of law” clause, and other rights resembling what we recognize today as the State and Federal Bill of Rights, but it was not until the Constitution of 1821 that New York adopted its first formal Constitutional Bill of Rights. It was called the “Rights of citizens” and decreed at its opening the language of Magna Carta:
No member of this state shall be disfranchised or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land, or the judgment of his peers.
It also preserved the right to trial by jury; guaranteeing that:
the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state, to all mankind…
As a measure of separation of church and state, it provided that Clergymen were not eligible for any civil or military office
It also excused religious objectors from military service (upon payment of financial equivalency), and in language similar to the United States Constitutional Amendments of 1791 provided for habeas corpus, grand jury indictment, and against double jeopardy and self-incrimination.
In words echoing New York’s statute of 1787 it provided that no person “shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law;”
It provided compensation for public use takings, and in language more expansive than the federal constitution’s first amendment, guaranteed every citizen the right to “freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects,” with truth as a defense against libel – recalling without mentioning the Zenger 1 (1735) and Croswell2 (1804) cases.
1. L.1787, ch.1
2. 3 Johns. 336; see also, McGrath, Paul, “People v. Croswell,” Judicial Notice #7 (2011).
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.
Schenectady County Public Library
John Wollaston, c. 1750.
National Portrait Gallery