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and has ever since continued, still keeps us a mingled population. This state of things, if it has made our people less homogeneous than those of the neighboring States, has also made them more liberal in their opinions, and more ready to adopt and to carry out, the spirit of progress and reform. It is but seventy years since the establishment of our first Constitution; and yet, besides the amendments of 1801, to that instrument, and the amendments to the Constitution of 1821, there have been framed, during this period, two entire Constitutions, each introducing very great changes, and each going beyond its immediate predecessor, in limiting official power and patronage--in abolishing monopoly and privilege-in freeing the People from needless burthens-in securing the rights of person and of property-in protecting the credit and resources of the State—and in bringing nearer to the ballot, and more completely within its action, all the organs and measures of the Government. Accordingly, our present Constitution--it may safely be affirmedis the freest and most democratic that has ever existed in a territory so extended and populous as our own; and it invites the People—as we have seen—at the end of every twenty years, to apply to its provisions, if the public voice shall demand it, the hand of thorough revision and unsparing reform.
The founders of our first Constitution were an industrious and sober-minded, a reflecting and virtuous people. However different in origin and language, in habits and condition, they agreed in their love of order, their respect for law, and their reverence for religion. In some parts of the colony, the means of education were scanty and defective, and the masses had little instruction, except such as they could gain from the pulpit, and, when the art of reading was possessed, from the Dutch or English Bible. From this source, they derived much of their knowledge, and all their morality; and from this same fountain of light and truth, the ablest and most useful of their leaders evidently derived much of their political philosophy, and many of their principles of government. In both classes, there was a sufficient amount of available intelligence and active virtue, large as was the demand for these qualities, to put in motion the new system. With the advance of the State in population and resources, there has been a constant, if not a corresponding, advance, in the means of intellectual and moral culture : and, at all times, so much of enlightenment and virtue in the body of our People, as to enable them to maintain, with success, their republican institutions. With the larger duty they have now assumed, let us hope, that they will be still more sedulous, to fit themselves for its faithful execution. And let each of us resolve, as the lesson of these inquiries and reflections, to cherish and foster, so far as in us lies, and in every way commending itself to our consciences and judgments, the great interests of knowledge and religion, as the best and surest means of securing, in this great commonwealth, the advancement of society and the perpetuity of freedom.
* Since the delivery of this Discourse, the influence of the mixed origin of the People of New York, on our government and history, has been ably discussed, by Mr. C. F. HOFFMAN, in his Anniversary Discourse, delivered in De. cember last, before the St. Nicholas Society of Manhattan, and recently published. In the same performance he also vindicates the claims of the Pioneers of New York to the authorship of the early civil privileges of the colony.
I observe, in passing, that Mr. Hoffman has adopted (p. 22) the mistake of Dunlap, in applying to New Amsterdam, in 1621, the charter to New Amstel in 1656, pointed out ante p. 21. His general strain of reasoning is, however, well sustained by the other historic facts to which he appeals; and the New Amstel charter, though granted at a later day and referring to a different place, may yet, to a certain extent, be vouched for the same purpose, since it shows the liberal principles which the Dutch, before the loss of New Netherland, were prepared to introduce in the management of the colony.
THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
STATE OF NEW YORK,
DECEMBER 31, 1816.
BY EGBERT BENSON.
-Cui (muscæ) NOMEN asilo
(Re-printed from a copy, with the Author's last corrections.)
The author of the following Memoir was one of the founders of the New York Historical Society, and its President during a period of eleven years. He was a native of New York, born June 21, 1746, and graduated at King's (now Columbia,) College in 1765—studied the profession of the law, and settled at Red Hook, Dutchess county, in 1772. During the revolution, he took an active and conspicuous part in favor of whig measures ; was a member of the first legislative assembly of the State, elected in 1777, and during the same year was appointed attorney general, which office he held until 1787. He was one of the six representatives from New York in the first Congress, remaining in office until 1794. He was thence called to the bench of the Supreme Court of the State, in which office, Chancellor Kent has said of him that “he did more to reform the practice of that court, than any member of it ever did before, or ever did since."* In 1801, he was appointed chief judge of the second circuit United States Court for New York; but by a change of the judiciary system which fols lowed in 1802, he was deprived of the office. Not long afterwards, he removed 10 Jamaica, Long Island, where he resided during the rest of his life. (says Chancellor Kent,) he continued to be blessed with a protracted old age,
exempt from scorn or crime,' and that glided in modest innocence away.' His writings never received the attention which the good, contained under a forbidding exterior, justly demanded; for by his constant efforts to attain sententious brevity, he became oftentimes obscure. This great and good man survived all his contemporaries, and seems to have died almost unknown and forgotten by the profession, which he once so greatly adorned.” He died at Jamaica, 24th August, 1833, at the age of 87 years.
See Sketch of the Life of Judge Benson, from the pen of Chancellor Kent, in Thompr son's Long Island, ii. 487.