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blind, the knowledge and uses of external relations; calls back erring reason to its throne, and reclaims the guilty from the ways of transgression.
The number of convicts in the stateprison at Mount Pleasant, is 842. The prison for female convicts there, an institution required by the humane spirit of the age, will be speedily completed.* The plan contemplates separate apartments for seventy-two of this class of convicts, a very small number in comparison with that of the other sex, but happily for our state, and honorably for the character of woman, a number greater than any for which the state has ever been called to provide. The number of convicts in the prison at Auburn is 636. Extensive repairs are required in this prison, and some alterations would be expedient. The number of convicts received at both prisons in the year 1832, was 471; in 1833, 412; in 1834, 446; in 1835, 441; in 1836, 365; in 1837, 520; in 1838, 444. Crime has not increased in the same ratio as population. The number of convicts received in the prisons in 1837, a year memorable for its pecuniary embarrassments, exceeds that of any other in the series. Increase of prosperity diminishes the amount of crime. The proportion of colored persons in the state to that of white persons is 1 to 48. The proportion of colored persons in the stateprisons is about 1 to 6. This class of our population is in a great measure deprived by its condition of the advantages of our schools. It is respectfully submitted whether a solicitous regard for the public welfare, justice to an injured race, and the dictates of an enlightened humanity, do not require us to provide more effectually for their education.
All institutions of government are imperfect, and subject to the law of improvement. Despotism denies this. It holds that institutions are complete, and that laws are wise, because they are old. It maintains that error is sanctified by prescription, and compels the submission which renders it invulnerable. A different principle prevails in America. Antiquity has a shrine and worship in all lands but this. We have learned, that as the intelligence of people increases, the power of the government may safely be abridged; that error must be separated from our institutions before it becomes inseparable; and that the best laws, unless modified according to the ever-varying condition of society, operate injuriously or fall into disuse. I shall, therefore, in the discharge of the duty enjoined by the constitution, freely submit for your correction, any errors and abuses in our laws, which may seem to exist, carefully excluding the discussion of those parts of our system which experience has approved.
* The establishment of a separate prison for female convicts, was effected in a great measure, by the efforts of Mr. Seward, while he was a member of the senate, in 1832. See “Debates in Senate of New York,” vol. i.-Ed.
Every other vice of government is more endurable than delay in the administration of justice. Yet this is the vice that most easily besets republican institutions. Our courts of common pleas have the constitution, forms and ceremonies of courts of civil jurisdiction, but exercise few of their important functions, and enjoy little of the respect and confidence indispensable to their efficient action. With jurisdiction co-extensive with the county as to persons, and unlimited in regard to the value in controversy, possessing ample means to secure impartial trials, and plenary powers to execute their judgments, these courts are too often deserted by all suitors, except those who bring to their bar unimportant and trivial complaints. The supreme court is unequal to its responsibilities. Professional ingenuity, stimulated by the litigious passions of parties, and encouraged by the law's delay, seeks error as a ground for appeal, in every stage and form of proceeding, from mesne to final process. Causes in that court have frequently cumbered its calendar two years. Suitors in the court of chancery encounter even greater hinderance and delay. These evils are incidents of our judicial system. Rights of property are of little worth when their proprietor must be ruined by delay in establishing them, or when death or insolvency defeats his remedy. Delays of justice are not less demoralizing, than injurious to commercial confidence and destructive of enterprise. The ability of our judges to decide deliberately such causes as they examine, is impaired by the pressure of a mass of business which they entertain no hope of accomplishing. In presenting this subject, I am sustained by the frequent, earnest, and enlight
I ened suggestions of my predecessor. It is conceded that there are no adequate remedies for these evils without an amendment of the constitution. You will, probably, deem it expedient to provide for abolishing the office of circuit judge, to increase the number of judges of the supreme court, and require all its members to try issues of fact at nisi prius as well as issues of law at bar; to organize a superior court of common pleas, with concurrent civil jurisdiction, and powers co-extensive with those of the supreme court; and to reorganize the court of chancery with such addition of chancellors as shall be necessary to decide originally all causes to be brought in that court. There is an argument of greater force than that of convenience, for dividing the power and responsibilities of the chancellor. The very nature of the controversies which come before him, requires the collision of thought afforded by a judicial bench. The powers of the court of chancery are too vast, and its patronage too great, to be vested in a single individual without other responsibility than that provided by the constitution. The boundaries of its jurisdiction are more obscure than those of other courts, and its process more searching and potential.
If you desire to restore to the courts of common pleas the popular respect, the consciousness of dignity and capabilities of usefulness which are indispensable to the efficient administration of justice, it is respectfully recommended to relieve the judges from their responsibilities in the appointment of county treasurers, commissioners of deeds, and superintendents of county poorhouses. Experience has proved nothing if it remains doubtful whether judges ought to be compelled to be partisans. Democracy is a fallacy if the supervisors are incompetent to appoint the disbursing officer of taxes which it is their province to levy, or without the intervention of executive beneficiaries, to select men qualified to administer oaths, or persons honest enough to superintend the affairs of an almshouse.
The fees of the clerks of the supreme court, and the register, assistant-register, and clerks of the court of chancery, were grad uated upon a scale supposed to be necessary to secure them an adequate compensation. But it is complained that the amount of these perquisites exceeds the value of the services rendered. Judges of the supreme court have descended from the bench to enjoy the golden streams supposed to flow into these offices. Integrity and assiduity are required in all public employments. Besides these, the incumbents of those offices ought to possess the skill merely clerical, and scarcely more than mechanical, to record and certify, in set forms and technical words ever recurring, the proceedings of their respective courts. To demand from the litigants an exorbitant compensation for such services, is as unjust as extortion in any other form. To lavish it upon public favorites, is anti-republican, wasteful and demoralizing; and yet if the complaints alluded to are true, this is not merely permitted by law, but enforced in the name and with the sanctions of justice. It is universally admitted that popular governments ought to be economically administered; but it can not be too well understood that our state government, like that of the nation, constantly manifests a tendency to depart from this principle. I submit to your enlightened consideration, that this tendency can only be counteracted by the substitution of fixed salaries instead of perquisites, where it is practicable, and by limiting the compensation of public officers. Artful devices are framed, and changes of form adopted, to increase the frequency of occasions to demand fees. It is difficult to ascertain the aggregate amount received, and the increase of business in every department, deranges the most nicely-adjusted scale of compensation. Interested partisans, or generous advocates for extravagant compensation to public officers, are never wanting, and plausible arguments are always at their command. The indigence of the incumbent, the supposed dependence of his family, the necessity of maintaining a certain rank, are arguments which easily satisfy those who see in the question only two points, the want of the office-holders, and the abundance of the government. All such arguments, however, are inconclusive, because they admit unlimited compensation. The only true rule is, that the state, like an individual, must pay, for services rendered, the amount necessary to secure the requisite skill, industry, and ability; and the test of compensation must be the question, whether public offices are declined by qualified persons, on the ground of its inadequacy. Your investigation may be properly extended to the various offices of county clerks, registers, surrogates, notaries, and commissioners to perform certain duties of judges of the supreme court.
The public service is not to be regarded as a profession. The healthful action of our whole system depends upon the responsibility and the frequent change of agents. He is as much a pensioner who receives a compensation exceeding the value of his services, as one who receives allowance from the public treasury. Of pensioners, this country ought to know only those whose
reward is a stinted requital for perils, privations, and sufferings, in the achievement and defence of our liberties. • An exception in our statute, concerning the foreclosure of mortgages, renders it necessary to resort to the court of chancery to extinguish the equity of redemption of subsequent mortgagees and judgment creditors. Stimulated by cupidity, many persons carry into that court cases in which
foreclosure in pursuance of the statute would be equally effectual. Foreclosures in chancery are always expensive, and often oppressive. I submit this grievance as one which has been the subject of just and general complaint. In the various transactions of commerce there
sometimes be occasion for the intervention, between buyer and seller, of an experienced person to test the quality of an article of merchandise; but I think you will find this principle has been unnecessarily extended. I am quite certain you will find individuals in the humble offices of inspectors of productions and merchandise, quietly enjoying such a rapid accumulation of fortune by perquisites, as would shock the republican feelings of the country, if paid to judges or legislators of transcendent abilities and learning. You will relieve agriculture and commerce of unnecessary burdens, and rightfully diminish the patronage of the executive, by reducing the number and emoluments of these officers.*
I am persuaded I only follow the expressed opinion of the people, in declaring that the law prohibiting the banks from issuing bills of a lower denomination than five dollars, is unwise, and has been productive of manifold and serious inconveniences. The act passed by your predecessors, suspending its operation two years, is not satisfactory. I therefore recommend that this suspension be converted into an unconditional repeal.
The experimental policy of the federal government in regard to its finances has not only produced calamitous measures at Washington, but has stimulated or seemed to demand extraordinary legislation on the part of the states. Among our laws passed in consequence of that policy, were the act prohibiting the issue of small bills by our banks; that removing the penalties for a suspension of specie payments, which fortunately expired by its own
* It will be seen in his succeeding messages, that Governor Seward did not allow these reforms to slumber until they were all successfully accomplished.--Ed.