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Daniel D. Tompkins speech to the New York Legislature, 2 February 1816



IN meeting the Legislature for the first time since the termination of the war with Great Britain, allow me to congratulate you on the event, and of the negotiation of an honorable, and I trust, a permanent peace. Sensible of its blessings, we ought to ascribe its attainment to the direction of that Providence, under whose auspices we have been protected through the perils and embarrassments of war. 

It is with the proudest sensations we can recur to the character and incidents of the late war—to the unwearied valor and firmness which marked the progress of our arms through every vicissitude of peril and discomfiture, which courted every exposure and braved every danger, and which, in its termination has, in an eminent degree, contributed as well to strengthen our confidence in the efficacy and stability of our political institutions, as to elevate our national character abroad. 

It had been matter of much speculation, whether our government, in its organization, was well calculated for a state of war; and it had been apprehended, that wanting the consolidated energies of a monarchy, its powers would act without concentration, and of course without effect. The late glorious contest has, however, established the fallacy of the objection, and the perfection of its system. It has presented, with some triumph to the world, the refutation of an opinion which denied to republics a capacity to resist the assaults of exterior hostility; and it has practically shewn, that a free nation, not only destitute of the system, the science and experience which give perfection to military operations, but deprived even of the signal benefits resulting from unanimity, has been able to resist with success, the most desperate efforts of an enemy inured to war, and possessing all the advantages of veteran force and experienced generals. 

In becoming a belligerent, the government of the United States consulted alone the respect she owed herself, and assumed an attitude demanded by her wrongs, her honor, and a regard to her permanent prosperity, which made war necessary to the accomplishment of a peace, which should again restore, upon an equitable basis, the long disturbed relations of amity and commerce. But among the events growing out of the late war, we cannot too much appreciate the elevation of the American character, and the pleasing contrast with periods anterior to its declaration. Remote from the collissions of Europe, her political influence in the scale of nations was scarcely felt; but the spirit with which she resisted the novel and unauthorised pretensions of disguised hostility,—the firmness with which she maintained a sanguinary and perilous contest,—and the moderation she has shewn, after the causes of the war had, by subsequent events, been essentially removed, in the arrangement of a peace emanating principally from her valor and resources,—have given her a rank in the convention of nations, which cannot fail effectually to guarantee the continuance of her pacific relations. Amidst these considerations, let not those who have achieved these great objects, under the most adverse fortunes, be forgotten. Let them not retire at once the objects of the respect and ingratitude of their country. I cannot but cherish the hope, and their sacrifices and their sufferings will early command the attention of the national legislature. 

The decision with which the subsequent war with Algiers has been conducted, has given a new proof, as well of the wisdom and firmness of those to whom the public functions of government have been entrusted, as of the necessity of that description of maritime defence, so peculiarly adapted to the commercial character of our country. In this achievement, is to be found another instance of the high courage and conduct, which on every occasion, have distinguished the gallant commander of that portion of our naval force, and his brave associates. 

In estimating the blessings of peace, we cannot be too strongly reminded of the necessity of preparing for every vicissitude. Our growing commercial character, the jealousies excited by our free form of government, the recent brilliant achievements of our Army and Navy, our improvements both in the arts of peace and war, and our enterprise and resolution, render this country and object of inquietude and apprehension to those nations, whose commercial pursuits and influence must unavoidably come in collision with those of the United States. I cannot therefore too strongly enforce of those who are selected as the guardians of the public safety, the indispensable necessity of providing, against future and contigent danger, the means of prompt and vigorous resistance. To say that the general government is alone entrusted by the constitution, with the power and means of providing for general defence, is to deny the application of those ordinary precautions, which self-respect, and self-defence, impose on each state. With it, we participate equally, in the responsibility of guarding and defending our territory, and with hers, we ought to unite our efforts for a general defence. 

I cannot pass over this occasion, without again calling the attention of the legislature to the propriety of a new organization of the Militia, a power competent from its resources to fulfil the high destination of being the bulwark of the state. Recent events have confirmed that opinion, by practical illustration: when under competent commanders, the militia have been led through privation, fatigue and peril, to the accomplishment of many of the most important military operations. On former occasions, some of the defects of the existing militia laws have been presented to the objects contemplated, and it time of war operate unequally. I cannot forbear remarking, that no period can be better adapted to a revision of our military code, than during the present tranquil state of the country. Our exposure to attack, and the difficulty of commanding our resources when assailed, present strong inducements for a co-operation with the United States, in giving form and effect to that system of defence, which, in the opinions of the framers of the constitution, was calculated for most of the emergencies of the nation. 

The difficulties and expenses which attended the transportation of public stores to frontier posts during the late war, have demonstrated the necessity of a legislative intervention, to encourage the establishment of good roads from the Hudson to the St. Lawrence, and to lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain. And on this object allow me to remark, that neither the convenience of turnpike companies, nor the security of the public from imposition, are promoted by conferring upon the Executive the power of appointing Commissioners to lay out roads, inspectors to examine them, or of issuing licences to erect gates. This power would be advisedly reposed in the first Judges of counties, or in some other responsible and accessible officers, with the right to appeal from their decision. 

It will rest with the Legislature, whether the prospect of connecting the waters of the Hudson with those of the western Lakes and of Champlain, is not sufficiently important to demand the appropriation of some part of the revenues of the state to its accomplishment, without imposing too great a burthen upon our constituents. The first route being an object common with the states of the west, we may rely on their zealous co-operation in any judicious plan that can perfect the water communication in that direction. As it relates to the connecting the waters of the Hudson with those of Lake Champlain, we may with equal confidence count on the spirited exertions of the patriotic and enterprising state of Vermont. 

Among the objects that will necessarily invite the attention of the Legislature, the situation of the manufacturing interests of the country ought not to be disregarded. The early effort they made to render their country independent of foreign supplies, not a little facilitated the operations of the late war. A neglect, by government, of their interests, cannot but restrain, in the event of future hostilities, the direction that patriotism and enterprise would otherwise give to a great proportion of the capital of the country. It is a proposition too plain to require any observation to enforce it, that no nation can be really and substantially independent, which relies on any other for its essential supplies of cloathing. The maintenance of our manufactures is, in my view, of deep interest to the present and future prosperity of our country, and I confidently recommend them to your patronage and protection. 

In the course of last year, two persons, convicted of arson, have been pardoned, on the condition of submitting to imprisonment in the state prison for life at hard labor. As the constitution invests the executive with the power of remitting sentences for all crimes except treason and murder, and as the laws authorise the insertion of conditions in the pardons to be granted, I can entertain no doubt of the propriety or expediency, in some cases, of commuting the punishment of death for perpetual imprisonment by conditional pardons. This subject may however require some legislative provision, in relation to the powers and duties of the inspectors and keepers of the state prison. The judges of the supreme court, equally with myself, regret that the crowded state of the present prison has of late made it indispensably necessary to extend the list of recommendations for pardons to a greater number than would otherwise have been deemed prosper. They therefore suggest, in which I most respectfually concur, that the prison be enlarged, or that a new establishment be erected in the northern or western part of the State, which will have for one of its important effects the reduction of a portion of the present heavy expenses incident to transportion of convicts from remote counties of the State. 

The evidence and documents on which I have respited, for the consideration of the Legislature, the sentence of Thomas Burk, lately convicted of murder in New-York, will accompany a special communication. 

Your superior wisdom, Gentlemen, will suggest the variety of other subjects which ought to receive the attention of the Legislature. I have only therefore to add, that, in the discharge of the important trust confided to us, to inculcate on our citizens the magnanimous sentiment, that in peace they should become the friends of those to whom they were enemies in war, to divest ourselves of that spirit of party which has heretofore jeopardized the best interests of the country, and which if persisted in, may ultimately involve us in those deplorable scenes by which modern Europe has been convulsed and almost desolated, are duties of the highest obligation. In every object connected with those duties, or which may respect the honor or welfare of this State, you may be assured of the utmost support on my part. 


Albany, February 2, 1816.

Ordered, That the Speech of his Excellency the Governor be printed.

Resolved, That a respectful answer be given to the Speech of his Excellency the Governor.

Ordered, That Mr. Van Buren, Mr. Van Vechten, and Mr. Bloodgood, be a committee to prepare and report the same. 

Ordered,  That the further consideration of the Speech of his Excellency the Governor, be committed to a committee of the whole. 

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Source: Journal of the Senate of the State of New York
Collection: N/A
Series: Series 3 (17 February 1815-2 December 1821)