New York, state, United States: Revolution and a New Constitution

Revolution and a New Constitution

As troubles flared and escalated into the American Revolution, New Yorkers were divided in their loyalties. About one third of all the military engagements of the American Revolution took place in New York state. The first major military action in the state was the capture (May, 1775) of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold. Crown Point was also taken. In Aug., 1776, however, George Washington was unable to hold lower New York against the British under Gen. William Howe and lost the battle of Long Island, as he did the succeeding actions at Harlem Heights (Sept. 16) and White Plains (Oct. 28).

The British invested New York City and held it to the war's end. The state had, however, declared independence and functioned with Kingston as its capital, George Clinton as its first governor, and John Jay as its first chief justice. In 1777 New York was the key to the overall British campaign plan, which was directed toward taking the entire state and thus separating New England from the South. This failed finally (Oct., 1777) in the battles near the present-day resort of Saratoga Springs (see Saratoga campaign), generally considered as the decisive action of the war, partly because France was now persuaded to join the war on the side of the Colonies.

The British alliance with the Iroquois resulted in widespread violence in the frontier portion of the state. After the devastation of two Iroquois villages, the Iroquois and British responded with the massacre at Cherry Hill (1778). For the rest of the war there was more or less a stalemate, with the British occupying New York City, the patriots holding most of the rest of the state, and Westchester co. disputed ground. In 1780 Benedict Arnold failed in his attempt to betray West Point.

The influence of Alexander Hamilton was paramount in bringing New York to accept (1788) the Constitution of the United States at a convention in Poughkeepsie. Other leaders, however, mostly from the landed aristocracy (such as John Jay and Gouverneur Morris), were also powerful. Hamilton, Jay, and James Madison wrote The Federalist, a series of essays, to promote ratification. New York City was briefly (1789–90) the capital of the new nation and was also the state capital until 1797, when Albany succeeded it. Political dissension between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians was particularly keen in New York state, and Aaron Burr had much to do with swinging the state to Jefferson.

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