Return to New York During the Revolution

In May of 1775, a meeting of delegates gathered in Kingston to sign a document declaring New York’s independence from Great Britain. The principles that animated New Yorkers’ desire for independence continued to inform and help shape the early Republic during the Revolution and the turbulent years following the conclusion of the War.

Many New Yorkers played vital roles both on and off the battlefield. While men like Philip Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton served in the Continental Army, their greatest contributions to the nation were in the political realm. Hamilton is generally regarded as one of the driving forces behind the drafting of the Constitution. Along with fellow New Yorker John Jay and James Madison of Virginia, they wrote what has become known as “The Federalist Papers,” a series of open letters arguing for the ratification of the Constitution. The ideas espoused in their writings still influence how the Constitution is interpreted today.

Not all New York politicians were in favor of the Constitution as it was originally drafted. Some felt that the proposed federal government should more clearly define and defend the “inalienable rights” that the young nation had recently fought to secure. George Clinton, New York’s first Governor, was one of the strongest advocates for a “bill of rights” to protect the citizenry from unjust government actions. His advocacy helped ensure the passage and ratification of the first ten amendments.

New York was not just home to some of the leading figures of America’s post-Revolutionary government, it also acted as home to that government. From March of 1789 to July of 1790, New York City served as the new nation’s Capital. The government would later move to Philadelphia and in 1800, to its current location in Washington, DC.

The General Association Declaration, May 1775

Almost a year and a half before the Continental Congress would dissolve the political bonds between the colonies and Great Britain and assert that people possessed certain inalienable rights, the New York State General Association declared its own independence from King George III. When news of how the Massachusetts militia successfully fought the British at Lexington and Concord, the delegates of the General Association drafted a statement declaring that New York was no longer a colony. This important sign of New York’s solidarity with Massachusetts helped strengthen the political bond between the colonies, which paved the way for the 1776 Declaration of Independence. New York’s leadership proved to be pivotal in securing a unified colonial statement of independence.

On loan from the Onondaga Historical Association, Syracuse, NY

First Constitution of the State of New York, 1777

John Jay and other Revolutionary patriots drafted the Constitution, which was ratified by a convention at Kingston April 20, 1777. The constitution established the three branches of government and protected basic liberties. This is the final approved draft.

New York State Archives Collection

Poughkeepsie Journal 1788

A convention of delegates from each county in New York met at Poughkeepsie and after long debate ratified the proposed U.S. Constitution on July 26, 1788. The Poughkeepsie Convention proposed amendments that protected fundamental liberties and formed the basis for the later U.S. Bill of Rights (1791). Pages shown contain signatures of convention delegates, including Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

New York State Archives Collection

George Washington Letter to George Clinton

Letter written by George Washington to George Clinton during the Revolutionary War that was nearly destroyed when the British burned Kingston.

Courtesy of the New York State Archives

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