A Political History of the Adirondack Park and
The Convention opened on May 5, 1894, in Albany. Conservation was not on the
agenda at all, and it wasn't until July 31, more than halfway through the
Convention, that the "Forever Wild" Amendment was proposed by
David McClure. After the 1893 Cutting Law, many people felt that the only
way to protect the Northern Woods was to erect "some unpassable
constitutional barrier." Being politicians, a five-member committee was
established to study whether preservation of the Adirondacks was important
enough to justify amending the Constitution. The committee heard testimony
from a large number of people, including Verplanck Colvin and John H.
Washburn, of the New York Board of Underwriters, both of whom had
utilitarian goals. Washburn, who sold fire insurance, was primarily
interested in maintaining a good water source to fight fires with in New
York City. After looking into the matter, David McClure, the sponsor of the
bill and chairman of the appointed committee, reported back in the waning
days of the Convention:
"It has surprised me with an ever-increasing surprise
that this matter of all the questions affected the people of the State
should have been left to so late a day and be the subject of almost
accidental action at best. As I look at it now, Mr. Chairman, it seems to be
almost the great and important subject, which at the inception of this
convention demanded prompt relief and action in the interest of the people
of this State."
Another proponent of the Forever Wild clause said,
"Now if you wish to preserve the waters of this State,
if you wish to preserve the waters of the Hudson River, and if there are any
friends of the canal system of this State in this Convention, if they wish
to preserve the canals, it seems to me they must vote for this amendment,
which may eternally preserve the Adirondacks"
It wasn't a hard sell to the rest of the convention. The fires across New
England of 1893 and 1894 left rivers dry and barren, proving the worst fears
of many New Yorkers regarding George Perkins Marsh's predictions. In
hindsight, the fear of the demise of the entire state due to the destruction
of the trees of the Adirondacks is rather humorous. As Philip G. Terrie
wrote in his book, Contested
Terrain (1997, Syracuse University Press),
"Ever since the mid-Nineteenth Century, one of the most
important features of the Adirondack story has been the conviction that the
welfare of the entire state of New York depends in a variety of ways on the
environmental integrity of the Adirondacks."
The delegates to the Convention had very few questions regarding the
proposed amendment. One Judge William P. Goodelle of Syracuse had a
suggestion, though: he wanted to see the addition of the word
"destroyed" at the end of the clause, to make the full text read
"The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter
acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be
forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or
exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the
timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed."
His justification for this addition was that many times dams were built on
land where timber was neither removed nor sold. The addition of this single
word would do wonders to protect the timber of the Forest Preserve.
On the last day of the Convention, Thursday, September 13, 1894, after
several attempts by logging interests to block the amendment (including one
motion to adjourn the convention, which was defeated), it came to a vote. By
a margin of 112 to 0, Article VII, Section 7 (which became Article XIV,
Section 1 in 1938), was adopted into the New York State Constitution. It
read an entire two sentences. The proposed Constitution still had to be
approved by the general voting populous of the State, which it did on
November 6, 1894, by a margin of 410,697 to 327,402. On January 1, 1895, the
new Constitution went into effect.
View the full text of Article XIV in the
current NYS Constitution.
Go back to Events Prior to the 1894
Go on to Threats to Forever Wild.
Go back to Adirondack Political History main page.