A Political History of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve
1894 Constitutional Convention

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 Convention.
Go on to Threats to Forever Wild.

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