The 77th New York State Legislature, consisting of the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly, met from January 3 to April 17, 1854, during the second year of Horatio Seymour's governorship, in Albany.
Under the provisions of the New York Constitution of 1846, 32 Senators were elected in single-seat senatorial districts for a two-year term, the whole Senate being renewed biennially. The senatorial districts (except those in New York City) were made up of entire counties. 128 Assemblymen were elected in single-seat districts to a one-year term, the whole Assembly being renewed annually. The Assembly districts were made up of entire towns, or city wards, forming a contiguous area, all in the same county. The City and County of New York was divided into four senatorial districts, and 16 Assembly districts.
At this time there were two major political parties: the Democratic Party and the Whig Party.
The Democratic Party was split into two factions: the Hard-Shells (or Hards) and the Soft-Shells (or Softs). In 1848, the Democratic Party had been split into Barnburners and Hunkers. The Barnburners left the party, and ran as the Free Soil Party, with presidential candidate Martin Van Buren. Afterwards the larger part of the Free Soilers re-joined the Democratic Party. During the following years, the Hunkers split over the question of reconciliation with the Barnburners. The Hards were against it, denying the Barnburners to gain influence in the Party. The Softs favored reconciliation with the intention of maintaining enough strength to win the elections. Both Hards and Softs favored a compromise on the slavery question: to maintain the status quo and to leave the decision to the local population in new Territories or States if they want slavery or not, as expressed in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Barnburners were against the permission of slavery in new Territories or States, but were now the minority in the party. The small faction of the Free Soil Party which advocated abolition of slavery, ran their own State ticket as the "Free Democratic Party".
About this time the Temperance movement began to enter politics to advocate legal and/or political measures to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages, and endorsed candidates of the major parties who favored prohibition.
The New York state election, 1853 was held on November 8. Due to the Democratic split, of the ten statewide elective offices up for election, eight were carried by the Whigs, and two by the Democrats. The approximate statewide party strength, as shown by the vote for Secretary of State, was: Whig 160,000; Hard 99,000; Soft 96,000; and Free Democrats 14,000.
The Legislature met for the regular session at the Old State Capitol in Albany on January 3, 1854; and adjourned on April 17.
Robert H. Pruyn (W) was elected Speaker with 74 votes against 24 for George De Witt Clinton (Hard) and 17 for Jonathan C. Collins (Soft).
On January 20, the Legislature passed "An Act to perfect an amendment of the Constitution, providing means for the completion of the canals of this State".
On January 30, Andrew B. Dickinson (W) was elected President pro tempore of the State Senate.
On February 15, a special election was held at which the Canal Amendment was ratified by the voters with 185,771 votes For; and 60,526 votes Against the proposed amendment.
On April 4, the Legislature elected Victor M. Rice (W) as the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The asterisk (*) denotes members of the previous Legislature who continued in office as members of this Legislature. James H. Hutchins changed from the Assembly to the Senate.Clerk: Hugh J. Hastings
Sergeant-at-Arms: Joseph Garlinghouse
Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms: Hiram M. Eaton
Doorkeeper: Samuel R. Tuell
Assistant Doorkeeper: Almond Becker
The asterisk (*) denotes members of the previous Legislature who continued as members of this Legislature.
Party affiliations follow the vote on Speaker.Clerk: Richard U. Sherman
Deputy Clerk: Loren B. Sessions
Sergeant-at-Arms: Silas D. Nicholas
Doorkeeper: John Davis
First Assistant Doorkeeper: Byron Ellsworth
Second Assistant Doorkeeper: John Lewis