The 78th New York State Legislature, consisting of the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly, met from January 2 to April 14, 1855, during the first year of Myron H. Clark'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, now known as the "Free Democratic Party", endorsed the Whig nominees Clark and Raymnond.
The Whig Party was in the process of disintegrating. The radical anti-slavery Whigs formed the Anti-Nebraska Party, the moderate anti-slavery wing became the Republican Party in other States, but still retained the Whig label in New York. Most of the Whigs which favored a compromise, or preferred to sidestep the issue, joined the Know Nothing movement which ran as the American 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. At this election, they endorsed the Whig nominees Clark and Raymond.
The New York state election, 1854 was held on November 7. Due to the Democratic split, the whole Whig ticket was elected. State Senator Myron H. Clark and New York Times publisher Henry J. Raymond were elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Clark defeated the incumbent Gov. Horatio Seymour (Soft) by a plurality of only 309 votes. The approximate party strength at this election, as expressed by the vote on Governor was: Whig/Anti-Nebraska/Temperance/Free Democratic/Anti-Rent fusion 156,800; Soft 156,500; American 122,000, and Hard 34,000.
The Legislature met for the regular session at the Old State Capitol in Albany on January 2, 1855; and adjourned on April 14.
DeWitt C. Littlejohn (W) was elected Speaker.
On January 22, Josiah B. Williams (W) was elected President pro tempore of the State Senate.
On February 6, the Legislature re-elected U.S. Senator William H. Seward (W) to a second six-year term, beginning on March 4, 1855.
On March 2, Richard M. Blatchford (W) was elected Speaker pro tempore of the Assembly.
On April 9, the Legislature passed "An Act for the prevention of Intemperance, Pauperism and Crime", thus enacting Prohibition. The law was declared unconstitutional in March 1856 by the New York Court of Appeals, thus repealing Prohibition.
The asterisk (*) denotes members of the previous Legislature who continued in office as members of this Legislature.
Party affiliations follow the vote on U.S. Senator.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 U.S. Senator.Clerk: Richard U. Sherman
Sergeant-at-Arms: Byron Ellsworth
Doorkeeper: Harmon Groesbeck
First Assistant Doorkeeper: Samuel Hall
Second Assistant Doorkeeper: William Buttro