The 79th New York State Legislature, consisting of the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly, met from January 1 to April 9, 1856, during the second 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 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 anti-slavery faction of the Whig Party, the "Free Democrats" (former Barnburners and Free Soilers), and the short-lived Anti-Nebraska Party merged into the Republican Party.
Most of the Whigs which favored a compromise, or preferred to sidestep the issue, joined with parts of the Democratic factions the Know Nothing movement which ran in the election as the "American Party."
The New York state election, 1855 was held on November 6. Due to the re-alignment of political parties, the whole American Party ticket of State officers was elected. The approximate party strength at this election, as expressed by the vote on Secretary of State was: American 148,000; Republican 137,000; Soft 91,000; and Hard 59,000.
The Legislature met for the regular session at the Old State Capitol in Albany on January 1, 1856; and adjourned on April 9.
On January 16, after two weeks of deadlock, Orville Robinson (D) was elected Speaker on the 49th ballot.
On January 29, Alonzo S. Upham (R) was elected President pro tempore of the State Senate.
The asterisk (*) denotes members of the previous Legislature who continued in office as members of this Legislature. Mark Spencer, Erastus Brooks, Zenas Clark and George W. Bradford were re-elected. James Rider, Joseph H. Petty, John W. Ferdon, Justin A. Smith and Joseph H. Ramsey changed from the Assembly to the Senate.
Party affiliations follow the vote on Senate and State officers.Clerk: Samuel P. Allen
Sergeant-at-Arms: Samuel R. Tuell
Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms: George W. Bedell
Doorkeeper: William Coppernall
Assistant Doorkeeper: Henry W. Shipman
Second Assistant Doorkeeper: Victor M. Dearborn
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
Sergeant-at-Arms: George B. Woolbridge
Doorkeeper: Sherman McLean
First Assistant Doorkeeper: John Davies
Second Assistant Doorkeeper: Henry White