Since 1777: The History of New York’s State of the State Address

Since 1777: The History of New York’s State of the State Address

January 04, 2012 at 4:00 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will deliver his second State of the State address in Albany on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. He is expected to again promise not to raise taxes. Flickr/Patja

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo preps for the delivery of his State of the State speech on Wednesday afternoon, MetroFocus took a look at what the Empire State governors of yesteryear had to say in their annual addresses.

Unsurprisingly, many of the hot issues in New York politics today are the very same ones addressed when the first governor of New York, George Clinton, delivered what appears to have been the first State of the State in 1777; and again, about 120 years later, when Gov. Theodore Roosevelt issued his “Annual Message,” as it was known then, in 1899; and yet again, nearly another 100 years after that, when then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (father to our current governor) addressed the state at the beginning of the legislative session in 1990.

Following are a few of the things our past governors have had to say in their State of the State speeches (original spellings and all) on the ever-relevant topics of taxation, job creation and education…Some of the sentiments below may be echoed in Wednesday’s speech, some are just reminders of how much has changed in New York State.


Gov. George Clinton, Sept. 10, 1777

“The state of our finances…claims your serious attention…We have thus accumulated a debt, which, if neglected, will not only prove burthensome to the state, but strike at the credit of our currency, which it behoves us so much to support.”

Theodore Roosevelt was the 33rd governor of New York. "At present our system of taxation is in utter confusion, full of injustices and of queer anomalies," Roosevelt said in 1899. Photo by the Pach Brothers. This image is in the public domain.

Gov. Theodore Roosevelt, Jan. 2, 1899

“No other question is of such permanent importance in the domestic economy of our State as the question of taxation. At present our system of taxation is in utter confusion, full of injustices and of queer anomalies.”

Gov. Mario Cuomo, Jan. 3, 1990

“We will not raise our income taxes beyond the current level — the lowest in 30 years. Nor will we reduce any of the generous levels of support we gave last year to our most urgent needs. Although we will not be able to move forward as fast or as far as we would like, we will move forward, not backward.”

Jobs/Economic Development

Gov. John Jay, Jan. 6, 1796

“Difficulties have been experienced in importing from foreign countries sufficient quantity of arms and ammunition; and the present scarcity of those articles in general, and of one of the most essential of them in particular, is a disagreeable circumstance. It certainly is very desirable that we should not depend on foreigners for the means of defence; and therefore, that the manufactures necessary to furnish these supplies, should be encouraged and patronized by the legislature.”

Gov. Theodore Roosevelt, Jan. 2, 1899

“The development in extent and variety of industries has necessitated legislation in the interest of labor. This legislation is not necessarily against the interest of capital; on the contrary, if  wisely devised it is for the benefit of both laborers and employers.”

Hugh Carey was the 51st governor of New York. "As a state we must use our own tax system to encourage the creation of jobs," Carey said in 1981. AP Photo/Charled Gorry

Gov. Hugh Carey, Jan. 7, 1981

“If economic development is to mean anything, it must touch all those families still trapped in the cycle of joblessness, dependency, and despair…As a state we must use our own tax system to encourage the creation of jobs where they are most desperately needed.”


Gov. George Clinton, Jan. 25, 1803

“The diffusion of knowledge is so essential to the promotion of virtue and the preservation of liberty, as to render arguments unnecessary to excite you to a perseverance in this laudable pursuit. Permit me only to observe, that education, by correcting the morals and improving the manners, tends to prevent those evils in society, which are beyond the sphere of legislation.”

Gov. DeWitt Clinton, Jan. 4, 1825

“Of the many thousands who have been instructed in our free schools in the city of New York there is not a solitary instance known of any one having been convicted of crimes. In furtherance of this invaluable system, I recommend to your consideration the education of competent teachers on the monitorial plan, its more general introduction, and the distribution of useful books.”

Gov. Mario Cuomo, Jan. 3, 1990

“We said that education would continue to be our priority. It has always been the magic key to success in this country: it still is. Our Liberty Scholarship Program is the first of its kind in the nation. It gives every child in New York a guarantee that no one will be denied a college education just because he or she is poor.”


Watch 01/03/12 on PBS. See more from The Capitol Report.

Susan Arbetter of “The Capitol Report” previews Wednesday’s State of the State, with a focus on education and health care.

Cuomo made many promises in his 2011 State of the State address and his track record on keeping them has been good so far: he passed ethics reform and same-sex marriage, and revamped the state’s tax code. Of all the objectives he outlined, only two are left unfinished today: he still has not dealt with campaign finance reform; and whatever happened with the urban green markets program? We shall see…