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´╗┐Title: A Century in the Comptroller's Office, State of New York, 1797 to 1897
Author: Roberts, James A.
Language: English
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  1797    A Century in the
  TO      Comptroller's
  1897    Office

  State of New York





[Illustration: _STATE HALL_]


On the 17th of February, 1897, occurred the one hundredth anniversary of
the establishment of the office of Comptroller of the State of New York.

The present incumbent of the office trusts it will not be considered
unwarranted pride which has led him to collect and transcribe, in honor
of its one hundredth birthday, such general facts relating more or less
directly to the office, or to the former incumbents thereof, as he has
gathered from unsystematic reading and in the performance of his duties.

An office which has without scandal managed the financial affairs of
this great State, and has otherwise borne a conspicuous part in its
government for a century; an office from the thirty incumbents of which
have been chosen a Vice-President and a President of the United States,
two United States Senators, four Governors of the State, one Chief
Justice and one Chief Judge of its Court of Appeals--to say nothing of
others who have achieved distinction in less conspicuous civil
positions--would seem entitled to something more than a passing notice
on its centennial anniversary.

The office, as created, and from time to time enlarged, is a unique
feature in our State government. There are Auditors in nearly all of the
States of the Union; but the duties of Comptroller are far broader,
comprehending largely the ordinary duties of a State Treasurer as well
as many others. There had been Auditors in the Colony of New York from
1680 down to the time of its organization as an independent State, and
that office was continued in the State until it was merged in the office
of Comptroller. There have been Treasurers of New York with varying
duties from 1706 down to the present time. From the time of the
organization of the State government the offices of Treasurer and
Auditor had not been found to work harmoniously or satisfactorily. Bills
might be audited which the Treasurer did not wish to pay, and the
Treasurer might wish to pay bills which the Auditor would not pass, so
in a tentative, experimental way in 1797 the office of Comptroller was
created to combine the power to audit and the power to pay. The act
creating it was framed by Samuel Jones, a man of note in his time (for
whom Samuel Jones Tilden, the distinguished Governor of this State, was
named), and on the 17th of February, 1797, it became law by the
signature of that distinguished patriot, Governor John Jay.

[Illustration: Samuel Jones (signature)


The appointment of Comptroller upon the creation of the office fell to
the "Council of Appointment," as was the case at that time with all
State, county and municipal officers, except the Governor,
Lieutenant-Governor and members of the Legislature. The "Council of
Appointment" was an anomaly in government. The article (XXIII of the
Constitution of 1777) establishing this "Council" was framed by three as
pure, patriotic and disinterested statesmen as New York has ever
produced, John Jay, Robert R. Livingston and Gouverneur Morris, and was
designed to prevent a dangerous centralization of power in the hands of
the Governor. It provided "that all officers, other than those who by
this Constitution are directed to be otherwise appointed, shall be
appointed in the manner following, to wit: The Assembly shall once in
every year openly nominate and appoint one of the Senators from each
great district" (then four in number), "which Senators shall form a
council for the appointment of officers, of which the Governor, for the
time being, or the Lieutenant-Governor, or the President of the Senate
(when they shall respectively administer the government), shall be
president, and have a casting vote, but no other vote."

Under the power thus conferred this council appointed the heads of the
various State departments; all Judges, as well as Justices of the Peace,
District Attorneys, Sheriffs, County Clerks, Mayors, and other officers
throughout the entire State.

The cautious and anxious gentlemen who framed this provision in 1777
could by no means have foreseen the disastrous and disgraceful spoils
system that grew up under it. It remained in full effect until a
disgusted people abolished it by an amendment to the Constitution in
1821. At that time its power had so grown that there were 6,663 civil
and 8,287 military offices which it controlled. The modern political
boss must experience a feeling of profound regret as he realizes that
this rich harvest can no longer be garnered by his sickle.

Chapter 21 of the Laws of 1797, which created the office of State
Comptroller, provided, among other things, that "all matters and things
theretofore required to be done by the Auditor of the State should be
done by the Comptroller, and that the salary and wages of all
legislative, executive, judicial and ministerial officers of the
government of this State, and all moneys directed by law to be paid to
any other person, should be paid by the Treasurer on the warrant of the
Comptroller;" that the Comptroller should keep an account between the
State and the Treasurer; that he might lend out moneys in the treasury
not otherwise appropriated, and that when money was directed to be paid,
and not sufficient money in the treasury to satisfy the same, he might
"in the name, and on behalf of the People of this State, borrow a sum
sufficient for that purpose of a bank of New York, or bank of Albany."

Thus the important powers which have distinguished the Comptroller's
office--the power of audit; to draw warrants for all payments from the
treasury; to keep its books of financial transactions; to invest its
funds, and to borrow money--were embodied in the first act. The
powers thus granted infringed so largely upon the ordinary rights and
duties of a Treasurer, and so largely upon those which had been
theretofore exercised by the Treasurer of this State, that it is not
strange the then Treasurer, Gerardus Bancker, who had held the office
from April 1, 1778, resigned in disgust. His feeling was, as Lossing has
stated in his "Empire State," that the Comptroller was made "the highest
financial officer of the State, and the Treasurer merely a clerk to

[Illustration: John V. Henry (signature)


The early history of the office is an illustration of the cautious and
doubtful temper of the Legislatures of the time--so unlike those of the
present day. It is a well-known fact that while the Legislature of the
State met for the first time at Albany, in the same year, 1797, in which
the office of Comptroller was created, it was not then made a permanent
location for the Capitol; and that city was maintained for upwards of
twenty years as the Capitol simply by the adjournment of the Legislature
at the end of each session to meet again at the city of Albany. The
original act creating the Comptroller's office provided that it should
continue in force for a period of three years. On the 28th day of
February, 1800, eleven days after the office had expired by limitation,
chapter 11 of that year went into effect, which re-established the
office for another period of three years. Chapter 22 of the Laws of 1803
extended the office, with the powers and duties then prescribed by law,
to February 28, 1805. By chapter 60 of the Laws of 1805, passed March
30th, the office was continued to February 28, 1808, and the acts of the
then Comptroller, between the 28th day of February, 1805, and the day
when this act went into effect, were ratified and confirmed. On March
11, 1808, chapter 34 of that year was passed, which continued the office
to February 28, 1812, with a like confirmatory clause. The act of
February 28, 1812, at last made permanent the Comptroller's office, with
the powers theretofore conferred upon it. By chapter 31 of the Laws of
1797 the office of Comptroller was to be located either in Albany or

The Council of Appointment chose for the first Comptroller Samuel Jones,
of Oyster Bay, Queens county. This was done by the casting vote of
Governor John Jay, the four senatorial members of the council being a
tie. He was a lawyer of high standing at the time of his appointment, a
Federalist in politics, and had held with credit a number of civil
positions. In 1775 he had been a member of the Provisional War
Committee, and had performed arduous services on that committee. He was
a member of the convention that adopted the Federal Constitution, and
voted for it. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1778; a
Member of Assembly from Queens county in 1786, 1787, 1788, 1789 and
1790; a State Senator from the southern district from 1791 to 1799.

The honors which he had won and worthily worn were supplemented in his
son who, as the Chancellor of this State (succeeding Nathan Sanford and
succeeded by Reuben H. Walworth), and as Chief Judge of the New York
Superior Court, won for himself enviable renown in our legal annals.
Comptroller Jones was the author of the "Act for the amendment of law
and better advancement of Justice," passed in 1789, which was a valuable
contribution and addition to our law. He was also the author of many
other of the best statutes placed upon our books in those early years.
He was distinguished throughout his career as an upright and useful man,
though he was sometimes accused of a little uncertainty in politics. He
is said to have replied to a question from Judge Spencer as to how he
managed to secure his elections from Queens county whatever party might
be in the ascendant, that "If my troops will not follow me, I follow my

The Comptroller's salary was fixed by the act at $3,000, and this was to
include all clerk hire and ordinary expenses connected with the office.
In 1800 the compensation was reduced to $2,500, and in consequence of
this action Mr. Jones resigned the office. He had faithfully
performed its duties, and his resignation terminated his public career.

[Illustration: Elisha Jenkins (signature)


During his term, in 1799, the Legislature prohibited the payment of any
money from the treasury except upon the warrant of the Comptroller, and
required all receipts to be countersigned by him, and this has remained
a part of the duties of the Comptroller from that time to this.

On March 12, 1800, John V. Henry, an eminent Albany lawyer and a
Federalist, was chosen Comptroller. There are some still living who
know, at least by oral tradition, his great influence at the bar, and
Albanians have a just pride in his high reputation. He was a member of
the convention called in 1801 principally to settle the question whether
the Governor alone could nominate persons for appointment, or whether
that power also lay in the Senators composing the Council of
Appointment. He was a Member of Assembly from Albany county in 1800,
1801 and 1802. During his term, by chapter 61 of the Laws of 1801, the
Comptroller was made _ex-officio_ a member of the State Board of
Canvassers, and by chapter 69 of the same year he was made one of the
Commissioners of the Land Office.

In 1801 the Legislature also directed the Comptroller to sell lands for
the payment of taxes due to the State, and this power, variously
modified and enlarged, still remains in him. Under it sales were held in
1808, 1811, 1812, 1814, 1815, 1821, 1826, 1830, 1834, 1839, 1843, 1848,
1853, 1859, 1866, 1871, 1877, 1881, 1885, 1890 and 1895.

In 1800 the Legislature authorized the Comptroller to settle the credits
of the State with the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.
The moneys derived from this source formed the basis of the general
fund. The Comptroller was made the custodian of this fund with power to
invest it. The fund was augmented from sales of land and other sources
until, in 1814, it had reached the sum of $4,396,943.97. The income of
the fund together with the salt and auction duties, it was believed, in
the early part of the century, would be sufficient to maintain the
government. And from 1814 to 1842 no money was raised in this State by
direct taxation except during the years in which the Erie and Champlain
canals were in process of construction. To avoid a direct tax, however,
it had been found necessary from time to time, to draw on the principal
of the fund, and in 1834 it disappeared altogether and with it the
bright dream of our forefathers of a commonwealth without taxation.
Before the adoption of the Constitution of 1846 the fund had been
succeeded by a general fund debt of $5,992,840.82. This was increased
before the breaking out of the Civil War to a total of $6,505,684.37.
This was the high-water mark of the general fund debt if we do not
include in it the bounty debt of 1865. The Constitution of 1846 made
provision for a sinking fund to meet this debt and its management and
investment were intrusted to the Comptroller. In this way the last of
the debt was paid in 1878.

[Illustration: Arch. McIntyre (signature)


Mr. Henry was removed from his office August 10, 1801, by reason of
political changes in the Council of Appointment, and he then and there
renounced politics forever. At the time of his death, in 1829, the
leading Albany paper of the period spoke of Mr. Henry as "the idol of
his friends; the ornament of his native city; the pride of the bar; the
eloquent defender of the oppressed."

Henry's successor in office was Elisha Jenkins, a merchant and a
Democrat (or Republican as the party was then called) of Hudson, who
held the office from August 10, 1801, to March 26, 1806. Previous to his
appointment as Comptroller he had served as Member of Assembly from
Columbia county for the years 1795 to 1798. After his service as
Comptroller he served three different periods as Secretary of State, to
wit: From March 16, 1806, to February 16, 1807; from February 1, 1808,
to February 1, 1810, and from February 1, 1811, to February 23, 1813.
During his term as Comptroller there was a defalcation in the office
of Treasurer, then held by Robert McClellan, and a more rigid system of
testing the correctness of accounts was adopted, many features of which
still survive. There was not much legislation affecting the office
passed during the period of his incumbency; but the work of the office
would seem to have been done in a systematic and business-like manner.

[Illustration: John Savage (signature)


Mr. Jenkins was succeeded by Archibald McIntyre, a Democrat of the
Clintonian order, of Albany, who, besides the reputation of a most
excellent officer, has left behind him the record of a term of service
in the office longer than that of any person who has filled it. He was
appointed on March 26, 1806, and continued in office until February 12,
1821. He had previously served as Member of Assembly from Montgomery
county for the years 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802 and 1804. The duties
of the office had so far increased in 1811 as to render necessary the
services of a deputy, and by chapter 78 his appointment was authorized,
with substantially the same limitations which now exist. He cannot sign
warrants so long as the Comptroller is within the State; nor can he act
on the various boards. Comptroller McIntyre in 1817, under legislative
authority, procured the aggregate valuation of the real estate in the
several towns and wards of the State. By chapter 262 of the Laws of 1817
the Board of Commissioners of the Canal Fund was created, and the
Comptroller made, _ex-officio_, a member of that board. This act
contained a curious provision to the effect that a majority of the
Commissioners, with the Comptroller, constitutes a quorum. No quorum of
that board has ever been possible without the presence of the

This board, from that time to 1848, received and disbursed all canal
moneys, audited the canal accounts, and in general transacted the
financial business of the canal department. In 1848 the canal funds were
turned over to the Treasurer and made subject to the warrant of the
Canal Auditor. By his audit and warrant all accounts against the canals
were paid; the management of the canal debt and sinking fund remaining,
as before, in the Commissioners of the Canal Fund. In 1883 the duties
devolving upon the Canal Auditor were transferred to the Comptroller's
office. The majority of the Commissioners of the Canal Fund signed all
checks on canal account prior to 1848. Since 1883, the Commissioners of
the Canal Fund have had no duties to perform except to designate banks
for the deposit of canal funds, and, ordinarily, to supervise the
issuing of canal bonds.

The first canal debt bonds were issued in 1817 under legislative
authority, and their disposition and the management of the sinking fund
which was provided for their payment were put in the hands of the
Commissioners of the Canal Fund. The amount of the debt that year was
$200,000. As the canal system was extended, and later when the canals
were enlarged, this debt was from time to time increased until in 1860
it reached the sum of $27,107,321.28. From that time it continuously
decreased through the payments to, and the application of, the sinking
fund, until on the 1st day of October, 1893, the last of this, the last
bonded debt of the State, was paid. Something of financial history may
be learned from a study of the rates of interest paid on these loans to
the State. On the loan of 1817 the rate of interest was six per cent.
From 1820 to 1830 the highest rate was six per cent and the lowest,
five. From 1830 to 1840 a rate of five was sufficient. From 1840 to 1850
the rate advanced, the lowest being six and the highest seven per cent,
the latter rate being in about 1842, the period of uncertainty as to the
State's financial policy. From 1850 to 1860 the rate again fell to five
and six per cent. In 1861 a small loan was made at seven. From 1870 to
1880 the rate was six per cent. This was the last of the old canal loan.
By vote of the people in 1895 a loan of $9,000,000 was authorized to be
used in the enlargement of the canals. The amounts thus far borrowed
under that authority have been at the rate of three per cent.

[Illustration: W. L. Marcy (signature)


Perhaps the most notable circumstance of Comptroller McIntyre's term,
and certainly one of the most notable in the whole history of the
office, was his controversy with Daniel D. Tompkins. During the War of
1812 Governor Tompkins had been the agent both of the State and of the
National Government, and in this dual capacity he had received and
disbursed very large sums of money. For much of this money he had taken,
or could produce, no vouchers, and, consequently, in 1819 he stood upon
the Comptroller's books a debtor, if not a defaulter, to the State in
the large amount of $120,000. He claimed, and his friends claimed for
him, that he had honestly disbursed all the money that he had received,
and that the apparent deficit was due to his acknowledged
unbusiness-like methods, and in his failure to keep books of account,
and to take vouchers. He was then Vice-President of the United States,
and it was thought by the "Bucktail" Republicans that he was the only
man who, in the State election of 1820, could beat Governor Clinton for
re-election. This unsettled balance, which had been standing for several
years on the books of the Comptroller, was a serious obstacle to the
execution of their plan. Accordingly, the Legislature of 1819 passed an
act requiring the Comptroller to settle the residue of the accounts of
Governor Tompkins, and in the settlement to allow him the same premium
on the amount of money borrowed by him "on his own responsibility" as
was allowed others for like service; and further requiring the
Comptroller to credit the Governor with sums paid by him, legally, to
any person, and to call upon such persons to account for the money.
Contrary, it was said, to what had been understood by those who had been
instrumental in passing the act of 1819, Vice-President Tompkins,
instead of presenting a claim for premium merely sufficient to offset
the claim of the State against him, presented one for $250,000, and
supported this claim by opinions both of experts and lawyers. This bill
furnishes a commentary on the credit of the State in the perilous times
of the War of 1812, or perhaps upon the value of the services of
financial agents at that time. The brokerage charged by Governor
Tompkins was at the rate of twenty-five per cent. The Comptroller,
feeling that this was not the legislative intent, and ever watchful as
he was of the State's interests, declined to allow the claim, on the
ground that the Governor had not borrowed the money "on his own
responsibility," but on the joint responsibility of the State and
himself. The Comptroller offered to submit the soundness of his position
to the Judges of the Supreme Court, and to join with the Judges, if it
was desired, the Chancellor or the Attorney-General. But this Mr.
Tompkins declined on the ground that all of these proposed referees were
politically hostile to him. Correspondence relating to the matter, and
marked by great bitterness of tone, took place between these eminent
officials; and in this the Comptroller showed not only a familiarity
with accounts, but a facility with the pen, which was a surprise to
those who had not known him intimately. This matter occupied much of the
attention of the Legislature for two years, and gave rise to protracted
and animated debates, and there is no doubt that it entered largely into
the defeat of Governor Tompkins by Clinton in 1820. The controversy was
finally settled under an act of the Legislature of 1820, which directed
the Comptroller to balance the accounts upon the filing of a release
from Governor Tompkins of all his claims against the State. It had
required no small amount of courage for Comptroller McIntyre to engage
in a trial of strength with this idol of the State. Daniel D. Tompkins
was four times elected Governor of the State, and twice elected
Vice-President. He was a man of great personal magnetism; with large
abilities, and he held a place in the affections of the people of
this State which has scarcely been equaled by any of our citizens
since his time.

[Illustration: Silas Wright Jr (signature)


[Illustration: A. C. Flagg (signature)


At no time in the history of the State has the Comptroller's office been
more ably filled, and occupied a more prominent position, than during
the administration of Archibald McIntyre. He had the unbounded
confidence of all, and although there were several Councils of
Appointment during his term of service which were hostile to him, no one
seems to have thought of removing him. He was regarded as a public
servant whose services could not well be spared to the State. He was
held in a measure responsible for the defeat of Governor Tompkins, and,
although Clinton was elected, the Legislature and the Council of
Appointment were decidedly hostile both to Clinton and to him, and on
February 12, 1821, Mr. McIntyre was removed, and John Savage appointed
in his place. His removal would have created far greater dissatisfaction
than it did, although the dissatisfaction was considerable, had not his
successor been a man of concededly great ability. Mr. McIntyre was, the
year of his removal, nominated as the Clintonian candidate for Senator
from the middle district, and, although strenuous efforts were made to
defeat him, he was elected by a substantial majority.

In 1822 he was, with John B. Yates, appointed agent for the State
lotteries. The Constitution of 1821 had forbidden any further lotteries
within the State, and authorized the Legislature to pass laws preventing
the sale of tickets except in the lotteries already established by law.
These were mostly instituted under the law of 1814 for the purpose of
aiding literary institutions. By the act appointing him, the agents were
invested with sole authority to issue and sell all lottery tickets
which, for the future, were to be issued to pay some hundreds of
thousands of dollars due various institutions. The legislative intent
was carried out by the agents to the satisfaction of the beneficiaries,
and also with satisfactory pecuniary results to the agents themselves.
Upon his retirement from his agency Mr. McIntyre was able to withdraw
both from politics and business.

One would hardly expect to find in the books of account in the
Comptroller's office anything in the nature of a history of morals, but
the receipts from various lotteries forms a no inconsiderable part of
the receipts of the State for a number of years. This opens up a view
which almost shocks modern sensibility. Lotteries were not only
authorized by the State, but they were in the main devoted to beneficent
purposes. Union College owes no inconsiderable part of her early
usefulness to money derived from State lotteries. Indeed, the
institution of State lotteries in New York may almost be attributed to
the efforts of that truly great and good man, the Rev. Dr. Eliphalet
Nott. The first moneys ever appropriated by New York for the purposes of
free schools were raised by lottery.

John Savage, of Salem, a lawyer, and a Democrat of the "Bucktail" stamp,
was the fifth Comptroller, and at the time of his appointment he was
not new to public life. He had been district attorney of the fourth
district from 1806 to 1811, and again from 1812 to 1813; Member of
Assembly from Washington county in 1814, and Member of the Fourteenth
and Fifteenth Congresses. He rounded out his official career with eight
years (from 1823 to 1831) of honored service as Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court. As a public official it has been said that "he exhibited
candor, industry, caution and excellent judgment." No higher qualities
can be given to any official. Later in life the positions of Chancellor
and Treasurer of the United States were offered to him but declined.
During his term of office there was no substantial change or enlargement
of the powers and duties of the office, aside from the power given to
invest money belonging to the common school fund. The common school fund
had its origin in 1805, and was, as the determination for free schools
became more manifest, an application to a school system of the Utopian
vision of the makers of the State, who sought to pay all the expenses
of maintaining the government by interest from its invested funds. The
common school fund has, unlike the general fund, steadily increased. By
the act of 1805 the proceeds of the first 500,000 acres of vacant and
unappropriated land sold by the Surveyor-General were appropriated as a
permanent fund for the support of common schools. Other sources of
revenue were from time to time turned into this fund, until from its
small beginning of $58,757.24 in 1805, it has now productive investments
aggregating $4,448,140.77. It is a noteworthy fact that no direct tax
for school purposes was laid by the State until 1853, the interest of
the fund alone being appropriated. How small a portion the income plays
in maintaining the schools of the State to-day can be seen in the fact
that the State for the year 1896 appropriated for educational purposes
$4,970,134.53, and this is not a quarter of the amount expended in the
State for the purpose of free schools, when the local contributions are
taken into account. Judge Savage was the last Comptroller who owed his
selection to the Council of Appointment.

[Illustration: Bates Cooke (signature)


The Constitutional Convention of 1821, in deference to strong public
demand, had abolished that disgraceful anomaly, and by section 6 of
article 4 had provided that "the Secretary of State, Comptroller,
Treasurer, Attorney-General, Surveyor-General and Commissioner-General
shall be appointed as follows: The Senate and Assembly shall each openly
nominate one person for the said offices respectively; after which they
shall meet again, and if they shall agree in their nominations the
person so nominated shall be appointed to the office for which he shall
be nominated. If they shall disagree, the appointment shall be made by
the joint ballot of the Senators and Members of Assembly. The Secretary
of State, Comptroller, Treasurer, Attorney-General, Surveyor-General and
Commissioner-General shall hold their office for three years, unless
sooner removed by concurrent resolution of the Senate and Assembly."

[Illustration: John A. Collier (signature)


The Legislature, on the 13th day of February, 1823, elected, in the
manner provided by law, William L. Marcy, a lawyer and a Democrat, of
Albany, to succeed Savage. There was a contest in the caucus over his
nomination, his opponent being Genl. James Tallmadge, a man of
conspicuous ability and influence in the Senate. The power of Mr. Van
Buren, however, turned the scale in Mr. Marcy's favor. The only public
position which he had previously held was Adjutant-General, but from
that time on his name is closely linked with the history of the State
and Union. He was Comptroller for six years, Judge of the Supreme Court
for two years, and United States Senator for two years. He was three
times elected Governor, and defeated in his fourth run for that office
by William H. Seward. He was appointed Secretary of War by President
Polk in 1845, and Secretary of State by President Pierce in 1853. He had
for years, under Mr. Van Buren, been a leader of that most influential
political body which has become known to history as the "Albany
Regency." The remaining members are understood to have been at that time
Silas Wright, Azariah C. Flagg, Edwin Croswell, John A. Dix, James
Porter and Benjamin Knower. The records of the State show that these
men, while building up a compact and powerful political organization,
did not neglect their own personal and political advancement.

One of the vouchers in the Comptroller's office played a prominent part
in the last of Mr. Marcy's gubernatorial campaigns--a circumstance
which, Thurlow Weed says, Mr. Marcy pronounced the most disagreeable of
his entire public career. While serving as Supreme Court Judge, and on
Circuit in Niagara county, he included in his bill of expenses an item
as follows: "For mending my pantaloons, 50c." In the Seward campaign
Thurlow Weed, then the editor of the Albany _Evening Journal_, learned
of this fact and published the story. It was taken up by the press
generally throughout the State, and Mr. Marcy, with all his fine
organization and numberless friends, found himself for the time being,
like Spain's chivalry, "laughed away."

[Illustration: Millard Fillmore (signature)


The item, however, exhibits the scrupulous exactness of the man. Instead
of presenting the bill with an indefinite amount of incidentals, he
itemized it thus particularly to his own disadvantage; but, as Mr. Weed
afterward admitted, it was a credit to his honesty.

It was during Mr. Marcy's term that much of the work on the Erie canal
was done, and the careful scrutiny which the bills for this work
received was largely instrumental in keeping the cost within the
estimates. He took ground as chief financial officer of the State
against the construction of the Chenango and Genesee Valley canals, for
the reason that these canals would not, in his judgment, pay the
expenses of maintenance and the interest on the debt which would be
incurred in their construction. While friends of the measures endeavored
to convince the Legislature that the Comptroller was wrong in his
calculation, the result, when these works were finally completed, fully
justified the Comptroller's view. As Governor he made some friends, and
more enemies, by adhering to the same careful course he had maintained
as Comptroller. In 1826 the Legislature created the Canal Board, and the
Comptroller was made _ex-officio_ a member of it, and he has continued
to act as such member down to the present.

On the 27th day of January, 1829, the Legislature elected as the
successor of Mr. Marcy a man who, in his time, made a great impression
upon State and National politics--Silas Wright, of Canton, a lawyer and
a Regency Democrat. He had previously been Surrogate of St. Lawrence
county, State Senator from the fourth district for the years 1824, 1825,
1826 and 1827, and a Member of the Twentieth and Twenty-first
Congresses. In the latter position he had achieved considerable
reputation. After his five years' service as Comptroller he held with
high honor, for nearly twelve years, the position of United States
Senator. During the term of Mr. Van Buren as President he was considered
to voice the administration in his public utterances. He served
faithfully and intelligently upon some of the most important committees.
He resigned to take the office of Governor, which office he held in 1845
and 1846, and was defeated for re-election by John Young in November,
1846. Mr. Wright continued the careful and conservative policy of his
predecessor as to expenditures. He took strong ground against the
numerous and extensive raids on the treasury which were then organized.
His reports were always plain, business-like papers, which set out in
intelligible language the consequences of the rapidly-increasing
expenses. Mr. Wright in many ways was a remarkable man. The public
positions which he held were varied, and it was a great test of his
adaptability to be able to fill the duties of these various positions
with much more than ordinary success. In 1831 the financial law of the
State was revised, and the provisions relating to the powers and duties
of the Comptroller were codified and arranged.

[Illustration: W. Hunt (signature)


Upon his election as United States Senator Mr. Wright resigned and was
succeeded by Azariah C. Flagg, of Plattsburgh, a lawyer and a Regency
Democrat, who was elected on January 11, 1834. He had been a Member of
Assembly from Clinton county in 1823 and 1824, and held the office of
Secretary of State from 1826 to 1833. He had run counter to public
opinion in 1823 as the leader of the Assembly opposition to the
Electoral law--a law designed to give to the people directly the power
of chosing the presidential electors, instead of leaving that power
vested in the Legislature, as had been the law theretofore. The Albany
Regency had determined to prevent any change, and succeeded in warding
off legislative action. The measure, however, met the cordial approval
of the people, and that fact, together with the removal of Governor
Clinton as Canal Commissioner--a position in which his uncompensated
services had been of the greatest value--swept Clinton, whose political
fortunes then seemed at their lowest ebb, triumphantly into the
gubernatorial chair. But it was a principle of the Albany Regency, and
of Martin Van Buren, then at its head, never to forget a man who had
fallen or suffered in their service; and it was in reward for Mr.
Flagg's unpopular opposition to the Electoral bill that in 1826 he was
chosen Secretary of State. Mr. Flagg has the distinction of having
served longer as Comptroller than any other incumbent of the office,
with the exception of Archibald McIntyre. He held the office from
January 11, 1834, to February 4, 1839, and again from February 7, 1842,
to November 7, 1847. During his first term he was a member of the
commission for the erection of the State Hall, and that building still
stands as a monument to the Commission's good judgment in architecture,
and in the adaptation of means to an end. Upon the completion of the
State Hall the old State Hall, corner of Lodge and State streets, was
sold by the Commission. By chapters 2 and 150 of the Laws of 1837 the
Comptroller was made the custodian of moneys received from the United
States, since known as the United States Deposit Fund. Theoretically
this money was not given to the several States, but was to be subject to
repayment whenever called for. The National Government will hardly, at
this late day, call for these moneys. If it did not feel compelled to do
so in the trying financial straits of the war it is not likely that it
will do so in times of peace. But these moneys have always been kept as
a separate fund, substantially as required by the act of 1837, and the
principal, through all changes of, and losses from, investment, has been
kept intact.

[Illustration: P C Fuller (signature)


By chapter 260 of the Laws of 1838 the Comptroller, to guard against
counterfeiting, was authorized and required to have engraved and printed
in the best manner, circulating notes to be issued to the incorporated
banks of the State, and to countersign the same; and a system was
inaugurated for the deposit of securities in the Comptroller's office
which should be a guaranty for the notes issued by the banks--a system
very similar to that later adopted by the United States for National
banks. One feature which would be regarded as a most unwise one to-day
formed a part of this plan; the banks were authorized to deposit
one-half the security in bonds and mortgages. The bill also provided
that banking associations should file with the Comptroller a semi-annual
report of the transactions of the bank. This was practically the
inauguration of the supervision of the banks, which was later
transferred to the Banking Department. The Legislature had, in 1829, at
the time of the creation of the safety fund, authorized the appointment
of three Bank Commissioners, whose duty it was to visit the banks,
examine their condition, and report to the Legislature. The office of
Bank Commissioner was abolished in 1843, and the power of supervision
possessed by them was then transferred to the Comptroller, and he
continued to retain that power until 1851, when the Banking Department
was created. It was during Mr. Flagg's first term that the great
financial panic of 1837 took place, and the State's financial condition
at that time was not all that might be desired. There was a large debt,
mostly incurred in the construction of canals. The revenues had very
much decreased, and a new way of raising funds must be used to meet the
liabilities of the State and maintain her credit. Matters financial in
the State went from bad to worse. In 1842, after long debate, the
Legislature passed an act authorizing the laying of a tax of one mill
upon every dollar of real and personal property in the State, and
pledging the revenues of the State for the payment of its liabilities,
and suspending all public work, except where great loss would come to
the State by such suspension. In this manner the credit of the State was
made secure and its obligations met. This act was prepared and advocated
by Mr. Flagg. The significance of this legislation is found largely
in the fact that from 1826 to 1842 no State tax for general purposes had
been required.

[Illustration: J. C. Wright (signature)


The long lease of power which the Democrats had held in this State was
broken in the fall of 1838 by the combined efforts of the Whigs and
Anti-Masons, and, accordingly, on the 4th of January, 1839, Mr. Flagg
was removed, and Bates Cook, of Lewiston, a lawyer and an Anti-Mason was
chosen by the Legislature in his place. Mr. Cook's only previous
official service of note had been as Member of the Twenty-second
Congress. His appointment was largely due to the influence and
representations of William H. Seward, then the Governor, and Thurlow
Weed. He had been associated with these gentlemen in the prosecution of
the abductors of William Morgan, and, like Mr. Seward and Mr. Fillmore,
received his political start from Anti-Masonic influence. Mr. Cook soon
had an opportunity to show Mr. Weed his appreciation of the favor done
him. Chapter 1 of the Laws of 1840 authorized the Comptroller and
Secretary of State to enter into a contract with Thurlow Weed to do the
printing for the Legislature, executive offices and various boards, at
prices not exceeding ordinary prices in Albany.

This seems to have been the first time these officers were intrusted
with this responsibility, and it was not until 1846 that the general
power was definitely conferred upon them. Subsequent legislation has
added to the printing board then created the Attorney-General, so far as
legislative printing is concerned; but as to department printing, the
Secretary of State and the Comptroller are still clothed with the
authority of letting the contract.

By chapter 295 of the Laws of 1840 the Comptroller was assigned quarters
in the State Hall, together with the other State officers, and that
building was made the headquarters of the Canal Board, and there both
still remain, although the Comptroller, from time to time, as the needs
have compelled, has taken to himself more rooms, so that his offices
now occupy the entire first floor of the building.

[Illustration: J M Cook (signature)


On January 27, 1841, the Legislature elected John A. Collier, of
Binghamton, a leading lawyer and an Anti-Mason, to succeed Bates Cook.
He had previously served as District Attorney of Broome county from June
11, 1818, to February 22, 1822, and had served his district in the
Twenty-second Congress. After his retirement from the office of
Comptroller he was appointed, with Chancellor Walworth, to codify the
laws, but declined to serve. This was a high tribute to his ability.

During 1841 the Comptroller's office was examined by a legislative
committee, to ascertain if warrants had been drawn in conformity with
the law, and the funds properly disbursed. The office was found able to
stand the fire of a rigid investigation.

Mr. Collier had been a Federalist and a Clintonian, but it was as an
Anti-Mason that he was elected both to Congress and as Comptroller. He,
too, was largely indebted for his appointment as Comptroller to the
potent influence of Thurlow Weed. The administration was a short but
efficient one, and Mr. Collier proved himself through life an able and
discreet man.

The Legislature, which for several years had been Whig, in 1842 became
Democratic, so that by concurrent resolution, on February seventh they
were enabled to remove John A. Collier and re-appoint Azariah C. Flagg.
During his second term Mr. Flagg performed the multiplying duties of the
office with his usual fidelity, and to the satisfaction of the people of
the State. There seems to have been no important enlargement of the
duties of the office during this period. By various statutes, passed
prior to the Constitution of 1846, the State had loaned its credit to a
number of corporations, mostly railroad, until, in 1845, the State debt
thus incurred, called the "contingent debt," amounted to $5,235,700.
Provision was made for a sinking fund, and the management of this fund
was placed with the Comptroller. Corporations have no souls, and,
consequently, we find that of the credit thus loaned the State lost
$3,665,700. From the additions to and accumulations of the sinking fund,
the last of the contingent debt was extinguished in 1877.

[Illustration: L. Burrows (signature)


By chapter 350 of the Laws of 1847, passed during his term, the
Comptroller was required to make a report of the fiscal year before the
close of the calendar year, and to present the same to the Legislature
shortly after the commencement of its session.

But at this point a new method of chosing a Comptroller was introduced
in the organic law. Section 1 of article 5 of the Constitution of 1846
provides that "The Secretary of State, Comptroller, Treasurer and
Attorney-General shall be chosen at a general election, and shall hold
their offices for two years." The constitutional provision was
supplemented by chapter 240 of the Laws of 1846. The first man elected
by the people to the office was Millard Fillmore, of Buffalo, an able
lawyer and a Whig. He had been a Member of Assembly from Buffalo in
1829, 1830 and 1831, and a Member from his district to the Twenty-third,
Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Congresses. During his
term as Comptroller he was nominated and elected Vice-President on the
ticket with Zachary Taylor, and upon the latter's death, on July 9,
1850, he succeeded to the Presidency. As President he is, perhaps, more
distinguished as the signer of the "Fugitive Slave Law" than for any
other one thing. He was elected Comptroller and Vice-President as a
Whig, but by the signing of that obnoxious measure he alienated very
many of his old Whig associates. He was, however, a clean, able man. In
politics he was thought by many to have been a favorite of fortune. Some
one of his acquaintances is said to have remarked, at the time of his
election as Vice-President, that he felt sorry for General Taylor,
because the General never could live out his term against Fillmore's
luck. Mr. Fillmore resigned the office of Comptroller on the 17th of
February, 1849, to assume the duties of Vice-President.

The Legislature appointed Washington Hunt, a lawyer of prominence and a
Whig, of Lockport, to succeed him. Mr. Hunt had been County Judge of
Niagara county from 1836 to 1841, and had been a member of the
Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Congresses. He was nominated
and elected Comptroller in the fall of 1849. In 1850 he was elected
Governor over Horatio Seymour, but in 1852 he was in turn defeated in
his run for the second term by Seymour. He made an excellent record as
Governor during the years 1851 and 1852. It was upon Mr. Hunt's
recommendation that the duties of supervising and superintending the
banking business of the State was transferred to the Banking Department,
specially created for the purpose. He felt that a greater burden of
responsibility was being imposed upon the office of Comptroller than
could be satisfactorily sustained. This is one of the rare
illustrations of a desire to surrender power. But what relief was gained
by the transfer of the supervision of the banks was replaced by the duty
which was imposed of superintending the business of insurance in this

All insurance companies, prior to 1846, had been incorporated by special
acts, but the Constitution of that year prohibited the creation of such
corporations, except under general laws. In 1849 the Legislature passed
a general law for the incorporation of insurance companies. By the terms
of the act the duty of organizing and regulating insurance companies in
this State, both domestic and foreign, was conferred upon the
Comptroller. This was the first State supervision of insurance. The duty
remained with the Comptroller until January 1, 1860, when the act
creating the Department of Insurance went into effect.

The Comptroller's office feels proud of its two healthy and useful
children--the Banking Department and the Insurance Department, which
have been efficiently serving the State and protecting the interests
of its citizens for many years, and it ventures to believe that the
early tuition that they received from the parent department helped to
form their habits and prepare them for their career.

[Illustration: S E Church (signature)


Mr. Hunt resigned the Comptrollership December 18, 1850, two weeks
before he was to enter upon his duties as Governor, and Philo C. Fuller,
a Whig, of Geneseo, was appointed in his place. Mr. Fuller had, in early
life, been a clerk in the land office of Mr. James Wadsworth. Thurlow
Weed met him at that time and recognized in him abilities of a high
order. It was probably at Mr. Weed's suggestion that he first entered
public life; it was certainly upon Mr. Weed's recommendation that he was
appointed Comptroller. It was one of the great secrets of Thurlow Weed's
long retention of political power that whenever he saw capability he
sought, and, to use a ranchman's expression, "corralled it." Mr. Fuller
was Member of Assembly from Livingston county in 1829 and 1830, State
Senator in 1831 and 1832, and Member of the Twenty-third and
Twenty-fourth Congresses. Later he moved to Michigan, and, being elected
to the Legislature, he was chosen Speaker. He was appointed Assistant
Postmaster-General in the Harrison administration, but, being unwilling
to follow President Tyler into the Democratic camp, he resigned, and
returned to New York. He performed the duties of his office of
Comptroller with ability, although doubt of his capacity was felt at the
time of his appointment.

For the forty years from 1840 to 1880 the Comptroller's office was one
of difficulty. During the first half of that period there was seldom a
year when the expenditures did not exceed the appropriations, and when
the Comptroller was not obliged to report a deficit at the end of the
year. There was also during that same period a rapidly-increasing canal
debt, and the Comptroller was in duty bound to find a market for bonds
and the means to meet the interest when it became due. In the latter
half of this period it was the Comptroller's duty to see that the
means were at hand to pay the principal of this and other bonded debts,
and the increased expenditures caused by the war.

[Illustration: Robert Denniston (signature)


Mr. Fuller was succeeded January 1, 1852, by John C. Wright, a Democrat
and lawyer, of Schenectady. He had been County Judge of Schoharie county
from 1833 to 1838, and State Senator from the third district in 1843,
1844, 1845 and 1846. He was an opponent of the Albany Regency during his
senatorial career. He was a ready debater but of impulsive temper, and
at one time engaged in a personal rencounter with Colonel Young on the
floor of the Senate chamber. His administration was unmarked by any
peculiar enlargement of the official power, or by distinguished
executive ability. That things run so smoothly that no attention is
attracted is oftentimes strong evidence of a successful working
machinery. By an act of the Legislature of 1851 the Comptroller was
authorized to borrow three millions per year for three years for the
completion of the canal enlargement.

Mr. Wright served one term, and was succeeded, January 1, 1854, by James
M. Cook, a lawyer and a Whig, of Ballston. Mr. Cook was a member of the
Constitutional Convention of 1846, Senator from the thirteenth district
for 1848, 1849, 1850 and 1851, and from the fifteenth district in 1864
and 1865. He served as State Treasurer during the years 1852 and 1853,
and was Bank Superintendent from January 30, 1856, to January 11, 1861.
He was thus continuously in the service of the State from 1848 to 1861,
a period of thirteen years. In 1854 the Comptroller was authorized to
appoint three commissioners to investigate the State prisons and report
on their financial condition, and also upon such laws as they deemed
proper for their better regulation. Under this abuses were corrected,
and the Comptroller was given closer supervision of the prisons.

For a short time in 1858 the Whig leaders had under favorable
consideration the nomination of Mr. Cook for Governor, but
circumstances forced a change, and E. D. Morgan was nominated and

[Illustration: L. Robinson (signature)


On January 1, 1856, Lorenzo Burrows, a banker and an "American" or "Know
Nothing," of Albion, became Comptroller. He had been a member of the
Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses. He later served as Regent of
the University by appointment made February 17, 1858, and in November,
1858, was one of the candidates of the "American party" for Governor
against E. D. Morgan. To the time of his death, many years afterward, he
never failed to make at least one visit yearly to the Comptroller's
office, and always maintained a lively interest in its affairs.

After one term of service Mr. Burrows was succeeded by Sanford E.
Church, a lawyer and a Democrat, also of Albion. Mr. Church had been a
Member of Assembly from Orleans county in 1842; District Attorney of the
same county from 1846 to 1850; Lieutenant-Governor from 1850 to 1854.
He ran for re-election as Comptroller in 1859 and was defeated, and
again in 1863 and was also defeated. He was elected one of the
Delegates-at-Large to the Constitutional Convention in 1867, and was
Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals from May, 1870, to May 20, 1880,
when he died. In all these various positions Mr. Church showed a broad,
liberal spirit, and great mental force. His reports as Comptroller are
valuable State papers, expressed in clear, strong and forcible language.
It is sufficient to say of Judge Church, that, as Comptroller, he
brought the same care, attention and strong mental grasp to his duties
that afterward won for him eminence and fame as Chief Judge of our
highest court.

Robert Denniston, a gentleman farmer and Republican, of Salisbury's
Mills, became Comptroller January 1, 1860, having been elected at the
November election of 1859 over Sanford E. Church. He had been
Assemblyman from Orange county in 1845, and Senator from the second
district in 1841, 1842, 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846 and 1847, and had been an
unsuccessful candidate against Mr. Church for the office of Comptroller
in November, 1857. He was thus Comptroller in the first year of the war,
at the inauguration of high taxes and the large expenditures of that
period. His administration was wise and conservative.

On January 1, 1862, Lucius Robinson, an able lawyer of Elmira, assumed
the duties of the office. Mr. Robinson was a Democrat, but at the
breaking out of the war he was strongly for the Union cause, and it was
on the Union ticket that he was elected Comptroller, and he was
re-elected on the same ticket in 1863. At the close of the war, he
resumed his place in the Democratic party, from which he had never been
fully estranged. He ran as a Democrat against Thomas Hillhouse, in 1865,
and was beaten. He had been District Attorney of Greene county from 1837
to 1839, and Member of Assembly from Chemung county in 1860 and 1861. He
was re-elected Comptroller in November, 1863, and again in November,
1875. He was a member of the Constitutional Commission of 1872, Governor
of this State for the years 1877, 1878 and 1879, and defeated for
re-election in November, 1879, by Alonzo B. Cornell. He was Comptroller
during the dark days of our Civil War. At no period, however, of its
history was the work of the office more carefully managed. For the six
years from 1860 to 1866, the canal and general fund debts were reduced
$8,000,000. In the four years of the war, the State expenditures for
arms, bounties, clothing, equipments and various military purposes were
upwards of $20,000,000. To meet these large and abnormal expenses,
required of the Comptroller resourceful ability. When specie was at a
high premium in 1863 and 1864, Mr. Robinson earnestly recommended the
payment of the State's bonded debt, both principal and interest, in
specie. The Legislature, however, disregarded the recommendation. There
was precedent in the office for such a course. Comptroller Flagg, upon
the suspension of specie payment in 1837, made good the difference
between the depreciated currency and coin. Comptroller Allen followed
the lead of Mr. Robinson, and urged the payment of these debts in coin.
This was not done, however, until 1870, when the State went into the
open market and bought coin to pay the interest on its bonds, and
continued this policy until the resumption of specie payment in 1879.
This course, however, was not pursued with reference to the bounty debt.
In 1865, against the advice and almost protest of the Comptroller, the
Legislature assumed the bounty debt of the various counties of the
State, and for that purpose it became necessary for the State to issue
its bonds to the amount of $27,644,000. The act authorizing the creation
of the debt provided for a sinking fund, and the managing of this fund
and the issuing of the bonds was given to the Comptroller. This debt was
extinguished year by year until it disappeared from the Comptroller's
books in 1877. It was during Mr. Robinson's term, in 1863, that $66,000
were appropriated to purchase the lands adjoining the then Capitol, and
bounded by State, Hawk and Congress streets. This was probably the
first money expended on "That lofty pile where senates dictate laws."

[Illustration: Tho Hillhouse (signature)


In 1862, the Legislature placed an item in the appropriation bill which
still remains law. It provides that the Comptroller shall not draw his
warrant, except for salaries and regular expenses, until the person
entitled to the money shall present a detailed account, verified by
affidavit as to services; and if for traveling expenses, a detailed
account specifying the distance and places from and to which, and
receipted vouchers for all disbursements. By chapter 419 of the Laws of
1864, the officers of all hospitals, orphan asylums, benevolent
associations, educational and charitable institutions were required to
report to the Comptroller their financial condition, with their receipts
and disbursements. The Comptroller was, by concurrent resolution of the
Legislature, the same year appointed, with the Governor and the
Secretary of State, to take action properly to receive the returning
veterans, and for the health of the recruits. Mr. Robinson was a man of
great executive force, strict honesty, and with the courage of his

He was succeeded by Thomas Hillhouse on the 1st of January, 1866, Mr.
Hillhouse having been elected in November, 1865. He was a gentleman
farmer and a Republican from Geneva, and had been Senator from the
twenty-sixth district in 1860 and 1861, and Adjutant-General of the
State from August 19, 1861, to January 1, 1863. He still survives as the
honored president of the Metropolitan Trust Company, of New York.
Thurlow Weed in his autobiography says: "For my direct responsibility in
the selection of Bates Cook, John A. Collier, Millard Fillmore,
Washington Hunt, Philo C. Fuller, James M. Cook, Robert Denniston and
Thomas Hillhouse, I look back with pardonable pride, for in few ways
could better service have been rendered to the State and people." Mr.
Hillhouse certainly deserved the confidence reposed in him. He was
careful, conservative and able.

On January 1, 1868, Mr. Hillhouse gave way to William F. Allen, a
distinguished lawyer and a Democrat, of Oswego. Mr. Allen served as
Member of Assembly from Oswego in 1843 and 1844, and was appointed
United States District Attorney in 1845, and was appointed Judge of the
Supreme Court in the fifth district in 1847, and elected to the same
position in the fall election of 1855. He was re-elected Comptroller in
November, 1869, but resigned June 14, 1870, to accept an appointment as
Judge of the Court of Appeals. This latter place he held with great
distinction until his death, in June, 1878. In 1864 he was the slated
Democratic candidate for Governor. Horatio Seymour was then Governor,
and Mr. Allen's friends at least understood that Mr. Seymour wished a
renomination as a compliment, but would decline. To their consternation,
however, Mr. Seymour came before the convention, thanked its members for
the honor done him, and accepted. It was during Mr. Allen's
administration that the Comptroller was authorized to appoint an
agent to examine into the reports submitted to him by the various
charitable institutions. By chapter 281 of the Laws of 1870, the
Comptroller was made, _ex-officio_, a member of the State Commission of
Public Charities. Judge Allen was distinguished by talents of the
highest order, and his long public career was a useful one to the State.

[Illustration: W F Allen (signature)


It is an interesting political fact that in the campaign of 1869 Judge
Allen had as his opponent in the run for Comptroller Horace Greeley. Mr.
Greeley's election was earnestly opposed by many of the leading
Republicans of the State. A letter of Thurlow Weed was made public, in
which he appealed very strongly to the people of the State to vote
against Mr. Greeley. He based his opposition quite largely upon the fact
that Mr. Greeley's time would have to be divided between his editorial
duties in New York and the Comptroller's office in Albany. He then went
on to say: "The office of Comptroller is most laborious and responsible.
I have known its incumbents for considerably more than half a century.
Among them were Archibald McIntyre, John Savage, William L. Marcy, Silas
Wright, Jr., Azariah C. Flagg, John A. Collier, Washington Hunt, Philo
A. Fuller, James M. Cook, Thos. Hillhouse and others, distinguished for
ability and industry, not one of whom have attempted to attend to any
other business, and all of whom found constant and full occupation,
physical and mental, in the discharge of their public duties. Without
regard to other reasons for withholding my vote from Mr. Greeley, I
consider those which I have stated sufficient. In his opponent, William
F. Allen, I found a capable and enlightened man, with some experience,
much industry and peculiar fitness for the duties of the office. I have
known him first, as an able and useful member of our Legislature, and
next as an eminently upright judge."

Upon the resignation of Judge Allen, Asher P. Nichols, a lawyer and
Democrat, of Buffalo, was appointed, and, in the fall of the same
year, 1870, he was elected to fill the unexpired term. He had been
previously a State Senator from the thirty-first district in 1868 and
1869. He ran for the office of Comptroller in 1871 and again in 1873,
and was defeated both times by Nelson K. Hopkins. Mr. Nichols was a man
of ability, who commanded the highest respect of those who knew him. He
was distinguished somewhat for an old-time formal courtesy of manner. It
is fair to Mr. Nichols to say that the deficiency in the treasury which
Mr. Hopkins found upon his advent was not due to him, or to lack of
recommendations on his part, but rather to the attempt of the Tweed
_regime_ in the Legislature to make a tax rate that would continue them
in power. "Among the faithless, faithful only he."

[Illustration: A. P. Nichols (signature)


Mr. Hopkins was a lawyer and a Republican from Buffalo, and he entered
upon the discharge of the duties of the office on January 1, 1872, and
continued therein for four years. This was the beginning and the end of
his career in State politics, but in those four years he left a record
of splendid and faithful work. He found upon his entry into office that
there had been for several years a growing deficiency in the general
fund. In 1869 the excess of appropriations over receipts was
$1,493,181.28; in 1870, $2,355,927.40; in 1871, $2,748,595.56; in 1872,
$1,785,762.97; in 1873, $254,253.53; making for the five years an
aggregate deficiency of $8,637,720.74.

The money to the extent of this deficiency had been supplied to the
treasury by using the moneys from the bounty debt sinking fund. Heroic
treatment was necessary, so disregarding political effect Mr. Hopkins
advocated and secured the adoption of the highest tax rate in the
history of the State, to wit, nine and three-eighths mills on the
dollar, and three and one-half mills of this amount went to make up the
deficiency. In this way the bounty debt sinking fund was again made
good. In 1873 the Comptroller was given power to examine into the
affairs of the prisons, with the power of a court of record to
subpoena witnesses, etc., and the same year he was authorized in person,
or by agent, to visit the various State institutions and examine their
books, papers and vouchers, both of which powers are still inherent in
the Comptroller's office. The same year he was authorized to set aside
cancellations of tax titles made by him whenever it appeared that fraud,
misrepresentation or the suppression of a fact, or a mistake of fact,
had induced the cancellation. This power, with slight modification,
still remains.

[Illustration: N K Hopkins (signature)


During Mr. Hopkins' four years of service the bounty debt was reduced
$14,401,700, and he was able to congratulate the Legislature and the
people of the State at the close of his term on the prospect of a
substantial reduction of tax.

On the 1st of January, 1876, Lucius Robinson again assumed the office of
Comptroller, which he held one year. He had defeated in the election the
November preceding Francis E. Spinner, whose services and signature are
so well known as to make comment unnecessary. His second administration
of the office was distinguished by the same care-taking ability which
was manifest in the first. The reduction of the bounty debt and other
indebtedness of the State continued. He was elected Governor in 1876.

The first official act of Governor Robinson was the appointment of
Frederic P. Olcott, of Albany, as Comptroller. It is a matter of secret
political history that Governor Tilden had desired to appoint Daniel
Magone to the office, and that for that reason Mr. Robinson would not
resign until it was too late for Governor Tilden to act. But he had to
act promptly, because, if no appointment were made before the
Legislature convened, the power to fill the vacancy would then be in
that body. Governor Robinson improved the fleeting moment. Mr. Olcott,
as the head of the firm of F. P. Olcott & Co., had been the State's
agent in transactions relating to the bounty debt, and, to Mr.
Robinson's mind, he had exhibited abilities which would make of him a
valuable Comptroller. That the Governor was not mistaken, Mr. Olcott's
career, both as Comptroller, and since his retirement from that office,
as president of the Central Trust Company, abundantly proves. He served
out Mr. Robinson's unexpired term, and was elected in November, 1877,
over C. V. R. Ludington, but was defeated for re-election in 1879 by
James W. Wadsworth. This was the only political office which he ever
held. Early in his term his attention was attracted to the abnormal
quantities of soft soap which one of the small State charitable
institutions was using, and he became satisfied that "soft soap," like
Pickwick's "warming pan," was a cover for something hidden. Among the
vouchers for May and June, 1875, were vouchers for seventy-eight barrels
of soft soap at a cost of $350, which, at the same rate, would make an
aggregate of $2,100 per year. The aggregate expenditure for soft soap
for the institution during the six years ending June 30, 1876, had been
$3,963.60. An investigation was instituted at the Comptroller's request
by the State Board of Charities, and it was found that "soft soap" in
that instance meant the laying out of roads and beautifying grounds to
an extent that the Comptroller's office would not have paid. The
designing institution learned to its surprise that the Comptroller could
not stand too much "soft soap." These revelations led the Comptroller to
ask the Legislature for power to investigate thoroughly all the
charitable institutions. This work was ably done by Edgar K. Apgar, who
made an admirable report, and this report was the means of establishing
a more thorough and systematic supervision of these institutions by the
Comptroller's department. In his report, transmitted to the Legislature
on the 1st of January, 1878, Mr. Olcott said: "Each of these
institutions is now separate and distinct from its fellows, and each is
governed by a local board of trustees. It is evident, therefore, that
there is no general system governing all, but each is a law unto itself.
There is no department of government which exercises any supervision
over their affairs or that has more than a superficial knowledge of the
manner in which they are conducted. * * * I would recommend for your
consideration the policy of abolishing all local boards of trustees and
the erection of a system by which the different institutions shall be
managed by one controlling power. As it is, the responsibility for
losses and expensive management is not centred in any one."

[Illustration: F P Olcott (signature)


[Illustration: James Wadsworth (signature)


On the 2d of May, 1878 (the good faith of Olcott's work in handling the
bounty bonds having been called in question), he sent a communication to
the Legislature which more than proved the faithful and able manner in
which he had performed his duties in respect to these bonds. The report
was called out by a resolution of the Senate. Some strongly partisan
members believed that they could unearth thereby, if not crookedness, at
least large compensation for services performed. The attempt failed
signally. Mr. Olcott's administration of the office ranks with the

James W. Wadsworth, a gentleman farmer and Republican, from Geneseo,
became Comptroller January, 1, 1880, and was one of the youngest men who
have held the office. He had as a boy served with his father, the
gallant and lamented General James S. Wadsworth in the Civil War. He was
Member of Assembly from Livingston county in 1878 and 1879, and was
distinguished in the latter year as the only Republican in the
Legislature who would not vote for the return of Roscoe Conkling to the
United States Senate, and that, too, notwithstanding the fact that Mr.
Conkling had been duly nominated by a Republican caucus. Mr. Conkling
and he afterwards forgot differences and became quite warmly attached.
He ran again for Comptroller in 1885 but was defeated. He has faithfully
represented a discriminating constituency in the Forty-seventh,
Forty-eighth, Fifty-second, Fifty-third and Fifty-fourth Congresses, and
has been re-elected to the Fifty-fifth. Mr. Wadsworth took great
interest in the affairs of the office during his term, and his sterling
integrity and good judgment made him a most excellent officer. In 1880,
by chapter 100, the Comptroller was authorized to issue bonds in
anticipation of the State tax, payable on or before the fifteenth day of
May following, such bonds not to exceed in amount one-half of such tax.
It was necessary for Mr. Wadsworth to inaugurate the system of
collecting taxes on corporations. The original bill for that purpose was
passed in 1880. It has been amended from time to time, but the whole
duty of enforcing it has remained in the Comptroller. The number of
corporations taxed in 1881 was 954, and the amount collected
$1,539,864.27; the number in 1886 was 1,249, and the amount collected
$1,239,864.16. In 1892 there were 1,780 corporations paying, and the
amount collected was $1,430,719.86. In 1896 the number of corporations
was 4,401, and the amount collected was $2,165,610.12. The amount of
capital represented by these 4,401 corporations is believed to be fully

Mr. Wadsworth gave place on January 1, 1882, to Ira Davenport, a
capitalist and a Republican of Bath. Mr. Davenport had represented the
twenty-seventh district in the State Senate in 1878, 1879, 1880 and
1881, and was elected Comptroller over G. H. Lapham. He was defeated for
re-election as Comptroller by Alfred C. Chapin, November 6, 1883. In
1885, he received the Republican nomination for Governor, but was
defeated by David B. Hill. He was a member of the Forty-ninth and
Fiftieth Congresses. On March 1, 1883, the duty of auditing the canal
accounts, after having been performed for thirty-five years by a
separate officer--the Canal Auditor--was placed in the Comptroller's
office, where it still remains. The confidence which the Republican
party had shown in Comptroller Davenport was not misplaced. He was a man
of high character and attainments, and performed the duties of the
office of Comptroller with success.

[Illustration: M Davenport (signature)


Alfred C. Chapin, a lawyer and a Democrat, of Brooklyn, entered upon the
discharge of his duties January 1, 1884. He was Member of Assembly from
the eleventh Kings county district in 1882 and 1883, and in the latter
year was chosen Speaker of that body. He was re-elected Comptroller in
1885 over Mr. Wadsworth. He has, since his service as Comptroller,
served four years as Mayor of Brooklyn, from January 1, 1888, to January
1, 1892, and is now about ending a term as State Railroad Commissioner.
In 1891, he was a prominent candidate for Governor before the Democratic
convention, but was beaten by Roswell P. Flower. Mr. Chapin is an
educated and cultivated gentleman, and as Comptroller was not afraid to
run counter to established ideas. He strongly recommended, in a special
message to the Legislature in 1885, and subsequently in his annual
reports, the abolition of the common school fund, and its transfer to
the treasury. By chapter 483 of the Laws of 1885, the Legislature laid a
tax of five per cent upon collateral inheritances. This inaugurated a
system of taxing transfers at death, which has come now to yield
annually about $2,000,000. The Comptroller was largely intrusted with
the duties of enforcing this law. It was amended in 1891 by making a tax
of one per cent upon all direct inheritances. In 1886, the Comptroller
was authorized to approve the bonds of banks designated as depositories
of the funds of State institutions. The same year, the Comptroller was
directed to make assessments on the various companies liable therefor to
meet the expenses of the Subway Commissions in the cities of New York
and Brooklyn--a duty which still rests on the office. In 1887, he was
authorized to sell or exchange detached lands in certain counties of the
Forest Preserve, upon the recommendation of the Forest Commission and
the Attorney-General, the purpose being to consolidate the State's
holding of lands in the Adirondack Park. The same year a tax was laid on
racing associations for the benefit of agricultural societies to
improve the breed of horses, etc., and the collection of this tax has
since remained a part of the duty of the Comptroller, notwithstanding
the various vicissitudes through which racing and pool bills have

At the November election, in 1887, Edward Wemple was elected Comptroller
over Jesse S. L'Amoreaux. Mr. Wemple was a manufacturer and Democrat,
residing at Fultonville. He was a Member of Assembly from Montgomery
county in 1877 and 1878, and a Member of the Forty-eighth Congress, but
was defeated for re-election to that office by George West. He served in
the State Senate from the eighteenth district in 1886 and 1887. He was
re-elected Comptroller in 1889 over Martin W. Cooke.

In 1888 the Legislature passed an act requiring the agent and warden of
each of the State prisons to file with the Comptroller a bond, approved
by the Superintendent of State Prisons and Comptroller, in a penalty of
not less than $50,000, to be fixed by the Comptroller. The same year
the Legislature declared that the Board of Claims should have no
jurisdiction over private claims required to be presented to the
Comptroller for audit, until after his action on the claim. It further
required all public officials and other persons receiving or disbursing
moneys of the people of the State to deposit the same in some solvent
bank or banking institution, to be designated by the Comptroller, and
that every bank receiving such moneys should execute a bond to the
people, to be filed with and approved by the Comptroller. By chapter 586
of the Laws of the same year the Comptroller, the Superintendent of
State Prisons, and the President of the State Board of Charities, were
constituted a board to fix the prices of all goods manufactured in the
penal institutions of the State for the use of other State institutions.
All these provisions of law are still in force, except that the board to
fix prices has been changed by the addition of the State Prison
Commission and Lunacy Commission, and by omitting the President of
the State Board of Charities. In 1889 the right of the Comptroller to
supervise the financial affairs of the prisons was enlarged, and the
agent and warden required to make monthly reports of receipts and
expenditures to him. He was also allowed to revise and readjust the
accounts theretofore settled under the Corporation Tax Law. In 1890 he
was made a member of the "Board for the Establishment of State Insane
Asylum Districts and other purposes," together with the State Commission
in Lunacy and President of the State Board of Charities. In 1891 an act
was passed requiring all institutions receiving moneys from the State
treasury for maintenance, in full or in part, to deposit their funds in
some responsible bank or banking house, to be designated by the
Comptroller. He was also authorized to appoint commissioners to hear
evidence and take proofs on applications for cancellation of title or
redemption of lands.

[Illustration: Alfred C. Chapin (signature)


On January 1, 1892, Frank Campbell, a banker and Democrat, of Bath,
became Comptroller. He had been chosen in the previous election over
Arthur C. Wade. He had held no office previous to that time. He served
one term, ran for re-election in 1893 and was defeated. He has held no
office since. By chapter 651 of the Laws of 1892 the supervision of the
funds deposited in court was transferred from the General Term of the
Supreme Court to the Comptroller, and this work the Comptroller's office
has since performed; and by chapter 681 of the Laws of the same year he
was required to approve all official undertakings.

In 1892 the authority was given to the Comptroller to license common
carriers. He was relieved from this duty by the new Excise Law of 1896.
By chapter 248 of the Laws of 1893 he, with the Secretary of State and
Treasurer, was directed, before the first day of January of each year,
to designate the State paper. The largest amount thus far collected in
any one year under the Inheritance Tax Law was $3,071,687.09, in 1893,
during Mr. Campbell's term. The amount collected under the
Corporation Tax Law was increased during his term.

[Illustration: Edward Wemple (signature)


On January 1, 1894, James A. Roberts, a lawyer and Republican, of
Buffalo, became Comptroller. He had served as Member of Assembly from
the third district of Erie county in 1879, and from the fourth district
of the same county in 1880. He was unanimously renominated from the
fourth district in 1891, but declined. He was re-elected Comptroller in
1895 over John B. Judson. In 1894 the Comptroller was given power to
appoint appraisers in cases of tuberculosis and glanders. In the same
year the chancery fund, so called, which had been managed by the Clerk
of the Court of Appeals after the abolition of the Court of Chancery,
was turned over to the Comptroller. This fund, amounting to $169,935.52
in securities and cash, besides real estate of the possible value of
$10,000, was the residue and remainder of moneys that had been deposited
in the old Court of Chancery and never called for. By a rider on the
appropriation bill of that year the superintendent or other managing
officer of each State charitable institution or reformatory in the State
was required to estimate monthly, in detail, the articles required by
his institution for the ensuing month. The expenditures were to be
limited to the estimates, and the treasurers were required to make
monthly reports of their expenditures. This inaugurated substantially
the same system, with reference to the expenditures of other charitable
institutions, that was then used by the Lunacy Commission with reference
to the hospitals. In 1895 this last provision was made more definite and
explicit. The Comptroller was authorized the same year to appoint a
second deputy, who was to have the same powers as the Deputy
Comptroller. Twice before in the history of the office there had been a
second deputy, but, after the continuance of the office for a few years,
in each case it had been abolished. Chapter 79 of the Laws of 1895
provided for the issuing of canal bonds and created a sinking fund
for their redemption. The issuing of the bonds and the care of the
sinking fund were intrusted to the Comptroller. The same year the
trustees of the Saratoga monument were authorized to transfer the
property held by them to the State, and the Comptroller was made
custodian of the monument.

[Illustration: Frank Campbell (signature)


While in the hundred years there have been thirty Comptrollers, there
have been but eleven Deputy Comptrollers. Upon the passage of the act
authorizing the appointment of a deputy, in 1811, Comptroller McIntyre
appointed John Ely, Jr., and he held the position until 1822. He was
succeeded by Ephraim Starr, who continued in the position until 1828. In
1828 Mr. Marcy appointed as deputy Philip Phelps, and, with the
exception of two years, from February 28, 1840, to February 28, 1842,
this being substantially the administration of Bates Cook, when the
office was filled by W. W. Tredwell, Mr. Phelps held the place until
1876, or in all for forty-six years. It was long felt that his services
were indispensable, and while Comptrollers might come and Comptrollers
did go, the deputy seemed likely to go on forever. It is related that
late in his official career he found himself growing footsore and lame,
and no longer able to stand at his desk, as had been his custom, and
scarcely able to reach the office, and there was talk of his
resignation, and grave fears for the future finances of the State were
expressed. In this emergency an attentive clerk found that the floor
where the deputy had so long stood had been worn away so that an
obdurate nail protruded, and it was standing upon this nail which had
worked the woe. One blow of the hammer saved the State. Mr. Phelps was
an able man, and his services in the office made him invaluable to the
frequently-changing Comptrollers. At his death high testimonies to his
worth and character were given by Sanford E. Church, Thomas Hillhouse,
Wm. F. Allen, Robert H. Pruyn, John V. L. Pruyn, and many others. A
meeting of State officers was held, at which Wm. Dorsheimer, then
Lieutenant-Governor, presided, and resolutions expressing his great
worth and service were adopted. It was well said that "no prospect of
pecuniary advantage could swerve him from the strictest line of truth
and justice."

Mr. Phelps was succeeded by Henry Gallien, who worthily filled the
office from 1876 to 1884, when he died. Thomas E. Benedict held the
office from 1884 to 1886. He has since been Deputy Secretary of State
and Public Printer at Washington, and in all positions has acquitted
himself as an able and upright man. Charles R. Hall succeeded to the
office for a little more than a year, and was himself succeeded by Zerah
S. Westbrook, who had the office for four years, from January 1, 1888,
to January 1, 1892. Calvin J. Huson was Deputy Comptroller during Mr.
Campbell's term. At the end of his term he was succeeded by Colonel
William J. Morgan, who still holds the office.

The custom seems to have grown up in these degenerate times to make the
term of the deputy co-terminous with that of Comptroller. This is of
doubtful propriety. Too many men of tried integrity, familiar with their
duties, cannot be retained in such an office. But the danger which would
naturally be expected from a frequent change in both Comptroller and
deputy has thus far been avoided by the retention, through succeeding
administrations, of some of the most important clerks. Willis E.
Merriman has now been in service in the Comptroller's office for
thirty-one years, and, having worked up from the lowest to the highest
service in the department, is familiar with all its details, and his
services have thus become indispensable. Upon the creation of the office
of Second Deputy Comptroller, in 1895, he was appointed to that
position, and he has since discharged its duties with the fidelity and
intelligence with which every Comptroller for many years has found him
fortunately endowed.

No sketch of the office is complete without mention of George H.
Birchall. He came into the office in 1883, at the time of the
abolition of the Canal Auditor's office. He had served seventeen years
in the last-named office. He has had charge of the canal accounts since
their transfer to the Comptroller's office, and has rendered most
efficient service. Messrs. Williams and Bliss came into the office in
1877, and Mr. Graham in 1882. Several employees have been in the
department's service for six or eight years or more, and no department
of the State government is better equipped with honest, faithful, public
servants than is the Comptroller's office.

[Illustration: James A. Roberts (signature)


It can be seen from the foregoing that the duties of the Comptroller's
office are varied and important. The boards of which he is a member give
some indication of this fact. He is _ex-officio_ a member of the State
Board of Canvassers; of the Board of the Commissioners of the Land
Office; of the Board of the Commissioners of the Canal Fund; of the
Canal Board; of the State Commissioners of Charities; of the board to
fix prices for prison made products; of the board for the establishment
of State insane asylum districts, etc.; of the legislative printing
board; of the department printing board, and one of the officers to
designate the State paper. He manages the finances of the State so far
even as to supervise the expenditures of the State institutions. He
designates the banks in which funds of all institutions shall be
deposited. He levies and collects the tax on corporations; supervises
the collection of the transfer tax, and sells the lands of delinquent
taxpayers in the counties in which are included a part of the Forest
Preserve. He audits all accounts against the State; acts as a court in
applications for cancellations of tax deeds or sales, and in disputed
corporation tax matters; examines the court and trust funds deposited
with the treasurer of every county in the State, and regulates the form
of accounts and the manner of their investment, and performs many other
less important duties too numerous for mention.

Of the men who have held the office of Comptroller nineteen were
lawyers; three were gentlemen farmers; three bankers; one a merchant;
one a manufacturer; one a capitalist, and two were business men. In
politics two were Federalists; fifteen Democrats (including under the
word Democrats original Republicans, whether Clintonians or otherwise);
four Whigs; two Anti-Masons; six Republicans, and one American or Know

[Illustration: Philip Phelps (signature)

_Deputy Comptroller, 46 Years._]

The total expenditures of the State for each tenth year since the
establishment of the office were as follows:

  1797          $322,831 37
  1807           425,689 69
  1817         1,296,590 88
  1827         1,908,346 73
  1837         4,926,449 04
  1847         5,275,164 09
  1857        10,176,939 70
  1867        20,496,050 59
  1877     [1]26,186,744 70
  1887        16,771,448 98
  1897        26,510,425 77

[1] Includes $10,453,805.95 bounty debt.

Each of these would very nearly represent the average annual
expenditures for the decade which it ends.

The total expenditures of the National Government for the year 1797 were
$8,625,877.37, and if we deduct from this the amounts paid for interest,
and payments upon the public debt, it leaves the amount of ordinary
expenditure but $2,836,110.52. The ordinary expenditures of the National
Government did not reach the amount expended in this State for the year
1896 until the year 1847, if we except the years 1813, 1814 and 1815,
when the expenditures were abnormal by reason of the War of 1812, and if
we except also the years 1837 and 1838, and in none of those excepted
years did the annual ordinary expenditures very greatly exceed this
State's expenditure for 1896.

During the century, the State has expended for lands, construction,
enlargement or permanent improvement:

  Of its five canals                               $74,347,000 00
  Of its new Capitol                                22,254,023 60
  Of the twelve hospitals erected by it            $15,204,099 59
  Of its seventeen other charitable institutions     6,369,110 70
  Of its forty-five armories and arsenals            3,349,543 73
  Of its three State prisons                         4,528,058 65
  Of its twelve normal schools                       1,826,350 06
  Making a total expenditure for those various
    purposes of                                   $127,878,186 33

[Illustration: Willis E. Merriman. (signature)

  _2d Deputy Comptroller_
  _Connected with the office 31 years_


Far the greater part of this money has been handled by, and drawn on the
warrant of, the Comptroller, and no suspicion has ever arisen that this
duty was not honestly performed. Nearly all of the sinking funds of the
various bonded debts of the State have been managed by the Comptrollers,
who, in these 100 years, have never been the occasion of the loss of a
single dollar.

Jenkins, in his political history of New York, says that the Comptroller
bears the same relation to the State that the Secretary of the Treasury
does to the National Government, and this is largely true. I cannot do
better in closing this brief sketch of the Comptroller's office than by
quoting from Thurlow Weed's autobiography. His opportunities for, and
keenness of, observation make his statement of peculiar value. He says:
"It seems proper to say, amid all the mutations of party, and the
liability under our form of popular government to occasionally find
unworthy men elevated to high places, our State has ever been singularly
fortunate in its highest financial officer. We have had unfaithful men
in almost every other department of the State Government. We have had,
in two or three instances, comparatively weak men in the office of
Comptroller, but as a rule its incumbents have been capable, firm and

       *       *       *       *       *

[Transcriber's Notes:

The transcriber made these changes to the text to correct obvious

  1. p. 19  Fom --> From
  2. p. 41  place, Mr. Cook's --> place. Mr. Cook's
  3. p. 70  James W. Wadworth --> James W. Wadsworth
  4. p. 82  protuded, --> protruded,

End of Transcriber's Notes]

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