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The state of New York during the 20s and 30s


Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller
Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller

During the 1920s New York became known for its progressive government. Under Democratic Governor Alfred E. Smith (1919-1921 and 1923-1929), state government was reorganized and consolidated, the power of the governor was increased, the state park system was expanded, and cities were given wider power to govern themselves. Far-reaching social legislation was enacted, including an eight-hour workday and state aid for health and education.

In 1928 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected governor. The Great Depression, the economic hard times that began in 1929, prevented Roosevelt from continuing Smith’s reform policies. But as governor, Roosevelt was able to experiment with many programs that became part of the New Deal, his economic strategy for battling the Depression, after he became president in 1933.

Roosevelt was succeeded as governor by Herbert H. Lehman, a wealthy banker with strong liberal convictions. While maintaining a balanced budget, he worked to alleviate mass unemployment and cooperate with Roosevelt’s social programs. New Deal public works projects hired many of New York’s unemployed.

In 1936 the small but influential American Labor Party was founded, largely by leaders of the two major garment workers unions. Ten years later, the party split and one faction formed the Liberal Party. Working usually with the Democrats but sometimes with the Republicans, the Liberals helped nominate progressive candidates for political office. The Liberal Party would remain the third party on the state ballot until it was replaced by the Conservative Party in the 1960s.

In 1942 Thomas E. Dewey, a crime-fighting district attorney, was elected governor, the first Republican to hold that office in 20 years. Dewey continued the social programs of his Democratic predecessors.

In 1945 he supported passage of the Ives-Quinn Act, the nation’s first state law to outlaw discrimination in employment. Dewey also began the construction of the New York Thruway, which in 1964 was renamed the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway.

In 1954 Democrat William Averell Harriman was elected governor. In the same year, work was begun on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. Completed in 1959, it enabled oceangoing vessels to reach New York ports on the Great Lakes by way of the St. Lawrence River. Hydroelectric projects greatly expanded power-generating capacity. In 1958 Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller defeated Harriman in the election for governor. Rockefeller, who served until 1973, governed in the liberal tradition established by his predecessors. He increased many of the state’s social services, especially aid to education.

The state university system, founded in 1948, expanded rapidly, and the state also aided private colleges. It encouraged the construction of sewage disposal plants and enrolled in Medicaid. To finance such spending, taxes were raised, a state lottery was adopted, and the government borrowed heavily.

In 1964 the United States Supreme Court ruled that state election districts had to be apportioned according to the principle of “one man, one vote.” Reapportionment two years later gave New York’s cities, and especially the suburbs, more representation in the legislature. In 1971 the bloodiest prison rebellion in U.S. history resulted in the deaths of 43 people at the Attica State Correctional Facility. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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