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Richard Varick’s Appointment as Mayor of New York City
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This document appoints Richard Varick as Mayor of New York City for the year, with the approval of Governor John Jay. Prior to 1834, New York City’s mayors were appointed by the governor with the advice of the Council of Appointment, rather than elected. It also has an attestation that Richard Varick took the oath of office before him as Clerk of the City of New York. “The People of the State of New York … Do nominate, constitute and appoint the said Richard Varick to be Mayor of our City of New York…

[JOHN JAY]. Document Signed as Governor of New York [Albany], March 4, 1797. On vellum, the date being the original commission appointing. Large paper and wax seal with “The Great Seal of the State of New York” and ribbon that suspended it. It is counter-signed on the verso by Jasper Hopper as New York Deputy Secretary of State. There is also an Autograph Attestation Signed by Robert Benson as Clerk of the City of New York. 2 pp., 9⅜ x 15½ in.

Inventory #27567       Price: $12,500

Partial Transcript:

The People of the State of New York, by the grace of God free and independent. To all to whom these presents shall come, or may concern, greetings. Know ye, that We, reposing especial trust and confidence in the loyalty, integrity and prudence of Richard Varick, Esquire, have therefore of our especial grace, certain knowledge and meer motion, nominated, constituted and appointed, and by these presents Do nominate, constitute and appoint the said Richard Varick to be Mayor of our City of New York for the year ensuing, with full power to use, exercise and enjoy all the powers, jurisdiction, authorities, privileges, pre-eminences and appurtenances to the said office Witness our trusty and well beloved John Jay, Esquire, Governor of our said State, General and Commander in Chief of all the Militia, and Admiral of the Navy of the same

…that on this twentieth day of March 1797, before me, Robert Benson, Clerk of the City of New York … Richard Varick Esquire the Mayor within named [appeared] and took & subscribed the oath by charter & law prescribed and directed.

Historical Background

In 1665, Governor Richard Nicolls appointed Thomas Willett as the first “mayor of New York.” For the next 156 years, the mayor would be appointed and have limited power. Between 1777 and 1821 the mayor was appointed by the Council of Appointments in which the state’s governor had the loudest voice. In 1821, the Common Council, which included elected members, gained the authority to choose the mayor. An amendment to the New York State constitution in 1834 provided for the direct popular election of the mayor.

Richard Varick served as Mayor of New York City from 1791 to 1801. The city population doubled under his administration, so naturally basic civic necessities like water and disease control became the focus of his attentions. Due to his support of the quite unpopular Jay Treaty (a treaty between the US and Great Britain) in 1794, he was almost literally driven out of City Hall by a mad riot. In a sweep of political fortunes that made Thomas Jefferson president of the country, Edward Livingston replaced Varick as mayor in 1801.

Richard Varick (1753-1831). At the onset of the Revolution, this New Yorker was studying law at Kings’ College (later Columbia) and became a militia captain. He rose through the ranks to become aide-de-camp to Philip Schuyler, Muster-Master General for the Northern Army, and Inspector General of West Point. Though not in this last position at the time of Benedict Arnold’s treason, he had at one point been an aide to Arnold, and it took some time for his name to be cleared. Washington then named him a personal secretary at the end of the war – to him went the task of copying masses of wartime letters. He served as Recorder of New York from 1783 to 1789, assemblyman and Speaker of the state assembly in 1788, state Attorney General from 1788 to 1789, and Mayor of New York from 1791 to 1801.

John Jay (1749-1829) was among the most influential of the founding fathers. He was instrumental in achieving passage and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence and served as President of the Continental Congress, minister to Spain, peace negotiator with Britain and France and Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1784-1789), perhaps the most important post in the country during his tenure. After the Constitution was adopted, again with significant contributions by Jay, Washington gave Jay his choice of positions in the new federal government. Jay became the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and later special envoy to Great Britain and Governor of New York. Few Americans have served with such great distinction in as varied and important posts in every area of government. He was also co-author, with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, of The Federalist (1788), a landmark collection of essays promoting a strong federal government.

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