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Free City of Tri-Insula

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Subject: Timeline of United States military operations, New York City in the American Civil War
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Free City of Tri-Insula

There are or have been several movements regarding secession in the U.S. state of New York. The most prominent amongst these have been for a state called Long Island, consisting of everything on the island outside New York City; a state called Niagara, the western counties of New York state; the northern counties of New York state called Upstate New York; making the city of New York a state; a proposal for a new Peconic County on eastern Long Island; and for the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn to secede from New York City.


Post-Revolution Era

In the battle over the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787–1788, Governor George Clinton in Albany, wishing to preserve his independent power, led the local Anti-Federalists in opposition, with support for the Constitution coming from Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, largely urbanites who saw opportunity in a stronger national union, and famously published as their manifesto the Federalist Papers in New York City newspapers. There was a real divide, and with the recent independence of Vermont, a real threat of secession of New York City and the southern counties to join the new Federal government. The leaders of Richmond County, which always had a somewhat ambiguous position, threatened to join New Jersey. With secession threatening to marginalize Governor Clinton and a lightly developed upstate, ratification was finally agreed and the divisional crisis passed.

At the time, much of what is now upstate New York was disputed territory, with Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut all claiming portions of the mostly undeveloped land. It would not be until the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase that the land would become New York territory.

Civil War Era

In the period of national crisis immediately preceding the American Civil War, Democratic Mayor Fernando Wood proposed the secession of the city as a sovereign city-state to be called the Free City of Tri-Insula (Tri-Insula meaning "three islands" in Latin), and incorporating Manhattan, Long Island and Staten Island. In an address to the city's Common Council on January 6, 1861, Mayor Wood expressed a Copperhead sympathy with the seceding states and a desire to maintain profitable cotton shipping, confidence that the city state would prosper on the import tariffs that then supplied 2/3 of the Federal revenues, and especially dissatisfaction with the state government at Albany. But the idea of leaving the United States proved too radical even in the turmoil of 1861 and was poorly received, especially after the Southern bombardment of Fort Sumter starting on April 12. The war, and especially conscription, was nevertheless often unpopular in the city, sparking the deadly New York Draft Riots.

Coincidentally, the upstate locale of Town Line, New York did vote to secede from the Union, contributing several troops to the Confederacy. Town Line did not rejoin the union until 1946; its residents paid taxes during its time "out of the union," which amounted to 85 years.[1]


Main article: New York City: the 51st State

In 1969, writer Norman Mailer and columnist Jimmy Breslin ran together on an independent ticket seeking the mayoralty and City Council Presidency, challenging Mayor John Lindsay with an agenda to make New York City the 51st state. When questioned as to the name of the new state, Breslin said the city deserved to keep "New York" and that upstate should be renamed "Buffalo", after its largest city.


On February 26, 2003, a bill was introduced by Astoria, Queens Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., and sponsored by 20 of 51 City Council members, reviving the idea of referendum for secession from New York State in the context of the red state vs. blue state divide and opposition to the policies of Governor George Pataki. A committee report was written but otherwise little action was taken, and the bill was reintroduced with one additional sponsor on the same date in 2004. Like Mayor Wood, Council Member Vallone has emphasized the fiscal benefits of secession, with revenue now derived not from tariffs, but from Wall Street. Council Member Vallone has reintroduced the bill in 2006.

In January 2008, City Council member Vallone again offered a bill for the secession of New York City from New York state. After Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified to New York state legislators that New York City gives the state $11 billion more than it gets back, Vallone stated: "If not secession, somebody please tell me what other options we have if the state is going to continue to take billions from us and give us back pennies. Should we raise taxes some more? Should we cut services some more? Or should we consider seriously going out on our own?" The New York City council planned to hold a meeting on the topic.[2]

Long Island secession

Main article: Long Island (proposed state)

Meanwhile, on Long Island, there have been calls for Nassau and Suffolk Counties to separate from New York State as well. Suffolk County comptroller and former state assemblyman Joseph Sawicki (a Republican) has called for a separation of Long Island from the rest of the state, saying that the region, one of the wealthiest in the state, receives only $5.2 billion in state payments and pays $8.1 billion in taxes to the state.[3] Nassau County executive Ed Mangano came out in support of such a proposal in April 2010 and will be commissioning a study on it.[4] Long Island even has a movement pushing for secession of the entire geographic island (Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties) from the United States.[5]

Upstate secession

A parallel Upstate New York statehood movement seeks separation due to taxation and economic concerns.[6][7] Such proposals often include excising Albany (and presumably the Hudson River Valley) along with New York City, due to a perception that Albany is primarily controlled by politicians from the New York City area. A separate but related movement only includes Western New York (as well as sometimes portions of Central New York and the Southern Tier) in the secession efforts as an independent state or commonwealth entitled "Niagara."[8][9]

Much of upstate New York (unsettled by Europeans until the 19th century and inhabited only by the Haudenosaunee) was not part of New York State during colonial times. Due to an oversight or perhaps to foster competition, two separate Kings of England (Charles I and Charles II) awarded the same upstate New York territory as part of sea-to-sea grants to both Massachusetts Bay Colony and New York Colony respectively; Pennsylvania Colony also separately laid claim to much of the territory now in the Southern Tier up until 1774. It was not until 1786, with the Treaty of Hartford, that the dispute was settled; New York got territorial rights, but Massachusetts would get to sell the land to developers. In 1792, a portion encompassing modern-day Erie, Pennsylvania (given to New York in the treaty) was sold to Pennsylvania. The Niagara Frontier, originally explored by and part of French Canada, served as the western front of the Revolutionary War and (as British territory) the War of 1812, not falling securely into American sovereignty until the end of that war.

At least one upper portion of the Province of New York successfully seceded: the northeastern corner of the province was effectively granted self-governing status in 1777 during the American Revolution, and it was granted statehood in its own right as Vermont in 1791 to become the first state in the union to have not previously existed as a British colony.

Support for a separation from within upstate surged in the second half of the 20th century, possibly due in part to several U.S. Supreme Court rulings (see Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims) that established a mandate of one man, one vote in all state legislatures. The rulings gave New York City significant legislative advantages over upstate, which coincidentally entered a prolonged economic and population decline at around the same time. Former State Senator and U.S. Congressman Randy Kuhl, from rural upstate Hammondsport, advocated splitting the state into "New York" and "West New York" and introduced several bills to that effect during his time in the state senate.[6] State senators Joseph Robach, Dale Volker, and Michael Ranzenhofer, all Republicans from Western New York, proposed a nonbinding referendum to gauge support for dividing the state in November 2009.[10] Republican Assemblyman Stephen Hawley introduced a bill in February 2013 that would give each county an opportunity to give feedback on potential partition of the state; Hawley, who has introduced such bills in the past, supports the idea on the grounds of the vastly different financial and logistic situations in each region of the state.[11] Fred Smerlas, in discussing a potential platform for a Congressional run from Western New York, stated that he would make the separation of New York City and upstate a top priority: "My first act if I ever got elected would be to take a big saw and cut New York City off."[12] Both factions of the Tea Party movement in the Buffalo region support some form of separation.[13]

The Public Policy Institute of New York State said in May 2004 of a potential secession: "Secession would be impossible, and the last thing New York needs is some kind of destructive Upstate-Downstate showdown. But given the prolonged lag in Upstate’s economy, it is time to think seriously about whether there is a way of restructuring the relationship to give Upstate the opportunity—indeed, the freedom—to reduce some of the disadvantages that are smothering its economy."[7]

Intrastate secession proposals

Peconic County secession

Peconic County is a proposed new county in New York that would secede the five easternmost towns of Suffolk County: East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold, plus the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

71 percent of the east end voters in 1997 approved a nonbinding resolution to secede. However the New York State Assembly has never approved the enabling legislation. East End newspapers speculate the Assembly is afraid it would encourage a tidal wave of secessions in the state including Staten Island seceding from New York City[14] and perhaps even causing the division of upstate and downstate New York.

The current move to secede has not been active since 1998.

Staten Island secession

The "Greater City" exists as a result of actions of the New York State Legislature, and, as such, could be reduced in size by the same mechanism. A non-binding referendum in the borough of Staten Island was held in 1993 to consider whether that borough should be allowed to secede from the City. The New York City government and then-Mayor David Dinkins opposed the vote, contending that the referendum should not be permitted by the state unless the city issued a home rule message supporting it, which the city would not. Then-Governor Mario Cuomo disagreed, and the vote went forward. The vote was in favor of secession through the approval of a new city charter making Staten Island an independent city.

The Staten Island secession movement was defused, or at least deferred, by the election on the same ballot of Rudy Giuliani as New York City mayor, who had campaigned on the promise that Staten Island's grievances would be addressed. Giuliani's plurality in his narrow victory over Dinkins was aided by overwhelming support from Staten Island. Two of the borough's biggest demands were closing the Fresh Kills Landfill and making the Staten Island Ferry free, both of which have since been fulfilled.

See also


External links and references

  • Politics in New York State: Federal Period to 1800
    • Mayor Wood’s Recommendation of the Secession of New York City
  • The Independent Republic of New York - New York Magazine
  • New York Press
  • Throwback or FutureWorld? New York City As The 51st State - Southeast Queens Press
    • as reintroduced May 10, 2006.
    • Committee Report of May 1, 2003
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