Nelson Rockefeller was an American politician and businessman who became the 41st vice president of the United States from 1974 to 1977. From 1959 to 1973 he was elected as the 49th governor of New York. He also served as assistant secretary of State of American Republic Affairs for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Additionally, he served as the undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1954).
Governor Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1908. He was the grandson of billionaire John D. Rockefeller and a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family.
Rockefeller was recognized as an art collector and took the role of the administrator of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York City. Rockefeller was a member of the Republican Party, in which he was considered to be a liberal progressive or moderate. In an agreement that was called the Treaty of Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller convinced Richard Nixon to alter the Republican Party platform before the 1960 Republican Convention. During his time, liberals in the Republican Party were called “Rockefeller Republicans.”
As a Governor of New York (1959-1973), Rockefeller’s accomplishments included the expansion of the State University of New York, steps for protecting the environment, the construction of the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza in Albany, expanded facilities and personnel for medical care, and the creation of the New York State Council on the Arts.
President Gerald R. Ford chose Rockefeller to be his Vice President when he became president in August 1974 after the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Rockefeller was the second vice president appointed to the position under the 25th Amendment. This 25th Amendment deals with issues related to presidential succession and disability.
Governor of New York from 1959 to 1973
Rockefeller resigned from his federal government post in 1956 to concentrate on the New York State and national politics. From September 1956 to April 1958, he was the Chairman of Temporary State Commission on the Constitutional Convention. This was followed by his chairmanship of the Special Legislative Committee on the Revision and Simplification of the Constitution. He was elected governor of New York in 1958 by over 570,000 votes, defeating incumbent W. Averell Harriman. This was despite the fact that 1958 was regarded as a banner year in other areas for the Democrat party. He was re-elected in three elections in 1962, 1966 and 1970 and resigned three years into his fourth term and began to work at the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans.
Governor Rockefeller’s main contributions were related to increasing the role of the state in the sectors regarding environmental protection, housing, medical aid, education, the arts, civil rights, and welfare. He was also known for increasing taxation in order to support the increase in government spending these sectors. For instance, he introduced a sales tax in the state of New York in 1965.
The issue of abortion was also an important one for Rockefeller. He supported a reform of the abortion laws in New York back then. The proposals that his administration suggested wouldn’t have done away with the prohibition completely, but allowed for exceptions such as protecting the health of the mother or in case of fetal abnormality. However, the reform bills didn’t pass. Rockefeller did sign a total repeal of this prohibition in 1970, though, and vetoed a bill in 1972 that would have put up the abortion ban again.
In the arts and culture sector, Rockefeller was responsible for creating the first-ever State Council on the Arts within the United States. This organization became the model for the National Endowment for the Arts. Additionally, he supported the Saratoga Performing Arts Center while it was being constructed and supported a bill that made Olana (home of the artist Frederic Edwin Church) a state historic site.
The building projects of Rockefeller included some that have left their mark on New York to this date. As governor, he was very much interested in the construction, planning, and design of several projects within the course of his administration. This was in line with his personal interest in architecture.
With regard to civil rights, Rockefeller managed to achieve an almost complete prohibition of any discrimination when it came to public accommodation and housing. He also outlawed any job discrimination that was on the basis of age or sex. Additionally, he increased the state job positions for Hispanic and African Americans, while also appointing women to lead several state agencies (the highest number in the history of the state). His actions also include prohibiting discrimination against females for housing, credit applications, employment, and education.
In his 15-year run as governor, Nelson Rockefeller also cracked down on the issue of crime in his region. He did this by doubling the number of state police, establishing the New York State Police Academy, introducing ‘no-knock’ and ‘stop and frisk’ laws, and authorized several state judgeships for reducing court congestion. The laws were adopted in order to strengthen the power of the police.
Rockefeller also signed legislation for abandoning the mandatory death penalty in New York. Before this, New York was the last state with this punishment for premeditated murder in the first degree. After the signing, Rockefeller established a process with a two-stage trial for processing murder cases. The punishment would then be determined during the second stage. However, Rockefeller still supported capital punishment and even oversaw about 14 executions through electrocution during his stint as governor. Even after that, he still signed the 1965 bill for abolishing the death penalty altogether, except in the case of murdering a police officer.
The Commission on Critical Choices for Americans
The Commission on Critical Choices for Americans was a project that Rockefeller started in his administrative phase as governor. However, he eventually resigned from the position of governor in order to devote himself to this project full-time.
This commission was a joint project with Russell W. Peterson and focused on privately studying international and national policy. The group here consisted of forty-two prominent Americans in a nationally representative and bipartisan makeup. Their aim was to gather insights and information for better understanding the problems faced by Americans and present the choices that are to be made while solving these issues.