DeWitt Clinton

DeWitt Clinton (March 2, 1769 – February 11, 1828), whose name was almost always spelled De Witt during his lifetime and until the late 20th century, was an American politician and naturalist who served as a United States Senator, Mayor of New York City, and as the sixth Governor of New York. In this last capacity, he was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal.[1][2] Clinton was a major candidate for the American presidency in the election of 1812, challenging incumbent James Madison.

DeWitt Clinton
DeWitt Clinton by Rembrandt Peale.jpg
6th Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1825 – February 11, 1828
LieutenantJames Tallmadge Jr.
Nathaniel Pitcher
Preceded byJoseph C. Yates
Succeeded byNathaniel Pitcher
In office
July 1, 1817 – December 31, 1822
LieutenantJohn Tayler
Preceded byJohn Tayler (acting)
Succeeded byJoseph C. Yates
Mayor of New York City
In office
1811–1815
Preceded byJacob Radcliff
Succeeded byJohn Ferguson
In office
1808–1810
Preceded byMarinus Willett
Succeeded byJacob Radcliff
In office
1803–1807
Preceded byEdward Livingston
Succeeded byMarinus Willett
Lieutenant Governor of New York
In office
1811–1813
GovernorDaniel D. Tompkins
Preceded byJohn Tayler (acting)
Succeeded byJohn Tayler
United States Senator
from New York
In office
February 9, 1802 – November 4, 1803
Preceded byJohn Armstrong Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Armstrong Jr.
Personal details
Born(1769-03-02)March 2, 1769
Little Britain, New York, British America
DiedFebruary 11, 1828(1828-02-11) (aged 58)
Albany, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)
Maria Franklin
(m. 1796; died 1818)

Catharine Jones
(m. 1819)
EducationPrinceton University
Columbia University (BA)
Signature

A nephew of long-time New York Governor George Clinton, DeWitt Clinton served as his uncle's secretary before launching his own political career. As a Democratic-Republican, Clinton won election to the New York State Legislature in 1798 before briefly serving as a U.S. Senator. Returning to New York, Clinton served three terms as appointed Mayor of New York City and also won election as the Lieutenant Governor of New York. In the 1812 presidential election, Clinton won support from the Federalists as well as a group of Democratic-Republicans dissatisfied with Madison. Though Madison won re-election, Clinton carried most of the Northeastern United States and fared significantly better than the previous two Federalist-supported candidates. After the presidential election, Clinton continued to affiliate with the Democratic-Republican Party.

Clinton served as Governor of New York from 1817 to 1822 and from 1825 to 1828, presiding over the construction of the Erie Canal. Clinton believed that infrastructure improvements could transform American life, drive economic growth, and encourage political participation. He heavily influenced the development of New York State and the United States.[3]

Early lifeEdit

Clinton was born on March 2, 1769, the second son born to Major-General James Clinton and his wife Mary De Witt (1737–1795), who was a descendant of the Dutch patrician De Witt family.[4] He was born in Little Britain, New York, now a hamlet in the west of New Windsor. He attended Kingston Academy and began his college studies at the College of New Jersey before he transferred to King's College.[5] Kings was renamed Columbia College, and Clinton was the first to graduate under the school's new name.[6] He was the brother of U.S. Representative George Clinton Jr., the half-brother of U.S. Representative James G. Clinton, and the cousin of Simeon De Witt. He became the secretary to his uncle George Clinton, who was then governor of New York.[5] Soon after, he became a member of the Democratic-Republican Party.[5]

CareerEdit

New York Legislature and U.S. SenateEdit

Clinton was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1798, and of the New York State Senate from the Southern District in 1798–1802 and 1806–1811[5] He was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1801. He was a member of the Council of Appointments in 1801–1802 and 1806–1807.[5] He won election by the New York State Legislature to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of John Armstrong Jr. and served from February 9, 1802 to November 4, 1803.[5] He resigned over unhappiness with living conditions in the newly built Washington, DC, and was appointed Mayor of New York City.[5]

Mayor of New York CityEdit

He served as Mayor of New York from 1803 to 1807, from 1808 to 1810, and 1811 to 1815. He organized the New-York Historical Society in 1804 and was its president, and he was a leader in launching the Erie Canal. He also helped to reorganize the American Academy of the Fine Arts in 1808 and served as its president between 1813 and 1817. He was a Regent of the University of the State of New York from 1808 to 1825. Clinton was also elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814[7] and served as its vice president from 1821 to 1828.[8] In 1816, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[9]

Lieutenant Governor of New YorkEdit

In 1811, the death of John Broome left a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor of New York. In a special election, Clinton defeated the Federalist Nicholas Fish and the Tammany Hall candidate Marinus Willett to become Lieutenant Governor until the end of the term, in June 1813.[5]

Presidential campaignEdit

Clinton's uncle, George Clinton, had attempted to challenge James Madison for the presidency in 1808 but was chosen as the party's vice presidential nominee instead. In 1812, after George Clinton's death, the elder Clinton's supporters gravitated towards DeWitt Clinton. Clinton ran for president as candidate for both the Federalist Party and a small group of antiwar Democratic-Republicans. In the close election of 1812, Clinton was defeated by President Madison. Clinton received 89 electoral votes to Madison's 128. It was the strongest showing of any Federalist candidate for the Presidency since 1800, and the change of the votes of one or two states would have given Clinton the victory.[10]

Governor of New YorkEdit

 
Gubernatorial portrait of Clinton.

After the resignation of Tompkins, who had been elected vice president, he won a special gubernatorial election in which he was the only candidate; 1,479 votes were cast for Peter Buell Porter against Clinton's 43,310, because the Tammany organization, which fiercely hated Clinton, had printed ballots with Porter's name on them and distributed them among the Tammany followers in New York City. On July 1, 1817, Clinton took office as Governor of New York. He was re-elected in 1820, defeating Vice President Tompkins in a narrow race DeWitt Clinton received 47,447 votes, as opposed to Tompkins's 45,900, and served until December 31, 1822.[5]

During his second term, the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821 shortened the gubernatorial term to two years and moved the beginning of the term from July 1 to January 1, which actually cut off the last six months of his three-year term. The gubernatorial election was also moved from April to November, but Clinton was not renominated by his party to run for re-election in November 1822. Even so, he kept his post as President of the Erie Canal Commission. In April 1824, most of his political opponents, the Bucktails, voted in the New York State Legislature for his removal from the Canal Commission, which caused such a wave of indignation among the electorate that he was nominated for governor by the People's Party and was re-elected governor against the official candidate of the Democratic-Republican Party, fellow Canal Commissioner Samuel Young. He served another two terms until his sudden death in office.[5]

FreemasonryEdit

Clinton was a York Rite Freemason.[11] He was initiated in the "Holland" Lodge No. 16 (now No 8), NY on September 3, 1790,[12][13] and, in 1806, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. Clinton was essential in establishing the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar in the United States and served as its first, second, and third grand master from 1816 to 1828.[12][14] He retained the title until his death in 1828.[12]

In 1826, the William Morgan Affair occurred in Batavia. Morgan, who threatened to publish an exposé of the rituals of Freemasonry, disappeared and was apparently kidnapped and supposedly murdered by Masons. Clinton issued three proclamations, each increasing the reward for information and conviction of the perpetrators until it reached $2,000.[15] Clinton's proclamations had no effect, however, and the Masonic fraternity underwent a period of severe decline in many regions of the United States because of criticism set off by the scandal.[16]

The Grand Lodge of New York has established the DeWitt Clinton Award, which recognizes distinguished or outstanding community service by non-Masonic organizations or individuals whose actions exemplify a shared concern for the well-being of Mankind and a belief in the worldwide brotherhood of Man.[17]

Erie CanalEdit

 
Print showing Clinton mingling the waters of Lake Erie and the Atlantic, 1826.

From 1810 to 1824, Clinton was a member of the Erie Canal Commission. He was among the first members, who were appointed in 1810 and planned and surveyed the route to be taken.

As governor, Clinton was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. He was persuaded by Canal proponent Jesse Hawley to support construction of a canal from the eastern shore of Lake Erie to the upper Hudson River. Many thought the project to be impracticable, and opponents mocked it as "Clinton's Folly" and "DeWitt's Ditch."[18] But in 1817, he got the legislature to appropriate $7 million for construction.

When the canal was finished in 1825, Clinton opened it and traveled in the packet boat Seneca Chief along the canal to Buffalo. After riding from the mouth of Lake Erie to New York City, he emptied two casks of water from Lake Erie into New York Harbor to celebrate the first connection of waters from the East to the West. The canal was an immense success, carrying huge amounts of passenger and freight traffic. The cost of freight between Buffalo and Albany fell from $100 to $10 per ton, and the state was able to quickly recoup the funds that it had spent on the project through tolls along the canal. The completion of the canal brought about a significant shift in public opinion on Clinton, who was now hailed for completing the canal.

That change in public opinion was reflected in the newspapers of the time. Previously being filled with harsh criticisms of Clinton and the canal, they now celebrated his accomplishment. For example, an article in the New Hampshire Sentinel began saying, "The efforts of Gov. Clinton to advance the best interest of the State over which he presides are very generally acknowledged both by his constituents and the public abroad. His exertions in favor of the great canal have identified his name with that noble enterprise, and he will be remembered while its benefits are experienced" It ended, "Yield credit to Clinton, and hail him by name".

PhilanthropyEdit

Together with financier Thomas Eddy, he was a director of New York's earliest savings bank established to serve laborers and the poor, The Bank for Savings in the City of New-York.[19]

Personal lifeEdit

 
Clinton Memorial by Henry Kirke Brown, 1855, at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Clinton was married twice. On February 13, 1796, he married Maria Franklin, daughter of the prominent New York Quaker merchant Walter Franklin and descendant of John Bowne and Elizabeth Fones. With her, he had ten children, and four sons and three daughters had survived at the time of her death in 1818. Among his children with Franklin was George William Clinton, who served as mayor of Buffalo, New York from 1842 to 1843.

On May 8, 1819, Clinton married Catharine Jones, the daughter of a New York physician, Thomas Jones and his wife, Margaret (née Livingston) Jones (a daughter of Edward Livingston). Catharine's sister, Mary (née Jones) Gelston, was the wife of Deacon Maltby Gelston of Southampton, and the mother of David Gelston, Collector of the Port of New York. Catharine outlived her husband.[20]

In 1813, Clinton became a hereditary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati in succession to his brother, Lieutenant Alexander Clinton, who was an original member of the society.[21]

When Clinton died suddenly in Albany on February 11, 1828, he left his family in poor financial condition. While he was a fine administrator in government, he had handled his own financial affairs rather poorly. As a result, the Clinton family was badly in debt and had no means of support after the governor's death. One creditor alone put in a claim for $6,000. Fearing that he might not get his money, the creditor obtained a judgment that resulted in a public sale of most of the Clinton family possessions. Enough money was realized from the sale of the property to satisfy the judgment, but nothing was left to help the Clinton family through the difficult years ahead. The governor received the grandest of state funerals, but when it was all over, the family had no place to bury him. His widow was completely without funds to purchase a suitable grave site. As a result, Clinton's remains were placed in the family vault of Dr. Samuel Stringer (1735-1817), an old friend and fellow Mason from Albany, in the old Swan Street Cemetery.

Sixteen years later, enough money was collected to provide a suitable burial. On June 21, 1844, a newspaper in Albany printed this small announcement: "The remains of DeWitt Clinton, which had been deposited in the cemetery in Swan Street, were removed to New York for interment under a monument created by the family." Clinton was reinterred at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

LegacyEdit

 
$1,000 Legal Tender note, Series 1880, Fr.187k, depicting DeWitt Clinton.

Clinton accomplished much as a leader in civic and state affairs, such as improving the New York public school system, encouraging steam navigation, and modifying the laws governing criminals and debtors. The 1831 DeWitt Clinton locomotive was named in his honor. The community of Whitestone, New York, was for several decades after his death known as Clintonville, but reverted to its traditional name; however, the governor is memorialized by Clintonville street, a major local road.

  • An engraved portrait of Clinton appeared on the Legal Tender (United States Note) issue of 1880 in the $1000.00 denomination. An illustrated example can be found on the website of Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's "American Currency Exhibit".
  • In 1926 the DeWitt Clinton Professorship of American History was established at Columbia University; the first to hold the chair was Evarts Boutell Greene.[22]
  • DeWitt Clinton became a focus of public attention related to the Erie Canal's bicentennial, which began in 2017 (the 200th anniversary of the original canal's groundbreaking) and will continue through 2025 (the 200th anniversary of the canal's opening). In a New York City event on July 4, 2017, actor Kyle Jenks read Clinton's 1815 canal manifesto on the steps of Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. In December 2017, the Museum of the City of New York completed a renovation of a statue of Clinton, along with one of Alexander Hamilton, located on the museum's exterior. Also that year, a book featuring descendants of DeWitt Clinton exploring ruins of the original canal, titled In DeWitt's Footsteps, was published by journalist Kenneth Silber.
  • Following his New York Governorship, DeWitt became a popular given name - see DeWitt (name).
  • Clintonia, a genus of flowering plants described by Rafinesque in 1818,[23] was named in honor of DeWitt Clinton.[24]

His portrait appears on many tobacco tax stamps of the late 1800s to early 1900s.[25]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Edwin G. Burrows "Little Short of Madness," American Heritage, Winter 2010.
  2. ^ Campbell, William W. (1849). The Life and Writings of De Witt Clinton. New York: Baker & Scribner.
  3. ^ Howe (2007), p. 241
  4. ^ Eisenstadt, Peter R. (2005). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. pp. 348–349. ISBN 978-0-8156-0808-0.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Encyclopedia of New York State, pp. 348-349.
  6. ^ "DeWitt Clinton", WikiCU
  7. ^ "MemberListC". Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  8. ^ Dunbar, B. (1987). Members and Officers of the American Antiquarian Society. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society.
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter C" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  10. ^ Morgan, William G. (1969). "The Origin and Development of the Congressional Nominating Caucus". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 113 (2): 190–196. JSTOR 985965.
  11. ^ "DeWitt Clinton". freemasonry.bcy.ca. Archived from the original on June 22, 2003.
  12. ^ a b c "DeWitt Clinton". freemasonrytoday.com. Archived from the original on April 25, 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2018. and served as Eminent Grand Commander of New York Commandery of Knights Templar from 1814 to 1828. He was Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of the United States from 1818 to 1828.
  13. ^ "Celebrating more than 100 years of the Freemasonry: famous Freemasons in the history". Mathawan Lodge No 192 F.A. & A.M., New Jersey. Archived from the original on May 10, 2008.
  14. ^ "Past Ge Officers". Knightstemplar.org. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  15. ^ Cummings, William Leon. "Cumming's notes on Morgan". Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  16. ^ Brownback, David P. "The Morgan affair aftermath". Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  17. ^ "Masonic Service Awards" (PDF). Grand Lodge of New York. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 5, 2011. Retrieved November 6, 2011.
  18. ^ John Steele Gordon Archived April 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine "10 Moments That Made American Business," American Heritage, February/March 2007.
  19. ^ Knowles, Charles, "History of the Bank for Savings in the City of New York," 1936.
  20. ^ Dwight, Benjamin Woodbridge (1874). The History of the Descendants of John Dwight, of Dedham, Mass. J. F. Trow & son, printers and bookbinders. p. 1067. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  21. ^ Schuyler, John (1886). Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati: Formed by the Officers of the American Army of the Revolution, 1783, with Extracts, from the Proceedings of Its General Meetings and from the Transactions of the New York State Society. Society. p. 177. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  22. ^ "DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History - WikiCU, the Columbia University wiki encyclopedia". www.wikicu.com. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  23. ^ Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel (1818). "Flora Americae Septentrionalis, or a systematic arrangement and description of the plants of North America by Frederick Pursh". Amer. Monthly Mag. & Crit. Rev. 2 (3): 170–176.
  24. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (May 3, 2012). CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. CRC Press. p. 1023. ISBN 978-1-4200-8044-5.
  25. ^ "What You Should Know about the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax Division".

SourcesEdit

External linksEdit

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
John Armstrong Jr.
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from New York
1802–1803
Served alongside: Gouverneur Morris, Theodorus Bailey
Succeeded by
Marinus Willett
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Livingston
Mayor of New York City
1803–1807
Succeeded by
Marinus Willett
Preceded by
Marinus Willett
Mayor of New York City
1808–1810
Succeeded by
Jacob Radcliff
Preceded by
Jacob Radcliff
Mayor of New York City
1811–1815
Succeeded by
John Ferguson
Preceded by
John Tayler
Acting
Lieutenant Governor of New York
1811–1813
Succeeded by
John Tayler
Preceded by
John Tayler
Acting
Governor of New York
1817–1822
Succeeded by
Joseph C. Yates
Preceded by
Joseph C. Yates
Governor of New York
1825–1828
Succeeded by
Nathaniel Pitcher
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Federalist nominee for President of the United States
Endorsed

1812
Succeeded by
Rufus King
Preceded by
Daniel D. Tompkins
Democratic-Republican nominee for Governor of New York
1817, 1820
Succeeded by
Joseph C. Yates
Preceded by
Joseph C. Yates
Democratic-Republican nominee for Governor of New York
1824, 1826
Succeeded by
Martin Van Buren
Democratic