Clinton, De Witt


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Clinton, De Witt

Clinton, De Witt (də wĭtˈ), 1769–1828, American statesman, b. New Windsor, N.Y.; son of James Clinton. He was admitted (1790) to the New York bar but soon became secretary to his uncle, George Clinton, first governor of the state, and in that position (1790–95) gained political experience and influence at an early age. In 1797 he entered the state legislature. As a U.S. Senator (1802–3), Clinton introduced the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution and opposed sentiment for hostilities against Spain. In 1803 he became mayor of New York City, and in 10 annual terms (1803–15) he promoted public education, city planning, public sanitation, and relief for the poor. While mayor he was successful in dictating the nomination of two governors. Clinton also held office as state senator (1806–11) and lieutenant governor (1811–13). He advocated removal of the political disabilities of Roman Catholics, abolition of slavery, and amelioration of severe punishment for debt and misdemeanors. He ran unsuccessfully for President against James Madison in 1812, with support from both Federalists and Republicans. As canal commissioner after 1810, Clinton sponsored the Erie Canal and the Champlain-Hudson Canal. From 1817 to 1823 he was governor of New York. Clinton continued to give constant support to the canal projects, but in 1824, after suffering temporary political reverses and through the opposition of the Albany Regency and Tammany, he was deprived of his post as canal commissioner. Again governor from 1825 until his death, however, Clinton celebrated the completion of the canals and promoted schools, manufacturing, and legal reform.

Bibliography

See biography by D. Bobbé (1933, rev. ed. 1962); H. L. McBain, De Witt Clinton and the Origin of the Spoils System (1907, repr. 1967); D. R. Fox, Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York (1919, repr. 1965); E. Cornog, The Birth of Empire (1998).

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Clinton, De Witt

(1769–1828) governor, public official; born in Little Britain, N.Y. A Columbia University graduate, in 1787 he published a series of letters—signed "A Countryman"—protesting the federal government's power under the proposed constitution. A lawyer, he learned about politics as private secretary to his uncle, Governor George Clinton (1790–95). He then served in the New York assembly (Dem.-Rep., 1797–98) and senate (1798–1802) where he blatantly dispensed political patronage from the governor's Council of Appointment. Briefly in the U.S. Senate (1802–03), he became mayor of New York (1803–07, 1808–09, 1811–15), organizing the city's first public school, helping found the New York City Hospital, and removing political restrictions on Roman Catholics. As New York's canal commissioner (1810–24), he took the lead in promoting construction of the Erie Canal. In 1812 he ran for president on a coalition ticket of anti-war Democratic-Republicans and Federalists, narrowly losing to James Madison. As governor (1817–23, 1825–28) his terms were marred by intra-party feuding, but completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 assured New York's economic dominance. Although he expended much of his talents and energies on partisan politics, he had also made significant contributions to the natural sciences and above all to the advancement of public education.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.