Clinton, De Witt

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Clinton, De Witt

(də wĭt`), 1769–1828, American statesman, b. New Windsor, N.Y.; son of James ClintonClinton, James,
1733–1812, American Revolutionary general, b. Orange co., N.Y.; brother of George Clinton and father of De Witt Clinton. He served in the French and Indian Wars and early in the Revolution took part in the disastrous Quebec campaign.
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. He was admitted (1790) to the New York bar but soon became secretary to his uncle, George ClintonClinton, George,
1739–1812, American statesman, vice president of the United States (1805–1812), b. Little Britain, N.Y. Before he was 20 he served on a privateer and, in the French and Indian War, accompanied the regiment of his father, Charles Clinton, in the
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, 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 MadisonMadison, James,
1751–1836, 4th President of the United States (1809–17), b. Port Conway, Va. Early Career

A member of the Virginia planter class, he attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), graduating in 1771.
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 in 1812, with support from both Federalists and Republicans. As canal commissioner after 1810, Clinton sponsored the Erie CanalErie Canal,
artificial waterway, c.360 mi (580 km) long; connecting New York City with the Great Lakes via the Hudson River. Locks were built to overcome the 571-ft (174-m) difference between the level of the river and that of Lake Erie.
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 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 RegencyAlbany Regency,
name given, after 1820, to the leaders of the first political machine, which was developed in New York state by Martin Van Buren. The name derived from the charge that Van Buren's principal supporters, residing in Albany, managed the machine for him while he
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 and TammanyTammany
or Tammany Hall,
popular name for the Democratic political machine in Manhattan. Origins

After the American Revolution several patriotic societies sprang up to promote various political causes and economic interests.
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, 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.


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.