DeWitt Clinton devoted virtually his entire life to the politics and governance of New York City [N.Y.C.] and New York State [N.Y.S.]. He was a New York State Assembly Man and a N.Y. Senator, was both a Lieutenant Governor and Governor of N.Y.S., was Mayor of N.Y.C., served as a United States[U.S.] Senator and narrowly missed becoming a U.S. President. He was defeated by James Madison in 1812. As Erie Canal Commissioner he was the major force that resulted in the Erie Canal eventually being built. He is frequently called the father of the Erie Canal, and appropriately so. In summary, DeWitt Clinton clearly deserves to be called a statesman.
DeWitt Clinton had a solid connection to his Dutch ancestors. His mother was Mary De Witt [1737-1795] of the Dutch De Witt family, who married DeWitt Clinton's father James Clinton [1736-1812] in 1765. DeWitt Clinton's uncle, George Clinton [1739-1812], Governor of N.Y.S. was also married to a Dutch woman, Cornelia Tappen. In addition DeWitt Clinton had a solid Dutch background with his birth name.
DeWitt Clinton graduated from Columbia College in 1786, studied law and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1790. Following in his father's and his uncle's footsteps he decided on a political and governmental career. He became his uncle's, George Clinton's, private secretary from 1790 to 1795. George Clinton at that time was Governor of the State of New York but resigned in 1759. DeWitt Clinton then became active in politics and was elected to the N.Y.S. Assembly in 1797 and served until 1798. In 1798 he was elected to the N.Y.S. Senate and served until 1802. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1802. He resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1803 to become Mayor of N.Y.C., a position that was assigned to him by his uncle George Clinton, who was then the Governor of N.Y.S. for the second time.
DeWitt Clinton served as Mayor of N.Y.C. from 1793 to 1815. During his Mayoral position he promoted public education, city planning, public sanitation and relief for the poor. While Mayor he also organized the Historical Society of New York in 1804, and served as its president. He also organized the Academy of Fine Arts in 1808. In other words DeWitt Clinton was the founder of a N.Y.C. the way we know it today.
While Mayor of N.Y.C. Clinton was also able to serve as a New York State Senator from 1806 to 1811, as New York Lieutenant Governor from 1811 to 1813, and as a U.S. presidential candidate for the Peace Party in 1812. He lost the presidential race narrowly to James Madison even though he had the support of the Federalists and the Republicans. In 1810, while still Mayor of N.Y.C. he also became a N.Y.C. Canal Commissioner. He served as a Canal Commissioner until 1824 just prior to the completion of the Erie Canal. During the above time periods he also served as a Regent of the University of New York from 1808 to 1825.
During the 15 year period Clinton served as Canal Commissioner he actively promoted the building of both the Erie and the Champlain Canals. His efforts at promoting the Erie Canal finally bore fruit in 1817 when a bill authorizing the construction of the Erie Canal passed the legislative bodies of N.Y.S.
In the same year the Erie Canal bill was approved, in 1817, DeWitt Clinton was elected to his first term as Governor of N.Y.S. In his capacity as Governor he was able to break ground for the construction of the Erie Canal on July 4, 1817. Clinton was reelected to Governor of New York State in 1819. In 1823 a popular convention adopted constitutional amendments which Clinton did not approve of and thereupon declined to serve another term as Governor. However, two years later, in 1825, he decided to challenge the gubernatorial election and won. In that same year, in October 1825, the Erie Canal was opened with ceremonies in communities along its entire length.
Governor Clinton celebrated the opening with a triumphant trip on a barge from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canal. Following 15 years of promotion, cajoling and convincing, as well as the enormous task of digging the Canal and building its locks, the project was finally completed. The Erie Canal is still there today, a memorial to the founder and supporter of the Canal. DeWitt Clinton passed away while still Governor of N.Y.S. on February 11, 1828. He was interred in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y. During his last term as Governor he continued to promote public education, manufacturing, and legal reform for the entire State of New York as he had previously done, as Mayor for N.Y.C. Throughout his political and governmental career he also strongly promoted the abolition of slavery.
Although DeWitt Clinton is not a well known author he did publish a number of works, among which were, "Discourse before the N.Y. Historical Society" in 1812, "Memoirs on the Antiquities of Western New York", in 1818, "Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of New York ", in 1822, and "Speeches to the Legislature", in 1823.
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