George Clinton

Clinton, 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 expedition against Fort Frontenac led by John Bradstreet. After studying law in New York City he began practice in Ulster co. and was elected (1768) to the provincial assembly, where he became a leader of the anti-British faction. In 1775, Clinton was elected one of the state's delegates to the Second Continental Congress. Military duties as a brigadier general in the Continental Army prevented his signing the Declaration of Independence. Clinton's defense of the Hudson, although courageous, resulted in the capture of Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery by the British general, Sir Henry Clinton.

Under the new state constitution, which George Clinton helped to frame, he was elected (June, 1777) the first governor of New York state. His energy and leadership as governor for six successive terms (1777–95) led to his being called the father of New York state. He managed trade and public welfare problems ably, and he successfully settled the Native American troubles in W New York. He advanced New York's claims to the New Hampshire Grants (now Vermont), initiated action on building canals (later realized by his nephew, De Witt Clinton), and unsuccessfully fought the transfer from New York to the United States of the right to collect duties at the port of New York.

An advocate of state sovereignty, Clinton was one of the chief opponents of the U.S. Constitution, writing seven letters against ratification, signed Cato, in the New York Journal. These were answered by Alexander Hamilton in his letters, signed Caesar, in the Daily Advertiser. Clinton's views on the Constitution were opposed by a rapidly growing party, the Federalists, under the leadership of John Jay. Jay, running against Clinton for governor, lost the election of 1792 only by a questionable manipulation of returns on the part of the Clintonians, and in 1795 Jay won with ease, Clinton having declined to become a candidate.

As a result of his alliance with the Livingstons and Aaron Burr, Clinton became governor for a seventh term in the Republican triumph of 1800; he still holds the record for longest-serving New York governor–22 years. In 1804 he was elected vice president for President Jefferson's second term. He sought the presidency in 1808, having won support for that office in previous elections, but again he received only the vice presidency, this time under James Madison.

See his Public Papers (ed. by H. Hastings and J. A. Holden, 10 vol., 1899–1914); E. W. Spaulding, His Excellency George Clinton (1938, repr. 1964) and New York in the Critical Period, 1783–1789 (1932, repr. 1960).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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