Clinton, DeWitt

Born: 1769-03-02 Little Britain, New York

Died: 1828-02-11 Albany, New York

DeWitt Clinton studied two years at Kingston Academy before the American Revolution, and then attended King's College (Columbia) after. He graduated in 1786 and studied law in Manhattan, earning admittance to the New York bar in 1790. By that point, he had joined the anti-federalist efforts against the constitution by penning a series of articles under the pseudonym "A Countryman." In 1786, he married Maria Franklin, from a very wealthy family, with whom he had ten children. Maria died in 1818 and Clinton married Catharine Jones.

Clinton won election to the New York State Assembly in 1796 and to the Senate the following year. As a Jeffersonian Republican, he found himself in direct conflict with New York's Federalist governor, John Jay, resulting in a prolonged battle over state appointments. Clinton won the fight in 1801 and replaced numerous Federalist officeholders with Jeffersonians, causing him to be labeled as the father of the "Spoils System." In 1802, the State Assembly appointed him to the U.S. Senate, but Clinton resigned his seat a year later to become mayor of New York City. He continued as mayor for most of the span from 1803 to 1815, also returning to the New York Senate from 1806 to 1811. He governed the city during a highly transformative period and his efforts were largely spent on managing its fast-growing population and economy.

Clinton ran for president in 1812, becoming the anti-war candidate and thereby attracting substantial Federalist support. After losing to James Madison, Clinton found himself rejected by the Democratic-Republicans for opposing the War of 1812, which effectively ended his career in federal politics. Clinton then shifted his attention to the construction of the Erie Canal, for which he had been appointed commissioner in 1810. This brought him back into state politics and he won election as governor in 1817, remaining in office until 1822. By that time, followers of Martin Van Buren had formed an opposition "People's Party", which viewed Clinton as aristocrat with ties to the Federalists. The People's Party unseated him as canal commissioner in 1824, but Clinton again won the governorship in 1825 as a Jacksonian and presided over the completion of the canal in 1825.

Donald M. Roper, "Clinton, DeWitt," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 5:77-80; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 831; Gravestone, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.