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Charles Clinton

CLINTON, Charles, ancestor of the Clintons in the United States, born in the county Longford, Ireland, in 1690; died in what is now Orange county, New York, 19 November, 1778. His grandfather, William Clinton, was an adherent of Charles I., and fled to Ireland for refuge after the defeat of the royalists. His maternal grandfather was a captain in Cromwell's army. Charles, with a party of relatives and friends, chartered a ship and sailed for Philadelphia, 20 May, 1729. The captain formed a plan to starve the passengers, either with a view to obtaining their property, or to deter emigration; and, after the death of many, among whom were a son and daughter of Mr. Clinton, they were finally allowed to land on Cape Cod, on 4 October, having paid a large sum for their lives. A proposition to wrest the command from the captain had previously failed, owing to want of energy among his victims. In the spring of 1731 the party settled in Ulster county; six miles west of the Hudson and sixty miles north of New York, where Mr. Clinton pursued his occupation of farmer and land-sur-veyor. He was afterward justice of the peace, county judge, and lieutenant colonel of the Ulster county militia. He was made a lieutenant colonel in Oliver DeLancy's regiment on 24 March, 1758, and served under Col. Bradstreet at the siege and capture of Fort Frontenac.--His son, Alexander, was graduated at Princeton in 1750, and became a physician.--A second son, Charles, died in April, 1791, was a surgeon in the army that took Havana in 1762.--A third son, James, soldier, born in Ulster county, New York, 9 August, 1786; died in Little Britain, Orange County, New York, 22 December, 1812, was provided by his father with an excellent education, but his ruling inclination was for military life. He was appointed an ensign in the 2d regiment of Ulster county militia, and became its lieutenant colonel before the beginning of the revolution. During the war of 1756, between the English and French, he particularly distinguished himself at the capture of Fort Frontenac, where he was a captain under Bradstreet, rendering essential service by capturing a French sloop-of-war on Lake Ontario. The confidence reposed in his character may be estimated by his appointment as captain-commandant of four regiments levied for the protection of the western frontiers of Ulster and Orange counties. He was appointed colonel of the 8d New York regiment on 80 June, 1775, and in the same year accompanied Montgomery to Quebec. He was made brigadier-general, 9 August, 1776, and commanded Fort Clinton when it was attacked, in October, 1777, by Sir Henry Clinton. After a gallant defense by about 600 militia against 3,000 British troops, Fort Clinton. as well as Fort Montgomery, of which his brother, General George Clinton, was commander-in-chief, was carried by storm. General Clinton was the last man to leave the works, receiving a severe bayonet-wound, but escaping from the enemy by riding a short distance and then sliding down a precipice 100 feet, to the creek, whence he made his way to the mountain. In 1779 he joined with 1,600 men the expedition of General Sullivan against the Indians, proceeding up the Mohawk to the head of Otsego lake, where he succeeded in floating his bateaux on the shallow outlet by damming up the lake and then letting out the water suddenly. After an engagement, in which the Indians were defeated with great loss at Newtown (now Ehnira), all resistance upon their part ceased; their settlements were destroyed, and they fled to the British fortress of Niagara. General Clinton commanded at Albany during a great part of the war, but was present at the siege of Yorktown and at the evacuation of New York by the British. He was a commissioner to adjust the boundary-line between New York and Pennsylvania, and was a member of the legislature and of the convention that adopted the constitution of the United States. --A fourth son, George, statesman, born in Little Britain, Ulster County, New York. 26 July, 1739; died in Washington,.D.C., 20 April, 1812. On his return from a privateering cruise in 1758, he accompanied his father and brother James in the expedition against Fort Frontenac as a lieutenant, and, on the disbanding of the colonial forces. he studied in the law-office of William Smith, and settled in his birthplace, receiving shortly afterward a clerkship from the colonial governor, Admiral George Clinton, a connection of the family. He was elected in 1768 to the New York assembly, where he so resolutely maintained the cause of the colonies against the crown that, on 22 April, 1775, he was elected by the New York provincial convention one of the delegates to the second continental congress, taking his seat on 15 May. He did not vote on the question of independence, as the members of the New York provincial congress, which he represented, did not consider themselves authorized to instruct their delegates to act on that question. They purposely left it to the new provincial congress, which met at White Plains, 8 July, 1776, and which, on the next day, passed unanimously a resolution approving of the declaration. Clinton was likewise prevented from signing the declaration with the New York delegation on 15 July, by receiving, on the 7th of that month, an imperative call from Washington to take post in the Highlands, with rank as general of militia. In the spring of 1777 he was a deputy to the New York 660 CLINTON provincial congress, which framed the first state constitution, but was again called into the field by congress, and appointed, 25 March, 1777, a brigadier-general in the Continental army. Assisted by his brother James, he made a brilliant, though unsuccessful, defense, 6 Oct, 1777, of the Highland forts, Clinton and Montgomery, against Sir Henry Clinton. He was chosen first governor of the state, 20 April, 1777, and in 1780 was re-elected to the office, which he retained by successive elections until 1795. From the period of his first occupation of the gubernatorial chair until its final relinquishment he exhibited great energy of character, and, in the defense of the state, rendered important services, both in a civil and military capacity. In 1780 he thwarted an expedition led by Sir John Johnson, Brant, and Cornplanter, into the Mohawk valley, and thus saved the settlers from the horrors of the torch and scalping-knife. He was active in preventing encroachments on the territory of New York by the settlers of the New Hampshire grants, and was largely instrumental with Timothy Pickering in concluding, after the war, lasting treaties of peace with the western Indians. In 1783 he accompanied Washington and Hamilton on a tour of the northern and western posts of the state, on their return visiting, with Schuyler as a guide, the High-Rock Spring at Saratoga. While on this trip he first conceived the project of a canal between the Mohawk and Wood creek, which he recommended to the legislature in his speech opening the session of 1791, an idea that was subsequently carried out to its legitimate end in the Erie and Champlain canals by his nephew, Governor De Witt Clinton. At the time of Shays's rebellion, 1787, he marched in person, at the head of the militia, against the insurgents, and by this prompt action greatly aided the governor of Massachusetts in quelling that outbreak. In 1788 he presided at the state convention to ratify the Federal constitution, the adoption of which he opposed, believing that too much power would thereby pass to the Federal congress and the executive. At the first presidential election he received three of the electoral votes cast for the vice-presidency. In 1792, when Washington was re-elected, Clinton had for the same office fifty votes, and at the sixth presidential election, 1809-'13, he received six ballots from New York for the office of president. In 1800 he was chosen to the legislature after one of the most hotly contested elections in the annals of the state; and in 1801 he was again governor. In 1804 he was elected vice-president of the United States, which office he filled until his death. His last important public act was to negative, by his casting vote in the senate, the renewal of the charter of the United States bank in 1811. He took great interest in education, and in his message at the opening session of the legislature of 1795 he initiated the movement for the organization of a common-school system. As a military man, Clinton was bold and courageous, and endowed with a will that rarely failed him in sudden emergencies. As a civil magistrate he was a stanch friend to literature and social order. In private life he was affectionate, winning, though dignified in his manner, strong in his dislikes, and warm in his friendships. The vast influence that he wielded was due more to sound judgment, marvellous energy, and great moral force of character, than to any specially high-sounding or brilliant achievements.--James's son, De Witt, statesman, born in Little Britain, New Windsor, Orange County, New York, 2 March, 1769 ; died in Albany, New York, 11 February, 1828, was graduated at Columbia in 1786, studied law under Samuel Jones in New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1788, but practiced very little, preferring to take part in politics as an active republican. While the Federal constitution was still a subject for discussion, he wrote, under the signature of "A Countryman," a series of letters in reply to the "Federalist," and, when the constitution came up before the state convention for ratification, he reported for the press the debates of that body. In 1790 he became private secretary to his uncle, George Clinton, then governor of New York, and was a leading champion, through the press, of his administration. He was also made one of the secretaries of the newly organized Board of re- gents of the state University, and secretary of the Board of commissioners of state fortifications. He left these offices when his uncle retired from the governorship in 1795, but continued to uphold the republican cause, opposing the administration of Governor Jay and President John Adams. While as- sailing the federalists for their hostility to France, he nevertheless raised, equipped, and commanded a company of artillery for service in the event of war with that country. He also studied the natu- ral sciences at this time. He was chosen to the lower branch of the legislature in 1797, and from 1798 till 1802 was a member of the state senate. In 1801 he became a member of the governor's coun- cil, and revived an old claim of that body to a right of nomination co-ordinate with that of the governor. Governor Jay adjourned the council, deny- ing this right, but Clinton defended his position in the legislature, and the matter was referred to the people, who supported his views by amending the state constitution. While in the state senate, Clinton worked to secure the public defense, for the passage of sanitary laws, the encourage- ment of agriculture, manufactures, and the arts, the relief of prisoners for debt, and the abolition of slavery in the state. He also used his influence to promote the use of steam in navigation. He was chosen to the United States senate in 1802, and while there distinguished himself by a powerful speech opposing war with Spain. He resigned in 1802, to take the office of mayor of New York, to which his uncle, now governor for the second time, had ap- pointed him. This office was then very important, the mayor of the City being also president of the council and chief judge of the court of common pleas. He continued mayor until 1815, with the exception of the years from 1807-9 and 1810-. During this time he was also state senator from 1805 till 1811, lieutenant governor from 1811 till 1813, and was also a member of the council of appointment. After his uncle, George Clinton, ceased to be prominent, on account of his advanced age, De Witt Clinton came to be regarded as a promising republican candidate for the presidency. Aaron Burr's disgrace removed one of his rivals; but Clinton soon began to be looked on with dis- trust by his party, on account of his want of sympathy with some of President Jefferson's acts and with Madison's course previous to the war of 1812. He was suspected of a leaning toward the federalists, and was bitterly assailed by his enemies, toward whom his own course had never been mild. The republican caucus at Washington in 1812 re- nominated Madison: but Clinton, retaining his hold on the party in his own state, and relying, on the support of the federalists, secured a nomina- tion from the republican members of the New York legislature. The result of the election was the choice of Madison by a majority of thirty-nine electoral votes. Clinton, having alienated his party by his course, without gaining the full sympathyof the federalists, was in 1813 displaced from the office of lieutenant governor. He was still mayor of New York, however, and {lid all in his power to advance the interests of that city. By aiding in the establishment of schools, the amelioration of criminal laws, the relief of suffering, the encouragement of agriculture, and the correction of vice, he showed himself one of the foremost friends of the people, and his popularity increased accordingly. His efforts in founding institutions of science, literature, and art, helped to give the City the metropolitan character it had hitherto lacked, and his liberality in securing the public defense, and in voting money and men to the government, served to arrest the popular suspicions of his loyalty. Above all, he was the friend of internal improvements. As early as 1809 he had been appointed one of seven commissioners to examine and survey a route for a canal from the Hudson to the lakes. He was sent by the legislature in 1812 to urge the adoption of the project, by congress, but his efforts were unsuccessful. In January, 1815, a republican council of appointment removed him from the mayoralty, and in the autumn of that year he prepared an elaborate petition to the legislature, asking for the immediate construction of the Erie and Champlain canals. This was adopted by popular meetings, and ably advocated by Clinton himself before the legislature, and in 1817 a bill authorizing the construction of the Erie canal passed that body. Clinton's memorial had brought him prominently forward as the promoter of the enterprise, and, in spite of the opposition of those who denounced the scheme as visionary, he was elected governor of the state in 1817 by a nonpartisan vote. The canal was begun on 4 July, 1817, Governor Clinton breaking the ground with his own hand. But, notwithstanding this happy beginning of his administration, it was filled with violent political controversies, and though he was re-elected in 1819, it was by a reduced majority. In 1822, a popular convention having adopted constitutional amendments that he did not entirely approve, he refused to be again a candidate. His opponents secured his removal from the office of canal commissioner in 1824, and popular indignation at the injustice of this act resulted in his election as governor by a majority of 16,000, larger than had before been given to any candidate, and he was re-elected in 1826. In October, 1825, the Erie canal was opened with great ceremony, and Governor Clinton was carried on a barge in a triumphal progress from Lake Erie to New York. In this same year he declined the English mission offered to him by President John Quincy Adams. Governor Clinton's death, which was sudden, took place while he was still in office; but he had lived to inaugurate several branches of the Erie canal, and by his influence had done much toward developing the canal system in other states. He was tall and well formed, of majestic presence and dignified manners. He published "Discourse before the New York Historical Society" (1812); " Memoir on the Antiquities of Western New York" (1818)" "Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of New York "(New York, 1822); "Speeches to the Legislature" (1823), and several literary and historical addresses. See Hosack's " Memoir of De Witt Clinton" (1829); Renwick's " Life of De Witt Clinton" (1840); Campbell's "Life and Writings of De Witt Clinton" (1849); and "National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans." Some of Clinton's letters to his friend, Col. Henry Post, of New York, giving interesting glimpses of his character, were published by John Bigelow in "Harper's Magazine "for February and March, 1875.--James Clinton's grandson, Alexander, born in Little Britain, Orange County, New York, 7 April, 1793; died in New York City, 16 February, 1878, was graduated at the College of physicians and surgeons in 1819, and, after practising some years in his native county, returned to New York in 1832, where he continued in practice until advanced age obliged him to retire. During the war of 1812 he was an officer in the army, and at the time of his death was the oldest member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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