Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Famous Queens Resident Series, Part XX

DeWitt Clinton - The governor who spear-headed construction of the Erie Canal lived in Maspeth.

DeWitt Clinton (March 2, 1769 Napanoch, New York – February 11, 1828 Albany, New York) was an early American politician who served as United States Senator and Governor of New York. In this last capacity he was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal.

He was the second son born to James Clinton and his wife Mary DeWitt, daughter of an old Dutch family, and was educated at what is now Columbia University. He became the secretary to his uncle, George Clinton, who was then governor of New York. Soon after he became a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1798 and of the New York State Senate from the Southern District from 1798 to 1802, and from 1806 to 1811. He was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1801. He was a member of the Council of Appointments in 1801-1802 and 1806-1807. He won the by-election to the United States Senate after the resignation of John Armstrong, Jr. and served from February 9, 1802, to November 4, 1803. He resigned, unhappy with living conditions in newly built Washington, DC, to become the Mayor of New York. He served as Mayor in 1803-1807, 1808-1810 and 1811-1815. While serving as Mayor, he organized the Historical Society of New York in 1804 and was its president. He also organized the Academy of Fine Arts in 1808. He was Regent of the University of New York from 1808 to 1825.

Clinton was married twice, first on February 13, 1796, to Maria Franklin, daughter of the prominent New York Quaker merchant, Walter Franklin, by whom he had ten children, four sons and three daughters surviving at the time of her death in 1818. On May 8, 1819, he married Catharine Jones, daughter of a New York physician, Thomas Jones, who survived him.

In 1811, defeating the Federalist Nicholas Fish and the Tammany Hall candidate Marinus Willett, he won a special election for Lieutenant Governor of New York - to fill the vacancy left by the death of Lt. Gov. Broome - and served under Daniel D. Tompkins until the end of the term in June 1813. In 1812 Clinton ran for President of the United States as candidate of the Federalists and anti-war Democratic-Republicans, but was defeated by President Madison, Clinton received 89 electoral votes, Madison 128. After the resignation of Governor Tompkins who had been elected Vice President, he won a special gubernatorial election against Peter Buell Porter - Clinton received 43,310 votes, Porter only 1,479. On July 1, 1817, Clinton became the governor of New York. He was re-elected in 1820, defeating the sitting Vice President Tompkins - DeWitt Clinton 47,447 votes, Tompkins 45.900 - and served until December 31, 1822. During his second term, the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821 shortened the gubernatorial term to two years, and moved the beginning of the term from July 1 to January 1, actually cutting off the last 6 months of the 3-year-term he had been elected to. Also the gubernatorial election was moved from April to November, but Clinton was not renominated by his party to run for reelection in November 1822. In 1824 he was re-elected governor, and served another two terms until his sudden death in office. He was originally buried at the Clinton Cemetery in Little Britain, New York, later he was re-interred at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Clinton was able to accomplish many things as a leader in civic and state affairs, such as improving the New York public school system, encouraging steam navigation, and modifying the laws governing criminals and debtors. The 1831 DeWitt Clinton (locomotive) was named in his honor.

While governor he was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. He imagined a Canal from Buffalo, New York on the Eastern Shore of Lake Erie to Albany, New York on the upper Hudson River, a distance of almost 400 miles. So, in 1817 he persuaded the state lawmakers to provide 7 million dollars for the construction of a canal 363 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep. In 1825, when the Erie Canal was finished, Governor Clinton opened it, sailing in the packet boat Seneca Chief along the Canal into Buffalo. After sailing from the mouth of Lake Erie to New York City he emptied two casks of water from Lake Erie into New York Harbor, celebrating the first connection of waters from East to West. Although railroads did compete with the canal, the advent of railroads did not cause the canal to become defunct. As late as 1852, the canal carried thirteen times more freight tonnage than all the railroads in New York state combined; it continued to compete well with the railroads through 1882, when tolls were abolished. The canal made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of both New York City and New York State, making boomtowns out of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica and Schenectady. Nevertheless, its impact went much further, as it increased trade throughout the nation by opening eastern markets to Midwest farm products and encouraged western immigration.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The City does a dis-service to this fine man by naming a failing institution after him Clinton High School.