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Governor of New York and two-time Vice-President of the United States
George Clinton was born at Little Britain, Ulster (now Orange) County, New York, on July 26, 1739, the son of Charles Clinton, who commanded a regiment of provincial troops in the French and Indian War. He went to sea at the age of 16 but found the sailor's life distasteful. He then joined his father's regiment and accompanied him as a Lieutenant in an expedition against Fort Frontenac in 1758. After the war he practiced law and held a number of minor civil offices in Ulster County.
A member of the New York Provincial Assembly from 1768 to 1775, Clinton was an open advocate of independence from Britain. In 1774 he was a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, and in 1775 was a member of the Second Continental Congress. In December of 1775 he was appointed a Brigadier General of Militia by the New York Provincial Congress. In the following summer, being ordered by George Washington to assist in the defense of New York, he left Philadelphia, after voting for the Declaration of Independence but before he could sign the final document. Although courageous and popular, Clinton was not a competent commander. He took part in the Battle of White Plains (October 28, 1776), but was unable to prevent the capture of Fort Montgomery or the burning of Esopus, New York, in 1777. He was, however, able to check the advance of Sir John Johnson and the Indians in the Mohawk Valley, in 1780.
So great was Clinton's popularity that at the first election under the new New York State Constitution he was chosen both Governor and Lieutenant Governor. He declined the latter office, and, on July 30, 1777, entered upon his duties as Governor. He went on to serve as Governor for 18 successive years (1777-1795), longer than any other Governor since, and for another triennial term from 1801 to 1804. In the elections of 1780, 1783 and 1786 he had no opponent. He was a member of the State Assembly from 1800 to 1801.
Clinton vigorously opposed ratification of the Constitution because he believed it would diminish his state's power and was one of the leaders of the opposition in New York. But in the state convention of 1788, over which he presided, his party was defeated and New York ratified the Constitution.
In 1789, 1792 and 1796 Clinton received a number of votes in the Electoral College, but not enough to secure him the vice-presidency, which at the time was awarded to the recipient of the second highest number of votes. In 1804, however, after the method of voting had been changed, he was nominated for the vice-presidency by a congressional caucus and was subsequently elected Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson. In 1808 he sought the presidential nomination but lost out to James Madison. He was again elected Vice-President, however, and was serving in that capacity when he died on April 20, 1812. One of his last important acts while presiding in the Senate was to break a tie on rechartering the Bank of the United States by voting against it.
Originally buried in the congressional cemetery, Clinton's remains were removed to Kingston, New York, in May 1908.
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This page was last updated on April 19, 2017.