Clinton by T. Romeyn Beck, M.D.

The Academy of Sciences at Dijon recently asked of their municipality, that all houses in the commune which deserved to be historical, might be marked by commemorative inscriptions. The Council, we are told, readily acceded to the request, and among the birth-places and residences thus designated are those of Buffon, Crebillon, Guyton De Morveau, and the Marshal Tavennes.

We in this country, whether fortunately or unfortunately, live in too progressive an age to allow us to ask for similar remembrances. Unless a statesman happens to be reared in a rural district, the house of his birth seldom survives his youth, possibly his manhood. New structures arise, and the succeeding generation know little or nothing of what preceded.

In the instance of DeWitt Clinton, the difficulty is increased by the diversity of statements that are made relative to his birth-place. He was the son of James Clinton, a gallant soldier in both of the now classic wars of this country. Commissioned as an ensign in the war of 1756, Mr. Clinton served during most of its campaigns. The Continental Congress, in 1775, appointed him colonel of one of the New-York regiments; and after particularly distinguishing himself at Fort Montgomery and Yorktown, he retired from the army of the Revolution with the rank of major-general.

It was after the close of the French War that Mr. Clinton was married to Mary DeWitt. She is represented as having been beautiful in her youth—an only sister, with nine brothers. To them four sons were born, of whom DeWitt was the second. The date of his birth is well settled—being the year 1769;—not so the place. Many of his biographers unite in stating that this was Little Britain, in Orange County, where his father resided. Some assert that he was born at New Windsor, in the same county, in a house still standing, and which can be seen from the river; while others relate the tradition that his parents were on a visit to the fort at Minisink, then under the command of Colonel DeWitt, a brother of Mrs. Clinton; that a severe and long-continued snow-storm occurred, and that the mother was there confined.

On his education it is scarcely necessary to dwell, farther  than to trace its influence on his subsequent career. His parents bestowed on him that inestimable gift—the best education that the State could afford—first at Kingston Academy, and subsequently at Columbia College. The professors' chairs were filled by eminent men, who appear to have appreciated the talents of their pupil. He was the first graduate after the Revolution.

At the age of seventeen he commenced the study of the law with the elder Samuel Jones, whose eminence as an advocate, and honesty as a high state officer, still linger amongst our earliest reminiscences.

Thus prepared, as well by preliminary instruction as by earnest self-improvement, he was about entering on the profession of the law, with elders and contemporaries equal to any bar in the Union, when his destiny was at once and permanently changed. He was the nephew of George Clinton, the governor of the young State of New-York; distinguished by his civil and military talents; admirably qualified to guide the rising republic through its forming stages, although possibly too tenacious of his peculiar opinions, and, unfortunately, too long opposed to the adoption of the Constitution.

The parties that from time to time controlled the destinies of the country were now in active collision. In the State of New-York, Jay and Hamilton were the leaders and guides of the Federalists, and Governor Clinton needed all the intellectual aid that could be brought to bear on the contest. He selected his nephew as his private secretary, and the sagacity, at least, of the choice has never been disputed. Several papers on subjects of public and permanent interest, known to have emanated from the pen of DeWitt Clinton, are still preserved.

We are told that he remained in this station until 795—the close of the long administration (continued by re-elections) of his uncle.

In 1797, he was elected a member of the Assembly from the city of New-York, and the next year, of the Senate. The tenure of the first of these was annual, and of the last for four years. From the above date to the hour of his death, with short intervals, he continued to be chosen in succession to the Senate, and as lieutenant-governor and governor. He was for the space of two years a member of the United States Senate. From 1803 to 1807, and from 1808 to 1815, he served as mayor of the city of New-York. This is a brief outline of the situations he held, and it is only necessary to fill up the sketch with notices of what he proposed and accomplished, to complete the picture.

His "homes," with the brief exception of two winters at Washington, were, of course, mainly in New-York and Albany.

In the former, his town residence was at the lower end of Broadway—then the fashionable part of the city, and where wealthy bankers, and merchants, and distinguished professional men loved to fix their dwellings. At a short distance from the Bowling-green and the Battery, the breezes from the ocean occasionally found their way and shed their influences. Commerce has commanded the removal of most of these private residences, and she has been rigidly obeyed. The merchandise of the Old and of the New World needs still increasing depositories.

While remaining in New-York, he owned a country-seat at Maspeth, on Long Island, to which he frequently resorted, and where he indulged in his favorite pursuits of angling and hunting. He was greatly attached to these, until in after life an unfortunate accident rendered active exercise too laborious.

Of Albany, the place in which a large portion of his mature life was spent, we feel some constraint in giving, what we consider, a just account. By many, even intelligent travellers, it is only known as a place of transfer from steamboats and railroads—as excessively hot in summer, and as the capital of the State, where the Legislature holds its sessions during the winter.

But its antiquities—if antiquities are to be spoken of in this country—are of some interest. Here an American Congress once assembled, of which Franklin was a member. Whenever England and France contended for mastery on this continent, many of the officers and troops of the former halted here for a while, or passed on for the finally accomplished object of the conquest of Canada. Here for a time were Howe and Abercrombie, Amherst and Sir William Johnson; while, to the French, it seems to have been the limit, which, though they burnt Schenectady and ravaged the western part of the State, they seemed scarcely able to reach.

Passing over intermediate occurrences, during the war of 1812 there was here concentrated a large portion of the military force of the United States, which went forth in all the pomp and circumstance of war to its mingled career of defeat and success.

Two dwellings still remain in Albany dear to Revolutionary memory—the residences of General Philip Schuyler and General Abraham Ten Broeck. The latter was distinguished as  a brave and capable militia officer. The services and talents of the former are not as yet sufficiently appreciated. The wise man—the trusted of Washington—the able statesman—who early pointed out the way to internal improvement in the State of New-York, only needs an impartial and well-instructed biographer to be duly known.

It is a matter of satisfaction that both of these residences—crowning heights north and south of the city—are in excellent preservation, owned by wealthy persons, and destined, we may hope, to a long existence.

Governor Clinton occupied during his residence in Albany (part of the time he was out of office) two different houses, which possess an interest only inferior to those we have just mentioned. One of them, formerly almost a country residence,—built by Peter W. Yates, an eminent counsellor at law, and now owned by another of the same name,—was, for a series of years, the dwelling-place of governors of the State of New-York. Here Tompkins dispensed his hospitality, while he wielded, in a manner but partially understood, the destinies of the nation during the war of 1812; and from this beautiful seat he departed, in an evil hour to himself, to be Vice-President of the United States. Clinton succeeded. In this house he met with a severe accident,—a fracture of the knee-pan from a fall; after a slow recovery he was enabled to use the limb with but slight indication of the injury. Still it prevented him from taking exercise on horseback, to which he had been much accustomed, and it probably led to an increased fulness of habit, in the later years of his life.

Subsequently to this he occupied a house (it was that in which he died) in Pearl-street, built by Goldsboro Banyer, one of the last deputy Secretaries of State of the Colony of New-York. It was bequeathed to his son's widow, a daughter of Governor Jay, and on her removal to New-York, was taken as a governor's residence.

It would scarcely be proper to conclude these sketches, without briefly enumerating the services of DeWitt Clinton to his State and country. Most of these were thought of, developed and produced ready for adoption, within the sacred precincts of his "home."

As mayor of New-York, he was at that time head of the judicial department of the city. Subsequently that officer has been relieved of these duties, and several local courts have been found necessary, to dispose of the cases which the tangled relations of commerce are constantly bringing forth. Some records of his ability both as a civil and a criminal judge still remain. A Catholic priest had been called upon to disclose what had been communicated to him at the confessional. In his opinion, Mr. Clinton sustained the sacred nature of the secret thus imparted, and subsequent legislation, doubtless founded on this case, extended the exemption not only to the clergyman, but also to the physician. He also aided with great energy in putting down and punishing riots, caused by excited political feelings. Nor should we omit to say, that before him was tried the peculiar case of Whistelo, in which the wit of Counsellor Sampson, and the peculiarities of Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill were equally conspicuous.

As a member of the Senate of New-York, he became ex officio also a member of the highest court in the State—the court for the trial of impeachments, and the correction of errors in the inferior courts. Several of his decisions are to be found in the volumes of New-York State Reports. He grappled with the subjects of insurance law, of libel, the power of committing for contempt, the construction of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the effect of foreign admiralty decisions. "Some of these," says Chancellor Kent, "are models of judicial and parliamentary eloquence, and they all relate to important questions, affecting constitutional rights and personal liberty. They partake more of the character of a statesman's discussions, than that of a dry technical lawyer, and are therefore more interesting to the general scholar."

As a legislator, it is quite sufficient to refer to the long list of laws drawn up and supported by him, as it is given in the eighth chapter of Professor Renwick's life, to appreciate the high class of subjects to which he applied his best efforts. We select only a portion. An act respecting a digest of the public laws of the State. An act to enlarge the powers of and to endow the Orphan Asylum society,—to amend the insolvent laws, to prevent the inhuman treatment of slaves, for the support of the quarantine establishment, to revise and amend the militia law, to incorporate the society for the relief of poor widows with small children, for promoting medical science, for the further encouragement of free schools, for securing to mechanics and others, payment for their labor and materials in the city of New-York. It has been urged that others by their efforts, or their votes, have been as useful as was Mr. Clinton, in procuring the passage of these and similar laws. Be it so. It is not even attempted to deny this. It would be treason to the great interests of humanity to claim exclusive honor for a single man. But he knows little of practical legislation, who is not perfectly aware how efficient and important it is to have one individual, eminent in talents, high in power, who is willing to initiate useful measures—propose their adoption, and support them with his best abilities.

In the matter of the Canals of New-York, this is his high honor; this his crowning glory. Even during life, he gave due credit to all who suggested or supported the work; but his pre-eminent merit is, that he adopted the canal policy as his own party policy. It has been said, in words which cannot be bettered, that "in the great work of internal improvement, he persevered through good report and through evil report, with a steadiness of purpose that no obstacle could divert; and when all the elements were in commotion around him, and even his chosen associates were appalled, he alone, like Columbus, on the wide waste of waters, in his frail bark with a dis-heartened and unbelieving crew, remained firm, self-poised and unshaken."

Heaven in its goodness allowed life till the great work was completed.

Of Governor Clinton's devotion to science and to literature, of his patronage and support of societies and institutions, for their diffusion, all are knowing; but it is not sufficiently understood, that these were amateur pursuits, followed during hours that he could scarcely spare from his legitimate duties. Whatever of imperfection or of crudeness may therefore be found in them, should be charitably considered.

His domestic habits were simple and unobtrusive. He was industrious through life—the earliest riser in the house—frequently, if not generally, making his office fire in the winter, and dispatching most of his voluminous correspondence before the breakfast hour.

 In his family, he was every thing that became a man—a kind and faithful husband; an affectionate, indeed indulgent father; a warm, devoted, and often self-sacrificing friend. What wonder is it, that his memory should continue to be cherished with sincere love and ever increasing esteem.