A Brief History
On July 26, 1739, George Clinton was born in a place then called Little Britain, Province of New York, British America. Not to be confused with the funky 20th and 21st Century American musician famous for “Atomic Dog” and other hits, this George Clinton went on to become one of our “Founding Fathers” and served not only as a military officer, but also as the 4th Vice President of the United States.
Before serving both as a privateer and militia officer during the French and Indian War, this George Clinton was appointed as Clerk of Courts for Ulster County, New York in 1748, a job he held for an incredible 52 years! Oddly enough, the provincial governor that appointed Clinton to his long term job was also named George Clinton, though only distantly related. (So they say…) After the French and Indian War, Clinton studied the law and became a lawyer, entering elective politics in 1768 as a member of the New York General Assembly, a job he held until 1775. During this period, Clinton became involved in the anti-British movement that eventually resulted in the formation of the United States. Clinton resigned his seat in the General Assembly in 1775, though he became even more active in the movement for independence. He was appointed as commander of the New York militia, promptly building forts and running a large chain across the Hudson River to prevent British ships from transiting that waterway.
By 1777, Clinton had risen to the rank of General in the Continental Army and was elected to both Governor and Lieutenant Governor of New York, though he quickly resigned the position as Lt. Governor and assumed his role as Governor only. Clinton remained in the thick of politics during the transition from the colonial phase to the nation phase of the United States, at first supporting Alexander Hamilton and later opposing Hamilton on the grounds of trying to prevent a federal government that was too powerful.
In the first ever US presidential election in 1788, Clinton managed to earn 3 electoral votes, with Washington taking the victory as president and Adams becoming vice president after coming in second in the voting. (That is how they did the president/vice president election back then.) Clinton was again touted as a vice presidential candidate in 1792, this time by the Democratic Republican Party, but again Washington won, with Adams winning the vice presidency once again, this time with 77 electoral votes to Clinton’s 50.
During the 1804 US presidential election, Clinton became the running mate of incumbent President Thomas Jefferson, his previous vice president, Aaron Burr, having fallen into disfavor over the shooting of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Jefferson won again, and Clinton served as Vice President from 1805 until 1809, the fourth American to hold that office. Oddly enough, by today’s standards, Clinton served as Vice President for the next President as well, serving as the VP for President James Madison from 1809 until Clinton died of heart attack in 1812. Even more bizarrely, Clinton had tried to best Madison for the nomination as President for the Democratic-Republican Party but was instead nominated as the vice-presidential candidate. Even weirder, Clinton actively opposed Madison politically while serving as his Vice President!
When he died in 1812, Clinton became the first US Vice President to die in office, and he was succeeded in that office by a gentleman named Elbridge Gerry (the only person this author ever heard of with the first name of Elbridge). While Clinton was the first vice president to serve under 2 different presidents, he was not the only person to do so, the other being John Calhoun who served under Presidents John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson.
Of course, a luminary such as George Clinton is remembered in America in the names of some places, a bridge and the like, and there is a statue of him in the nation’s capital, but even more amazingly he appears depicted in the famous painting, Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, even though Clinton was NOT actually a signer of that document nor was he present at the signing! His likeness, courtesy of that famous painting, has appeared on the American $2 bill.
Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite American Vice President? Why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Kaminski, John. George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic. Rowman & Littlefield, 1993.
Needs, Kris. George Clinton & The Cosmic Odyssey Of The P-Funk Empire. Omnibus Press, 2014.
The featured image in this article, a painting of George Clinton by Ezra Ames, is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1926.