George Clinton

Governor George Clinton – 1777-1795 and 1801-1804

Election History:

1777 General Election (This was New York’s first General Election):

George Clinton 1,828 votes (48.59%)

Philip Schuyler 1,199 votes (31.87)

John M. Scott 368 votes (9.78%)

John Jay 367 votes (9.76)

1780 General Election:

George Clinton 3,264 votes (100%)

1783 General Election:

George Clinton 3,584 votes (75.50%)

Philip Shuyler 643 votes (13.55%)

Ephraim Paine 520 votes (10.95%)

1786 General Election:

George Clinton – Clinton ran unopposed and won 100% of the cast ballots.=

1789 General Election:

George Clinton 6,391 votes (51.74%)

Robert Yates 5,962 votes (48.26%)

1792 General Election:

George Clinton 8,457 votes (50.73%)

John Jay 8,215 votes (49.27%)

1801 General Election:

George Clinton 24,808 votes (54.34%)

Stephen Van Rensselaer 20,842 votes (45.66%)


George Clinton was born July 26, 1739, in Little Britain, New York. Little Britain was originally located in Ulster County New York, but the area is currently located in Orange County New York. Governor Clinton’s parents, Charles and Elizabeth (Denniston) Clinton, settled the area of New Britain in 1729. The Clinton’s were Presbyterians who had come to New York from Longford County Ireland to escape a Government that did not tolerate any religious dissent.

Clinton received his early education from private tutors. Clinton left home at 16-17 years old to strike out on his own. His first job was as a Privateer at sea. He didn’t take well to life at sea and soon joined the Canadian Army. Clinton ended up serving in his father’s regiment as a Lieutenant and fought in the French and Indian War, including the expedition against Fort Frontenac in 1758.

After his military service in the French and Indian War Clinton studied law with William Smith, Jr. in New York City. He then returned to Ulster County where for several years he built a successful law practice and farmed. During this time he also held local government offices. In 1759 Clinton was the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas, and in 1765 he was the Ulster County District Attorney.

Clinton’s political career began in earnest in 1768 when he was elected to the Colonial Assembly. During his time in the Colonial Assembly, he became associated with the anti-British movement, which would end up being a major influence on the remainder of his political and military career.

Clinton married Cornelia Tappen on February 7, 1770. The marriage significantly strengthened Clinton’s political position because Ulster County was heavily Dutch. Clinton and Tappen would have 5 children, George, Cornelia, Martha, Maria, and Catherine.

Clinton was appointed to the Second Continental Congress May 15, 1775. He served in the Continental Congress until July 8, 1776. Clinton left the Continental Congress to take command of militia forces before he could sign the Declaration of Independence.

As a Brigadier General in the militia, he commanded troops in defense of the Highlands of the Hudson River. In this battle, he oversaw the building of two forts and stretched a large chain across the Hudson River to prevent British naval forces from sailing North. In March 1777 Congress appointed Clinton to the post of Brigadier General of the Continental Army.

In April 1777 Clinton ran for Lieutenant Governor of New York. Much to the surprise of many Clinton actually won both the Lieutenant Governor and Governor elections. Clinton resigned as Lieutenant Governor and accepted the post of Governor. Clinton also resigned his military duties to be Governor, but that didn’t last long.

General George Washington asked Clinton to resume his military duties to defend the forts at the Highlands. In October 1777 Clinton led a force of 600 troops in defending the forts against a British assault. The forts were ultimately lost, but Clinton’s defense was very costly to the British who suffered high casualty rates. Clinton once again assumed direct military command in 1780 when he led two raids to protect Western New York settlers who were being attacked by bands of British soldiers and loyalists, and Indians.  Although the raiders escaped both times, the missions were successful in protecting the settlers and gained Clinton’s administration a lot of trust with the settlers. This makes Governor Clinton one of the few Governors to ever both actively serve as a Governor and a field military commander at the same time.

During the Revolutionary War Clinton supported a strong Congress. However, the remainder of the early years of Clinton’s administration were characterized by opposing any moves to strengthen Congress. This change in his approach came because Congress refused to assist New York in protecting the Western portions of the State that were taken from the Indians during the Revolutionary War. Many, especially the State of Massachusetts, claimed that this territory actually belonged to Massachusetts, not New York. Governor Clinton fought off the claims by issuing the State’s own paper money and refusing to pay British loyalists for the real estate they lost during the war. These policies were ultimately credited with bringing New York out of the economic depression that hit America following the war far faster than any other State managed.

These battles led Clinton to become the leader of the anti-federalist campaign. In fact, although he was very good friends with George Washington, Clinton steadfastly refused to support ratification of the first U.S. Constitution without the addition of the Bill of Rights.

Clinton’s anti-federalism campaign cost him some significant political support in New York State. As a result in 1789, he barely defeated Robert Yates in his reelection bid. By the 1792 General Election his support had dwindled to the point that he only defeated his longtime political rival John Jay by 242 votes in an election that was disputed.

During this period Clinton also ran for Vice President of the United States several times and could not win an election. By the end of the term of office that Clinton won in the 1792 election, his health was beginning to fail and he resigned from public life.

By 1800 Clinton was asked to run for the Assembly to represent New York City. It was believed that if the Republican Party could win New York City they could control the New York Assembly, which would thereby control the outcome of the 1800 Presidential election. Clinton reluctantly agreed to run and did win the Assembly seat. He then also opposed Aaron Burr for the Republican nomination for Vice President. Clinton was said to have mistrusted Burr greatly. Even though Burr won the Vice Presidency he was preparing to run for Governor of New York in 1801. Clinton stepped in to thwart Burr by agreeing to run. In 1801 Clinton won the last of his seven terms as New York Governor. Some say that during this term Clinton was nothing more than a figurehead for his nephew DeWitt Clinton.  When his term ended in 1804, Clinton had served a total of 21 years as New York’s Governor, which is still the longest anyone has held the position.

In 1804 Clinton was asked by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as his Vice President. Clinton received the nomination of the Republican Party and was elected to the position. He won again in 1808 and served under President James Madison. Clinton’s Vice presidency was characterized by opposing many of Jefferson and Madison’s policies, particularly in the area of defense. But some say his ailing health made him ineffective. By the time his second term was in progress many said it was very difficult to impossible to hear what he said as he presided over the U.S. Senate. Clinton became the first Vice President to die in office when he passed away on April 20, 1812. Clinton’s contributions to America and New York were honored by being the first person to lie in State in the U.S. Capitol. He was initially buried in Congressional Cemetery, and then in 1908 he was moved to his final resting place at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston New York.