Cover image for The birth of empire : DeWitt Clinton and the American experience, 1769-1828
The birth of empire : DeWitt Clinton and the American experience, 1769-1828
Cornog, Evan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
x, 224 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
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E340.C65 C74 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E340.C65 C74 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room Non-Circ

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DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) dominated the politics of New York State during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, serving as mayor of New York City and then governor of the state. At the same time, he was influential on the national scene, running for president in 1812 and only narrowlylosing to James Madison. Although patrician in his sentiments, Clinton nevertheless developed new forms of party politics, including the spoils system. He was an early champion of the nomination of candidates by convention rather than legislative caucus, and as a United States Senator contributedthe draft language for the Twelfth Amendment, which embedded party politics in the fabric of the Constitution. Clinton's greatest achievement was the Erie Canal, the establishment and implementation of which he championed as early as 1810. Construction of the canal began in 1817, and even before it was completed, eight years later, it had brought profound changes--economic, cultural, and social--to thestate and the nation. As Evan Cornog illustrates in his detailed and compelling narrative, the Erie Canal hastened the economic expansion of the country, altered its political geography, set an example for activist government, and decisively secured New York City's position as America's foremostmetropolis. It was a project unlike anything the Empire State--or the United States--had seen before, and was only the most successful of Clinton's many efforts to implement his view that government should play an active role in the economic and intellectual development of American society. The Birth of Empire chronicles not only the life of an important political leader but the accomplishments that underlay his success. As mayor of New York City, for example, Clinton was instrumental in the founding of the public-school system. He sponsored countless measures to promote culturalenrichment as well as educational opportunities for New Yorkers, and helped to establish and lead such institutions as the New-York Historical Society, the American Academy of the Arts, and the Literary and Philosophical Society. An amateur scientist of some renown, Clinton also wrote essays ongeology, botany, entomology, archaeology, anthropology, and ichthyology. As shown here, Clinton's career was marked by frequent attempts to integrate his cultural and scientific interests into his identity as a politician, thus projecting the image of a man of wide learning and broad vision, a scholar-statesman of the new republic. Ironically, the political innovationswhich Clinton set in motion--the refinement of patronage and the spoils system, appeals to immigrant voters, and the professionalization of politics--were precisely what led to the extinction of the scholar-statesman's natural habitat. However visionary, the latter-day philosopher-king wouldeventually have no place in the modern world. DeWitt Clinton was born into the aristocratic culture of the eighteenth century, yet his achievements and ideas crucially influenced (in ways he did not always anticipate) the growth of the mass society of the nineteenth century. With this book, Cornog engagingly guides readers through the colorful maze of early nineteenth-century New York politics and society, illustrating both the depth of achievement and breadth of influence of one of its most important leaders. Those who wish to understand the development of Americanpolitics, the flowering of a distinctly American cultural life, the progress of the market revolution, and the growth of America's largest city will find many valuable insights in The Birth of Empire.

Author Notes

Evan Cornog was educated at Harvard and Columbia, and has taught American history at Columbia, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), and Lafayette College. He also worked as Press Secretary for former Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York City. Currently, he is Associate Dean of the Graduate Schoolof Journalism at Columbia University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

When someone who "served brilliantly as press secretary" to a recent mayor of New York City writes a biography of a former mayor--even of one in office more than a century and a half earlier--readers discover that no mayor is always fully dressed. The indefatigable DeWitt Clinton--socialized to 18th-century gentry values but coming to maturity in an increasingly market-oriented and democratic society--stretched and accommodated enough to be appointed as the city's mayor for 12 years and to serve as the state's governor twice. He spearheaded the construction of the Erie Canal, promoted public education, advanced New York's institutions of high culture, and fought discrimination against Irish immigrants. Cornog demonstrates that the strengths and foibles of political officeholders are especially evident to those who live close to them, whether as press secretaries or biographers. Cornog respects Clinton's political success and achievements, even as he apparently comes to dislike the man. All levels. J. L. Cooper DePauw University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Gentlemen of New Yorkp. 3
1 Political Apprenticep. 12
2 Political Journeymanp. 22
3 Clintonians and Burritesp. 39
4 Mayor Clintonp. 54
5 Clintonian Culturep. 62
6 Clintonians and Quidsp. 73
7 New York and the Nationp. 84
8 Launching the Canalp. 104
9 Clintonian Intellectp. 118
10 The Governorp. 127
11 Resurrectionp. 145
12 The Canal and Its Consequencesp. 158
13 End of a Careerp. 173
Notesp. 187
Bibliographyp. 211
Indexp. 221