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George Clinton (1809-1812) - Vice President

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George Clinton was born in 1739 in Ulster County, New York, and his parents were Irish immigrants. He fought in the French and Indian War, and then he went to New York City to read law. After being accepted to the bar, he practiced law and became district attorney in 1765. Three years later, he was elected to the New York Assembly and began to become increasingly powerful and influential in state politics. He was elected to the second Continental Congress in 1775.

During the American Revolution, he served as brigadier general in the New York militia. He helped defend New York from the British and became friends with George Washington during the war years. In 1777, he was chosen governor of New York and served six consecutive terms. As governor, Clinton was considered an able administrator, and he amassed considerable political power in the state. He also opposed ratifying the Constitution of the United States because he believed it put too much power into the hands of the federal government. He resigned from the governorship in 1795 due to ill health and declining popularity. Clinton served again as governor of New York from 1801 to 1804.

Despite having run unsuccessfully for vice president in 1788 and 1792, Clinton ran for the position again in 1804. Democratic-Republicans found him attractive as a candidate because, being from New York, he helped geographically balance President Thomas Jefferson from Virginia. He also had significant political power in New York and was less controversial than his predecessor, Aaron Burr. As vice president, Clinton presided over the Senate but was considered ineffective. He was unable to keep order and seemed uninterested in the proceedings, complaining about lengthy speeches and having to sit for too long. In the 1808 election, Clinton aspired to succeed Thomas Jefferson as President, but Jefferson gave his support to James Madison. Although the Democratic-Republicans again chose Clinton as vice president, he resented being passed over for President. As such, he did not attend Madison’s inauguration and was unsupportive of the Madison administration. When the Senate had a tie vote over whether to recharter the Bank of the United States, Clinton voted against it even though Madison supported rechartering the Bank. After years of declining health, Clinton died in office in 1812.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

J.C.A. Stagg

Professor Stagg is the editor-in-chief of the Papers of James Madison Project and a history professor at the University of Virginia. In addition to the volumes of Madison’s papers, his writings include:

Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (Princeton University Press, 1983)