Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 16: “…“the coolest, clearest head…”

Do you know who this is?
-He signed the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution.
-He was orphaned as an infant and adopted by an uncle.
-Ben Franklin credited him with “the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with.”

He was a successful businessman with an abiding interest in the welfare of the common man. He was most effective when not in the political limelight – and was extremely effective when working with committees. He proved his faith in the new government by exchanging his own money (gold, silver, and British pounds) for the paper currency issued by the Continental Congress. He pledged his life, his lands, and his fortune to the Revolution and the establishment of a new nation.

George Clymer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 16, 1739. His parents were Christopher and Deborah Fitzwater Clymer. His mother died in 1740, and his father died in 1746 when George was 7 years old. George became the ward of his uncle, William Coleman, who was a judge and a wealthy businessman – and who would have a tremendous influence on his nephew. Coleman would educate young George, and eventually take him into his mercantile firm as a clerk – to learn the business from the bottom up. Upon Coleman’s death in 1769 George would inherit the business and a small fortune.

While growing up, his education was supervised by Coleman. During this time, George developed a love of reading, science, history, law, and philosophy. He spent hours reading in his uncle’s large library, reflecting on what he was reading. He would attend the College of Philadelphia from 1757 – 1758.

George was married in 1765 to Elizabeth Meredith, a daughter in a socially prominent family that would introduce him to George Washington as well as other Patriot leaders. Elizabeth would have nine children, five of whom survived infancy. Eventually George would merge his business with that of his in-laws, forming Meredith-Clymer, which became a leading Pennsylvania merchant house.

George was opposed – motivated in part by restrictions on his business - to the restrictions and taxes placed on the colonies through the Townshend Acts and Tea Acts; and on October 16, 1773, became the chairman of a committee that requested those who were appointed to sell the tea to resign their posts. His efforts were so successful that not a single pound of British tea was offered for sale in Philadelphia. He was one of the first to speak out against these British acts, and - when it was necessary to arm in defense of colonial rights - became captain of a volunteer company, the Third Battalion, under Colonel Cadwalader.

On July 29, 1775, he became one of the first continental treasurers, and converted all of his specie – British pounds, gold, and silver – into continental currency, and financially backed the loans requested to fund the continental government. By doing this, George personally helped to underwrite the war.

On July 20, 1776, five men - including George - were appointed by the Pennsylvania legislature to succeed those members of the state’s delegation who had left their seats in the Continental Congress because they refused to agree to the Declaration of Independence.

George would not be a member of the military during the War for Independence. He used his skills and administrative abilities to support the war from the political front, and would make his mark in committee efforts, especially those pertaining to commerce, finance, and military affairs. When the Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia because of the approach of a British army, George was one of the five members left behind to execute all Continental government business in that city.

The British sought out those who had signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1777 his family lived in Chester County, about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia. Just after the battle of Brandywine, a British unit was detoured from the march on Philadelphia to conduct a raid on the Clymer residence, where George was taking a respite from the rigors of politics. He and his family were forced to flee and hide in the woods from the British raid, in which the British destroyed the belongings of the house. When the British arrived in Philadelphia, they sought out the home George had been living in and were in the process of tearing it down when they discovered it did not belong to him – but to an aunt of his.

The British also slated him for death when he visited Pittsburg as a commissioner to the Shawnee and Delaware Indians. His mission was to preserve peace between the Continental government and the Indian tribes in the area, and to try to enlist warriors into military service with the United States. He narrowly escaped death from British-backed Indians when he decided to visit a friend in the country. He accidentally took a route, which led him on a different road than the Indians were waiting on, finding out later that another man was tomahawked to death on the road he originally planned to travel. His report on the state of affairs in the region would lead to the Congress’s authority to take the war to the enemy by attacking Detroit.

George would serve with the Continental Congress – except for one term – through 1782, when he retired and moved with his family to Princeton, New Jersey, in order to give his children the opportunity to attend Princeton College.

He would be summoned from retirement in 1784 to be a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, and was made a member of the convention that framed the new Constitution of the United States. He would become one of eight men who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In November 1788, he was elected to the first Congress held under that Constitution, opposing the bestowal of titles on the President and Vice President. He also favored the gradual naturalization of foreigners, and supported the assumption of state debts by the nation. Declining re-election in 1791 he was appointed collector of the duty on spirits – a tax which led to the whiskey riots in Pennsylvania. He was unsuccessful in stopping the riots, and resigned his post after the death of his son, who died from wounds suffered when the army unit he was in was sent to put down the riots.

He would retire from public live in 1796 – at the age of 57 – and would devote his life to managing his business affairs.

He died on January 24, 1813, and is buried at the Friends Burial Ground, Trenton, New Jersey.
It not only takes the warrior to fight the battle, but also those who provide the financing, supplies and overall strategy. George excelled at the behind-the-scenes committee work that helped the Americans succeed in the nearly impossible task of independence. He sacrifices of his time, his finances, and his property to achieve the independence of what became the United States.

Our local library has no books on George Clymer.

Clymer PA:
Colonial Hall

Famous Americans
National Park Service
Pennsylvania State University
US Army Biography:


01. Portrait: The Constitution Society
02. Signature: Famous Americans
03. Declaration of Independence: Library of Congress
04. Portrait: Wikipedia Drawing: Oil (1807-9) by Charles Willson Peale. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
05. Gravestone: Find A Grave photo by Erik Lander

1 comment:

  1. As always, interesting and things I didn't know. I often wonder what men like George would think of the way our nation has developed and what goes on today. Not only do I enjoy your site but should thank you for the many links I find here and on your other site that have added to my hours of browsing pleasure.