The only governor to appear on all 13 jurors' ballots, DeWitt Clinton received four first place votes and the highest aggregate score from our experts.
Clinton is most commonly known as the "Father of the Erie Canal"—a Herculean achievement difficult to grasp today. As our juror Bill Cunningham explains, "We forget that was the greatest engineering and economic project up to that time in world history ... [It] would transform New York City into a first class trading harbor. It opened up the Midwest to international markets ... The entire county benefited and New York became, for the first time, the Empire State ... [The canal] is perhaps the first example of American exceptionalism in the sense that it was a success and showed many that dreaming big and pursuing those dreams is the American character."
Clinton didn't dream any smaller in his political ambitions. A nephew of New York's first governor, George Clinton, DeWitt served briefly in the Assembly and then for several terms in the state Senate before being elected a U.S. senator. After less than two years in Washington he resigned to become mayor of New York City, a position he would hold over three nonconsecutive terms for all but two years between the end of 1803 and 1815.
In 1812, as the Federalist nominee for president, Clinton fared respectably against James Madison, losing 128 to 89 in the electoral count—the difference of a state or two. In 1817 he ran unopposed(!) in the special election to replace Gov. Daniel Tompkins, who had given up the seat to become vice president.
Clinton served as governor through 1822. After leaving office he kept his post as president of the Erie Canal Commission, but his enemies in the Legislature voted him off the body two years later. The resulting public outrage was so intense, Clinton was renominated for the governorship and won, serving another three years until he died in office.
View All Governors: