On this day in 1813, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution passes away. Only six men signed both documents. George Clymer was one of them.
But for Clymer’s work behind the scenes, would George Washington have won his much-needed victories at Trenton and Princeton? Perhaps not.
Clymer began life humbly, as an orphan being raised by his aunt and uncle. He later went on to have a successful career as a merchant; he served in public office as early as 1767. As tensions grew between Great Britain and her colonies, Clymer served in many capacities, and he even helped the Patriot cause financially.
Two stories are told about Clymer, both of which occurred during his years in the Continental Congress. In late 1776, Congress fled Philadelphia because of a British threat to the city. Nevertheless, Clymer and two other men stayed behind, ensuring that the business of Congress was completed. One of the primary needs at the time was to resupply Washington’s army, then on the verge of winning important victories at Trenton and Princeton. Clymer’s efforts helped make those victories possible.
Brave. Determined. Patriotic.
Clymer must have been a thorn in the side of the British, because they harassed him. On one occasion, a contingent of British soldiers took a 25-mile detour, just so they could attack Clymer’s home. He wasn’t there, but they destroyed much of his property as his wife and children hid in the woods nearby. At some point, the soldiers apparently realized that Clymer wasn’t there. They stopped their destruction and headed to his lodgings in Philadelphia. They began to tear that place apart, too, until they learned that the house was not actually his.
After the war, Clymer continued to serve his country in many capacities. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and he served in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. He was a tax collector during the Whiskey Rebellion. He served as a commissioner to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes. Even when he finally retired from public life, he turned his attention to charitable efforts.
I guess he just couldn’t help but give back to his community? As one of his eulogists would say: “His predominant passion was to promote every scheme for the improvement of his country, whether in science, agriculture, polite education, the useful or the fine arts. . . . [W]herever we find him, we also find his usefulness.”
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (George Clymer)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
John Sanderson & Robert Taylor Conrad, Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1846)
National Archives Biographies (The Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania)