“The fundamental error of Europe has been to confine the light of knowledge to the wealthy and great, while the humble and depressed have been as sedulously excluded from its participation as the wretched criminal, immured in a dungeon, is from the light of Heaven.”
DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828)
New York Builder
Columbia College 1786
In a series of elected and appointed positions, Clinton shaped the history of New York in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Best known for his indefatigable efforts to build the Erie Canal—derided as “Clinton’s Ditch” by opponents—he championed the project as U.S. senator (1802–03), mayor of New York City (1803–15), member of the canal commission (1810–24) and governor of New York state (1817–23, 1825–28). When it was completed in 1825, the canal transformed the nation by linking the eastern seaboard to the American heartland, spurring immigration to the region and leading to the creation of several cities along the canal’s path and to the confirmation of New York City as the nation’s largest urban center.