- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 5, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195140516
- ISBN-13: 978-0195140514
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Birth of Empire: DeWitt Clinton and the American Experience, 1769-1828
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"...Cornog offers unforgettable stories for general readers and a wealth of information and insight about New York politics and history."--Gazette, Schenectady, NY
"...Evan Cornog's biography of DeWitt Clinton is...welcome, filling a noticeable gap in the literature while portraying the individual who transformed New York into the Empire State....Cornog is to be congratulated for writing the definitive study of DeWitt Clinton. It should stand the test of time."--Journal of the Early Republic
"[Cornog] creates a forceful and colorful portrait of his vital and powerful subject....Rather like our Bill Clinton, his DeWitt Clinton recurrently finds in defeat the seeds of his next triumph, but he also invariably squanders victory by indulging in uncompromising fantasies of control and revenge. This biographical approach makes for a lucid and largely true story that lingers on the personal and contingent."--Alan Taylor, The New Republic
"In Cornog's telling, the life and times of DeWitt Clinton make a fascinating guide to the complex interaction of personality, popularity, and policy in our infant republic."--The New Yorker
"Evan Cornog served brilliantly as press secretary in my administration. Now as a writer and biographer, he is brilliant once again in telling the story of one of the great politicians of the state and city of New York. Cornog's wonderful Birth of Empire not only gives the history of DeWitt Clinton, for twelve years the City's mayor and twice the State's governor, but also paints a marvelous picture of early 19th-century Manhattan. Active sponsor of the Erie Canal, founder of the New-York Historical Society, and devoted supporter of the cultural and industrial growth of city and state, DeWitt Clinton comes alive in this story of the origins of the greatest city in the world."--Edward I. Koch, Mayor of New York City, 1978 to 1989
"Concurrent with the restoration of the Erie Canal, author Evan Cornog gives us a fascinating caravansary of the creation of the canal by its major proponent, Governor DeWitt Clinton. This great work, engineered and excavated by immigrants, opened the State of New York and the West to a host of immigration that transformed this state from an aristocracy to the democracy we now know as the Empire State. Cornog also gives us a vivid and insightful depiction of the Governor who was both a creator and a casualty of that transformation. The portraits of Clinton and his contemporaries; of their colloquies, comments, and anecdotes in the ebb tide of regency; and of the rise of the new republic make this book an invaluable companion on any trip up the Erie. What better escort could we have than Cornog's Governor Clinton--who was courageous and clumsy in politics, and charming and cantankerous, like so many other governors I can recall."--Hugh L. Carey, Governor of New York State, 1975 to 1983
"As mayor, governor, and senator, and as father of the Erie Canal and a dozen other major institutions and initiatives, DeWitt Clinton is arguably the most important person ever to lead the Empire City and the Empire State. His is a grand story, and in Evan Cornog he has found a grand biographer."--Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University
"No political leader loomed larger in New York during the first quarter of the 19th century than DeWitt Clinton, and none had a more ambitious vision of the metropolitan cultural and economic possibilities of the city, nor did any do more to realize them. The story of this 18th-century man who did so much to make 19th-century New York has been deeply researched and engagingly told by Evan Cornog."--Thomas Bender, Professor of History, New York University
From the Back Cover
The Birth of Empire chronicles not only the life of an important political leader but the accomplishments that underlay his success. As mayor of New York City, for example, Clinton was instrumental in the founding of the public-school system. He sponsored countless measures to promote cultural enrichment as well as educational opportunities for New Yorkers, and helped to establish and lead such institutions as the New-York Historical Society, the American Academy of the Arts, and the Literary and Philosophical Society. As shown here, Clinton's career was marked by frequent attempts to integrate his cultural and scientific interests into his identity as a politician, thus projecting the image of a man of wide learning and broad vision, a scholar-statesman of the new republic. Ironically, the political innovations which Clinton set in motion - the refinement of patronage and the spoils system, appeals to immigrant voters, and the professionalization of politics - were precisely what led to the extinction of the scholar-statesman's natural habitat. DeWitt Clinton was born into the aristocratic culture of the eighteenth century, yet his achievements and ideas crucially influenced (in ways he did not always anticipate) the growth of the mass society of the nineteenth century. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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NOTE: This is a study of Clinton's contributions to New York's and America's emergence as a world power, especially in terms of an economic power. This is NOT a biography in the ordinary sense of the word. Unlike McCullough's "John Adams" or Chernow's "Alexander Hamiltion", we do not get a full-length portrait of the man. Partly because DeWitt Clinton was much more reserved and reluctant to show his feelings than others of his time and partly because his diary entries, as Cornog points out, are very mundane, we mostly see the public DeWitt Clinton: DeWitt Clinton the politician, DeWitt Clinton the scientist, DeWitt Clinton the philanthropist, etc. So intensely private in some ways (his mother wondered if he was dead or alive because he never wrote her while he attended Columbia), it is remarkable that he would seek such a public career.
But it was to New York's and America's benefit that he did.
Although he never achieved the Presidency, he often influenced (directly or indirectly) every President in office during his lifetime. He clashed with some of the mightiest men of his day: Aaron Burr, Daniel Tompkins, Ambrose Spencer, et al. As Cornog points out, not all his confrontations were rooted in ideology; DeWitt Clinton was a political animal, even though the political realm he operated in was rapidly changing, often leaving Clinton behind. Clinton also could often be extremely self-centered, snobbish and vindictive. And, yet, this contradictory man also had long-reaching visions and programs for the benefit of the poor as well as the merchant and upper classes. He supported free education for all New Yorkers. He supported artists, writers, and scientists. Most importantly, his dogged determination to get the Erie Canal built provided jobs for immigrants, provided a market for farmers, provided work for New Englanders, and helped build the great cities along the canal's path. And as the canal propelled New York State and New York City into economic powerhouses, it also propelled America's westward expansion and its status as a world-class nation.
Well-written and well-documented, Evan Cornog's "The Birth of Empire" captures the feel of the early decades of America, with all its growing pains. And it puts DeWitt Clinton in American history's spotlight where he belongs.
The historical ironies of the canal expressed by Cornog are insightful. Clinton was a proponent of federal funding for internal improvements yet the success of the canal as a state subsidized project discouraged massive federal public works projects for more than a century. Its success also led to a certain canal-building fever for other states. But later canal construction came when private railroads were gaining steam. This untimely investment, coupled with the Panic of 1837 actually frightened off and discouraged future state, federal and foreign investment in internal improvements.
A final unforseen result for Clinton was the social transformation which flowed quickly from the canal and led to the end of the elite age of New York politics.