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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

DeWitt the elder

Over at FrumForum, I look at my son's ancestor and namesake: "DeWitt Clinton's Legacy." Excerpt:
DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) was one of the most important American politicians of the early 19th century. He was at various times governor of New York, mayor of New York City, U.S. senator and presidential candidate. He was the driving force behind getting the Erie Canal built, the achievement for which he is best remembered by history. But his career was multifaceted — his interests ranged from laying out Manhattan’s street grid to delving into the natural science and history of North America.

That career included much that’s worth contemplating, and even emulating, in the context of early 21st century politics. While DeWitt Clinton is not exactly an unfamiliar name today — it’s emblazoned for instance on a Bronx high school and a Manhattan park, among other locales — his importance and relevance are underappreciated, even at a time when the founding fathers and other early politicians (such as Andrew Jackson) are more in vogue than they have been for some time.

Early American politicians often get enlisted in today’s ideological causes — Thomas Jefferson as hero to liberals and libertarians, Alexander Hamilton or John Adams as paragons for conservatives (notably, with Hamilton, conservatives not of a strongly decentralist bent). Often, the fit between the historical figure and the current-day cause is less than perfect, but there is some affinity. Clinton fits only awkwardly into our current-day polarized politics — and therein is a key part of his relevance.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 7/8: Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrisey discusses the Erie Canal, federalism and Obama. Also, for readers particularly interested in the canal's financial ramifications, my Research magazine piece is here.

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