George Clymer — Founding Father

March 16, 1739–January 23, 1813

George Clymer was a Founding Father from Pennsylvania. Clymer was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and also a signer of the United States Constitution.

George Clymer, Founding Father, Illustration, NYPL

George Clymer. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Who was George Clymer?

George Clymer was a businessman and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who rose to prominence during the American Revolution. He is known to have participated in protests against the Stamp Act and Tea Act. During the American Revolutionary War, Clymer served in the Continental Congress, where he used his accounting and business skills to help support the war effort. He also signed the Declaration of Independence. Following the war, he participated in the Constitutional Convention and signed the United States Constitution. During the Federalist Era, he was involved in the Whiskey Rebellion as a government official.

George Clymer Facts

  • Born: George Clymer was born on March 16, 1739, in Philadephia, Pennsylvania.
  • Died: He died on January 23, 1813, in Morrisville, New Jersey.
  • Buried: Clymer is buried at the Friends Burying Ground in Trenton, New Jersey.
  • Fun Fact: George Clymer signed two of the four Founding Documents — the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Early Life and Career of George Clymer

Orphaned at a young age, he was taken in by his uncle, William Coleman, a successful merchant and a friend of Benjamin Franklin. Clymer went to work for his uncle as an accountant. 

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. This portrait of Franklin was painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Clymer and No Taxation Without Representation

When British tax policies became an issue, he supported the Patriot Cause. He was involved in protests against the Stamp Act and also against the Tea Act. 

Clymer and the History of Meredith-Clymer

In 1765, he married Elizabeth Meredith. She was the daughter of one of his uncle’s business partners and a wealthy merchant. Clymer joined the firm as a partner and eventually, the company was known as Meredith-Clymer. The marriage also elevated Clymer in social circles, which introduced him to prominent men of the time, like George Washington.

The Pennsylvania Council of Safety and Philadephia Associators

As war approached, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and was a member of the Philadelphia Associators, a volunteer militia led by John Cadwalader.  

George Clymer and the American Revolutionary War

Clymer was elected to serve in the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Although he rarely spoke during Congressional sessions, he was involved in various committees and served as treasurer. 

As a member of Congress in 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence. Afterward, he traveled to Fort Ticonderoga with Sampson Matthews to review and inspect American forces at Fort Ticonderoga, which were under the command of General Arthur St. Clair.

Fort Ticonderoga, Aerial View
Fort Ticonderoga as it looks today on the shores of Lake Champlain. Image Source: Fort Ticonderoga, New York State Council On the Arts.

Financial Support for the War Effort

Clymer supported the funding of the army and the Patriot Cause by exchanging his own gold, silver, and British pounds for the paper money that was issued by Congress. He also supported the Continental Loan, a plan that allowed Congress to borrow money from private citizens in order to fund the war effort.

Clymer Remains in Philadelphia

When British forces led by General Henry Clinton approached Philadelphia, Congress was forced to relocate to Baltimore in December 1776. Despite the threat, Clymer remained in Philadelphia with George Walton and Robert Morris in order to continue congressional business. 

Although Clymer did not serve in the Continental Army, he worked with Morris and Walton to help improve the system of providing provisions to General George Washington and the Continental Army. 

While they were in Philadelphia during the winter of 1776-1777, their efforts to keep the army supplied contributed to the stunning victory at Trenton and the subsequent victory at Princeton that significantly reduced British control of New Jersey.

British Troops Attack Clymer’s Home

Following the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), British forces marched toward his home in Chester County, roughly 25 miles outside of Philadephia. Clymer’s wife, Elizabeth, and their children hid in the woods while the British troops vandalized the house.

Battle of Brandywine, Battlefield, Illustration
This illustration by Thomas Doughty depicts the area where the Battle of Brandywine took place. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Clymer Helps Reform the Prison System in Pennsylvania

Clymer entered state politics in 1780 when he was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature. During his service as a member state legislator, he is known to have supported a bicameral legislature, and reforms to the prison system. He is also known to have opposed the death penalty as punishment.

George Clymer Supports the Federalists at the Constitutional Convention

He attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was a signer of the United States Constitution. During the convention, he supported the ideas of a strong Federal Government, which was advocated by prominent leaders such as Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

Constitutional Convention, Signing the Constitution, Christy
This painting depicts the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Image Source: Wikipedia.

A Shift in Political Viewpoint to the Democratic-Republicans

Afterward, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by the people of Pennsylvania and served in the First Congress. During this time, he drifted away from the ideas of the emerging Federalist Party and favored close ties to France, instead of Great Britain. While the Federalists preferred strong ties to Great Britain, an association with France was a cornerstone of the philosophy of the Democratic-Republican Party.

George Clymer and the Whiskey Rebellion

Clymer was involved in the Whiskey Rebellion as a tax collector. He traveled to Western Pennsylvania and interviewed John Neville. Afterward, Clymber provided a report to Congress that, according to some accounts, overstated the organization and capabilities of the insurrectionists.

Later Years, Public Service, and Death of George Clymer

Treaty in Georgia

In 1796–1796, he was part of a commission that negotiated a treaty with the Cherokee and Creek in Georgia.

Clymer Retires from Politics

Following the negotiations in Georgia, Clymer retired from politics. He was involved with the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (vice president) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (president). He also served as the first president of the Philadelphia Bank. He held each of those positions until his death in 1813.

The Death of George Clymer

Clymer died on January 23, 1813, at his home, “Summerseat,” in Morrisville, New Jersey. He was 73 years old. Clymer is buried at the Friends Meeting House Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey.

Why is George Clymer important?

George Clymer is important to United States history due to his support of the Patriot Cause and his service in the Continental Congress. Clymer provided financial support to the war effort and signed two of the Founding Documents — the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Because of his accomplishments, he is considered a Founding Father of the United States.

Biographical Sketch of George Clymer

This biography of George Clymer was written by historian Benson J. Lossing. It was published in 1858 as part of Lossing’s Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Please note that section headings have been added and some text updates have been made in order to improve the readability of the text.

William Coleman and Education

George Clymer was born in Philadelphia, in the year 1739. His father was from Bristol, England, and died when George was only seven years old. His wife died before him and George was left an orphan. 

William Coleman, his mother’s brother, a wealthy and highly-esteemed citizen of Philadelphia, took George into his family, and in his education, and all other things, he treated him as a son. 

Having completed a thorough English education, he was taken into the counting-room of his uncle, and prepared for commercial life.

Clymer-Meredith

Clymer was not partial to a mercantile business, for he deemed it a pathway beset with many snares for the feet of pure morality, as sudden gains and losses were apt to affect the character of the most stable. For himself, he preferred literature and science, and his mind was much occupied with these subjects.

At the age of twenty-seven years, he married Elizabeth Meredith, and entered into mercantile business with his father-in-law, and his son, under the firm of Meredith and Sons. 

Clymer’s uncle died about the same time and left the principal part of his large fortune to him. He continued in business with his father-in-law, until his death; and with his brother-in-law afterward, until 1782. The company was known as Meredith-Clymer.

The Stamp Act Crisis

Even before his marriage, when none but old commercial grievances were complained of by the Colonies, Clymer expressed decided republican principles; and when the Stamp Act aroused the resistance of the American people, he was among the most ardent defenders of the republican cause. 

Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration
This illustration depicts people reading the Stamp Act in Boston. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Tea Crisis

He was a zealous actor in all the public meetings in Philadelphia; and when, in 1774, military organizations took place preparatory to a final resort to arms, which seemed inevitable, Clymer accepted the command of a volunteer corps belonging to General Cadwallader’s brigade.

When the oppressions which Boston experienced at the hands of British power, after the “Tea Riot,” aroused the strong sympathy of the people of the commercial cities, Clymer was placed at the head of a large and responsible Committee of Vigilance in Philadelphia, to act as circumstances should require. 

Philadelphia Council of Safety

He was also placed upon the first Council of Safety that was organized in Philadelphia; and early in 1775, he was appointed by Congress one of the Continental treasurers.

In 1776, after two of the Pennsylvania delegates in the General Congress declined to vote for the Declaration of Independence, and withdrew from their seats, Clymer and Dr. Benjamin Rush were appointed to succeed them, and they both joyfully affixed their signatures to that instrument.

Ticonderoga and Valley Forge

Clymer was soon afterward appointed one of a committee to visit the northern army at Ticonderoga; and when the British approached Philadelphia at the close of 1776, and Congress retired to Baltimore, he was put upon a committee with Robert Morris and others, to remain as a Committee of Vigilance in that city. 

He was again elected to Congress in 1779 and was one of a committee sent by that body to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge, to inquire into the alleged abuses of the commissary department.

Continental Army, March to Valley Forge
This painting depicts Washington on the march to Valley Forge. Image Source: Wikipedia.

British Harassment

After the defeat of the Americans at the Brandywine, and the British were marching triumphantly toward Philadelphia, Clymer moved his family into the country for safety. But their retreat was discovered, and the British soldiers sacked the house, destroyed the furniture, and wasted every sort of property which they could find.

While the enemy was in possession of Philadelphia in the winter of 1778, they surrounded a house that they thought was Clymer’s, with the intention of demolishing it, but they discovered it to belong to a relative of his of the same name, and they spared the edifice.

Negotiations at Fort Pitt

In 1778, Clymer was sent by Congress to Fort Pitt to help end an uprising of Native American Indians, who, influenced by British emissaries, were carrying out raids on the frontier. In this he was successful, and for his arduous services, he received the thanks of Congress. 

Return to Congress and the Bank of Philadelphia

In the autumn of 1780, he was elected to Congress for the third time, and he continued as an attentive and active member until 1782. 

During that year, he joined with Robert Morris and others in the establishment of a bank in Philadelphia, designed for the public good. Clymer was a considerable customer of the bank and was made one of its first directors.

Visit to the Southern States

In 1782, Clymer and Edward Rutledge were appointed by Congress to visit the Southern States and urge the necessity of a prompt contribution of their assessed quota of funds for the public Treasury. 

The individual States were slow to respond to the calls of Congress, and this tardiness very much embarrassed the operations of government. 

Clymer Moves to Princeton, New Jersey

On his return, Clymer moved his family to Princeton, for the purpose of having his children educated there. 

Reform of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code

Public interest soon called him back to Pennsylvania, and he took a seat in its Legislature. It was while he was a member of that body, that the criminal code of that State was modified, and the penitentiary system introduced. It is conceded that the credit of maturing this wiser system of punishment, is chiefly due to Clymer, and for this alone, he is entitled to the veneration due to a public benefactor.

Pennsylvania Convention of 1787 and the Constitution

Clymer was a member of the Convention that framed the Federal Constitution, and was elected one of the first members of Congress, convened under that instrument. 

Clymer and the Whiskey Insurrection

He declined re-election and was appointed, by President Washington, as supervisor of the revenue for the State of Pennsylvania. 

This was an office in which great firmness and decision of character were requisite, in consequence of the spirit of resistance to the collection of revenue which was then abroad. In fact, open rebellion at length appeared, and the movement known as the “Whiskey Insurrection” in Pennsylvania, at one time threatened serious consequences to the whole framework of our government. 

This illustration depicts a tax collector who has been tarred and feathered. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

A portion of the people of the interior of Pennsylvania, violently opposed the excise law, it being a region where much whiskey was distilled, and hence the tax or duty amounted to a considerable resource. 

This excise law was adopted by Congress in 1790. In 1792, so insurrectionary had the people become in relation to the duty on distilled liquor, that Congress passed an act authorizing the President of the United States to call out the militia of the State, if necessary to enforce the laws. 

He withheld his power for nearly two years, but at length, the insurrection assumed such a formidable aspect, that an army of 15,000 men was placed in the field. The rebellion eventually ended without a major conflict, but did lead to some violence.

But Clymer was unawed, and amid many personal dangers, he passed forward in the performance of his duty. At length, when things became quiet, he resigned. 

Whiskey Rebellion, Washington Reviews the Troops
This painting, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer, depicts President Washington reviewing the troops as they prepare to march on the rebels. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Treaty with the Cherokee and Creek

In 1796, he was appointed, with Benjamin Hawkins and Andrew Pickens, to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokee and Creek tribes of Indians, in Georgia. This they effected to the mutual satisfaction of the contending parties. This mission closed the public life of Clymer, and the remainder of his days were spent in acts of private usefulness.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title George Clymer — Founding Father
  • Date March 16, 1739–January 23, 1813
  • Author
  • Keywords George Clymer, Founding Father, Whiskey Rebellion, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Signer of the Constitution
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 14, 2023

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