George Clymer was a successful businessman with an abiding interest in the welfare of the common man. He never served in uniform during the Revolutionary War, but he made a significant contribution to the cause of liberty by organizing essential congressional support for needed military reforms and by personally helping to reorganize the Continental Army. As a politician he tended to avoid the limelight, preferring to work on committees where he could bring his administrative skills to bear. He was a soft-spoken man who, as a contemporary said, "was never heard to speak ill of any one." He signed the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution.
CAREER BEFORE THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. Clymer was orphaned as an infant and adopted by an uncle, William Coleman, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and friend of Benjamin Franklin. Informally educated, he became a clerk and, later, partner in his uncle's mercantile firm, which he would inherit. In 1765 he married Elizabeth Meredith, whose socially prominent family introduced him to George Washington and other Patriot leaders. He eventually merged his business with that of his in-laws to form Meredith-Clymer, a leading Pennsylvania merchant house.
Clymer became politically active in response to British tax policies and trade restrictions on colonial business. In 1773 he led a committee of Pennsylvania Patriots that forced the resignation of Philadelphia tea consignees appointed by Parliament under the Tea Act. An ardent Patriot, he commanded a company of the Associators, Philadelphia's volunteer militia. (Clymer is not included among the Soldier-Statesmen because he never served on active duty during the Revolutionary War.) While a member of the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, the executive agency created by the legislature to govern the newly emerging state when the legislature was not in session, he became an early advocate of complete independence for the colonies.
Clymer brought his significant managerial and financial skills with him to national political service. He served as Continental treasurer (1775-76), an office organized by the Continental Congress to supervise the financing of the Revolution. He proved his faith in the new government by exchanging his own money (gold, silver, and British pounds) for the paper currency issued by the Continental Congress. He also supported the Continental Loan, a plan advanced by Congress to finance the Revolution with money borrowed from the citizenry.
He went on to represent Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress (1776-77 and 1780-82). He rarely entered into debates, but was influential in committees dealing with military, financial, and commercial matters. In a noteworthy act of personal bravery, Clymer remained with Robert Morris and George Walton in Philadelphia to manage government affairs during the winter of 1776-77 while the rest of Congress fled to Baltimore to escape capture by the advancing British. His work in helping to organize the resupply of Washington's battered main army during those crucial months made the victories at Trenton and Princeton possible. Clymer subsequently became deeply involved in Continental Army affairs, even visiting units in the field. He worked hard to improve the lot of the common soldier, supporting Washington's efforts to improve administrative efficiency, especially by reforming the Army's commissary system. His investigation of Indian uprisings at Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) in December 1777 led Congress to organize an abortive military expedition intended to reduce the British stronghold at Detroit. In retaliation for Clymer's role in this effort, Redcoats operating in the Philadelphia area sought out and vandalized his home.
Elected by his neighbors to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature (1784-88), he further displayed his strong humanitarian bent by advocating reform of the penal code and abolition of the death penalty.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. At the Convention, Clymer served on those committees concerned with the military, commercial, and financial powers and responsibilities of the new government. An advocate of strong central government, he supported the Federalist position taken by Washington, Hamilton, and Madison.
CAREER AFTER THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. Clymer was a member of the House of Representatives in the First Congress (1789-91), where he supported a liberal naturalization policy and closer ties with France. His continuing interest in the concerns of the common citizen caused him, like Madison, to gravitate toward the new political party emerging around Thomas Jefferson in opposition to his old Federalist allies.
Clymer held two other federal offices, first as collector of excise taxes on alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania and later as a member of the commission that negotiated a treaty with the Cherokee and Creek Indians in Georgia. Retiring from public life in 1796, he went on to be the first president of the Philadelphia Bank and a sponsor of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
BIRTH: 16 March 1739, in Philadelphia
DEATH: 23 January 1813, at "Sommerseat" an estate in Morrisville, New Jersey, near Philadelphia
INTERMENT: Friends Meeting House Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey