Orphaned before he was a year old, George Clymer was raised and apprenticed by his uncle in Philadelphia. His uncle also died while Clymer was young, but he left a substantial inheritance which helped Clymer get started in business. The young man demonstrated a clear talent and zeal for commerce and soon he was one of the more prosperous merchants in Philadelphia.
The oppression from the Crown naturally led George Clymer into republican opinions, and he became a local organizer of protests and public safety efforts.
In 1776, when it became clear that two of the members of the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania were not going to support independence, they were replaced by Clymer and Dr. Benjamin Rush. In that capacity, George Clymer signed the Declaration of Independence, in his hometown.
In December of 1776, when the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, Clymer, Robert Morris and George Walton stayed behind to continue working on important congressional business. After the battle of Brandywine, British troops detoured from their march in order to vandalize Clymer’s home. His wife and children hid in the woods.
Clymer served continually in the Continental Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature, and then as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives until he was appointed to a treasury post by President Washington. He later became a Federal Indian Commissioner, where he helped negotiate a peace treaty with the Cherokee and Creek tribes in Georgia.
Clymer was also the first president of the Philadelphia Bank, the president of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and Vice President of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. He died when he was 73 years old at Summerseat, his Philadelphia estate.
By now, the story of George Clymer is a familiar one: humble beginnings, diligence and success in business, political life, personal sacrifice during the Revolution, contributions to the formation of the Republic, philanthropic and humanitarian work, devotion to his wife and five children.
Like doing a whirlwind tour of European cathedrals, one can become numb and ambivalent when encountering yet another grand and heroic life in the Founding era, like the life of George Clymer. His story is a familiar one. He is one among the dozens of men who have similar stories. But these men, both individually and collectively, are what gave birth to our nation, the greatest experiment in freedom and liberty the world has ever known or likely ever will know.
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