This Day In Founding Fathers History – 15 February 2013
One notable birthday on this day in history in 1726, that of Abraham Clark. Clark was born in New Jersey, an only child growing up on a farm. His father noticed Clark had an inclination for mathematics so he was tutored in math and surveying. Clark independently studied law to help mediate land disputes and later became known as the “poor man’s counselor,” dispensing free legal advice or bartering for his services.
Clark’s political career was one of alternating state and federal positions. Clark served as High Sheriff of Essex County and also as secretary of the New Jersey Council of Safety. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1775. In 1776, he and four other men replaced the existing New Jersey delegates to the Continental Congress, who were opposing independence. While in Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence. “His patriotism was of the purest character. Personal considerations did not influence his decision. He knew full well that fortune and individual safety were at stake. But what were these in comparison with the honor and liberty of his country. He voted, therefore, for the declaration of independence, and affixed his name to that sacred instrument with a firm determination to meet the consequences of the noble, but dangerous action, with a fortitude and resolution becoming a free born citizen of America.”
Clark had ten children, of which two of his sons were soldiers. They were captured by the British and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey during the war. “Painful as the condition of his sons was, Mr. Clark scrupulously avoided calling the attention of congress to the subject, excepting in a single instance. One of his sons, a captain of artillery, had been cast into a dungeon, where he received no other food than that which was conveyed to him by his fellow prisoners, through a keyhole. On a representation of these facts to congress, that body immediately directed a course of retaliation in respect to a British officer. This had the desired effect, and Captain Clark’s condition was improved.”
In 1784, Clark began his first of three years in the state legislature, attending the Annapolis Convention. Due to ill health, he was unable to attend the Federal Convention of 1787. He opposed the Constitution until a Bill of Rights was incorporated. He returned to the Continental Congress for two years starting in 1787, then returning to his post as commissioner in New Jersey. Clark served in the Second and Third Congresses from 1791 to 1794. When Congress adjourned in June 1794, Clark retired from public life. “In whatever capacity he acted as a public servant, he attracted the respect and admiration of the community, by his punctuality, his integrity, and perseverance.
That autumn, he suffered sun stroke and died shortly thereafter. He is buried at Rahway where his grave marker bears this inscription: “Firm and decided as a patriot, zealous and faithful as a friend to the public, he loved his country, and adhered to her cause in the darkest hours of her struggles against oppression.” 1
1 “Abraham Clark,” Signers of the Declaration of Independence, ushistory.org; “Abraham Clark,” colonialhall.com/clark/clark.php; “Abraham Clark,” Biographical Sketches, Signers of the Declaration, National Park Service, nps.gov/history/history/online_books/declaration/bio7.htm