- Elizabethtown, New Jersey
- February 15, 1726 – Born
Life Sketch from “Lives of the Signers”
Early Life and EducationAbraham Clark was born at Elizabethtown, in New Jersey, on the fifteenth of February, 1726. He was the only child of his parents, and was brought up in the employment of his father, a farmer. He was quite studious, but his early education was considerably neglected. In fact, being an only child, he was, as is too frequently the case, petted, and allowed to follow the guide of his inclinations; and hence his education might be termed miscellaneous. A slender constitution warned him that he could not pursue, snccessfully, the rough labor of a farm, and he turned his attention to the study of mathematics, and of law. He became a good practical surveyor; and though he never went through a course of legal study, yet he transacted a good deal of law business in Elizabethtown for a number of years, particularly in the drawing up of deeds, mortgages, and other legal papers. He acquired the universal esteem and confidence of the people, and received the enviable title of “Poor man’s Counsellor.” The course of Mr. Clark’s life, his love of study, and the generosity of his character, naturally rendered him popular. His opinion was valued, and often sought, even beyond the circle within which be lived. He was called to fill various respectable offices, the duties of which he discharged with great fidelity; and thus rendered himself highly useful in the community in which he lived.
Political ActivityMr. Clark held several offices under the royal government, among which was that of sheriff of Essex county; and in all of them he exhibited great fidelity. But when the question of political freedom or slavery was presented to his mind, he did not for a moment hesitate in his choice, but boldly espoused the republican cause. He was placed upon the first committee of vigilance organized in New Jersey, and was distinguished for his watchfulness and untiring activity.
Delegate to the Continental CongressIn 1776, Mr. Clark was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, and having ample instruction from the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, he was not at all at a loss to know how to vote for his constituents, when the proposition of Independence was brought forth. He first look his seat in that body, in June, and he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence, although, like the rest of his colleagues from New Jersey, he was thus jeoparding the safety of his property, and lives of himself and family. He remained an active member of the General Congress until peace was proclaimed, in 1783, with the exception of one term. Two or three of the sons of Mr. Clark were officers in the army, during the revolutionary struggle. Unfortunately they were captured by the enemy. During a part of their captivity, their sufferings were extreme, being confined in the notorious prison ship, Jersey. 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. Mr. Clark was a warm partisan, and his feelings of attachment or repulsion were very strong. He had witnessed so much of the cruelty and oppressions of Great Britain, in her war upon the declared freedom of the Colonies, that his feelings of hatred could not be soothed by the treaty of peace, although he patriotically acquiesced in whatever tended to his country’s good. He therefore took sides with France when questions concerning her came up in Congress; and, early in 1794, he laid before Congress a resolution for suspending all intercourse with Great Britain, until every item of the treaty of peace should be complied with. It was not sanctioned by Congress.
Post-Revolutionary WarIn 1787 he was elected a member of the general convention, which framed the constitution; but in consequence of ill health, was prevented from uniting in the deliberations of that body. To the constitution, as originally proposed, lie had serious objections. These, however, were removed by subsequent amendments; but his enemies took advantage of his objections, and for a time he was placed in the minority in the elections of New Jersey. His popularity, however, again revived, and he was elected a representative in the second congress, under the federal constitution; an appointment which he continued to hold until a short time previous to his death. On the adjournment of congress in June, 1794, Mr. Clark finally retired from public life. He did not live long, however, to enjoy even the limited comforts he possessed. In the autumn of the same year a stroke of the sun put a period to his mortal existence, in the space of two hours. He was already, however, an old man, having attained to his sixty-ninth year. The church yard at Rahway contains his mortal remains, and the church of that place will long have reason to remember his benefactions. A marble slab marks the place where this useful and excellent man lies deposited, and the following inscription upon it, records the distinguished traits of his character:
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. 1His 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. 2