GEORGE CLYMER was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 16, 1739. His parents died when he was very young, and he was raised by an uncle, the merchant William Coleman. Mr. Coleman had, according to Benjamin Franklin, “the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with.” Under his uncle’s guidance, young George’s appreciation of philosophy and fine literature flourished. After attending the College of Pennsylvania, he entered his uncle’s business. In 1765 he married Elizabeth Meredith, whose father was also a merchant. Eventually, Clymer formed a partnership with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, and the company became known as “Merediths & Clymer”. He first met George Washington in his father-in-law’s house, and they formed a lasting friendship.
A modest man with a cool temperament, Clymer never actively sought public office; but for almost twenty years he served as a representative of the people. Throughout, he demonstrated a consistent spirit of republicanism and unusual warmth of devotion for the public’s well being. His devotion to public service led him to become one of the five Pennsylvanians elected to the first Congress in July 1776.
While not known for his public speaking abilities, George Clymer was well informed, a witty conversationalist, and a good writer. At the time he was among those who signed the Declaration of Independence, Clymer was a prosperous merchant who was praised as one of the wisest of all delegates —with perhaps one exception, Benjamin Franklin. His “dearest wish” became fulfilled when he signed the Declaration.
In December 1776, when the members of Congress were forced to flee from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Clymer, George Walton, and Robert Morris remained behind to carry on remaining congressional business. After the British victory at the Battle of Brandywine, British troops advancing on Philadelphia detoured for the purpose of vandalizing Clymer's home in Chester County, about 25 miles outside of the city. His wife and children hid safely in the woods nearby.
As a member of the first Congress under the Constitution, Clymer remained loyal to his friend George Washington, but he tended to side with John Madison against Alexander Hamilton in their famous disputes. When Clymer declined re-election to the Congress, he was appointed by Washington as head of the excise tax department for Pennsylvania. He found the office distasteful and resigned after his son Meredith, who was in the army units dispatched against the Whiskey Rebels in 1794, died in Pittsburgh. Clymer’s last public service was to serve as a member of the commission that negotiated a treaty in 1796 with the Cherokee and Creek Indians in Georgia.
In his retirement, Clymer devoted himself to fine arts and scientific agriculture. He had nine children by his marriage to Elizabeth Meredith, of whom five survived infancy. George Clymer died at his Philadelphia home on January 23, 1813, at the age of seventy-three.
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