Abraham Clark Biography
It is unfortunately the fact, in respect to many of the distinguished actors in the revolutionary drama, but especially in reference to the subject of this memoir, that but few incidents of their lives have been preserved. The truth is, that although men of exalted patriotism, who filled their respective duties, both in public and private life, with great honor to themselves and benefit to all around them, they were naturally unobtrusive and unambitious. The incidents of their lives were, indeed, few. Some of them lived in retirement, pursuing the "even tenor of their way," nor was the regularity of their lives often interrupted, except, perhaps, by an attendance upon congress, or by the discharge of some minor civil office in the community.
These remarks apply with some justice to Mr. Clark, but perhaps not with more force, than to several others, who stand enrolled among the signers of the declaration of independence.
Mr. Clark was a native of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he was born, on the fifteenth of February, 1726. His father's name was Thomas Clark, of whom he was an only child. His early education, although confined to English branches of study, was respectable. For the mathematics and the civil law he is said to have discovered an early predilection.
He was bred a farmer; but his constitution being inadequate to the labors of the field, he turned his attention to surveying, conveyancing, and imparting legal advice. For this last service he was well qualified; and as he gave advice gratuitously, he was called, "the poor man's counselor."
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.
At an early period of the revolution, as he had formed his opinion on the great question, which divided the British government and the American colonies, be was appointed one, of the committee of public safety; and some time after was elected by the provincial congress, in conjunction with the gentlemen, a sketch of whose lives has already been given, a delegate to the continental congress.
Of this body he was a member, for a considerable period and was conspicuous among his colleagues from New Jersey, A few days after he took his seat for the first time, as a member of congress, he was called upon to vote for, or against, the proclamation of independence. But he was at no loss on which aide to throw his influence. 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.
Mr. Clark frequently, after this time, represented New Jersey in the national councils. He was also often a member of the state legislature. But in whatever capacity he acted as a public servant, be attracted the respect and admiration of the community, by his punctuality, his integrity, and perseverance.
In 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. 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.
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
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich