Abraham Clark, like so many of his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence, was a man of unfailing vision, vigilant spirit, commitment to his cause, and vibrant faith. He dedicated his life to being a public servant, in a time when private men were called to be public men in order to survive against the coming storm. I wonder how many of the Founders would have led private lives, had Britain not abused her colonies. Just think of Washington's love for his home at Mount Vernon, or General Greene's dedication to his farm, "Mulberry Grove." Even though Abraham Clark was raised on a farm, his small constitution could not bear up under the physical strain of 18th century farming. Accordingly, he gave his life to the service of others, and became known as "the poor man's counselor."
Abraham Clark was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey on February 15, 1726 as the only son of Thomas Clark. His early education was in keeping with respectable English education of the time, and he developed a liking for mathematics and civil law. Because he was physically weak, Clark became a surveyor, transferer of titles, and legal adviser. He also became a vigilant watcher of current events. His generosity in giving free legal advice was what earned him the honorable, yet not too lofty title of "the poor man's counselor." When Clark was twenty two years old, he married Sarah Hetfield. Sarah's father was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, which was shepherded by none other than Rev. James Caldwell, who was known as the "Fighting Chaplain." Mr. and Mrs. Clark gave much to this church, but the church gave Clark much of his freedom-loving character.
Among his notable positions in public office, Clark was High Sheriff of Essex County, clerk of the Colonial Assembly at Amboy, elected to Congress each year up through 1783, elected again to Congress in 1788, elected to the New Jersey State Legislature from 1784-1787, commissioner to settle New Jersey accounts with the United States in 1789 and 1790, and elected again to US Congress in 1790. However, Clark's signature on the Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most notable accomplishment of his life. On June 21, 1776, Clark was elected along with Richard Stockton, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, and Dr. John Witherspoon by the provincial congress to be a delegate to declare the united colonies free from English rule. As all of the signers must have felt, Clark didn't know where independence would lead him. On August 2, 1776, Clark wrote:
"As to my title, I know not yet whether it will be honorable or dishonorable; the issue of the war must settle it. Perhaps our Congress will be exalted on a high gallows. We were truly brought to the case of the three lepers; if we continued in the state we were in, it was evident we must perish; if we declared Independence we might be saved - we could but perish . . . Nothing short of the power of God can save us. . . I think an interposing Providence hath been evident in all the events that necessarily led us to what we are. . independent states."From the human perspective, life was uncertain. Clark's Presbyterian upbringing, with its belief in providence, was all that he had to grab on to in his life. And yet the American cause prevailed, and Clark's title is one of honor; an example of legitimate resistance to tyranny for all future generations. Clark was also a proponent of a united colonial government, and was asked to serve at the Constitutional Convention. However, ill health prevented him from attending. On June 9th, 1794, Clark retired from public service in Congress, but on September 15th of that same year suddenly died of a sun stroke at the age of sixty-nine. His wife, having outlived her husband by a full ten years, is now buried beside him in the church yard of Rahway. His tombstone reads:
Firm and decided as a patriot,Abraham Clark stands out as a man of generous spirit and unending hope in a world that was uncertain and cold. After signing the Declaration, he wrote these assuring words that ought to be remembered as encouragement for those of all ages seeking liberty:
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
"Our Declaration of Independence I dare say you have seen; a few weeks will probably determine our fate: perfect freedom or absolute slavery; to some of us, freedom or a halter. Our fates are in the hands of an Almighty God, to whom I can with pleasure confide my own. He can save us or destroy us. His counsels are fixed, and can not be disappointed. All His designs will be accomplished."
Image from Wikipedia