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Jun 1, 1979

Abraham Clark’s Radical Republicanism

“Abraham Clark, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was probably one of the more radical republicans of the Revolutionary era.”

“New Jersey’s True Policy: The Radical Republican Vision of Abraham Clark.” William and Mary Quarterly 35 (January 1978): 100–109.

Abraham Clark, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was probably one of the more radical republicans of the Revolutionary era. In many ways Clark presaged the Shaysites, the radical Jacksonians, and even the Knights of Labor and the Grangers. He was four-square behind debtors, farmers, and mechanics, and dead-set against speculators, ministers, physicians, tavernkeepers, lawyers, and merchants. He hoped that issuing paper currency as legal tender in New Jersey might erase the imbalance.

Toward this end, Clark possessed an attitude toward both the legislature and the people that would have made Federalists tremble. On the principles of justice and equity, he argued that the legislature had the obligation to “interfere” in situations “where combination is formed against the general good.” He informed his colleagues: “Your business is to help the feeble against the mighty, and deliver the oppressed out of the hands of the oppressor.” Legislatures ought to design policies that would “avoid that inequality of property which is detrimental in a republican government.”

To the people of New Jersey, Clark exhorted them to “stand no longer idle” but to mobilize against the “moneyed men, merchants and lawyers,” who were very industrious in seeking their goals. However, he warned against further than humble petition, arguing that in the next election, they could throw the rascals out.