Economic Vision of Abraham Clark

Emancipation from the “yoke of British oppression,” although a cause for rejoicing, therefore represented to Abraham Clark only a stage in the securing of independence. “Let us not stop here,” he wrote, “or . . . we may awake in fetters, more grievous than the yoke we have shaken off.” 1 The state was in danger of falling into the “power of the merciless.” He summoned the “inhabitants of New Jersey” to face up to their new “crisis.” “Beware,” he addressed them, “lest although we have knocked off the shackles of British tyranny we should suffer ourselves to be duped into as bad a situation by artful interested designing men.” 1

The concept of tyranny had wider dimensions for Clark than for most of his contemporaries. Political oppression . . . could be countered by a judicious balancing of governmental power. Clark espoused the notion of constitutional safeguards for republican government, but he held that tyranny could also rise from economic power. His zeal for rescuing the indebted farmers stemmed from this belief. Impoverishment, he feared, would destroy the independence of the citizenry.  .  . . 1

“His social-political point of view, through life, resembled that of a seventeenth century English ‘Leveller.’” 2 He worried that “individual citizens would lose political freedom to wealthier ones who controlled their economic destiny.” 1

He believed that people cannot be free unless they are economically independent, and he saw participation in government as essential to ensuring that freedom.

1. Abraham Clark and The Quest for Equality in the Revolutionary Era 1774-1794, , by Ruth Bogin, Fairleigh-Dickinson University, 1982

2. Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 1-2, Brearly-Cushing, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1929