Arthur St. Clair (1736-1818)
9th President of the United States

No man in American History has obtained more honors and has suffered more rejections in his lifetime than Arthur St. Clair. During his long life, he reached the pinnacle of success many times only to see his fame and fortunes erode. This man stepped forward during the American Revolution and assumed command, leading our new nation in difficult times, but circumstances beyond his control prevented him from being considered a great hero of the New Republic. A person of lesser fortitude would not have been able to keep bouncing back each time fate knocked him down. Like the EverReady Rabbit, Arthur St. Clair kept marching forward beating of his drum for personal recognition.

Early Life

St. Clair was born in Scotland and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. At the age of 21, he purchased a commission in the British Army and came to North America to fight the French and Indians. He was involved in the capture of Louisburg, Nova Scotia and later served under General Wolf in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. In 1762, St. Clair retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant and with funds from his father-in-law, Governor Bowdoin of Massachusetts, purchased 400 acres of land in the Ligonier Valley of Pennsylvania. This made him the largest land owner west of the Appalachian Mountains. Due to St. Clair's prominence, the governor of Pennsylvania made St. Clair his assistant for the frontier areas of the colony. St. Clair also served as a member of the Westmoreland County court beginning in 1773. This position often put St. Clair at the center of controversy as both Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed land in the Ohio Country, including Fort Pitt (modern Pittsburgh). He hoped to see Pennsylvania benefit from the fur trade, while the Virginians wished to settle the Indians' land. St. Clair tried to win control of Ohio for his state, but Virginia eventually emerged as the victor in their respective battles. St. Clair also sought friendlier relationships with the Indians of the Ohio Country and his actions in favor of the Indians may have spared settlers in western Pennsylvania some of the natives' wrath during Lord Dunmore's War in 1774.

Revolutionary War

By the mid-1770s, St. Clair considered himself more of an American than a British subject. In January 1776, he accepted a commission in the Continental Army as a colonel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment. He was appointed a brigadier general in August 1776, and was sent by Gen. George Washington to help organize the New Jersey militia. He took part in Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 and the capture of Trenton. Many biographers credit St. Clair with the strategy which led to Washington's capture of Princeton, New Jersey in the following days.

In April 1777, 41 year old Arthur St. Clair was sent to defend Fort Ticonderoga. His small garrison could not resist British Gen. John Burgoyne's larger force in the Saratoga Campaign. St. Clair was forced to retreat at the Battle of Ticonderoga on July 5, 1777. He withdrew his forces and played no further part in the campaign. In 1778 he was court-martialed for the loss of Ticonderoga. The court exonerated him and he returned to duty, although he was no longer given any battlefield commands. He still saw action, however, as an aide-de-camp to Washington, who retained a high opinion of him. St. Clair was at Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis surrendered. (continued on the next page)

President of Congress

St. Clair was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress where chaos ruled because the states refused to settle land disputes or contribute to the federal government. Early in 1787 the Delegates finally gathered into a quorum and elected Arthur St. Clair as the 9th President of the United States Congress under the Articles of Confederation. St. Clair's tenure as president (February 2, 1787 – to October 29, 1787) was during an effective period, as Congress enacted both the Northwest Ordinance and the current United States Constitution.

Northwest Territory

Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created the Northwest Territory, General St. Clair was appointed governor of what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, along with parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. He named Cincinnati, Ohio after the Society of the Cincinnati, and it was there that he established his home. As Governor, he sought to end Native American claims to Ohio land and to clear the way for white settlement. In 1789, he succeeded in getting a few Indian Tribes to sign the Treaty of Fort Harmar, but most of the Indians refused to honor the treaty. Mutual hostilities led to a campaign by General Josiah Harmar, whose 1,500 militiamen were defeated by the Indians in October 1790.
In 1791, St. Clair succeeded Harmar as the highest ranking general of the
United States Army. He personally led a punitive expedition against the warring Indians. This force advanced to the location of Indian settlements on the Wabash River, but on November 4 they were routed in battle by a tribal confederation. More than 600 soldiers and scores of women and children were killed in the battle, called St. Clair's Defeat, the "Columbia Massacre," or the "Battle of the Wabash." It was the greatest defeat of the American army by Native Americans in history. After this debacle, he resigned from the army at the request of President Washington, but continued to serve as Governor of the Northwest Territory.
Federalist, St. Clair hoped to see two states made of the Ohio Territory in order to increase Federalist power in Congress. However, he was resented by Ohio Democratic-Republicans for what they perceived as his partisanship, high-handedness and arrogance in office. In 1802, his opposition to plans for Ohio statehood led President Thomas Jefferson to remove him from office as territorial governor. He thus played no part in the organizing of the state of Ohio in 1803.

Death and Legacy

Arthur St. Clair returned to his home in Pennsylvania where he established a foundry and began making stoves and castings. The United States Congress failed to reimburse him for expenditures he had made while serving as governor of the Northwest Territory. He died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1818 in poverty; his vast wealth dissipated by generous gifts and loans to friends. St. Clair's remains are buried in a public park in downtown Greensburg that bears his name. A portion of The Hermitage, St. Clair's home in Youngstown, Pennsylvania was later moved to Ligonier, where it is now preserved as a museum.