DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) was a New York statesman and one of the most ardent advocates for the construction of the Erie Canal. Clinton attended Columbia and was admitted to the New York bar in 1788. Introduced into politics by his uncle, New York Governor George Clinton, he served in the state assembly and senate before serving briefly in the United States Senate in 1802. He was elected mayor of New York City in 1803 and filled this office for ten of the next twelve years. He served as governor of the state from 1817 to 1823 and 1825 to 1828.
As commissioner for the Erie Canal project from 1810 to 1824, Clinton was responsible for surveying the route for the proposed waterway. As governor, he convinced the state legislature to provide funding for the canal's construction. So linked were the canal and governor in the public's eye, the canal was labeled "Clinton's Big Ditch" by their critics. Clinton presided over the opening of the canal in 1825 and proved to be more far-sighted than canal opponents. Construction costs were soon recovered by tolls collected for canal use and within just a few years the economy of the state boomed as a result of improved inland transportation.