Joseph C. Yates

7th Governor, 1823-1824
Joseph C. Yates

Joseph C. Yates (1768–1837) was the first mayor of his birthplace, Schenectady, New York, and was a founding trustee of Union College. His long career in government included service as a New York State Senator and a State Supreme Court justice. In 1822, then-United States Senator Martin Van Buren convinced Yates to challenge incumbent Governor De Witt Clinton. After a short-lived victory, Yates lost to Clinton just two years later and supported Clinton's failed presidential bid in 1812. Yates County is named in his honor.
Painted portrait of Joseph C. Yates
About the Artist


Harold Mott-Smith (1872–1948) studied art in France and returned to live in Schenectady, becoming General Electric’s art director until he retired in 1938. This portrait is likely based on an original by John Vanderlyn, which hangs in New York’s City Hall.

On loan from the Schenectady County Historical Society.


open full portrait view

From The Encyclopedia of New York State

Yates, Joseph C(hristopher) (b Schenectady, 9 Nov 1768; d Schenectady, 19 Mar 1837). Governor.

Son of patriot merchant and surveyor Christopher Yates and Jane Bradt, he studied with tutors and at local schools before clerking with Albany attorney Peter W. Yates. In 1791 he began a Schenectady law practice. Yates helped found Union College and served as mayor of Schenectady (1798–1808) and New York State senator (1805–7) before becoming a New York State Supreme Court justice in 1808. A presidential elector for De Witt Clinton in 1812, Yates refused to run for governor against Clinton in 1817. Shifting toward Clinton’s Bucktail Republican opposition in 1821, Yates supported revision of the 1777 Constitution; he appeared comfortable with the constitutional convention’s elimination of the Council of Appointment and Council of Revision. Nominated for governor by an 1822 Bucktail caucus, he won easily. Yates subsequently incurred opposition by failing initially to endorse the popular election of presidential electors under a state law, by recommending two anti-Bucktails to the supreme court, and because he was obliged to settle disputed nominations of justices of the peace.

When the Bucktails rejected him as their gubernatorial candidate in 1824, Yates called a special session to pass an electoral law, but it failed. The People’s Party successfully backed De Witt Clinton, and Yates retired to Schenectady. He served as a presidential elector for Andrew Jackson in 1828 and presided over a meeting called in 1832 to protest the rejection of Martin Van Buren’s nomination as minister to Great Britain. Yates’s last years were spent in retirement, disturbed, according to James Kent, by a ward’s charges that he had behaved fraudulently as a guardian.


Hanyan, Craig, with Mary Hanyan.De Witt Clinton and the Rise of the People’s Men (Montreal: McGill- Queen’s Univ Press, 1996)
Craig and Mary L. Hanyan


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1736].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.