Robert R. Livingston

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Founding Fathers
Robert R. Livingston.jpg
Robert R. Livingston
State New York
Religion Episcopalian[1]
Founding Documents Declaration of Independence

Robert Robert Livingston was a member of the Continental Congress representing New York where he was on the "Declaration Committee," which drafted the Declaration of Independence. He was also on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation, and he helped to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

Other members of the Declaration Committee included Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and John Adams of Massachusetts. They were appointed by Congress on June 11, 1776, to draft a declaration in anticipation of an expected vote in favor of American independence, which occurred on July 2.

He was often times referred to as "The Chancellor" for his long-standing legal career.[2]

Early life

He was born in the city of New York on the 27th of November, 1746, and at the age of eighteen years was graduated from King's, now Columbia College, then under the presidency of Myles Cooper. He next studied law under William Smith, the historian, and later in the office of his kinsman, Governor William Livingston, of New Jersey.

In 1773 he was admitted to the bar, and for a short time was a business partner of John Jay. He met with great success in the practice of law, and was appointed Recorder of the City of New York, under the Crown, in 1773 ; this office he retained but two years, losing it through his attachment to liberty and his active sympathy with the revolutionary spirit of his countrymen, which took form in deeds in 1775.


He was sent a delegate from New York to the Congress of 1776, and had the honor of being chosen one of a committee of five to draft the Declaration of Independence; which, owing to absence, he was prevented from signing, being called away to New York to attend the Provincial Congress, of which he was a member.

On the 8th July, 1776, he took his seat in the Provincial Convention—which on the same day changed the title of the Province to that of the State of New York—and was appointed on the committee to draw up a State Constitution.

New York

During the Revolution he signalized himself by his zeal and efficiency in the cause of independence, and he ranks with the most illustrious characters of that notable period.

He was the first Chancellor of the State of New York, and held that high position from 1777 until February, 1801. In this official capacity he had the honor to administer the oath of office to Washington, on his inauguration as first President of the United States. The ceremony took place at the City Hall, then fronting on Wall street, in this city, which had been specially fitted up for the reception of Congress. On this memorable occasion, Chancellor Livingston, after having administered the oath, exclaimed in deep and impressive tones, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States."

From August, 1781, to August, 1783, he ably filled the important office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the United States. In 1788 he was made Chairman of the New York Convention to consider the United States Constitution, and was principally instrumental in procuring its adoption.

French Minister

For a more detailed treatment, see Louisiana Purchase.

Chancellor Livingston was tendered the post of Minister to France by President Washington, but saw fit to decline its acceptance; at a later period, however, after refusing a position as Secretary of the Navy in the cabinet of President Jefferson, he was prevailed upon to undertake the mission to France, and was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to that government in 1801, resigning the Chancellorship of New York to accept the post abroad. Upon his arrival in France, he was received by Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul. His successfully negotiated the cession of Louisiana to the United States, which through his negotiations took place in 1803. Although Mr. Monroe was also a member of the commission appointed to arrange this matter with the French government, he did not arrive in Paris until Mr. Livingston had nearly perfected and definitely settled the terms of the cession.

The share of Monroe in the transaction was principally in affixing his signature as one of the commission to the contract between the two governments. Minister Livingston was also successful in procuring a settlement for the numerous spoliations by the French on our commerce; but the Congress of the United States, to this day, has failed to distribute to its rightful owners the money received under that settlement. Having resigned his position at the French capital, he traveled extensively in Europe.


While in Paris he made the acquaintance of Robert Fulton, and a warm friendship grew up between them, and together they successfully developed a plan of steam navigation. Towards the close of the last century, Mr. Livingston became deeply impressed with the great advantages which must occur to commerce from the application of steam to navigation. He obtained from the Legislature of the State of New York the exclusive right to navigate its waters by steam power for a period of twenty years, and then constructed a boat of thirty tons burden, with which he succeeded in making three miles an hour.

Upon the return of Livingston and Fulton to America, their experiments were continued, and in 1807 the "Clermont" was built and launched upon the Hudson River, where it accomplished five miles an hour. This success clearly demonstrated the feasibility of the propulsion of vessels by the aid of steam, and effected a complete revolution in the art of navigation.

He also contributed largely to the literature of the day on this subject, and among his published works are an "Essay on Agriculture" and an "Essay on Sheep." His last work, written a few days previous to his death, was devoted to agriculture, and was published in Brewster's Encyclopaedia.

Death and legacy

After a most useful, active and patriotic career, he passed from this life on the 26th of February, 1813, at his seat at Clermont, in the sixty-sixth year of his age.

Under the provisions of an Act of Congress, each State is entitled to place the statues of two of its most eminent citizens in the Capitol at Washington.

The State of New York having made two selections, that of George Clinton and Chancellor Livingston, for this high honor. The nomination receiving the approval of the legislative body, Mr. E. D. Palmer, a sculptor of note residing at Albany, was selected to execute the statue, which was placed in the old Representatives' Hall in the Capitol at Washington, where it now stands in company with those of Hamilton, Clinton, Jefferson, Trumbull, and other of the most celebrated men of the nation. This statue, which has been pronounced by competent judges one of the finest in the collection, is in bronze, and of colossal size. The Chancellor is represented standing erect, his form mantled by his robe of office, which falls in graceful folds from his broad shoulders. The right hand bears a scroll inscribed " Louisiana," suggestive of his great diplomatic achievement, which secured for the United States the immense area of territory now comprised within the boundaries of the six States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas.


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