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Robert Livingston


Very few of the American settlers were descendants of aristocratic families, except the cavaliers of Virginia, and as a general rule, they were staunch republicans when the great political question of right and power was to be decided between the colonists and Great Britain. Robert Livingston, the first of the name who emigrated to America, was a lineal descendant of the Earl of Livingstone,1 of Scotland. From him descended the family of that name so numerous at the period of the Revolution, and since, and who were all remarkable for their unflinching patriotism during the great struggle. Robert R. Livingston was a great grandson of the first "lord of the manor."2 To the careful research and accurate pen of John W. Francis, M.D., we are indebted for a record of the chief events of his life. He was born in the city of New York, in 1747, and was educated at King's (now Columbia) College, where he was graduated in 1764. He studied law under the guidance of William Smith, chief justice of New York, and became an eminent practitioner of that profession.

His zeal for popular liberty was thoroughly awakened during the excitement incident to the Stamp Act; and he was an early participant in those movements which resulted in revolution. The brave General Montgomery, who fell at Quebec, had married his sister, and that event intensified his devotion to the republican cause. In 1776, he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, at the same time holding the office of delegate in the Provincial Congress of New York. He was appointed one of the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence, but, being called to duties at home, before the final vote was taken, his name does not appear upon that instrument.

Mr. Livingston was made Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State) when the new organization of government, under the Articles of Confederation, was completed; and performed the duties of that station with rare ability, until 1783, when he was appointed Chancellor of the State of New York. He was a warm supporter of the Federal Constitution, in the New York convention held at Poughkeepsie in 1788, to consider it; and on the 30th of April, the following year, he administered the oath of office to Washington, the first President of the United States. In 1801, Mr. Jefferson appointed him resident minister at the court of Napoleon, and he successfully negotiated the purchase of Louisiana from the French, for fifteen millions of dollars. By his enlightened patronage of Robert Fulton, in his experiments in steam navigation, he conferred a lasting benefit on mankind, and his name will always be honorably associated with that inventor, and the wonderful results of those experiments. Chancellor Livingston died at his seat, at Clermont, in Columbia county, on the 26th of February, 1813, in the sixty-sixth years of his age. "His person," says Dr. Francis, who knew him intimately, "was tall and commanding, and of patrician dignity. Gentle and courteous in his manners, pure and upright in his morals, his benefactions to the poor were numerous and unostentatious. In his life, he was without reproach—in death, victorious over its terrors."

1 He had introduced a series of resolutions, highly tinctured with rebellions doctrines, and supported them with his wonderful eloquence. The house was greatly excited; and when, at length, he alluded to tyrants, and said, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third-" there was a cry of "Treason! Treason!" He paused a moment, and then said, "may profit by their example. If that be Treason, make the most of it."

2 The Manor of Livingston, in Columbia county, Now York. It was one of those manorial estates, established under the patroon privileges of the Dutch rule in that province. See note 1, page 260.

Source: Lossing, Benson J. Eminent Americans: Comprising Brief Biographies of Leading Statesmen, Patriots, Orators and others, Men and Women, Who Have Made American History. New York: John B. Alden, 1883. Pages 105-106.


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Last modified December 24, 2004