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Robert R. Livingston

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Robert Livingston
7th United States Minister to France
In office
December 6, 1801 – November 18, 1804
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byCharles Cotesworth Pinckney
Succeeded byJohn Armstrong
1st United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs
In office
October 20, 1781 – June 4, 1783
Appointed byCongress of the Confederation
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJohn Jay
1st Chancellor of New York
In office
July 30, 1777 – June 30, 1801
GovernorGeorge Clinton
John Jay
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJohn Lansing
Personal details
Born(1746-11-27)November 27, 1746
New York City, New York, British America
DiedFebruary 26, 1813(1813-02-26) (aged 66)
Clermont, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Mary Stevens
(m. 1770)
RelativesRobert Livingston (father)
Edward Livingston (brother)
Robert Livingston (grandfather)
EducationColumbia College (BA)

Robert Robert[a] Livingston (November 27, 1746 (Old Style November 16) – February 26, 1813) was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat from New York, as well as a Founding Father of the United States. He was known as "The Chancellor" after the high New York state legal office he held for 25 years. He was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman, but was recalled by the state of New York before he could sign the document. Livingston administered the oath of office to George Washington when he assumed the presidency April 30, 1789. Livingston was also elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1801.[1]

Early life[edit]

Livingston was the eldest son of Judge Robert Livingston (1718–1775) and Margaret (née Beekman) Livingston, uniting two wealthy Hudson River Valley families. He had three brothers and five sisters, all of whom wed and made their homes on the Hudson River near the family seat at Clermont Manor. Among his siblings were his younger brother, Edward Livingston (1764-1836), who also served as U.S. Minister to France, his sister Gertrude Livingston (1757–1833), who married Governor Morgan Lewis (1754–1844), sister Janet Livingston (d. 1824), who married Richard Montgomery (1738–1775), sister Alida Livingston (1761–1822), who married John Armstrong, Jr. (1758–1843) (who succeeded him as U.S. Minister to France), and sister Joanna Livingston (1759–1827), who married Peter R. Livingston (1766–1847).[2]

His paternal grandparents were Robert Livingston (1688–1775) of Clermont and Margaret Howarden (1693–1758). His great-grandparents were Robert Livingston the Elder (1654–1728) and Alida (née Schuyler) Van Rensselaer Livingston, daughter of Philip Pieterse Schuyler (1628–1683). His grand-uncle was Philip Livingston (1686–1749), the 2nd Lord of Livingston Manor.[3] Livingston, a member of a large and prominent family, was known for continually quarreling with his relatives.[4]

Livingston graduated from King's College[b] in June 1765 and was admitted to the bar in 1773.[5][6]


Recorder of New York City[edit]

In October 1773, Livingston was appointed recorder of New York City but soon thereafter identified himself with the anti-colonial Whig Party and was replaced a few months later by John Watts, Jr.

Chancellor of New York[edit]

On July 30, 1777, Livingston became the first chancellor of New York, which was then the highest judicial officer in the state. Concurrently, he served from 1781 to 1783 as the first United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation. Livingston administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington at his first inauguration on April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City, which was then the nation's capital.

In 1789, Livingston joined the Jeffersonian Republicans (later known as the Democratic-Republicans), forming an uneasy alliance with his previous rival George Clinton and Aaron Burr, then a political newcomer.[7] Livingston opposed the Jay Treaty and other initiatives of the Federalist Party, founded and led by his former colleagues Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. He ran for governor of New York as a Democratic-Republican, unsuccessfully challenging incumbent governor John Jay in the 1798 election.[8]

After serving as chancellor for almost 24 years, Livingston left office on June 30, 1801. During that period, he became nationally known by his title alone as "The Chancellor", and even after leaving office, he was respectfully addressed as Chancellor Livingston for the remainder of his life.

Declaration of Independence[edit]

The Committee of Five stands at the center of John Trumbull's 1817 painting Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is depicted presenting the draft Declaration to Congress with Benjamin Franklin at his side. Behind them are, from left to right, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Livingston.
Livingston is depicted on the 1953 postage stamp commemorating the signing of the Louisiana Purchase

On June 11, 1776, Livingston was appointed to a committee of the Second Continental Congress, known as the Committee of Five, which was given the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. After establishing a general outline for the document, the committee decided that Jefferson would write the first draft.[9] The committee reviewed Jefferson's draft, making extensive changes,[10] before presenting Jefferson's revised draft to Congress on June 28, 1776. Before he could sign the final version of the Declaration, Livingston was recalled by his state. However, he sent his cousin, Philip Livingston, to sign the document in his place. Another cousin, William Livingston, would go on to sign the United States Constitution.

U.S. Minister to France[edit]

Following Thomas Jefferson's election as President of the United States, once Jefferson became president on March 4, 1801, he appointed Livingston U.S. minister to France. Serving from 1801 to 1804, Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase agreement in 1803, Livingston made this memorable statement:

We have lived long but this is the noblest work of our whole lives ... The United States takes rank this day among the first powers of the world.[11]

During his time as U.S. minister to France, Livingston met Robert Fulton, with whom he developed the first viable steamboat, the North River Steamboat, whose home port was at the Livingston family home of Clermont Manor in the town of Clermont, New York. On her maiden voyage, she left New York City with him as a passenger, stopped briefly at Clermont Manor, and continued to Albany up the Hudson River, completing in just under 60 hours a journey that had previously taken nearly a week by sloop sailboat. In 1811, Fulton and Livingston became members of the Erie Canal Commission.

Freemasonry and the Society of Cincinnati[edit]

Livingston was a Freemason, and in 1784, he was appointed the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York, retaining this title until 1801. The Grand Lodge's library in Manhattan bears his name. The Bible Livingston used to administer the oath of office to President Washington is owned by St. John's Lodge No. 1 and is still used today when the Grand Master is sworn in, and, by request, when a President of the United States is sworn in.

On July 4, 1786, he was part of the second group elected as honorary members of the New York Society of the Cincinnati, along with Chief Justice Richard Morris, Judge James Duane, Continental Congressman William Duer, and Justice John Sloss Hobart.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Margaret Beekman Livingston, mother of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston

On September 9, 1770, Livingston married Mary Stevens (1751–1814), the daughter of Continental Congressman John Stevens and sister of the inventor John Stevens III.[13] Following their marriage, he built a home south of Clermont, called Belvedere, which was burned to the ground along with Clermont in 1777 by the British Army under General John Burgoyne. In 1794, he built a new home called New Clermont, which was subsequently renamed Arryl House, a phonetic spelling of his initials "RRL", which was deemed "the most commodious home in America" and contained a library of four thousand volumes.[14][15] Together, Robert and Mary were the parents of:[2]


Livingston died on February 26, 1813, and was buried in the Clermont Livingston vault at St. Paul's Church in Tivoli, New York.

Livingston family[edit]

Through his eldest daughter Elizabeth he was the grandfather of four:

  • Margaret Livingston (1808–1874), who married David Augustus Clarkson (1793–1850)[16]
  • Elizabeth Livingston (1813–1896), who married Edward Hunter Ludlow (1810–1884)[17]
  • Clermont Livingston (1817–1895), who married Cornelia Livingston (1824–1851)[13]
  • Robert Edward Livingston (1820–1889), who married Susan Maria Clarkson de Peyster (1823–1910)[18][19]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Robert Livingston
Issue of 1904
Map of Louisiana Purchase
Issue of 1904
The Jefferson Memorial's pediment and its sculpture of the Committee of Five

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ At the time, the Livingstons used their father's first names as middle names to distinguish the numerous members of the family, as a kind of patronymic. Since Robert and his father had the same name, he never spelled out the middle name but always used only the initial.
  2. ^ King's College was renamed Columbia College of Columbia University following the American Revolution in 1784.


  1. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  2. ^ a b Livingston, Edwin Brockholst (1910). The Livingstons of Livingston Manor: Being the History of that Branch of the Scottish House of Callendar which Settled in the English Province of New York During the Reign of Charles the Second; and Also Including an Account of Robert Livingston of Albany, "The Nephew," a Settler in the Same Province and His Principal Descendants. Knickerbocker Press. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  3. ^ "Livingston, Robert R. (1718–1775), [The Petition of Michael Theyser of the City of New York, Innkeeper]". www.gilderlehrman.org. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  4. ^ Dangerfield, George (1960-11-16). "Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  5. ^ Brandt, Clare (March 1987). "Robert R. Livingston, Jr.: The Reluctant Revolutionary" (PDF). The Hudson Valley Regional Review. Vol. 4, no. 1. p. 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-11. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  6. ^ Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard, eds. (1906). The Biographical Dictionary of America. Vol. VI. Boston: American Biographical Society. Retrieved 2022-05-09 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ Robert R. Livingston, Encyclopedia of World Biography.
  8. ^ Schechter, Stephen L.; Tripp, Wendell Edward (1990). World of the Founders: New York Communities in the Federal Period. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780945660026.
  9. ^ Boyd, Julian Parks; Gawalt, Gerard W. (1999). The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Library of Congress. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-8444-0980-1.
  10. ^ Boyd, Julian P., ed. (4 July 1995). "Jefferson's 'original Rough draught' of the Declaration of Independence". Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 2019-05-02.
  11. ^ The Louisiana State Capitol Building Archived December 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Schuyler, John (1886). Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati : formed by the officers of the American Army of the Revolution, 1783, with extracts, from the proceedings of its general meetings and from the transactions of the New York State Society. New York: Printed for the Society by D. Taylor. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  13. ^ a b The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. XI. New York City: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. 1880. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  14. ^ Yasinsac, Rob. "Arryl House". www.hudsonvalleyruins.org. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  15. ^ "Clermont State Historic Site: Imagining Arryl House: Piecing Together an Architectural Masterpiece". October 25, 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  16. ^ Jay, Elizabeth Clarkson (April 1881). "The Descendants of James Alexander". The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. XII (2): 61. Retrieved 2022-05-09 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ "Death of Edward H. Ludlow". The New York Times. 28 November 1884. p. 2. Retrieved 2022-05-09 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "G. Livingston Dies; Long an Architect; Practitioner Here for 50 Years Included Hayden Planetarium, Oregon Capitol in His Work". The New York Times. June 4, 1951. p. 26. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  19. ^ "Mrs. Susan de Peyster Livingston". The New York Times. February 11, 1910. p. 11. Retrieved 2022-05-09 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ Collins, Lewis (1877). History of Kentucky. Library Reprints, Incorporated. p. 478. ISBN 9780722249208.
  21. ^ "Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library – Collecting, Studying, and Preserving Masonic Heritage". Retrieved 2024-02-10.

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Livingston, Robert R. The Original Letters of Robert R, Livingston, 1801–1803 ed. by Edward A. Parsons (1953).

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic-Republican nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Recorder of New York City
Succeeded by
New office Chancellor of New York
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Minister to France
Succeeded by