Biography of Robert R. Livingston, Founding Father and Chancellor of New York
Robert R. Livingston was a lawyer and politician who rose to prominence during the American Revolution and became one of the Founding Fathers. His parents were from two of the wealthiest and most prominent families in New York. He entered into politics in 1773 when he was appointed Recorder of New York City, but left office when he aligned with the Patriot cause. He was a member of the New York Provincial Congress and elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Olive Branch Petition. Later, he was appointed to the Committee of Five that produced the draft of the Declaration of Independence. However, he had to leave Congress and return home, so he was not present when the final version of the Declaration was approved and signed. He sent his cousin, Phillip Livingston, to sign the document in his place. In 1777, he became Chancellor of New York. In 1781, he served as United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation. In 1784, he was elected to the Confederation Congress. He continued in his role as Chancellor of New York and administered the oath of office to George Washington on April 30, 1789, when he was sworn in as the first President of the United States. Livingston aligned himself politically with the Jeffersonian Republicans in opposition to the Federalists. He opposed the Jay Treaty and ran for Governor of New York in 1798, but lost to John Jay. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson appointed him as Minister to France and he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. While he was in France, he met Robert Fulton, and the two of them developed a prototype for the steamboat. After the two of them returned to the United States, they operated the first commercial steamboat, which was called “Fulton’s Folly” by critics but was a success. Livingston died at the family estate, Clermont, on February 26, 1813.
This painting by John Trumbull depicts the Committee of Five presenting the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. The members of the committee, right to left, are John Adams, Roger Sherman, Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson is shown with the papers in his hands, as he presents them to John Hancock. Image Source: Wikipedia.
5 Things to Know About Robert R. Livingston
- Robert R. Livingston was born on November 27, 1746, in New York City. His father was Judge Robert R. Livingston and his mother was Margaret Beekman. It was a family tradition for the sons to have their father’s name as their middle name. Over time, historians have referred to the elder Livingston as “The Judge,” and his son as “The Chancellor,” since he held that office for more than two decades in New York.
- Livingston married Mary Stevens on September 9, 1770. They had two children, both daughters.
- He built their home, which he called “Belvedere,” near his family estate after they were married. It was burned by the British Army during the Saratoga Campaign in 1777.
- Livingston met Robert Fulton when he was in France. The two of them decided to work together on the development of a steamboat. They built a prototype and tested it on the Seine River. In 1806, Livingston had returned to the family estate at Clermont. A year later, he worked again with Fulton to launch the “North River Steamboat,” which was the first commercially successful steamboat. The ship, which was also known as “The Clermont,” was referred to by skeptics as “Fulton’s Folly.” The ship was used to carry cargo for Livingston’s shipping company and to carry passengers between New York City and Albany.
- Livingston died on February 26, 1813. He was buried in the Clermont Livingston vault at St. Paul’s Church in Tivoli, New York.
Important Moments in the Life and Career of Robert R. Livingston
Signer of the Olive Branch Petition
Robert R. Livingston signed the Olive Branch Petition. On July 5, 1775, the Second Continental Congress approved a letter written by John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania who pushed for reconciliation with Britain, not revolution. On July 8, 48 of the delegates, including Livingston, signed the letter, which is known as the Olive Branch Petition, and it was sent to London. King George III refused the letter in light of the armed conflict that started on April 19 with the Battle of Lexington. Soon after, the King issued the Proclamation of Rebellion and authorized British officials to “suppress such rebellion, and bring the traitors to justice.”
Member of the Committee of Five
Robert R. Livingston was a member of the Committee of Five that wrote the Declaration of Independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee made a motion — known as the Lee Resolution — that proposed Congress should declare independence, form foreign alliances, and make a plan of confederation. On June 11, Congress set up a committee for the purpose of drafting a document that stated the case for independence. Five men were chosen, which is why it is known as the Committee of Five. The members of the committee were Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Roger Sherman. Although Jefferson is recognized as the primary author, the other members of the committee had input in the draft. The committee presented the first draft to Congress on June 28.
Negotiator for the Louisiana Purchase
Robert R. Livingston helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France. As America expanded westward, the port city of New Orleans and access to the Mississippi River became more important to the nation’s trade. In 1802, Spain revoked American access to warehouses in New Orleans. President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to join Livingston to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and additional territory that would “secure our rights and interest in the Mississippi, and in the country Eastward of that.” However, on April 11, 1803, France’s Charles Maurice de Talleyrand met with Livingston and informed him that France was willing to sell all of Louisiana. Monroe arrived in France the next day, and the two of them started negotiations with France on April 30. The treaty was ratified by the Senate on October 20 and the United States officially took possession of the territory on December 30.
Significance of Robert R. Livingston
Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor, is important to the history of the United States because he was involved in writing the Declaration of Independence and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.