Founding Father Robert R. Livingston was born on November 27, 1746 in New York City, New York. His death on February 26, 1813 in Clermont, New York marked the passing of a man who helped shape the face of the United States of America, from drafting the Declaration of Independence to negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.
Education and Law
Livingston enrolled at King's College when he was only fifteen to study law under the tutelage of William Smith, then-chief justice of New York. While at college, he met fellow student John Jay and once they graduated and gained admittance to the bar Livingston and Jay opened a legal practice together in 1770. By 1773, Livingston's legal success had attracted the attention of the Governor of New York and Livingston was appointed Recorder of the City of New York. Probably active with the Sons of Liberty, he was removed as Recorder by the British for his support of American independence in 1775.
The same year he was booted from his judicial post Livingston was chosen to serve in the Continental Congress through his election to the provincial assembly in New York. Once installed, by June of 1776 Livingston was selected along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Roger Sherman to help write the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately Livingston's signature does not appear on the document as he was back at the New York provincial assembly when the Declaration was signed.
Chosen as Chancellor, the highest judicial post in the state of New York after helping author the state's constitution, Livingston held the post for 23 years from 1777 to 1801. While still holding the title of Chancellor, Livingston was chosen as the first secretary of foreign affairs (1781-1783) under the Articles of Confederation. In 1788 with the help of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison he helped convince the state of New York to ratify the Constitution of the United States. On April 30, 1789 in his duty as Chancellor, Livingston administered the oath of office to George Washington, first president of the United States.
Forced to give up his post as Chancellor due to term limits in 1801, Livingston accepted President Thomas Jefferson's offer to become minister to France the same year. Instructed to try to purchase the port of New Orleans from France, Livingston began negotiations with Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, Napoleon Bonaparte's foreign minister. Talleyrand was not receptive to the negotiation, starting out by denying France had purchased Louisiana from Spain.
For the next two years, Livingston struggled with French reluctance over ceding the Louisiana territory. James Monroe arrived in April of 1803 in his capacity as secretary of state to assist Livingston - who had claimed the French were going to occupy New Orleans - in averting a possible war. Due to Napoleon's mounting war debts, the French finally offered the entire Louisiana territory to the United States for the sum of fifteen million dollars. Although Monroe and Livingston did not have the authority to to purchase the entire territory, they signed the treaty on May 2, 1803, and the United States Congress ratified it on October 3 the same year.
Retiring from politics in 1804 Livingston concentrated on his agricultural and scientific interests. Having met Robert Fulton
while in Paris
, Livingston and his brother-in-law
, inventor John Stevens
became interested in the steam engine
. Due to Livingston's support in funding the construction of Fulton's steamship
, Fulton named it the Clermont
, after Livingston's New York estate