The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Livingston, family of American statesmen, diplomats, and jurists.

Robert R. Livingston (1654–1728)

Robert R. Livingston, 1654–1728, b. Roxburghshire, Scotland, was raised in Holland and immigrated to America in 1673 after his father died. He made Albany, N.Y., his home, married (1679) Alida Van Rensselaer, and, mainly through trade with Native Americans, rose quickly to a position of wealth and influence in New York. Through the influence of Gov. Thomas Dongan, he secured (1686) a patent (later confirmed by royal charter) to shape his extensive land holdings, amounting to 160,000 acres, into Livingston Manor—in the present Dutchess and Columbia counties. Livingston and his brother-in-law, Peter Schuyler, were the leaders of the Albany opposition to the rebellion of Jacob Leisler, and afterward Livingston found his estates and privileges so endangered by the Leislerian faction, that he twice went to England to defend them. He served as secretary of Indian affairs from 1695 until his death and had considerable influence on the policy of the colony toward Native Americans; the governors of New York in this period relied heavily on Livingston's advice and were careful to retain his favor. A representative (1709–11, 1716–25) in the New York provincial assembly, he was elected (1718) speaker and supported the legislative body in opposition to the royal control of the governor. He had two sons, Robert and Philip.


See biography by L. H. Leder (1961).

Peter Van Brugh Livingston (1710–92)

Peter Van Brugh Livingston, 1710–92, b. Albany, N.Y., was the eldest of the three sons of Robert R. Livingston's (1654–1728) son Philip. He was on the Whig side in the bitter political contests preceding the American Revolution and was a strong opponent of the Stamp Act and other British taxation measures. He was president (1775) of the first provincial congress. He became (1748) an original trustee of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton).

Philip Livingston (1716–78)

Philip Livingston, 1716–78, b. Albany, N.Y., was the second of the three sons of Robert R. Livingston's (1654–1728) son Philip. He was a successful merchant and a leader in the protest against the Stamp Act and other British trade restrictions. Although he looked with disfavor upon radicalism and was not originally an advocate of independence, he nevertheless signed the Declaration of Independence and after that time remained an active member of the Continental Congress. He was generous with his large fortune and was a supporter of many philanthropies. He was one of the original promoters of King's College (now Columbia Univ.), established a professorship of divinity at Yale, and helped to found the New York Society Library.

Robert R. Livingston (1718–75)

Robert R. Livingston, 1718–75, was the grandson of Robert R. Livingston (1654–1728) by his son Robert. He became noted in New York as a Whig political leader, as a judge of the admiralty court (1759–63), and as a judge of the supreme court of the colony (1763–75); he was also a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and chairman of the New York Committee of Correspondence. Five of his seven daughters made notable marriages, creating family alliances with Gen. Richard Montgomery, Thomas Tillotson, Freeborn Garrettson, Morgan Lewis, and John Armstrong (1758–1843).

William Livingston (1723–90)

William Livingston, 1723–90, b. Albany, N.Y., was the youngest of the three sons of Robert R. Livingston's (1654–1728) son Philip. He fought actively in the American Revolution. He was admitted (1748) to the bar and became one of the leading lawyers of New York City. Together with the historian William Smith he prepared a digest of the laws (1691–1756) of provincial New York. He moved (1772) to New Jersey and was sent to the First and Second Continental Congresses, resigning in 1776 to command briefly the New Jersey militia. In the same year he was elected New Jersey's first governor, and he remained in this office for the rest of his life. His influence played a large part in the prompt ratification of the U.S. Constitution in New Jersey. His daughter married John Jay.

Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813)

Robert R. Livingston, 1746–1813, b. New York City, was the son of Robert R. Livingston (1718–75). He was admitted to the bar and became a law partner of John Jay. He was a member of the Continental Congress and a member of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, but he did not sign that document because the New York provincial congress had not authorized him to do so. He was the first secretary of the department of foreign affairs, a post created in 1781, and he issued the instructions for the commissioners to negotiate peace in France. He was (1777–1801) the first chancellor of the state of New York and an ardent supporter of the new Constitution of the United States. As chancellor, he administered the presidential oath to George Washington. One of the leading Federalists, he fell out with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay over the Federalist financial program and questions of patronage; after 1791 he was an ardent Jeffersonian. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston minister to France, where he conducted the negotiations that resulted in the Louisiana Purchase. He held a monopoly on steamboat operations in New York waters, and his financing of the experiments of Robert Fulton resulted in the launching of the Clermont, the first American steamboat to be commercially successful.


See biography by G. Dangerfield (1960).

Henry Brockholst Livingston (1757–1823)

Henry Brockholst Livingston, 1757–1823, b. New York City, was the son of William Livingston. He served in the American Revolution and went (1779) to Spain as private secretary to John Jay. On the return journey Livingston was captured (1782) by the British but was soon released. After he was admitted (1783) to the New York bar, he became an ardent Jeffersonian and wrote a number of newspaper articles opposing Jay's Treaty. In 1802 he was appointed a judge of the New York supreme court, and, in 1806, Jefferson appointed him associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He remained on the Supreme Court bench until 1823.

Edward Livingston (1764–1836)

Edward Livingston, 1764–1836, b. Livingston Manor, was the son of Robert R. Livingston (1718–75) and brother of Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813). He also established a reputation as a jurist and political figure. As a member (1795–1801) of the U.S. House of Representatives he opposed Jay's Treaty and the Alien and Sedition Acts. President Jefferson appointed him U.S. attorney for New York in 1801, the same year he became mayor of New York City. Because one of his clerks lost or misappropriated public funds, Livingston was forced to resign and to sell his property to pay off the debt. He then went to New Orleans. In the War of 1812 he became chairman of the committee on public defense and acted as aide-de-camp to Gen. Andrew Jackson. He was elected (1820) to the Louisiana legislature, and in 1821 was appointed to prepare a new code of laws and criminal procedure. Although the code was not adopted, its completeness and reasoned unity brought him international fame. He served again (1823–29) in the U.S. House of Representatives and then in the Senate (1829–31) before resigning to become Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson—for whom he wrote many important state papers, including the famous reply to the doctrine of nullification. As minister to France (1833–35), Livingston was unable to secure payment of American claims for spoliations resulting from the Napoleonic Wars.


See biography by W. B. Hatcher (1940).

General Bibliography

See E. B. Livingston, The Livingstons of Livingston Manor (1910).

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