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Robert Livingston

1746 - 1813

Continental Congress 1775 - 1776

Robert R Livingston - Klos Family Project - Patriot

  
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Robert R Livingston, son of Robert R Livingston, statesman, born in New York city, 27 November, 1746; died in Clermont, New York, 26 February, 1813, was graduated at Kings (now Columbia) college in 1765, and studied law with William Smith and his kinsman, William Livingston. He was admitted to the bar in 1773, and for a short time was associated in partnership with John Jay, who had been his contemporary in college. Mr. Livingston met with great success in the practice of his profession, and was appointed recorder of the city of New York by Governor William Tryon in 1773, but lost this office in 1775, owing to his active sympathy with the revolutionary spirit of the times. 

In 1775 he was elected to the provincial assembly of New York from Dutchess county, and sent by this body as a delegate to the Continental congress, where he was chosen one of a committee of five to draft the Declaration of Independence. He was prevented from signing' this document by his hasty return to the meeting of the provincial convention, taking his seat, in that assembly on 8 July, 1776, the day on which the title of the "province" was changed to that of the "state" of New York, and he was appointed on the committee to draw up a state constitution. At the Kingston convention in 1777 the constitution was accepted, and he was appointed first chancellor of New York under its provisions, which office he held until 1801. 

Chancellor Livingston continued a delegate to the Continental congress until 1777, was again one of its members in 1779-'81, and throughout the entire Revolution was most active in behalf of the cause of independence. As chancellor he administered the oath of office to George Washington on his inauguration as first president of the United States. The ceremony took place at the City Hall where the present S. S. sub-treasury building stands, then fronting on Wall street. It had been specially fitted up for the reception of congress, and the exact spot where Washington stood is now marked by a colossal statue of the first president, which rests on the original stone upon which the ceremony took place. The statue was designed by John Q. A. Ward, and unveiled on the centennial celebration of the evacuation of New York, 25 November, 1883. Immediately after administering the oath Chancellor Livingston exclaimed in deep and impressive tones: "Long live George Washington, president of the United States." 

He held office of secretary of foreign affairs for the United States in 1781-'3, and in 1788 was chairman of the New York convention to consider the United States constitution, whose adoption he was largely instrumental in procuring. The post of minister to France was declined by him in 1794, and he also refused the secretaryship of the navy under Thomas Jefferson, but in 1801, being obliged by constitutional provision to resign the chancellorship, he accepted the mission to France. He enjoyed the personal friendship of Napoleon Bonaparte, who, on Livingston's departure in 1805, presented him with a splendid snuff-box containing a miniature likeness of himself, painted by Isabey. It is said that "he appeared to be the favorite foreign envoy." 

He was successful in accomplishing the cession of Louisiana to the United States in 1803, and also began the negotiations tending toward a settlement for French spoliations on the commerce of the United States. Subsequent to his resignation he traveled extensively through Europe. While in Paris he met Robert Fulton, and together they successfully developed a plan of steam navigation. Mr. Livingston had previously been impressed with the advantage that was to be derived from the application of steam to navigation, and he obtained from the legislature of the state of New York the exclusive right to navigate its water-ways by steam power for twenty years. He then constructed a boat of thirty tons burden, with which he succeeded in making three miles an hour, but the concession was made on condition of attaining a speed of four miles an hour, and other duties intervened to prevent success. He made numerous experiments with Fulton, and finally launched a boat on the Seine, which, however, did not fully realize their expectations. Later, on their return to the United States, their experiments were continued until 1807, when the "Clermont" succeeded in accomplishing five miles an hour.

After his retire-meat from public service, Livingston devoted considerable time and attention to the subject of agriculture, and it was through his efforts that the use of gypsum for fertilizing purposes became general he was also the first to introduce the merino sheep into the farming communities west of Hudson river. He was the principal founder of the American academy of fine arts in New York in 1801, and its first president, for some time president of the New York society for the promotion of useful arts, and a trustee of the New York society library on its reorganization in 1788. In 1792 the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the regents of the University of the state of New York. He published an oration that he delivered before the Society of the Cincinnati on 4 July, 1787, an address to the Society for promoting the arts (1808), and "Essays on Agriculture" and "Essay on Sheep" (New York, 1809, and London, 1811). Benjamin Franklin called him the "Cicero of America," and his statue, with that of George Clinton, forms the group of the two most eminent citizens of New York being placed by act of congress in the Capitol in Washington. See " Biographical Sketch of Robert R. Livingston" by Frederic De Peyster (New York, 1876).


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