The Signers Robert Livingston

Robert Livingston


November 27, 1746 marks the birth of Robert R. Livingston, jurist, statesman, and political leader of the Revolutionary period. Livingston served on numerous committees in the Continental Congress, including the one that drafted the Declaration of Independence, helped draft New York's first constitution, and served as the minister to France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

Born into a wealthy and influential New York family, Livingston's great grandfather had purchased the Indian claims to large tracts of land along the Hudson River, eventually acquiring an estate of 160,000 acres. After studying at King's College—today known as Columbia University—Livingston formed a law partnership with another alumnus, John Jay, the eventual Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Soon after being appointed to a New York City judicial post by the British, Livingston was removed because of his support for independence for the American colonies.

In June 1776, Livingston was one of five men—along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman—appointed by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence. However, his signature is not on the document as Livingston was in New York at the time of its formal signing. Along with John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, Livingston was instrumental in his role as chancellor in persuading New York to ratify the federal Constitution. He also administered the first oath of office to President George Washington in New York on April 30, 1789.

Livingston was one of the founders of the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures. George Washington, owner of the plantation at Mount Vernon, shared Livingston's interests in agricultural matters and corresponded frequently with him. On February 10, 1793 he wrote to Livingston, "that the prosperity of our Country is closely connected with our improvement in the useful Arts." Two years later, on February 16, 1795, Washington again wrote to Livingston stating, "Works of this sort are of the most interesting importance to every country…" and he sent Livingston a pamphlet on the cultivation of potatoes.

Livingston served as America's minister to France at the turn of the nineteenth century under Thomas Jefferson, who instructed him to buy New Orleans and the Floridas from Napoleon. Jefferson subsequently sent James Monroe to Paris with authority to offer the French ten million dollars. When Napoleon unexpectedly offered to sell the entire Louisiana territory for fifteen million, Livingston and Monroe decided the offer was too good to pass up and signed a treaty, subsequently ratified on October 20, 1803 by the U.S. Senate.

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