Chancellor of New York, 1777-1801
Robert R. Livingston was born on November 27, 1746, the son of colonial Supreme Court of Judicature Justice Robert Livingston. Upon graduating from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1765, Livingston studied law, first in the law office of William Smith, a prominent New York attorney, and later in the law office of Governor William Livingston of New Jersey. Admitted to the bar in 1773, he practiced law in partnership with John Jay for a short time. He then set up his own law office in New York City, built an extensive practice and became eminent in his profession.
In 1773, Livingston’s public service career began when he was appointed Recorder of New York City. He went on to become a member of the second, third and fourth Provincial Congresses of New York (1775-1777). As a delegate from New York to the Continental Congress in 1775-1777 and again in 1779-1780, Livingston was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Participating in the fourth New York Provincial Congress which became the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York on July 10, 1776, he was a member of the committee that drafted the New York Constitution of 1777. The Convention of Representatives of the State of New York appointed him the first Chancellor of New York, and his appointment was confirmed following the Hadden case. While serving as Chancellor, he administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington in New York City on April 30, 1789.
President Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston as Minister to France in 1801. Together with James Monroe, he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase on behalf of the United States government and in his honor, New York State contributed to the Hall of Statutes in the United States Capitol a bronze statue of Livingston holding the Louisiana purchase deed. A dual cast was commissioned for the New York Capitol, and it now stands in the courtroom of the New York Court of Appeals in Albany.
In 1804, Robert Livingston withdrew from public life and pursued his interest in steam navigation. Livingston and the inventor Robert Fulton had met in Paris in 1802, and they now joined forces to design and build the first successful steamboat in New York. It was launched on the Hudson River in 1807, and a jubilant Legislature granted Livingston an extension of his monopoly for steamboat transportation in New York waters.
In 1812, Livingston brought an action against Albany attorney James Van Ingen, the owner of competing steamboats, seeking to enforce his steamboat monopoly. Although he was successful in the case of Livingston v. Van Ingen, that decision did not put the issue of the Livingston & Fulton monopoly to rest. It came before the courts again in 1820, in the landmark case of Gibbons v. Ogden.
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston died at Clermont on February 26, 1813.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress