William Livingston

William Livingston was born on November 30, 1723 in Albany, New York. He belonged to a wealthy family and his early education was provided by tutors. Livingston attended Yale, graduated in 1741 and went to England where he became a member of the Middle Temple in 1742. Returning to New York, he studied with two of the leading attorneys of the day, James Alexander and William Smith, the elder. In William Smith’s law office, he co-clerked with students John Morin Scott and William Smith, the younger.

Livingston was admitted to the New York bar and his license to practice was signed by Governor Clinton on October 18, 1748. With William Smith, the younger, he set up a thriving practice and such was their reputation that in 1750, Livingston and Smith were appointed by the Legislature to compile the first digest of the colonial laws of New York which they published in 1752. A second volume, covering the laws from 1751 to 1756, was published in 1762. Meanwhile, Livingston was elected to the New York Assembly and served during the years 1759-61. As he rose in stature in the legal profession, several young men studied in his law office including Robert R. Livingston, later Chancellor of New York and Robert Yates, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature.

In 1764, Livingston and Smith represented Waddell Cunningham in the landmark case of Forsey v. Cunningham. Their former co-clerk, John Morin Scott, represented the plaintiff, Thomas Forsey. Although the case arose because of a small debt, it led to a major confrontation between the Governor and the Judiciary over the role of the jury in New York.

William Livingston moved with his wife and family to Liberty Hall in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1772. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Livingston became a member of the Essex County Committee of Correspondence and, between 1774-1776, he served as a representative from New Jersey to the Continental Congress. In June 1776, Livingston was appointed brigadier general of the New Jersey militia, a position he held until he was appointed the first Governor of New Jersey in 1777. He remained Governor of New Jersey until his death in 1790.

In 1787, Governor Livingston was a delegate from New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he was a signatory to the United States Constitution adopted at that convention.

William Livingston died at his home in Elizabethtown on July 25, 1790.



Theodore Sedgwick. A Memoire of the Life of William Livingston (1833)

American Historical Society, Incorporated. Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography (1921)


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