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negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase
Robert R. Livingston was born in New York City on November 27, 1746. He graduated from King's College (now Columbia University) in 1764, studied law under William Smith, Chief Justice of New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1773. Quickly establishing himself as a successful attorney, he was appointed recorder of the city of New York in 1773; he lost his office in 1775, due to his participation in actions contrary to the British crown.
As a member of the Provincial Congress of New York, Livingston was sent to represent New York in the Continental Congress in 1776. He was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, but was recalled to New York before he could sign the final document. After taking his seat in the New York State Legislature, Livingston was returned to the Continental Congress, where he served until 1783. He also served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1783.
Livingston left Congress in 1783 to become Chancellor (presiding judge) of New York, in which capacity he served until 1801. In 1788, he presided over the New York convention to ratify the Constitution of the United States. On April 30, 1789, as the chief judicial authority in New York, Livingston administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington.
Livingston focused on his law career during the administrations of George Washington and John Adams, and consistently declined offers of appointment to a federal position. That changed in 1801, however, when Thomas Jefferson appointed him Minister to the Court of Napoleon (France), and he accepted. In this capacity, Livingston negotiated the greatest land acquisition in U.S. history, the Louisiana Purchase. While in France, Livingston also provided backing for Robert Fulton's work with steam-powered ships, which ultimately led to the successful test of the Clermont, which Fulton named after the city Livingston called home. He left his position in 1805, after which he spent some time touring Europe.
Upon returning to the United States, Livingston retired from public service and focused his time and eforts on agriculture. It was through his work that the use of gypsum for fertilizing purposes became common, and he personally introduced merino sheep into farming areas west of the Hudson River. He was also a principal founder of the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York, and served as president of the New York Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts and trustee of the New York Society Library
Robert R. Livingston died in Clermont, New York, on February 26, 1813.
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This page was last updated on November 26, 2017.