Former Chancellor John Lansing Vanishes

Former Chancellor John Lansing Vanishes

John Lansing walked out of the Constitutional Convention because he believed it’s member were exceeding their power.

Lansing, the Mayor of Albany, went on to be Chief Justice and Chancellor of New York State.

John Lansing

John Lansing studied law as a young man in Albany, New York. His tutor was respected politician Robert Yates, who would have a profound effect on Lansing’s life.

John passed the bar but instead of beginning a practice he joined the Continental Army. He worked as aide de camp and Secretary for Philip Schuyler.

Lansing resigned his post upon receiving election to the New York State Assembly, despite being just 26 years old.

Constitutional Convention

Lansing spent most of the 1780’s in the State Assembly, including two years as Speaker of the House. He was also elected as Mayor of Albany.

John did take a year off to attend the Confederation Congress where he met many of the men who would soon write the Constitution.

When the Constitutional Convention convened, Lansing was chosen with Yates and Alexander Hamilton to attend. While there, Lansing (who was still Mayor) was expecting to make significant changes to the Articles of Confederation but was shocked when moves were made to create (in secret) and entirely new government.

John could not, in good conscience, disobey his instructions. He and Yates left after just six weeks in Philadelphia, missing his chance to literally ink his name in the history books. Their decision to leave was defended in a joint letter to Governor George Clinton.

Chief Justice and Chancellor

After his Anti-Federalists were defeated in the Ratification Convention the following year in an extremely close vote (30-27), Lansing left the State Assembly (though had two more terms as Mayor).

By 1790, John was chosen to sit on the New York State Supreme Court. He sat for eleven years on the bench, spending the last three as Chief Justice.

Next, Lansing took over the post of Chancellor of New York from Robert Livingston, the only man who held that position in the quarter century since the Declaration of Independence. Hard as it is to believe, the Chancellorship was actually a higher judicial position than Chief Justice, the highest in the State. John sat in this chair for thirteen more years.


John Lansing retired as Chancellor at age 60, spending the next decade and a half occasionally working in private practice.

Then, he disappeared.

After leaving his hotel to mail a letter, he was never seen again. His vanishing act became big news, with papers throughout the country speculating on what might have happened.

We still don’t know what led to Lansing’s disappearance. It is very likely he drowned by falling off a dock and floated away. There was also a publication in 1882 claiming that he was murdered by several businessmen who wanted him out of the way, but as he no longer held any real power this seems unlikely.

Unfortunately, we will probably never know for sure.

To read about other Founders who died under mysterious circumstances, check out our articles on Enoch Poor and Meriwether Lewis.

If you’d like to learn more about the Constitutional Convention from John Lansing’s point of view, I suggest you pick up his ‘notes’ through the affiliate link below. Only discovered in 1904, it gives a unique perspective on the creation of the United States from a man who was against the Union.

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