Robert Livingston - The Chancellor

Robert Livingston - The Chancellor

Robert Livingston was quietly a major player in some of the most important moments in America's Foundation.  

Livingston was involved with declaring independence, Washington's oath of office, and the Louisiana Purchase.

Robert Livingston

Robert Livingston came from one of the most important families in 18th century New York.  He was well educated and by the age of 27 was named Recorder of New York City, an important legal position of the day.

Soon after, he was removed as Recorder for siding with the Patriots in the American Revolution.

Livingston was sent to represent New York at the Second Continental Congress.  He would be a member of this body on and off for over a decade.

The Declaration of Independence

Robert Livingston was selected by the Continental Congress to sit on the Committee of Five.  This is the Committee which wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Although Thomas Jefferson is famously the primary author of the Declaration, the other Committee members would have had been the first to read that sacred document.  While John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were the only ones to make changes, Livingston and Roger Sherman would have had to approve anything that was submitted to Congress.

Although Livingston argued and voted for independence (being present on the 4th of July), he was recalled back to New York before August 2nd when the signing took place.  Because of this, he is the only member on the Committee of Five not to sign the Declaration of Independence.


Upon returning to New York Livingston was elected Chancellor, a position he would hold for twenty-five years.  In this office he was head of the judiciary branch of the State, comparable to a Chief Justice.

While Chancellor, the Continental Congress called on him again.  He was asked to serve as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1781 through the end of the war.

Washington's Oath of Office

In 1789, the United States Government convened in New York for the first time under the Constitution.  As Chancellor, Robert Livingston was given the honor of administering the first presidential oath of office to George Washington.

The Livingston Bible is now in the possession of the Freemason Grandmaster Lodge of New York, of whom Robert had been Grandmaster of.  You can pledge an oath of allegiance upon request today, all you must do is win the presidential election.

Louisiana Purchase

Livingston resigned the Chancellorship in 1801 when asked to serve the Jefferson administration as Minister to France.  While there, he met frequently with Napoleon’s ambassadors.  

Livingston was the first American who was offered to purchase Louisiana.

Two years later Livingston (along with James Monroe) signed the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the territory covered by the United States of America.  


Upon returning to New York, Livingston became embroiled in the ‘Steam Wars.’  He worked with Robert Fulton and was granted the exclusive right to operate a steamboat on the Hudson River.  This boat, Clermont, was the first in the world to demonstrate that steam could be used for water travel.

Clermont sailed from New York City to Albany in half the time it previously took.  Livingston’s home (also Clermont) was the halfway point and the ship’s main port.

Livingston would spend his later years as a member of the Erie Canal Commission.


Robert Livingston participated in the American Revolution from beginning to end.  He found himself on the committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence, followed by decades as the leader of New York’s judicial system.  Robert went on to participate in many important ways as a Minister on an international scale and assisted in the development of American transportation.


As most of the information in this article are small clips discussing Robert Livingston's part in much larger American events, there is not room here for me to list all of the related links you can visit to learn more.  If you are interested in his fascinating life, I recommend the George Dangerfield book below.  'Negotiating the Louisiana Purchase' is also a fun read.

There is also still plenty of time to pick up our Book of the Month 'Plain, Honest Men.'

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