Robert R. Livingston

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1794

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BORN:
27 November 1746 in New York, New York
  DIED:
26 February 1813 in Clermont, New York
Buried at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Tivoli, New York.

Robert R. Livingston was a delegate to the Continental and Confederation congresses and was on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He was the first confederation secretary for foreign affairs until 1784 and he served as New York's chancellor, the chief equity judge. He was a member of the New York Ratifying Convention, and his notes of the debates are valuable in understanding the last, crucial days of the convention. As the highest ranking judicial officer in New York, he administered the oath of office to George Washington as president on April 30, 1789.

 

Jefferson was in most respects a typical slaveholder. Although he always condemned slavery, he did own one of the largest slave populations in Virginia. Upon the division of his father-in-law’s estate in 1774 he became, in fact, the second-largest slaveholder in Albemarle County. Thereafter the number of his slaves remained around two hundred — with increases through births offset by periodic sales to pay off debts. Jefferson was known to be a good master, reluctant to break up families or to sell slaves except for delinquency or at their own request. Nevertheless, between 1784 and 1794 he disposed of 161 people by sale or gift. It is true that Jefferson was averse to separating young children from their parents; but once slave boys or girls reached the age of ten or twelve and their working lives began, they were no longer children in Jefferson’s mind.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)