|1st Governor of New Jersey|
August 31, 1776 – July 25, 1790
|Preceded by||William Franklin|
as Royal Governor
|Succeeded by||Elisha Lawrence|
|Member of the New York General Assembly|
|Preceded by||Robert Livingston|
|Succeeded by||Peter R. Livingston|
|Born||November 30, 1723|
Albany, Province of New York, British America
|Died||July 25, 1790 (aged 66)|
Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
|Resting place||Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York|
(m. 1745; died 1789)
|Children||13, including Sarah, Brockholst|
Catherine Van Brugh
|Relatives||See Livingston family|
|Alma mater||Yale College|
William Livingston (November 30, 1723 – July 25, 1790) was an American politician who served as the first governor of New Jersey (1776–1790) during the American Revolutionary War. As a NewJersey representative in the Continental Congress, he signed the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. He is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Livingston was born in Albany in the Province of New York on November 30, 1723. He was the son of Philip Livingston (1686–1749), the 2nd Lord of Livingston Manor, and Catherine Van Brugh, the only child of Albany mayor Pieter Van Brugh. His older siblings included Robert Livingston (1708–1790), 3rd Lord of Livingston Manor, Peter Van Brugh Livingston (1710–1792), New York State Treasurer, and Philip Livingston (1716–1778), a member of the New York State Senate.
Livingston received his early education from local schools and tutors. At age 13, Livingston was sent to live for a year and prepare for college with the Anglican missionary catechist and Yale College graduate Henry Barclay who lived among the Iroquois in the Mohawk Valley at Fort Hunter. Livingston enrolled at Yale in 1737 and graduated in 1741. He went on to New York City, where he studied law and became a law clerk for the eminent lawyer James Alexander. He left Alexander's office in the spring of 1746 before finishing his apprentiship because of some disagreement and joined the office William Smith, Sr.
He became a lawyer in 1748 and began his practice in New York City. In 1752, he founded a weekly journal, the Independent Reflector, along with fellow Presbyterian lawyers William Smith, Jr., the son of his law teacher, and John Morin Scott. The three were called by contemporaries "The Triumvirate". The Reflector was New York's first serial non-newspaper publication and the only one being published in British North America at the time. It was used as a platform by the political upstate Presbyterian land-owning "country faction" led by Livingston for challenging the powerful downstate Anglican and Dutch Reformed merchant or "popular faction" led by Chief Justice James De Lancey. Most notably the Triumvirate attacked the founding of King's College as a conspiracy by Anglicans to install a bishop in America, including his former tutor Rev. Henry Barclay, rector of Trinity Church, and his former law teacher James Alexander.
Publication of the Reflector ceased with the fifty-second issue in late 1753 after political pressure was brought to bear upon its printer, James Parker, but Livingston and his allies continued to attack the college over the next year with columns in newspapers. By raising divisive issues, he managed to divert half the funds raised by a state lottery for the college to fund the construction of a new jail and a detention house for sailors from diseased ships. King's College was defiantly opened despite Livingston's efforts by President Rev. Samuel Johnson in July 1754 and granted a charter by the king on October 31, 1754. Though he failed to close the college, no bishop arrived as predicted.
Livingston remained politically active and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1768 and served one term in the New York General Assembly until his political allies lost power in 1769 and was replaced by his nephew, Peter Robert Livingston, the eldest surviving son of his brother Robert.
In 1772, he moved to Elizabethtown (today Elizabeth, New Jersey), where he rented a house in town. A young Alexander Hamilton lived with Livingston for at least the winter while he attended Francis Barber's grammar school. Livingston started construction of a large country home to house his growing family. The house, known as Liberty Hall, still stands today. After attaining considerable influence amongst the local patriots, Livingston was elected to serve as one of New Jersey's delegates to the Continental Congress. He served from July 1774 to June 1776. The state's Provincial Congress declined to reappoint him to the Continental Congress as he did not favor independence. Instead, they offered him command of the state's militia, an offer he declined. He returned to New Jersey and relied on his previous commission (of October 1775) as a brigadier general of the New Jersey Militia.
In August 1776, he was elected Governor of New Jersey. For much of the time between 1776 and 1779, the family was located in Parsippany for safety. Liberty Hall was frequently visited by British troops or naval forces since there was a substantial reward for Livingston's capture. One attempt to kidnap him took place in mid-June 1779. False information about Livingston visiting his second home in Parsippany resulted in a raid by Loyalists and their subsequent capture. The Loyalist mayor of New York City (and a distant cousin through the Schuyler family), David Mathews, was suspected by being behind the attempted capture of Livingston. The family returned to Liberty Hall in 1779 to begin restoring their looted home. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1782.
Livingston joined the New Jersey Delegation to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. He was appointed United States Minister to the Netherlands in 1788 by U.S. Congress but turned down the proposition. He continued to be reelected governor of New Jersey each year until his death in 1790.
Livingston married Susannah French (1723–1789) in New Jersey in 1745. She was the daughter of landowner Philip French III and Susanna (née Brockholst) French. Her paternal grandparents were Phillip French, the 27th mayor of New York City, and Annetje (née Philipse) French (the daughter of Frederick Philipse). Her maternal grandparents were Susanna Maria Brockholst and Anthony Brockholst, an acting governor of colonial New York under Sir Edmund Andros. They had 13 children, including:
Livingston's daughter, Sarah, was born in 1756 and was educated at home in penmanship, English grammar, the Bible, and classic literature. At a time when women were usually relegated to the kitchen, she was brought up to be politically aware, even serving at times as her father's secretary. Sarah, at the age of 17, married John Jay. Sarah accompanied Jay to Spain and then Paris, where he, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Laurens negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783. She is credited with writing the celebratory Treaty of Paris dinner toast. When Sarah and John returned to New York, Jay was appointed U.S. Foreign Secretary, and her Parisian training came in handy, as she and her husband established the custom of weekly dinners for the diplomatic corps and other guests in the U.S. capital city of New York. Sarah served in her hospitality role as the wife of the first Chief Justice of the United States and First Lady of New York.
Among the other prominent descendants of William Livingston were Julia Kean, wife of United States Secretary of State and New York Governor Hamilton Fish, a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director-General of New Amsterdam; Edwin Brockholst Livingston, a historian; Henry Brockholst Ledyard, mayor of Detroit.
Livingston died on July 25, 1790, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was originally buried at Trinity Church, Manhattan, but on May 7, 1844, was reinterred at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.
In 1747, Livingston wrote and published a long pastoral poem entitled, "Philosophic Solitude, or the Choice of a Rural Life". One of the first successful original poems written by an American colonist, it was anthologized numerous times into the 19th century. In 1754, Livingston also played a key role in founding the New York Society Library, which is still in existence over a quarter of a millennium later. Livingston also authored a commentary upon the government of England in comparison to the United States Constitution, titled 'Examen du Gouvernement d’Angleterre comparé aux Constitutions des Etats-Unis', which was cited approvingly by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès in his pamphlet 'What Is the Third Estate?'.
The township of Livingston, New Jersey was given its name in his honor, as was Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The Livingston campus of Rutgers University New Brunswick also was given its name in his honor.