William Livingston was one of the signers of the United States Constitution at the 1787 Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a delegate from the State of New Jersey where he then served as its first elected governor.
William Livingston was a Dutch American through his mother’s side. His mother was Catherine Van Brugh, the daughter of Albany, New York mayor Pieter Van Brugh. William was also a brother of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
William Livingston was born in Albany, New York on November 30, 1723. He was raised by his grandmother until he was 14. Since he came from a wealthy family, he benefited from private tutors for his education through the equivalent of our current high school level. He entered Yale University in 1738, and graduated in 1741, when he was only 18 years old. While he was at Yale, he developed a strong interest in art, languages and poetry. Livingston went on to study law, as a clerk under James Alexander and William Smith, both considered to be the best legal minds of that day. Both Alexander and Smith were champions of civil rights, and their influence on Livingston became clear as he grew more mature. In 1748, Livingston was admitted to the bar and opened a law practice in New York City, where he became known as a strong supporter of civil rights, specifically freedom of religion and freedom of the press.
In 1747, Livingston married Susannah French, the daughter of a wealthy New Jersey land owner. The couple had a large family, even for that time, consisting of 13 children. In 1772, the Livingston family moved to Elizabethtown [now Elizabeth], New Jersey where they built a large country home to house their growing family. The house known as Liberty Hall still stands there today. A significant event occurred in April 1774, when one of the Livingston daughters, Sarah, married a young New York lawyer by the name of John Jay. John Jay was also a Dutch American who became prominent in the birth and development of these United States, serving as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and also serving as the first Secretary of State under President George Washington.
As a prominent New Jersey resident, Livingston quickly became involved in the politics of independence. He was chosen to become a member of the Continental Congress, and served in that capacity from July 1774 to June 1776. Also in October 1775, Livingston was commissioned to become a brigadier general, the state’s ranking military officer, in the New Jersey Militia. He served in the militia until August 1776. Under his watch, he insisted that the military be trained properly, so that it could be more effective in the skirmishes with the British forces. In 1776, Livingston became the first republican governor of New Jersey. There had been a crown governor before him during the colonial period. Livingston remained governor of New Jersey until his death in 1790, a time period of 14 years. The long time period was especially impressive because he had to be re-elected each year. Four year terms had then not been considered yet.
During the tumultuous period, following the declaration of independence in 1776, and until 1779, the Livingston family had to be relocated to Parsippany, New Jersey for safety. In 1779, the family was able to return to their home, which had been looted and heavily damaged during the Revolutionary War.
William Livingston served his country well during the tumultuous period of the American Revolution. He was a man of considerable wealth, and could have avoided the turmoil of the time, by escaping to his land holdings. He did the opposite, and used his considerable talents to fight for independence, and later for the development of the new republic into an effectively governed nation. His contributions were recognized in 1788, two years before his death, when his alma mater, Yale University, honored him with an honorary doctorate, in recognition for his great service to the new republic. William Livingston passed away on July 25, 1790 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was initially interred in Trinity Church, New York City. In 1846, he was re-interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, in Brooklyn, New York.
William Livingston, New Jersey, http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/RevWar/ss/livingston.htm
William Livingston, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Livingston
A Biography of William Livingston 1723-1790, http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/livingst/livingst.htm
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