1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Livingston, William

LIVINGSTON, WILLIAM (1723–1790), American political leader, was born at Albany, New York, probably on the 30th of November 1723. He was the son of Philip Livingston (1686–1749), and grandson of Robert Livingston (1654–1725), who was born at Ancrum, Scotland, emigrated to America about 1673, and received grants (beginning in 1686) to “Livingston Manor” (a tract of land on the Hudson, comprising the greater part of what are now Dutchess and Columbia counties). This Robert Livingston, founder of the American family, became in 1675 secretary of the important Board of Indian Commissioners; he was a member of the New York Assembly in 1711–1715 and 1716–1727 and its speaker in 1718–1725, and in 1701 made the proposal that all the English colonies in America should be grouped for administrative purposes “into three distinct governments.”

William Livingston graduated at Yale College in 1741, studied law in the city of New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1748. He served in the New York legislature (1759–1760), but his political influence was long exerted chiefly through pamphlets and newspaper articles. The Livingston family then led the Dissenters, who later became Whigs, and the De Lancey family represented the Anglican Tory interests. Through the columns of the Independent Reflector, which he established in 1752, Livingston fought the attempt of the Anglican party to bring the projected King’s College (now Columbia University) under the control of the Church of England. After the suspension of the Reflector in 1753, he edited in the New York Mercury the “Watch Tower” section (1754–1755), which became the recognized organ of the Presbyterian faction. In opposition to the efforts of the Anglicans to procure the establishment of an American episcopate, he wrote an open Letter to the Right Reverend Father in God, John Lord, Bishop of Llandaff (1768), and edited and in large measure wrote the “American Whig” columns in the New York Gazette (1768–1769). In 1772 he removed to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where after 1773 he lived on his estate known as “Liberty Hall.” He represented New Jersey in the first and second Continental Congresses (1774,1775–1776), but left Philadelphia in June 1776, probably to avoid voting on the question of adopting the Declaration of Independence, which he regarded as inexpedient. He was chosen first governor of the state of New Jersey in 1776, and was regularly re-elected until his death in 1790. Loyal to American interests and devoted to General Washington, he was one of the most useful of the state executives during the War of Independence. While governor he was a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Gazette, and in this way he greatly aided the American cause during the war by his denunciation of the enemy and appeals to the patriotism of his countrymen. He was a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787, and supported the New Jersey small-state plan. In 1754 he joined with his brother, Philip Livingston, his brother-in-law, William Alexander (“Lord Stirling”) and others in founding what is now known as the Society Library of New York. With the help of William Smith (1728–1793), the New York historian, William Livingston prepared a digest of the laws of New York for the period 1691–1756, which was published in two volumes (1752 and 1762). He died at Elizabeth, New Jersey, on the 25th of July 1790.

See Theodore Sedgwick, Jr., Life of William Livingston (New York, 1833); and E. B. Livingston, The Livingstons of Livingston Manor (1910).

His brother, Peter van Brugh Livingston (1710–1792), was a prominent merchant and a Whig political leader in New York. He was one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), was a member of the New York Council for some years before the War of Independence, a member and president of the First Provincial Congress of New York (1775), and a member of the Second Provincial Congress (1775–1776).

Another brother, Philip Livingston (1716–1778), was also prominent as a leader of the New York Whigs or Patriots. He was a member of the New York Assembly in 1759–1769, a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 until his death and as such a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and in 1777–1778 was a member of the first state senate.

William’s son, (Henry) Brockholst Livingston (1757–1823), was an officer in the American War of Independence, and was an able lawyer and judge. From 1807 until his death he was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, and he wrote political pamphlets under the pen-name “Decius.”