Livingston, William

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Livingston, William

LIVINGSTON, WILLIAM. (1723–1790). Congressman, governor of New York. Born in November 1723 in Albany, New York, William Livingston graduated from Yale in 1741 at the head of his class. He then studied law under James Alexander, gaining admission to the bar in 1745. From early on he was a Presbyterian reformer who argued for religious diversity, which put him at odds with most of his family connections. He routinely opposed projects sponsored by the Anglican faction in New York, such as the establishment of King's College (now Columbia University), and this brought him into dispute with the De Lanceys, a leading Anglican family. This opposition led to the formation of the Livingston and De Lancey factions in provincial politics.

Holding few political offices, Livingston preferred to work behind the scenes. By 1758 his party had wrested control of the assembly from the DeLanceys, and he became the acknowledged leader in the resistance to Crown interference in provincial affairs. When his patrician companions became alarmed at the riots inspired by the Sons of Liberty, Livingston tried to reconcile the Sons and their more radical allies to a temporizing position. This was completely unsuccessful, and by 1769 the DeLanceys had regained control of the assembly.

Dispirited by his political defeats, Livingston moved in May 1772 to his country house "Liberty Hall" near Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He quickly became a member of the local committee of correspondence and was sent by New Jersey to the first Continental Congress, serving until 5 June 1776. On that date, he took command of the state's militia as brigadier general and resigned on 31 August 1776 upon his election as the state's first governor. He held this post for fourteen trying and violent years. George Washington held Livingston to be the most reliable governor during the Revolution, doing the most to mobilize his state and aid the Continental army. Livingston was a bitter enemy of the Loyalists, who returned the sentiment by attempted to assassinate him on several occasions. Extremely popular with the common people, Livingston worked to redistribute Loyalist land to the poor and was an early opponent of slavery. He attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and was influential in its ratification in his state on 25 July 1790.

SEE ALSO Continental Congress.


McCormick, Richard P. Experiment in Independence: New Jersey in the Critical Period, 1781–1789. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1950.

Prince, Carl E., et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979–1988.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Livingston, William

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