Livingston, I Presume

November 27, 1746
Statesman Robert R. Livingston Was Born

He was a jurist, a statesman and a political leader of the Revolutionary period; George Washington sent him a pamphlet on the cultivation of potatoes; and he had a lot to do with steam. Who is he? Robert R. Livingston, born on November 27, 1746. Livingston served on numerous committees in the Continental Congress, including the one that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He helped draft New York’s first constitution, and served as minister to France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

Born into a wealthy and influential New York family, Livingston studied at King’s College–today known as Columbia University–where he met fellow lawyer John Jay, who would later become the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. They set up a legal practice together, until the British appointed Livingston to a New York City judicial post. He quickly lost his post, however, when the British learned of his support for independence for the American Colonies. Livingston, acting upon his beliefs in June 1776, joined Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman to draft the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the 13 colonies on July 4, 1776. His name did not appear on the document, though, because he was back in New York when the official signing took place on August 2, 1776. What did Livingston have to do with potatoes and steam?

Livingston was one of the founders of the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures. George Washington, whom Livingston swore into office as the first president in 1789, shared Livingston’s interests in agriculture and frequently wrote him letters discussing the topic. Along with one letter, Washington sent Livingston a pamphlet on growing potatoes. Livingston made a lot of steam with his brother-in-law, inventor John Stevens, when they experimented with steam navigation. Livingston also supported Robert Fulton, whose steamship, Clermont, named for Livingston’s estate in New York, became the first successful steam-propelled vessel. As you can see, Robert R. Livingston was not just full of steam.