Revolutionary War Historical Article

William Livingston of New Jersey: Signer of the Constitution of the United States

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the July 1984 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter

William Livingston was reared by his maternal grandmother in Albany, New York. He was the son of Philip, the 2nd Lord of the manor, and brother of Philip, the signer of the Declaration of Independence. He spent 1737 as a missionary to the Mohawk Indians, and the following year was admitted into Yale, graduating at the head of his class. He then studied Law under James Alexander, the father of William (alias "Lord Sterling") It was then that his philosophy began to take shape, and his political views were further influenced by a group of friends, mostly Calvinists, who disputed the dominance of the Anglican gentry.

This was particularly interesting, for Livingston, while not Anglican, was most certainly gentry and, further, kin by blood and marriage to almost every important family along the Hudson River. He was admitted to the Bar in 1745 and became "a leader among those of assured position who liked to be known as supporters of the popular cause, Petulant, and impatient of restraint, he. . aroused . . resentment . . by his sweeping criticism of established institutions" (John A . Kent in the D.A.B.)

He continued to oppose the Anglican projects, among them King's College, which brought him into dispute with the De Lanceys, thereby causing the formation of the Livingston and De Lancey factions in provincial politics. In 1758 his party had driven the other family from control of the Assembly and he became the acknowledged leader in the pre-Revolutionary resistance to Crown interference in provincial affairs and ultimately, the Stamp Act. When his patrician companions became alarmed at the riots inspired by the Sons of Liberty, Livingston tried to reconcile the Sons of Liberty and their their more radical allies to a temporizing position. This was completely unsuccessful, and by 1769 the De Lanceys regained control of the assembly. At this point-, dispirited by his political defeats, he moved in May 1772 to his Country house, "Liberty Hall" near Elizabeth, 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 June 5th, 1776. On that date, he took command of the State's Militia as Brig. General and resigned on August 31st, 1776 upon his election as the first governor of New Jersey.

He held this post for 14 years, and used his "boundless energy" to lead his state through the War and to face the problems of the young country. He helped draft the Federal Constitution and was influential in its ratification in his State. He died in 1790.

Back to Index of Biographies

Back to Historical Archives

link to aboutus