Sunday, November 6, 2016

The River Ran Backwards and Other Adventures of Robert R. Livingston's First Steamboat on the Mississippi River

Mississippi River icon
It is hard to imagine the Mississippi River without its iconic steamboats beating their way up and down stream. Even Mark Twain once wrote, of the steamboats on the Mississippi; “When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman.” But before all of those boats began to ply the waters there must have been a first steamboat on the river. What was the story of that boat? Why are you reading about the Mississippi River on the Clermont Blog?
Robert R. Livingston, had probably been
planning this for years.
Within days of the first successful voyage of the North River Steamboat in 1807 Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston’s thoughts had turned to spreading their new form of transport to the Mississippi River. Fulton wrote “I think it would be well to write to your brother Edward to get information on the velocity of the Mississippi, the size and form of boats used, the number of hands and quantity of tons in each boat, the number of miles they make against the current in twelve hours, and the quantity of tons which go up the river in a year. On this point beg him to be accurate.”
Robert Fulton
For once not the craziest part of the story
It took Fulton and Livingston four more years to complete their plans but in 1811 they began construction of the New Orleans at Pittsburgh. They had added another partner to the endeavor in the form of Nicholas J. Roosevelt, a distant uncle of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had helped Fulton and Livingston in the construction of the side mounted paddle wheels for the North River. In Pittsburgh he supervised the construction of the new boat which would be 146 feet 6 inches long and 32 feet 6 inches wide. The engine was built in New York and carried in pieces overland to Pittsburgh because there were no facilities for constructing such an engine in the city at the time.
The steam boat made its first successful test trip around Pittsburgh on October 15, 1811. Just five days later, on October 20 the New Orleans set out for New Orleans. Aboard her were Nicholas Roosevelt who would act as captain for the trip, his extremely pregnant wife Lydia and their first daughter. Nicholas Baker was the engineer for the trip and Andrew Jack was the pilot. There were also six deck hands, two maids for Lydia, a cook, a waiter and a large Newfoundland dog named Tiger.
A large Newfoundland Dog. Newfoundland Dogs have webbed feet which
makes them excellent swimmers.
On October 28 the New Orleans docked at Louisville. The steamboat would have to wait at Louisville nearly a month before the water rose high enough in the Ohio River to allow the boat to traverse the Falls of the Ohio, which were more like a series of shallow rapids than an actual waterfall. During the wait Roosevelt took the steamboat on several small excursions including a return to Cincinnati to prove that the boat could travel upstream. On October 30 Lydia Roosevelt gave birth aboard the New Orleans to a son they named Henry.
The New Orleans enters the Mississippi
They departed Louisville in late November to make their way over the Falls and after stopping to resupply into the Mississippi River. It was hoped that the Mississippi River would be relatively easy to cruise down. Andrew Jack had experience on the river and knew the channel well.
It was not an easy cruise to New Orleans.
On December 16, shortly after the New Orleans had entered the Mississippi, the New Madrid earthquake hit. This earthquake, which was actually an extended period of severe tremors, has been estimated up to an 8.0 on the Richter scale basically reshaped the Midwest. The entire channel of the Mississippi was erased, the course of the river changed dramatically. For about an hour after the most severe tremors the river actually ran backwards. Jack, the pilot, had no idea where he was and soon found himself navigating the boat over areas that only hours before had been fields or forests. Whole sections of the shore were dropping into the river, islands appeared and disappeared.  Tiger the dog would often give warning of a fresh tremor by putting his head in Lydia’s lap before it hit.
The New Orleans had to navigate a river full of obstacles and unknowns after
the earthquake
A few days after the worst of the tremors the New Orleans arrived in New Madrid itself. Houses had fallen into the holes that opened in the ground. Many people asked to be taken aboard but the steamboat had neither the space for all the refugees or the means to supply them.
The New Orleans finally arrived in New Orleans on January 10, 1812. It had spent a total of 259 hours cruising on the trip and averaged 8 mph. The time announced for the trip did not include all of the time lost stopping to wait for the right conditions or for other reasons.
In less than two weeks the New Orleans set out on the first voyage along the route that Livingston and Fulton had envisioned for it, New Orleans to Natchez and back. The ship could make 3mph upstream and 10mph downstream meaning she could complete a round trip every three weeks.  Fulton and Livingston began to sell stock in their steamboat which realized a profit estimated to be about $20,000 in its first year in operation. Edward Livingston also helped his brother and Fulton get a monopoly on steam travel in the territory. Violating the law would mean having to pay Fulton and Livingston $5,000 for each violation and forfeit any unauthorized steamboats to them.
The Chancellor did not live long enough to enjoy the monopoly on the river to its fullest; he died in 1813. The New Orleans met its end in July of 1814. She snagged a log or some other obstruction near Baton Rouge which punctured her hull. The ship sank but her engine was removed and used in a later vessel of the same name.
In 1989 author Clive Cussler and his National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) set out to try to find the final resting place of the original New Orleans. They surveyed the shore and were able to come up with a “ballpark” location for the boat but unfortunately the Army Corps of Engineers had laid a steel and concrete revetment mattress over the site in 1971 to help control erosion. This made finding an exact location using various forms of metal detectors impossible.
1911 "replica" of the New Orleans
I mean they are both boats...


Sources:
NUMA Expeditions New Orleans www.numa.net
A Critical Account of the Beginning of Steamboat Navigation on the Western Rivers of the United States, Pittsburg Legal Journal, Vol 59 No. 42 (21 October 1911) pp 570-591
The Rambler in North America by Charles Joseph Latrobe 1832-1833

The Sea Hunters II by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo G. Putnam’s Sons 2004







Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lord Cornbury's Dress


Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon and Viscount Cornbury is perhaps the most maligned royal governor that the colony of New York ever had. His reign from 1702 to 1708 was marked with greed, bribery and rampant misuse of public funds. Yet the thing he is most remembered for is this:

That’s right. If one was to believe the rumors then Lord Cornbury really liked to dress in women’s clothes. Some historians believe that Cornbury truly did parade around New York in full gowns. Other historians believe this was a started to discredit the governor by his political rivals in New York, chief among them Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor.
Lord Cornbury as he would like to be remembered

Livingston had been a fan of Cornbury’s when he first arrived in the colony, writing “My Lord is Extrem hearty to redresse all grievances, we must reckon it a duble mercy that God has been pleased to send him at this juncture.”[i]

Cornbury soon lost Livingston’s support though. After a harrowing trip to England that involved being briefly seized by French privateers and set adrift, Livingston spent about three years getting his accounts settled and getting his offices confirmed by the Queen. When he returned home in 1706 he found that the colonists were united against Cornbury who had been badly mismanaging the colony. When Livingston presented his commission as Secretary for Indian Affairs to Cornbury, Cornbury refused to recognize it despite Queen Anne’s signature. Cornbury apparently preferred to keep the money due to Livingston for his own use.[ii]

Robert Livingston: Started from the bottom now he's here
In June of 1707 Robert Livingston wrote to William Lowndes of the Treasury;

William Lowndes of the Treasury.
Nothing to do with the story but he had 25 legitimate kids.
So good for him.
“Tis said he is wholly addicted to his pleasure…his dressing himself in womens cloths commonly [every] morning is so unaccountable that if hundreds of spectators did not daily see him it would be incredible.”[iii]

Livingston's letter was the first in a series of letters to officials in England describing Cornbury’s odd habit. Later that year Lewis

Morris, ancestor of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston’s good friend Gouverneur Morris and owner of the Morrisania estate in the Bronx wrote his own letter. It said:

“The scandal of his life is…he rarely fails at being dresst in Women’s cloaths every day, and almost half his time is spent that way, and seldome misses it on Sacrament day, was in that garb when his dead Lady was carried out of the Fort, and this not privately but in face of the sun and in sight of the Town. But I’ll not enter into his Privacies, his Publick Vices are scandalous enough.”

Lewis Morris
A real big wig in colonial New York.
See what I did there?
In 1709 Morris wrote about Cornbury again:

“...that is his dressing publiqly in womans cloaths Every day and putting a stop to all publique business while he is pleasing himself with that peculiar but detestable magot.”[iv]

It should be noted that Morris was also an opponent of Cornbury’s. Cornbury had suspended Morris from the New Jersey provincial council. Morris was not reinstated until Cornbury was done as governor.

The last about the governor’s dressing habits came from the pen of Elias Neau, a Huguenot refugee turned merchant and catechist. Neau wrote:

“My Lord Cornbury has and dos still make use of an unfortunate Custom of dressing himself in womens cloaths and of exposing himself in that Garb on the Ramparts to the view of the public; in that dress he draws a world of Spectators about him and consequently as many Censures, especially for the exposing himself in such a manner all the great Holy days and even in an hour or two after going to the communion.”

Neau went one step further than the other writers and commented on Cornbury’s style as well:

“I am assured that he continues to dress himself in women’s cloths, but now tis after the Dutch Manner.”[v]

Not only was Cornbury dressing like a woman but he was dressing like a Dutch woman, not even a good English woman!

            Historian Patricia Bonomi assures us that the rumor of Cornbury’s cross dressing did not gain much traction in England or elsewhere in the colonies, yet some people did hear of it. A merchant from Boston wrote to an associate in New York;


Baron von Bothmer
Very interested in how certain English people dressed.
Muliebri Veste uti (women’s clothing), is instanced in as against the Law of Nature. It has been reported that a certain Gentleman at N. York used to practice that abomination. I should be glad to know the certainty of it.”[vi]

Several years later Hanoverian diplomat Baron von Bothmer wrote that he had heard that Cornbury “thought it was necessary for him, in order to represent her Majesty, to dress himself as a woman.”[vii]

            So it is at least possible that a royal governor of New York dressed like a woman. Perhaps he enjoyed it or, as Bothmer suggested, perhaps he took his job representing Queen Anne in the colonies a little too seriously. It is also possible that he was just an unpleasant man brought down in part by the combined efforts of Robert Livingston and a few other colonists whom he had offended. Either way Cornbury was replaced by John Lovelace, 4th Baron Lovelace in 1708. Cornbury returned to England, spent some time in debtors’ prison and was briefly an envoy to the court of Hanover. He died in 1723.

As you wish
Frequent Clermont Blog reader Cary Elwes is apparently descended from Lord Cornbury


[i] Bonomi, Patricia U. The Lord Cornbury Scandal p59
[ii] Leder, Lawrence H. Robert Livingston p 200-202
[iii] Bonomi The Lord Cornbury Scandal p 158
[iv] Bonomi The Lord Cornbury Scandal p160
[v] Bonomi The Lord Cornbury Scandal p 161.
[vi] Bonomi The Lord Cornbury Scandal p 162
[vii] Bonomi The Lord Cornbury Scandal p 17

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Katharine Comes Home: An Exciting New Donation from a Livingston family Descendant

This small collection of mini-
ature portraits proved to be just
the beginning.
It all started almost three years ago, when a Livingston family member arrived from England with a surprise donation of several miniature portraits from Katharine Livingston Timpson's family--his family.

Katharine Livingston Timpson
and her first two children:
Theo and Kay
Katharine, John Henry's daughter from his first marriage, was a favorite of her grandfather, and briefly inherited Clermont before selling it back to her father for one dollar.  After a split with her father around 1905, Katharine and her family moved to England, bringing with them the furnishings, jewelry, letters, and pictures that surrounded their daily lives.  Many of her grand children and great grandchildren still live there, and many of Katharine's belongings have been passed down to them.

Maizeland, Red Hook, NY
Over the past few years, her descendants have spent hours photographing her belongings that remain in their possession, painstakingly sending us image after image via email:  pictures of her house in Red Hook, called Maizeland, where her first two children grew up, pictures of her jewelry and clothes--even a rare picture of the inside of Clermont!  Over and over again, I kept yelling "wow!" and my office neighbors would have to come over and see what we'd received this time.

Clermont's study, possibly 1890s
This photo made all of the staff so excited,
I have to admit, I stood up and did a little jig.
After more than two years of this, the most exciting email of all arrived in my box:

Photos were sent in advance, showing
us what kind of things we needed to
be prepared for.
Our friend was coming back again--this time with his luggage stuffed full of photographs and belongings for donation to Clermont.  His timing couldn't have been better. With a new curator of collections on staff, we were ready to take on the incredible amount of work that goes with any donation.  This was even more important when we started getting photos of what was coming over, because we realized that the total could be over 1,000 artifacts!


On Memorial Day weekend, we got to work, checking in one artifact after another and frequently just marveling over the trove that was in my office.  Some of the biggest revelations from the collection were three previously-unknown photographs that showed the interior of Clermont.  New views of the study, the dining room, and the drawing room will give us new insight into the mansion's Victorian-era appearance.  Still others were touching reminders of the bonds of family, like a bible embossed with Katharine's mother's name.  Even some day-to-day items were part of the donation, like a little tub of rouge with a fancy-sounding French label.

It took more than two days for three staff members to catalog the 700 photos and several hundred three-dimensional artifacts by hand.  Submitting items for acceptance into a museum collection is a big deal.  Not only does the object need to be historical, it also needs to meet the museum's Collections Policy, a document that gives clear guidelines for what a museum can take in.  Just because we think an object is neat doesn't mean we're allowed to accept it.  Among other qualifications, it has to have a clear provenance to the Livingston family--especially those who lived at Clermont.

A bible with Katharine's mother's maiden
name embossed on it.  Catharine was John
 Henry's first wife
Once we had everything recorded, it was to be submitted to the Collections Committee for approval.  This body helps New York State historic sites monitor their incoming donations to make sure that they are appropriate for the museum, but in this case, we had little doubt they would be accepted.

But the work doesn't end there!  Each individual item still has to be cataloged and housed in archival-quality storage.  A curatorial assistant had to be brought in for this massive project, which is expected to extend for five weeks.  And once everything is cataloged, then we can do what we really like to do with our collections--exhibit them so you can come and see!

Katharine was an amazing and an interesting woman of her time.  But without the thousand or so artifacts we're still sifting through, we'd never know her that way.  Each piece that was accepted for our collections helps us to understand she and her children as human beings, and we look forward to sharing that with you the public.  Why?  Because seeing historic people as real people with thoughts and feelings and make-up and babies and family photos is what makes history something you can relate to.  And really that's our whole goal here.

We'll keep you updated as we get ready to unveil this daughter of Clermont next spring!




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dangerous Companion: Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and the Traitor's Wife

Benedict Arnold
Traitor



          The story of Benedict Arnold’s treasonous actions at West Point is so well known that the man’s very name is synonymous with traitor in the United States. He planned to turn over the fort at West Point along with all the soldiers stationed there to the British in exchange for a great deal of money and a commission as a British officer. But how did Arnold get command of the exact position the British needed him to give up? The answer is his wife.

Peggy Shippen Arnold
She looked so innocent
            Arnold married Margaret Shippen (commonly known as Peggy) of Philadelphia in in 1779. Almost immediately she helped him contact the British to begin arranging the terms under which he would turn his coat. Their contact was a former suitor of Peggy’s, Major John Andre, whom she had met while the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777 and 1778. In a touch of irony for the Livingston family, Andre had been captured by General Richard Montgomery at Fort Saint Jean in Canada in 1775. Had he not been released later in a prisoner exchange perhaps none of what followed would have happened.

John Andre, self portrait done shortly before he was hung


            Peggy also began making friends with important Americans in the city in order to further her husband’s aims. One of these men was Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. Livingston was a fan of Arnold’s before Peggy got involved. His brother-in-law Montgomery had fought with Arnold in Canada. His brother Henry had praised and in turn been praised by Arnold for actions at the Battles of Saratoga. Livingston thought Arnold was a competent and active officer and much superior in comparison to Israel Putnam, for instance, who the Chancellor spent most of 1778 trying to have removed from the army for his inactivity. In February of 1780 when Arnold’s court martial sentence for corruption was sent to Congress for approval the Chancellor was one of only three members of Congress to vote against it.
 
            Peggy and the Chancellor spent a great deal of time together in Philadelphia. By the summer of 1780 he was convinced that Arnold was the man to command West Point, which was one of the most tactically important positions in the country as it commanded the Hudson River but for the Livingstons represented the only real barrier between their land and a repeat performance of the destruction wrought by the British army in 1777. On June 22, 1780 the Chancellor, long accustomed to providing welcome military advice to the General, wrote to George Washington:

A French Plan of West Point in 1780
nary a stream or a swain to be seen
“I might presume so far I shd beg leave to submit it to your Excellency whether this post might not be most safely confided to Genl Arnold whose courage is undoubted—who is the favourite of our militia, & who will agree perfectly with our Govr”

General Philip Schuyler of Albany also threw his support behind Arnold to command West Point and soon Washington responded to the Chancellor that he would give command of the fort to Arnold at the first opportunity, which came in August of that year.

            The Chancellor’s closeness with Peggy Arnold had not got unnoticed though. On September 4, 1780 Arnold’s sister Hannah wrote him a gossipy letter, now in the collection of Harvard, from Philadelphia that included the following warning:


Robert R. Livingston
dangerous companion
“As you have neither purling streams nor sighing swains at West Point, tis no place for me; nor do I think Mrs. Arnold will be long pleased with it, though I expect it may be rendered dear to her for a few hours by the presence of a certain chancellor; who by the by, is a dangerous companion for a particular lady in the absence of her husband. I could say more than prudence will permit, I could tell you of frequent private assignations and of numberless billets daux, if I had an inclination to make mischief. But as I am of a very peaceable temper I’ll not mention a syllable of the matter.”

It is important to note here that Arnold’s sister was a bit of a busy body. No one else has ever accused the Chancellor of anything more than flirtation with pretty ladies. Furthermore Arnold probably knew and encouraged Peggy to spend time with the Chancellor as it furthered his goals.


            Arnold was now in command of West Point though and events began to happen very quickly. On September 20, 1780 Andre came up river on the Vulture to make the final arrangements with Arnold. They met on September 21. On September 22, a distant cousin of the Chancellor’s, Col. James Livingston was in command at Verplanck’s Point. He took offense to the Vulture idling in the river in front of his post and ordered his men to open fire with a small cannon. They holed the Vulture several times forcing her to fall back down the river. Andre could no longer return to New York City by river and was forced to try to go overland. He was captured and documents he carried revealed the entire plot. On September 24 Arnold slipped aboard a British ship. Peggy was sent to New York City to join him a few days later. Andre was hung as a spy on October 2.


            In the immediate aftermath of the revelation some accused both Schuyler and Livingston of being involved with the plot to turn over West Point to the British. Both men had pushed for Arnold to receive the post and some no doubt remembered how close Peggy and the Chancellor had been in Philadelphia. Washington however refused to believe that either man could have had anything to do with the plot and the matter was dropped.

 


In the mid to late 19th century Clermont or John Henry Livingston
purchased this candelabrum depicting the capture of Andre which
now resides in the library of Clermont State Historic Site
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The letter from Hannah Arnold to Benedict Arnold can be viewed on Harvard’s website here


A transcription of the letter from the Chancellor to George Washington can be viewed here

For more information see

Secret History of the American Revolution by Carl Van Doren

Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman Behind Benedict Arnold’s Plot to Betray America by Mark Jacob and Stephen M. Case.

           










 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Margaret Beekman Livingston and the Gunpowder Mill


Margaret Beekman Livingston
"Molly Pitcher ain't got nothing on me" (probably not a real quote)
By now you’ve surely read our previous post about Judge Robert R. Livingston’s gunpowder mill, well some newly discovered information has changed our view about who had the gunpowder mill rebuilt and ran it following the mill’s explosion and the Judge’s untimely passing.

According to an account book that belonged to Margaret Beekman Livingston, now in the collection of Princeton, she paid G. Steenbergh a little over £3 on February 17, 1776 for work at the powder mill. That same day she paid £1.3.0 to another man for twelve barrels for the powder mill. Samuel Green received £6.5.0 for his work at the powder mill on February 20, 1776. In March Hendrick Levy earned £1.12.8 for his work on the gunpowder mill.

These few payments seem to go against the previous information that her son John had the mill rebuilt. He must have taken over the rebuilt mill at some later date. Margaret Beekman Livingston, in the months after the deaths of four of the most important men in her family ensured that the American army would have the gunpowder it needed to fight the British, further proof that the Livingston matriarch was probably the toughest person to ever walk the halls of Clermont.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dance Puppets Dance: The Livingston Family and the Burr Hamilton Duel Part 2


John Armstrong
The last living representative to the Continental Congress
such a contrarian that he refused to die
until he had been photographed
This will make a whole lot more sense if you read Part 1 first!
At this point another Livingston in-law stepped in to make Aaron Burr’s life miserable: John Armstrong who was married to the Chancellor’s sister Alida, and was a lifelong trouble maker. During his time in the army Armstrong had been responsible for writing the letters that became known as the Newburgh Conspiracy. They called for the officers of the army to assemble and demand their missing back pay from Congress. Only an emotionally-devastating speech by George Washington kept this from becoming a full-on mutiny. In 1792 he published a series of satirical essays about his own brother-in-law, the Chancellor, when Robert was running for governor.
To reitterate this is a man who made a room full of
angry, hardened army officers weep by putting on his glasses

Armstrong and his ally DeWitt Clinton began viciously attacking Burr. In New York they worked to ensure that Burr’s friends and allies did not receive government jobs handed out by the Council of Appointment. It soon became very dangerous to be associated with the Burr name. Even the Chancellor who was used to political maneuverings was a bit shocked at how thoroughly Armstrong and Clinton destroyed Burr.


DeWitt Clinton, George Clinton's nephew
Not that George Clinton! Go read Part 1.
In 1804 the two men arranged a deal to drive Burr out of politics completely. Through a series of negotiations and favors it was arranged that George Clinton would run for both vice president and governor that year. He would win the governor’s seat and then resign it when he was elected vice president. The state Senate would then fill the vacant chair with the Chancellor who would return from France to take the job. On February 25, 1804 the plan started to go into action. At the Democratic Republican caucus Aaron Burr received exactly zero votes to be returned as a vice-presidential candidate.

The plan was put in danger though when George Clinton refused to run for governor of New York. He was replaced by Morgan Lewis, another brother-in-law of the Chancellor’s. Lewis had been a soldier, fighting in several iterations of the Northern Army throughout the Revolutionary War. He married Gertrude Livingston during the war and became a lawyer after the war. By 1801 he had become the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court but was largely unknown outside of legal circles.
Morgan Lewis
Third choice of his party but still whooped
Aaron Burr.
Nevertheless, when the votes were counted Lewis had won by more than 8,700 votes, the largest margin of victory in a New York gubernatorial race to that point.

Burr found himself facing the apparent end of his political career. When his term ended in March of 1805 he would have nowhere to go. He began to search about for someone to blame for his failures over the course of the last year. He focused on Hamilton and in particular a letter in the Albany Register in which Dr. Charles DeKay Cooper claimed to have heard Hamilton express a “despicable opinion” of Burr. A series of letter passed between Burr and Hamilton which lead to the anger between the two men only growing. Burr demanded a public apology for what Hamilton had said but Hamilton feared that apologizing would take away the last shred of respect anyone held for him. On June 11, 1804 the two broken but proud men faced each other, rather than any of the members of the Livingston faction who had played important roles in both of their downfalls, across the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New Jersey. Their guns barked.

The exact moment Hamilton realized he had thrown away his shot
The next day Hamilton was dead and Burr was on his way to South Carolina. He eventually returned and finished his term in Washington. He then went into the Louisiana Purchase (recently completed by the Chancellor) and managed to get himself into trouble there. He went to Europe briefly but returned and lived the last few years of his life in New York City, never holding any type of political office again and occasionally having to use an alias.
The alias worked but he was never a master of disguise

The Livingston’s were nonplussed by the duel. The Chancellor returned from France the following year having doubled the size of the country. He went on to great success in agricultural pursuits and with the invention of the steamboat. Edward Livingston went on to be mayor of New York, a congressman and senator from Louisiana, Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson and Minister to France. John Armstrong was a senator and later became Secretary of War during the War of 1812. Morgan Lewis served out his term as governor. When the War of 1812 broke out he returned to the army and was promoted to major general. After the war he found success in more intellectual pursuits, serving as the president of the Historical Society of New York and helping to found New York University.
           The role that Hamilton and Burr’s personalities played in their duel cannot be over stated. Both were very proud and stubborn men. Ultimately it was their personalities that brought them to Weehawken. Events of the time contributed significantly to their dispute, events which were in part orchestrated by the Livingston family. Perhaps if Burr had not been so rash in challenging Hamilton he would have found himself facing Armstrong or another Livingston who had helped to end his time in government.

For more information see:
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
The Democratic Republicans of New York by Alfred F. Young
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dance Puppets Dance: The Livingston Family and the Hamilton-Burr Duel Part 1



Robert R. Livingston
Not a good guy to mess with
Over the course of about two decades the Livingston family destroyed two men. By the end of 1804 one of the men was dead and the other was a shell of his former self who would never return to the political power he once had. The two men were, of course, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

          Chancellor Robert R. Livingston disliked Alexander Hamilton for a long time. Possibly as far back as 1777 when Hamilton insisted there was no way the British would attack the Hudson River Valley from New York City and discouraged Washington from sending troops to aid in the defense of the River despite the Chancellor’s belief that the redcoats would march north. The British army of course did march north and they burned down the Chancellor’s house.


Alexander Hamilton
messed with Robert R. Livingston
In 1784 with the war over and the difficult process of building a nation ahead of them the Chancellor and Hamilton once again found themselves at odds. Hamilton was pushing a national bank based on purchasing the debt accumulated by the states during the recently ended war. Livingston opposed the plan. He favored a land bank in which capital would be provided to people based on mortgages. I don’t really want to delve deep into the economic theory of the two ideas because that is the job of an economist so to put it simply Hamilton favored an economy based on credit and Livingston favored an economy based on land. The Chancellor mustered all his influence in 1784 and again in 1786 and managed to have Hamilton’s plans blocked.


George Washington's first inauguration
In 1789 after the Chancellor swore George Washington into office as President he expected a high ranking position in the federal government, possibly a Supreme Court position or a cabinet post. He was sorely disappointed. Hamilton, who still held Washington’s ear, managed things so that the Chancellor was only considered for the post of minister to Great Britain which Livingston could not accept because he did not want to leave the country while it was still in its infancy or a fairly low ranking loan officer position which the Chancellor could not take as it was below him.

This one was of many cracks that developed in the relationship between Livingston and Federalist leaders. In 1790 when Hamilton pushed his economic plans again, Livingston once again stood against him. Livingston even went so far as to pull out his old pen name "Cato". In December of that year he called the plan a “public injustice” although the plan was eventually approved.


Aaron Burr, sir.
Philip Schuyler
Caught in the crossfire

 The following year when Aaron Burr ran for the Senate as a Democratic Republican against the Federalist incumbent Philip Schuyler, he had the vigorous support of Chancellor Livingston who sided with the emerging New York Democratic Republican party. Schuyler was Hamilton’s father-in-law, a former general in the Continental Army and a former ally of Livingston’s. The Chancellor had actually supported Schuyler in the first gubernatorial election that he lost to George Clinton. Schuyler became a victim of Livingston’s anger at Hamilton. Many people in New York assumed that Burr’s election was “the fruit of the Chancellor’s coalition with the Governor [George Clinton]”. By punishing the Chancellor in 1789, Hamilton had created a powerful enemy in New York.

Not that George Clinton
This George Clinton
Over the next few years the Chancellor slid even more into the Democratic Republican camp. In 1791 he met with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in New York City before the pair set out on a trip through New York ostentatiously to study the flora and fauna but in reality shoring up political support. A correspondent reported to Hamilton that “There was every appearance of a passionate courtship between the Chancellor, Burr, Jefferson and Madison”  In fact the Chancellor fell so far to that side that Washington would not consider him as Secretary of State when Jefferson resigned despite the fact that Jefferson was pushing for his nomination. He had become too critical of the administration, particularly of Hamilton.

The Reynolds Pamphlet: Have you read this!?
Never gonna be President now.
Hamilton also helped damage his own reputation over the next several years. In 1795 he resigned as Treasury Secretary although he was still a close friend and advisor of Washington.  In 1797 much of his public standing dissolved with the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet, in which Hamilton divulged information about an affair he had had in 1791 and 1792 with a married woman named Maria Reynolds and her husband’s subsequent blackmailing of Hamilton.

John Adams
Guys can I be president again?
Sit down John.
Soon the election of 1800 rolled around. The Federalist Party ran incumbent president John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Hamilton was not a fan of Adams and still had enough power to draw enough votes away from Adams that he would not be returned to the presidency despite the fact they were nominally of the same party. However this
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Was also there in 1800.
completely destroyed his reputation among Federalists. He would never hold another important office. The Democratic Republicans ran Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr with the idea that Burr would come in second to Jefferson and they would serve as president and vice president. They had considered running the Chancellor for the vice presidential spot because he would almost certainly draw votes away from Adams, but they chose Burr because it was felt he would garner more support in the south. When the electoral votes were counted Burr and Jefferson were tied for first. The decision then went to the House of Representatives, where Edward Livingston served. Burr asked Edward to carry a message to Congress that he would in fact like to be president. Many found this open campaigning for the position distasteful and after thirty six ballots Jefferson was chosen as president and Burr vice president.

Tune in next time to find out what the Livingstons did to Burr!