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!


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