Monday, September 18, 2017

The Chancellor and the Ditch

The First Lord of Livingston Manor
2017 marks the bicentennial of the beginning of construction of the Erie Canal. It was the canal that turned New York into the Empire State. Of course, it took a long time to arrive at the first shovel of dirt. In fact, Robert Livingston, First Lord of Livingston Manor had traveled into what was then Indian territory in what would be western New York. He reported to several successive royal governors that improvements to the natural waterways of the colony would allow access to the abundant resources of the western lands. He was ignored.

The first commission on the Erie Canal was formed in March of 1810. It was carefully assembled to include federalist and democratic-republicans. The committee included Gouverneur Morris, Stephan Van Rensselaer, William North, Thomas Eddy,
DeWitt Clinton
DeWitt Clinton, Simeon DeWitt and Peter Buell Porter. Gouverneur Morris was the titular head of the committee but it was widely known
that DeWitt Clinton was the driving force behind what would become known as “Clinton’s Ditch.”
Gouverneur Morris
The major accomplishment of the committee was to convince the New York State Legislature that the canal was in face a feasible project. In June of 1810 the entire committee, except for Morris, traveled by water as far as they could on the Mohawk River then, joined by Morris, traveled to Lake Erie by carriage. They then produced a report that spurred the Legislature to act.

On April 8, 1811, the legislature approved $15,000 for the commission to begin their work. They also added two new members to the commission, Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton. Livingston and Fulton. Livingston and Fulton had a monopoly for steamboat travel on the Hudson River and were in the process of building a steamboat to ply the Mississippi River which would give them a monopoly on that river as well. Having them on board would provide an even greater economic incentive for farmers and merchants to use the canal.
Robert Fulton

The Chancellor
Fulton and Livingston quickly found important roles on the commission. Fulton was to help find designers who could build the canal while Livingston would work with DeWitt Clinton to try to find national sources of funding for the project. In October, 1811 they sent a letter to the governments of all American states and territories pointing out that the canal would benefit the entire country and that they should either pay New York to help build it or pressure the federal government to give New York funds to offset the cost of construction.

It didn’t go well.

The states that bothered to respond at all sent resounding no’s.


Shortly thereafter the War of 1812 put the canal on hold although the commission retained its power and in 1812 was legally allowed to create a fund to pay for the canal. (This was repealed in 1814).

Livingston had one more role to play in the commission’s history, which he did by dying in February of 1813. Opponents of the canal in the New York legislature took the Chancellor’s death as an opportunity to challenge the authority of the entire commission, claiming that it ended when one member died and the committee would have to be reformed. Eventually Attorney General of New York, Abraham Van Vechten ruled that the power of the commissioners did not end with any particular member’s end.


It would be another four years before construction on the canal would begin. The canal was not finished until 1825.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How to Blow Up a Gunpowder Mill


I recently received a few letters I had requested from the Gilder Lehrman Center and immediately answered a question that has nagged me for years. We know that in late 1775 the mill exploded.
But why? I mean, yes, it was a gunpowder mill and if you make it right, gunpowder will explode. But what actually happened at Judge Robert Livingston's mill?

As it turns out it was the age old story. Stupidity.


Judge Robert Livingston wrote in a letter dated 15 November 1775 to his son in law, General Richard Montgomery, that

Judge Robert Livingston
"three stupid fellows fired a piece two or three yards from the place where the powder was drying" (The Judge had been sent a load of damaged powder from Fort Ticonderoga to try to salvage but you read my previous blog on the mill so you know this) He goes on "which set fire to the pans & then to the powder mill which unfortunately blew up, & they with the poor powder maker are most unfortunately burnt that they live is very extraordinary about 500 lbs of powder was blown up"

Wow. There's a lot there to dig into. The Judge tells us that the cause of the explosion were three chuckleheads. Its unlikely that they were employees of the mill but more likely militia men sent to guard it. He also tells us that the four men at the mill survived the explosion but were badly injured. We also know that 500 lbs of gunpowder were destroyed. I'm not sure I can fathom what 500 lbs of gun powder looked like when it exploded but it must have been exciting.

Maybe something like this? I don't know. I'm guessing at least one of the guys got burned trying to walk away all slow without looking back.

He also reveals where the gunpowder was supposed to go when it was ready. Again to Montgomery the Judge wrote "I should have been much more affected with my loss had you not met with so lucky a supply." This seems to indicate that the gunpowder was bound for the invasion of Canada. The "lucky supply" was gunpowder that Montgomery had captured from the British during his early successes during the invasion.


So one nagging historical question I've had is answered. The gunpowder mill blew up because of three yokels playing with guns. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An insatiable Ambition devours the Chancellor: Robert Livingston, John Jay, A Treaty, An Election and the Death of a Founding Friendship

Robert R. Livingston
"Insatiable" 
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston could be a powerful and influential friend to have. Unfortunately, it was very easy to earn the man’s enmity. As a result, Livingston retained few friends for long periods of time. His three most significant friends from before the Revolution were Richard Montgomery, Gouverneur Morris and John Jay. All three men were at one time or another as close as brothers to the Chancellor but over the years the closeness ended.
            Richard Montgomery was married to Chancellor Livingston’s older sister, Janet. The two men became close friends often spending time talking science, agriculture and politics. Both had similar political leanings. Both were sent to New York to guide New York in the early days of the war. Livingston was chosen to go to Congress in Philadelphia while Montgomery remained in New York. With Livingston’s influence, Montgomery was selected as a brigadier general in the new army. On the last day of 1775 his friendship with Livingston came to a sudden and rather violent end when he was struck by several grapeshot while leading an assault on the city of Quebec.
Gouverneur Morris
Ladies man and leading Peter Stuyvesant
impersonator of the 18th century (not really, probably)
The real death of Montgomery was less poetic and neat and
more grapeshot in the head
            Gouverneur Morris met Livingston at King’s College, when he entered a few years behind the Chancellor. Morris and Livingston had similar backgrounds, both were from landed family, and, again, similar political leanings. During the war they frequently served together in various bodies or corresponded about their respective duties. Livingston even had Morris check into the background of Thomas Tillotson when he proposed marriage to one of the Chancellor’s younger sisters. If there was one thing about Morris that Livingston particularly disliked, it was Morris’s penchant for the ladies. Livingston once even took the time to write a letter to Morris admonishing him for spending time with ladies when he should have been attending to his Congressional responsibilities. Given his reputation as a Lothario it is unlikely that Livingston would trust Morris alone with his wife, mother, daughters, or sisters. After the war Morris moved to Pennsylvania and his duties took him away for long periods of time. While he and Livingston never formally ended their friendship they had lost the closeness they once shared.
John Jay
Decent judge, terrible diplomat
            John Jay was the Chancellor’s closest friend for many years. The two had also met at King’s College. After graduating they served their time as law clerks at the same time and passed the bar together. They briefly operated a law firm together and became fairly prominent in New York City society life. Jay even married a cousin of Livingston’s. As they matured they became the god father to each other’s children. In 1776 they made plans to live together with their wives while attending Congress but an illness for Sarah Jay prevented this from happening. During the war the men wrote the lion’s share of the New York Constitution together, they worked on the defense of the Hudson River together and they were even involved in some counter espionage together.
            The brother like closeness these two men shared makes the ending of their friendship all that much more tragic. The first cracks appeared during the war. In 1777 Jay tried to slip some anti-Catholic clauses into the New York Constitution which Livingston prevented. Later when Livingston was Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Jay was one of the peace negotiators in France, Livingston rebuked the negotiators for exceeding their authority and keeping the French in the dark about their negotiations. Jay responded with an enormously long letter explaining their reasoning.
            After Livingston issued the oath of office to George Washington, making him the first President of the United States of America, his relationship with his friend Jay was further strained. Jay was made Chief Justice of the Supreme Court while Livingston received no federal title. Not only was Jay earning his enmity but so was the entire Federalist party.
            In a relatively short amount of time Robert Livingston would switch his allegiance to the Democratic-Republican party and bring along most of his family or “faction” as his political enemies preferred to call it. In 1795 John Adams celebrated the defeat of Tillotson for office as a victory over the Chancellor in a letter to his wife. “Mr. King is re-elected by the Legislature of New York by a majority of five in the House and two in the senate, in opposition to Mr. Tillotson, whom you know, to have married a Sister of Chancellor Livingstone. This is a great Point gain’d.”[i]  Of course Adams had always hated Livingston although he blamed their animosity on Livingston saying “The Passion which has influenced the Chancellor, through Life has been envy of Mr. Jay, and consequent Jealousy of the Friendship between Mr. Jay and me. He hated me because I was the friend of Mr. Jay.”[ii] The relationship between the Livingstons and the Federalists became so bad that a cousin of Livingston’s, Maturin Livingston, very nearly dueled Alexander Hamilton in 1796 but Hamilton begged off because he already had another duel scheduled.[iii]
            It seemed that Livingston and Jay had a chance to become friends again in 1794, until Washington sent Jay to England to negotiate a new treaty that would tie up some loose ends from the Revolution. When the text of what became known as the “Jay Treaty” became generally known John Jay became one of the most hated men in America. People felt he had conceded far too much to the British. Jay was quoted as saying he could have traveled from Boston to Philadelphia at night by the light of his burning effigies. Livingston was perhaps the loudest voice criticizing the treaty. He published a series of letter under the pen name “Cato” blasting the treaty and even wrote directly to Washington to pressure him not to ratify it. To Washington he wrote; “Nothing but your glory can save under these circumstance the honor of our nation.”[iv]
Nope, still not this George Clinton
            In 1795, while he was still in England, Jay had been elected governor of New York when long time governor George Clinton declined to run again. Many had expected Livingston to be Jay’s opponent in the election but the Democratic-Republican surprisingly chose Robert Yates, whom Jay easily defeated.
Abigail Adams,
Actually thought the Chancellor was
worse than Satan
            Three years later the Chancellor was chosen to run against Jay. The election was tough and dirty. Vicious ads and letters filled the newspapers. It attracted the notice of people in other states. Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams of the Chancellor “An insatiable Ambition devours the Chancellor. To see Mr. Jay stand higher in the publick estimation and Elected chief over him; fills him with the same sensations, which Milton puts into the mouth of the Arch Fiend. “Better to Reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.””[v] That’s right. She compared him to Satan. Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison “Hard elections are expected there between Jay & Livingston.”[vi]
 Worse yet the Federalists of New York moved in masse against the Chancellor. Alexander Hamilton, who had never forgiven Livingston for opposing his financial plans in the 1780’s, went so far as to write to Timothy Pickering to ask him to examine the papers of the Chancellor from his time as Secretary for Foreign Affairs looking for ammunition to use against him.[vii]
Philip "Ow, My toe hurts to much to fight" Schuyler
            At one point during the campaign Livingston paid a visit to Philip Schuyler at Schuyler Mansion in Albany. Livingston and Schuyler had often found themselves on the same side during the war, even though a very convenient case of gout kept Schuyler from commanding the expedition against Canada which effectively ended with Montgomery’s death. Livingston complained of Jay and the federal government, perhaps forgetting the Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. No sooner had Livingston finished his rant and departed the house than Schuler put quill to paper to report the meeting to Hamilton; “he and his friends are Assiduous in blackening Mr. Jay’s character.”  He went on to say of the Chancellor “The man my dear Sir has worked himself up to such a pitch of Enmity against our Government as approaches Madness.”[viii]
            Livingston lost the election. Three years later Thomas Jefferson sent him to France. He returned a few years later having doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase and went on to a life of success in agriculture and business. In the meantime, his “faction” had seen to the end of the political careers of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Jay had retired from public service in 1801 to become a farmer but he and Livingston never spoke again.







[i] John Adams to Abigail Adams 29 January 1795 Adams Papers
[ii] John Adams to Francois Adriaan Van Der Kemp, 23 August 1806 Adams Papers
[iii]  See letters between Hamilton and Maturin Livingston January 18, 20 and 21, 1796. Hamilton Papers
[iv] Robert R. Livingston to George Washington, 8 July 1795 Washington Papers
[v] Abigail Smith Adams to John Quincy Adams 27 May 1798, Adams papers
[vi] Thomas Jefferson to James Madison 3 January 1798, Madison Papers
[vii] See letters between Alexander Hamilton and Timothy Pickering 10 February and 5 April 1797 Hamilton Papers.
[viii] Philip Schuyler to Alexander Hamilton, 31 March 1798, Hamilton Papers

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Bicycle Comes to Maizeland

Two servants in the Maizeland household support baby Kay
Timpson on a bicycle, while grandfather John Henry
Livingston looks on.  c. 1903
I was doing some research for a project on the importance of bicycles to turn-of-the-century American women, when I came across these pictures in the recently-donated Katharine Livingston Timpson collection.

They're fabulous pictures for all kinds of reasons--from John Henry's affectionate gaze at his granddaughter Kay, to the personal and rare portraits of two household servants.  But the reason these photos caught my eye this time is of course the bicycle.




New York Journal, 1896, from the Library of Congress
Not long after the introduction of the safety bicycle and then the drop-frame bicycle marketed towards women in the late 1880s, America was seized with a cycling craze.  With increased popularity and increased production, bicycles became pretty affordable by the 1890s, putting them within reach of the middle and even some of the working class.  The lyrics to the popular song "Daisy Bell" put a point on this by crooning,

   It won't be a stylish marriage
  I can't afford a carriage
  But you'll look sweet
 Upon the seat
 Of a bicycle built for two.


Just as Daylight Was Breaking,
from the Library of Congress
As with so much else, there was an element of romance to the bicycle.  Unmarried ladies and men were able to able to ride together without a chaperone, and the idea of the "New Woman" daintily speeding by on a bicycle took on a bit of a titillating note.  The 1896 song "Julienne!"

  Oh have you seen a pretty girl so neat 
  With golden hair and little dainty feet
  Upon her wheel go riding down the street
  A perfect little belle in every way
  She is the girl who sets their hearts on fire
  A trifle pert; a rogish flirt
  And there's not a chap in town that doesn't             say

  Oh Julienne, oh Julienne I her so
  I talk and think and sing of her wherever I go
  She's just the face and figure to attract all              men
  I've never loved a girl as I love Julienne

Men and women both readily took to "the silent steed," forming a bazillion bicycling clubs, competing in races, and just generally being out and seen on a bicycle.  Club-sponsored rides or "runs" challenged participants to do a hundred miles in a single day, called a "century."  Less formally, men and women turned out by the hundreds in good weather to take advantage of the best roads and get a little fresh air.  In fact, the League of American Wheelmen and other bicycling clubs were big advocates for paving American roads, years before the automobile cruised them.

from Clermont's collections
Bicycling even had an impact on fashion, finally giving common women the incentive to try out some of the recommendations that dress reformers had been pushing for over forty years.  In order to make bicycling more comfortable and safer, women made themselves bicycling outfits, hemming their skirts a few inches above the ankles and reducing the number of petticoats to the bare minimum.  Some more serious women--like round-the-world cyclist Annie "Londonderry"Kopchovsky--even made bloomers for bicycling, though the garment was highly controversial and often the subject of ridicule.

Shirk bicycle ad, 1890s
from the Library of Congress
As bicycling became ubiquitous in America, it became a little bit of a victim of it's own success.  At the end of the 1890s, bicycle club membership was slipping.  Pretty soon their novelty was eclipses by the automobile, and bicycles lapsed into the background as an overlooked part of daily life.

So what does all this have to do with that one bicycle that appeared at Maizeland one summer afternoon in 1903?

As usual when presented with a nifty picture and little context: I don't exactly know.  Still, linking the household to this wider movement does give us some interesting context on the Livingstons.  Here they are participating in this national craze--albeit a little late.

Theo Timpson as a toddler, surrounded by
others with unknown identities. c. 1903
Who's is this bike?  The frame shows it to be a man's bicycle, possibly a tall man's.  Could it be that John Henry, who has stripped down to his shirt sleeves in the first photo, rode this bicycle a few miles down the road from Clermont to show it to his daughter in Red Hook?  Maybe.  Or maybe it belongs to the taller of the two boys in the picture at right (with Theo perched atop the seat).  He is wearing knickers, which could be either for bicycling or merely a symbol of his youth.

Nevertheless, it does point out the ubiquity of the bicycle and the kind of novel excitement it still conjured when one was brought to the house.  Now if only we knew just which Livingston man was cruising the roads of Dutchess County on his wheel...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Our Fellow Bloggers:Gatehouses of the Hudson River District

Our friend and neighbor Conrad Hanson has compiled a list of gatehouses in the area surrounding Clermont.

In the late nineteenth century, the riverside was populated with Livingston relations, friends, and people from their wider social circle.  As they they flowed from house to house on summer visits, these gatehouses formed part of their landscape, serving as landmarks and reminders of the larger mansions hidden down winding roads and behind the forests.

For the men and women who worked on these estates, the gatehouses served any number of functions, including for housing their families, like this image of Clermont's gatehouse and the Rall family who lived there in 1927.

Why not read this blog to take a little armchair tour of some of these structures in our area?



Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Calendar of Events

February 22                 Wednesday         11 am-1 pm     Winter Break Playday!: Celebrate winter break and Presidents Day at Clermont! Old fashion hot chocolate making, historic crafts, and snowman building (weather permitting) Parents must accompany children throughout the event. Ages 5-11 Kids are free, adults $5.

March 19                     Sunday            1 pm                Scuttlebutt and Scandals in the Livingston Family:  A lecture by Curator of Collections Geoff Benton, Education Assistant Emily Robinson and Interpretive Programs Coordinator Kjirsten Gustavson that will explore three scandals from the Livingston family’s past. Presented in the historic kitchen of Clermont.  ($8 per person. Reservations required.)

April 22                       Saturday          11 am – 4 pm  The Chancellor’s Sheep & Wool Showcase: Shearing, spinning, dyeing, knitting and weaving demonstrations, exhibition of various breeds of sheep and other wool bearing animals, wool artisans and shops, music & food.  ($10 per vehicle event fee, Friends $8)

May 14                        Sunday            1 pm                Mother’s Day Tea:  Enjoy a family-themed tour of Clermont’s gardens and share a beautiful tea with a mother you love ($18 per person.  Free for Children under 5.  Reservation required)

July 4                           Tuesday           2 – 10 pm        An Old-Fashioned Independence Day: 18th century crafts, Reenactors, music and entertainment.  A great day for young families.  Later, enjoy live music and delicious hot food until a view of the Saugerties Fireworks over the Hudson River ($12 per car, Friends of Clermont $10)


July 10-14                   Mon-Fri           9am-3pm         Young Writers Camp will be held at Clermont Historic site as part of this year’s The Hudson Valley Writing Project organized by SUNY New Paltz. Young writes will explore regional history and the creative process as they sit on the banks of the Hudson River and join past writers and artists who have celebrated the landscape through word and image. Contact the Friends of Clermont at (518) 537-6622 for an application.


 

July 31- August 4        Mon-Fri           9am – 3pm      Junior History Club: For children 7-12 ($150 per child, $130 per child for Friends of Clermont members) “Campers will explore the museum’s extensive grounds, play games, and make historic crafts that will help them to learn about the lives of the Livingston family at Clermont. At the end of the week, the children will put on a performance for their parents, acting in costumed skits as Livingston family members they have researched during the week.”



October 20, 21, 27, 28

                                    Fri & Sat          6 – 9 pm          Legends by Candlelight Ghost Tours: Candlelight tours of the museum and grounds; ghosts of the museum’s history.  Tours at 6:00 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00pm ($12 per adult, $5 per child, all Friends of Clermont $8, reservations required)


December 2 & 3          Sat & Sun        10 am -12 am  A Child’s Christmas: Drop in for stories read under the Christmas tree and treats for children ages 3-10 ($4 per person)

December 9                 Sat.                  5-7 pm             Friends of Clermont Holiday Party: Free for members; guests $10


December 16               Sat.                  11 – 4 pm        Christmas at Clermont Open House: A great day for families.  Free admission


December 17               Sun.                 3 – 6 pm          Candlelight Tours of Clermont:  Tableaux Vivant of Christmas traditions through the ages, glittering decorations, and wassail and traditional holiday goodies served in the historic kitchen ($12 adult; $5 for children under 12)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alice and Katharine--What's Their Deal?

So it is a known fact at Clermont that Alice Delafield Clarkson's dad Howard was close friends with her eventual husband John Henry Livingston.  The two men lived just a few miles apart, and they were distant cousins in the way that so many Hudson Valley elites were at that time.

Alice and John Henry got married in 1906.  Alice was 34 years old at that point (her husband was 58), and we at Clermont had always assumed that she must have known him most of her life.  Letters from the 1870s show that the two men were friendly and paid each other visits.  Alice even pasted one photo from 1900 into her scrapbook that was taken of Clermont's east porch, showing her future husband holding the reins to a carriage and another man, probably her uncle on the porch. Given that it is in Alice's scrapbook, it's a reasonable assumption that she was at Clermont that day and took the picture.

Katharine Livingston
But we also always wondered how well she knew John Henry's eldest (and at that point, only) daughter Katharine.  Alice and Katharine were only about a year apart in age, and while Alice had several sisters, Katherine had none.  It would not be uncommon for Katharine to play with the Clarkson girls.  Friendships between girls of similar ages and social standing were encouraged in the late 19th century--just like today.

Up until recently, there was only the one photo from Alice's scrapbook to ever suggest that the two women were familiar with each other before Alice married Katharine's dad.  But the recent donation of many of Katharine's family photos may lend support to the theory that the two girls were very well acquainted.


It all hinges on whether or not the guy on the right in this picture is Howard Clarkson and whether the girls on the bench are Alice's sisters.

It is hard to identify people in historic photos.  It just is.  If you've never seen somebody in person, matching up static features on a thumbnail-sized face is tricky at best.  We've got this photo that Alice identified as Howard Clarkson to compare it to.  From what I can tell, it seems possible.


The daughters are even trickier.  I'm comparing it to this photo from several years before, and the girls have definitely done some growing up, which makes it even harder.

But go with me here.

If that guy is Howard Clarkson, and these are two of his daughter sitting on the bench (though I'm quite sure neither of them is Alice), then they are all hanging out at Clermont quite casually, being photographed by Katharine.  There is some sort of friendship here.  These girls are messing around, sitting on the stairs, and lounging in the grass--not having polite tea and stilted conversation in the drawing room.

If Katherine knew the Clarkson girls, she knew Alice.

So why didn't Alice come along to hang out this day?  She and Katherine were so close in age, it seems likely they would have shared at least some interests.  Did the two girls not get along?  Or was she just busy or sick that day and didn't want to take a carriage ride over to Clermont?

And then that brings up another mystery.  When Alice married John Henry in 1906, there was some sort of estrangement between Katharine and her dad.  It was so bad that Katharine convinced her husband to move to England, pretty much ensuring they wouldn't have to see her dad for a good long while.  Family speculation has long linked the falling out to the marriage, but no one knows why.

Perhaps the answer lies in Katharine's relationship with Alice.  We know that later in life the two women had a strained and even contentious relationship.  Many of their arguments centered on money.  Had their relationship always been rocky?  Or did their troubles begin when John Henry announced his marriage to Katharine's childhood playmate?

Okay so we will probably know all the answers, but getting to the heart of these relationships is part of looking at the very real lives of the Livingston family--or really anyone in history.  I mean, contemplating the emotions that go along with a parent marrying your peer really makes me wonder what Katharine was feeling, and it makes her oh-so-human.  Sure the "truth" of the matter is hard to get at, but the questions and the speculation are enlightening in their own way.




Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"The Gentleman Does Not Reason From Facts": Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and the Fight to Ratify the Constitution in New York

Not that George Clinton
That George Clinton
Yes I know I've done this joke
before but its still funny
When the Constitutional Convention adjourned in Philadelphia the fight to create a unified country out of thirteen individual states was far from over. In every state another convention was to be held where the leaders would decide whether or not to ratify the new Constitution. Influential individuals were still rife with fears left over from the Revolution; fear of a standing army, fear of a strong central government and fear of loss of control. New York was not exempted from these fears, in fact anti-federalist ideas may have been held even stronger by members of New York’s ratification convention as they had vivid recollections of the long British occupation of New York City and bitter fighting in a significant portion of the state. Chief among the anti-federalists was New York’s long time governor George Clinton.
Alexander Hamilton,
Not really important to the story but his name gets
the hits
The Constitution had many valiant defenders in New York, including Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was not alone in these efforts though. He was ably joined by John Jay on the Federalist papers but on the debate floor it was Robert R. Livingston who became a force of nature although he receives almost no credit for his efforts.
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston
Smarter than you, richer than you and he knows it.
Livingston had not been in Philadelphia to help draft the Constitution although his name had been considered as a delegate. He had come to realize the importance of a strong central government during his time in the Continental Congress and as Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Following his time has secretary Livingston had returned to New York to reassert himself as the Chancellor of New York, a role which had been challenged while he was out of the state.
In Poughkeepsie, where the ratification convention was held, Chancellor Livingston quickly became notorious among the anti-federalists for converting their members to the federalist cause. He was known to single out members of their faction and take them to a tavern, sometimes with Jay or Hamilton, and ply them with food and drink until they had converted them to the federalist side. The anti-federalists simply had no one with the near bottomless purse of the Chancellor who could treat delegates in that fashion.[i]
Livingston’s influence was best shown on the floor of the debate though. He spoke frequently in a sarcastic and condescending tone about specific tones as well as the idea of anti-federalism in general. Melancton Smith was a frequent sparring partner of the Chancellor’s. Smith insisted that a federal system would be dominated by the aristocracy who would be by their very nature corrupt, or intemperate in his words.  To this the Chancellor replied:
Melancton Smith
Perhaps sparring partner is too strong,
maybe verbal punching bag?
“Will he presume to point out to us the class of men in which intemperance is not to be found? Is there less intemperance in feeding n beef than on turtle; or in drinking rum than wine? I think that the gentleman does not reason from facts.”
He went on to ask, rhetorically, who would lead the country in Smith’s world;
“But who in the name of common sense will he have to represent us? Not the rich; for they are sheer aristocrats. Not the learned, the wise, the virtuous for they are all aristocrats.”[ii]     
This sentiment echoed a point he had made in an oration to the New York Society of Cincinnati on July 4, 1787 when he said;
“Can it be thought that an enlightened people believe the science of government level to the meanest capacity? That experience, application, genius and education are unnecessary to those who are to frame laws for the government of the State.”[iii]
Clearly the Chancellor favored a strong central government led by the best society had to offer dedicated to what was best for the country as a whole. On June 24, 1788 Livingston found himself in the odd position of having to clearly explain the role of the senate to his fellow delegates after their status came up in the debates. He said;
“The Senate are indeed to represent the State governments; but they are also the representatives of the United States, and are not to consult the interest of any state alone but that of the union.”[iv]
            During the debates the Chancellor rarely let an opportunity pass to make a point without belittling anti-federalism. Once he compared anti-federalist arguments to “children blowing bubbles.” Later when disputing a point started with “let us see if we cannot, from all this rubbish, pick out something which may look like reasoning.” He could not.[v]
            When many anti-federalist insisted that the individual states should control separate military forces the Chancellor was forced to illustrate how ridiculous that idea was;
“How is Congress to defend us without a sword? You will also keep that. How shall it be handled? Shall we all take hold of it? I never knew, till now, the design of a curious image I have seen at the head of one of our newspapers. I am now convinced that the idea was prophetic in the printer. It was a figure of thirteen hands, in an awkward position, grasping a perpendicular sword. As the arms which supported it were on every side, I could see no way of moving it, but by drawing it through with the hazard of dangerously cutting their fingers.”[vi]
            If anything the Chancellor seemed to enjoy the enmity he earned from the antifederalists. When his tactics were questioned because they seemed to arouse so much hatred toward him he reportedly said “that if he had no wit himself, he had been the occasion of wit in others…”
            Not even family was safe from the Chancellor’s barbs. When a cousin, Gilbert Livingston, argued a point with the Chancellor, Livingston turned to the rest of the assemblage and said;
John Jay
A long time friend of the Chancellor until he
wasn't but that's a story for another day
“that my worthy kinsman across the table, regardless of our common ancestry, and the tender ties of blood, should join his dagger to the rest, and compel me to exclaim in the dying words of Caesar, “And thou, too, Brutus.””[vii]
Thoroughly rebuked, when the time came to vote on the Constitution, Gilbert voted with the Chancellor.
            New York’s delegates were still debating when word reached them that New Hampshire had ratified the Constitution. This meant that enough states had ratified the document that it could take effect. The Chancellor took the floor and declared “The confederation was now dissolved.” In short, there was no going back.
            In the end it was the Chancellor’s friend (at least at that point) John Jay who finally moved that the body vote to accept or reject the Constitution. After a final attempt to delay by the anti-federalists the Constitution was ratified in New York on July 26,1788.

The Chancellor can be seen in his judge's robe carefully orchestrating the hand shake between
George Clinton and Alexander Hamiliton



[i] Dangerfield, George Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746-1813 p 224
[ii] The Debate on the Constitution Bernard Bailyn ed. P777-778
[iii] Livingston, Robert R. An Oration Delivered Before the Society of Cincinnati at the State of New York in Commemoration of the Fourth Day of July. p.10
[iv] The Debate Bailyn p 792
[v] The Debate Bailyn p 837
[vi] Elliot’s Debates Volume 2 p 386.
[vii] Elliot’s Debates Volume 2 p 394-395