George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert R. Livingston, 21 October 1788

From Robert R. Livingston

New York 21. Octr 1788

Dear Sir

It is very long since I have done myself the honor to write to you. The respect I had for your time induced me to restrain my inclination & confine my Letters to occassions on which I conceived they might be of use—My brother designing to do himself the honor of paying you a vissit, affords me an opportunity of gratifying his wishes by introducing him to your Excellency, & my own, by the means it offers of congratulating you upon the great events which under your Excellencys Auspices have just taken place1—Never I believe was such a revolution effected in so short a time and in so tranquil a manner—Which I attribute (under heaven) not only to a sense of the imperfections of our old constitution, but to the general confidence which people of every rank reposed in the virtues & ability of the man their common voice had designated to preside over the new one. When I look round me and consider the local & personal objections that might be offered to any other, I am ready to acknowlege, in your Excellencys health & popularity, the same providential attention to the happyness of this country, which was displayed by heaven, in the preservation of your life amidst the dangers of the late war—And I can not but hope that your civil administration will be equaly blessed with your late military command, & equaly conduce to your honor & the happiness of the community.

I have expressed no doubt of your acceptance of the station to which you will shortly be called, because I persuade myself, that no motives of private ease, or personal convenience will weigh with you when the great interests of the community require your service.

An important revolution is probably about to take place in France which if the proposed reforms are effected will render her extreamly powerful, her resources are great, but this can never be commanded in any but a free country. I am sorrey to find our freind DeLafayette has incurred the displeasure of his sovereign, and the more so as I believe he has mistaken on this occasion the true interests of the nation.2 Mr Necker is again called to the administration of the finances, which either proves that the king does not want ⟨illegible⟩ment in the choice of ministers, or that the sentiments of the people have acquired some influence over the opinion of the court.3

permit me Sir to request you to present my most respectful comps. to Mrs Washington, and to express the pleasure which Mrs Livingston4 & myself feel in the hope of seeing her & your Excellency here. I have the honor to be Dr Sir with the sincerest esteem & respect Yr Excellencys Most Obt & Hum. Servt

R. R. Livingston

ADfS, NHi: Robert R. Livingston Papers.

Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813) was a member of the Clermont branch of New York’s influential Livingston family. During the Revolution he was one of GW’s most loyal supporters, and GW and Mrs. Washington visited Clermont for several days in 1782. Livingston served in the Continental Congress and as secretary for foreign affairs from 1781 to 1783. He held the post of chancellor of New York from 1777 to 1801. As chancellor, Livingston administered the presidential oath of office to GW in New York in April 1789. When the new government was instituted, Livingston clearly felt that his past services and his strong support for ratification of the Constitution in New York entitled him to consideration for a government position, preferably as chief justice or as secretary of the treasury. In May 1789 he wrote to GW asking to be considered for an appointment, and GW returned a noncommittal reply (GW to Livingston, 31 May 1789). As was the case with the branch of the family at Livingston Manor, the Clermont Livingstons received little preferment under the new government, although GW considered making Livingston postmaster general (GW to Hamilton, 25 Sept. 1789). By 1793 the chancellor had joined the rest of his family in support of the Washington administration’s opponents.

1Livingston had three brothers: Henry Beekman Livingston (1750–1831), John Robert Livingston (1755–1851), and Edward Livingston (1764–1836).

2Livingston is probably referring to Lafayette’s signing of a petition from the nobles of Britanny concerning twelve Breton deputies who were arrested and confined in the Bastille. “The Marquis de la Fayette,” Jefferson wrote John Brown Cutting, “for signing the paper which these deputies were to present, and which was signed by all the other Nobles of Bretagne resident in Paris (about 60, in number) has been disgraced, in the old fashioned language of this country; that is to say, the command in the South of France this summer, which they had given him, is taken away” (24 July 1788, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 13:403–7). As Madison wrote to Jefferson on 8 Oct. 1788 “Newspaper authority” had already spread rumors of the marquis’s disgrace. “Sometimes the report runs that he is in the Bastile; at another that he is at the head of a revolt in some one of the Provinces” (Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 11:276–77). On 12 Jan. 1789, however, Jefferson informed Madison that there “has been little foundation for the reports and fears relative to the M. de la Fayette. He has from the beginning taken openly part with those who demand a constitution: and there was a moment that we apprehended the Bastille: but they ventured on nothing more than to take from him a temporary service . . . at the very time they pretended that they had put him into disgrace, they were constantly conferring and communicating with him. Since this he has stood on safe ground” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 14:436–38).

3Jacques Necker (1732–1804), Swiss financier and Paris banker who held the post of French director general of finances from 1776 until the early 1780s, was recalled by Louis XVI as director general of finances and minister of state in the summer of 1788 when France’s financial affairs had reached a state of crisis.

4Livingston’s wife was Mary Stevens Livingston, daughter of John Stevens of New Jersey and sister of the inventor John Stevens.

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