The Chancellor & New York

Many famous diplomats and politicians began their work at the state level, and Robert Livingston is no exception. One of Livingston’s first jobs was Recorder of the City of New York in 1773. It was easy to see that Livingston was destined for a life of revolutionary greatness because he was fired from his job for asserting his positon in favor of the American people and not the British authority. This was a tumultuous time for politicians to say the least, as many of them were developing a state within a developing nation. This is very prevalent in Robert Livingston’s case in the development of New York while at the same time, being a representative on the Continental Congress and doing his part to advance the country as a whole.

In 1777, Robert Livingston was a crucial component in the drafting, and ratifying of the New York State Constitution. What made this situation unique was not only was the fight for American independence happening simultaneously, but also the New York Constitution of 1777 was a Declaration of Independence within itself. John Jay and Robert Livingston both had the idea of an independent state of New York and ways of establishing a political system. The opening remarks of the document are explicit in their language:

“Whereas the many tyrannical and oppressive usurpations of the King and Parliament of Great Britain on the rights and liberties of the people of the American colonies had reduced them to the necessity of introducing a government by congresses and committees, as temporary expedients, and to exist no longer than the grievances of the people should remain without redress; And whereas the congress of the colony of New York did, on the thirty-first day of May now last past, resolve as follows, viz.” (Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library)

Replacing the Colonial Charter, the New York Constitution of 1777 established a bicameral legislature containing an assembly and senate, as well as an executive branch held by the Governor of the state.  There was equal representation among New York residence in the Assembly, based on counties. This was a foundational document that stood in place for a number of years, because it had both New York and its constituents as well as the interests of America as a whole.

As a result of the New York Constitution of 1777, Robert Livingston begins another highly coveted positon as the Chancellor of New York in 1777. The Chancellor is the highest ranking judicial officer in the state, as The Chancellor was required to be a lawyer and appointed to the positon. The reason this is so significant is because Livingston was the first Chancellor in New York history. Prior to 1777, the colonial governor was acting Chancellor. This was a huge step in the direction of New York being a sound independent state and a glimpse of the new American political system at work Livingston held the positon of Chancellor from 1777-1801, and he is forever known as “The Chancellor” even to this day. (Gale: West's Encyclopedia of American Law)