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Livingston, Philip (1716–1778), merchant and politician in America, was born on 15 January 1716 in Albany, Albany county, New York, the fourth of nine children of Philip Livingston (1686–1749), merchant and proprietor of Livingston Manor, and his wife, Catrina, née Van Brugh (1689–1756). Livingston enjoyed the benefits of membership in New York's colonial élite. Having been educated at home and, from about 1733 to 1737, at Yale College, he then served a mercantile apprenticeship in Albany with his father, whose influence brought him valuable clerkships in Albany's local government. In 1740 Livingston married Christina (1718–1801), daughter of Colonel Dirck Ten Broeck, mayor of Albany. They had nine children, of whom eight survived infancy.

After several years in Albany, Livingston moved to New York city. There he became a general merchant, and made his fortune provisioning and privateering during the Anglo-French wars. He also speculated in real estate, acquiring more than 120,000 acres of unimproved rural land, along with holdings in Albany and New York city, including his residence on Duke Street in Manhattan and a country seat in Brooklyn Heights.

Livingston, now financially secure, was prominent in New York's civic and political life. He promoted education by endowing a professorship at Yale in 1746, participating in efforts to establish a college in New York, and serving as one of the original trustees of New Jersey's Queen's College in 1766. One of a circle of merchants and lawyers who about mid-century undertook an array of civic and philanthropic projects, Livingston was among the founders of the New York Society Library (1754), the St Andrew's Society (1756), the New York chamber of commerce (1768), and the New York Hospital (1771). An elder and a deacon in the Dutch Reformed church, he was also a benefactor of New York's Anglican King's College and of the local Presbyterian and Methodist congregations. Between 1754 and 1763 he served as alderman for the city's East ward.

Before the revolution Livingston's most significant political service was at the provincial level. In 1758 New Yorkers elected him to the provincial assembly, where in 1764 he helped prepare a remonstrance against the Westminster parliament's unprecedented attempt to raise revenue in America. A year later he represented New York at the Stamp Act Congress. In 1768 Livingston became the assembly's speaker, but the following year an alliance of merchants, Anglicans, and radical Sons of Liberty unseated him and many other more moderate opponents of British policies. Livingston never returned to the provincial legislature, and his party, a coalition of lawyers, landowners, and religious dissenters, remained in opposition for the remainder of the colonial era. In 1774–5, however, Livingston and his allies were prominent in the extralegal committees and congresses that organized New York's cautious resistance to British imperial policies.

From his initial election to the continental congress in 1774, Livingston increasingly devoted himself to continental politics. In his 1774 pamphlet, The Other Side of the Question, he staunchly opposed parliamentary taxation, but deemed American independence imprudent and undesirable. In 1776 he signed the Declaration of Independence, though, like many conservative whigs, he dreaded the ‘levelling spirit’ of revolution. In 1777, when he took his seat in New York's first state senate, he disparaged the abilities of his fellow legislators, many of whom he believed to lack the requisite education and experience to govern effectively.

A conscientious leader with an aristocratic sense of social responsibility, Livingston exemplified the conservative patriotism of many revolutionary élites. He died on 12 June 1778 in York, Pennsylvania, while attending the continental congress, and was buried at York.

Cynthia A. Kierner

Sources  

C. A. Kierner, Traders and gentlefolk: the Livingstons of New York, 1675–1790 (1992) · C. L. Becker, The history of political parties in the province of New York, 1760–1776 (1909) · P. U. Bonomi, A factious people: politics and society in colonial New York (1971) · Historical memoirs from 16 March 1763 to 25 July 1778 of William Smith, ed. W. H. W. Sabine, 2 vols. (1956–8) · P. H. Smith and others, eds., Letters of delegates to congress, 1774–1789, 26 vols. (1976–2000) · C. A. Kierner, ‘Livingston, Philip’, ANB

Archives  

NYPL, family MSS · NYPL, MSS


Likenesses  

T. McIlworth?, oils, c.1757–1762, Brooklyn Historical Society, New York · A. Delanoy?, oils, c.1771, Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown, New York

Wealth at death  

real and personal property: will, NYPL, Livingston family MSS