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Henry Brockholst Livingston Edit Profile

judge , lawyer

Henry Brockholst Livingston was an American Revolutionary War officer and a justice of the New York Court of Appeals. Eventually he became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.


Mr. Livingston was born in New York, United States, on November 25, 1757 to Susanna French and William Livingston.


Henry Brockholst Livingston graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1774, on the eve of tire Revolutionary War. There he received Bachelor of Arts. While at Princeton, Mr. Livingston had James Madison as a classmate.


When the war began, Mr. Livingston served under General Philip Schuyler and General Benedict Arnold and ultimately progressed from his initial rank of captain to that of lieutenant colonel. A different service intruded on a further military career, however, and in 1779 he traveled abroad to serve as secretary to John Jay, his sister’s husband, American diplomat to Spain, and future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The association between Henry Livingston and John Jay soon turned bitter and poisoned the relationship between two men for years. In 1782 Mr. Jay departed Spain for France as one of the American commissioners delegated to negotiate the end of the Revolutionary War. Mr. Livingston set out for home, bearing dispatches for Congress, but was captured by the British on the return voyage. He managed to destroy the dispatches prior to his capture, but the British held him for a time as a prisoner of war in New York. Eventually, though, he was paroled. He was soon able to undertake the study of law in 1783 with Peter Yates in Albany, New York. Thereafter, Henry Livingston set up a law practice in New York City, where his work included successfully defending tire accused in the famous "Manhattan well mystery" case. In that murder trial, Mr. Livingston served as co-counsel with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr for the accused, the fiance of a woman whose body had been found in a well. The ensuing years also saw him enter the arena of politics, winning election in 1786 to the New York Assembly.

Unwelding hostility toward his brother-in-law John Jay may have partially fueled the transformation of his political views (he joined Democratic Republicans) - a hostility given full vent during John Jay’s 1795 gubernatorial campaign in New York, when Mr. Livingston actively opposed his election. Mr. Jay won the election of 1795 and again in 1798, but popular sentiment soon veered toward Democratic Republicanism, and Henry Livingston rode the rising tide of political support for the new party to successes of his own. He won election to more terms in the New York Assembly, and in 1802 he was appointed to a seat on the New York Supreme Court.

As early as 1804, Henry Livingston’s judicial service and Democratic sensibilities had attracted the attention of President Thomas Jefferson, who appears to have considered him for the seat on the Supreme Court that eventually went to Thomas Johnson of South Carolina. Two years later, however, Mr. Jefferson seized the opportunity presented by the death of Associate Justice William Paterson to nominate Henry Livingston to fill the vacant seat. The Senate confirmed his nomination in December 1806, and Mr. Livingston arrived at the Court in time to participate in the February 1807 term.


  • Henry Livingston was a distinguished law practitioner who held one of the highest and most important positions, serving as a justice of the New York Court of Appeals and later becoming an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.


Toward the end of the 1780s, Mr. Livingston drifted from the Federalist fold into that of the Democratic Republicans.


In addition to his work on the Supreme Court, Livingston found time and energy to pursue a variety of public services. He helped found the New York Historical Society and was a trustee of Columbia University for nearly 40 years.

  • New York Historical Society , United States


Though Henry Livingston eventually earned a reputation as a congenial man, during the early years of his adulthood he appears to have been burdened with a more violent temper. He participated in several duels, with such regularity that one female relative wrote to Mr. Livingston’s sister at the time he left the country to serve as John Jay’s secretary in Spain, warning her to restrain him from his practice while on foreign soil. "Tell Henry to beware of engaging in a quarrel with the Dons in Spain. This dueling is a very foolish way of putting oneself out of the world." Whether this caution had any effect during Mr. Livingston’s sojourn in Spain is unclear. It did not deter him from further duels, however, and in 1798 he killed a man during one. Henry Livingston’s temper also seems to have inspired of enmity against him; in 1785 he was the object of an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

Quotes from others about the person

  • “Associate Justice Joseph Story: "His genius and taste had directed his principal attention to the maritime and commercial law; and his extensive experience gave to his judgements in that branch of jurisprudence a peculiar value, which was enhanced by the gravity and beauty of his judicial eloquence."”


Justice Livingston was married three times, to Catharine Keteltas, Ann Ludlow, and Catharine Kortright. He had a total of eleven children: five by Catharine Keteltas, three by Ann Ludlow, and three by Catharine Kortright, who survived him.

Catharine Keteltas - American

Ann Ludlow - American

Catharine Kortright - American