An American Chancellor’s Two Anniversaries
by John F. Di Leo – April 30, 2015 A.D.
Interesting trivia for today: What do the inauguration of George Washington and the Louisiana Purchase have in common?
On April 30, 1789, the newly elected first President of the United States stood on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City to take the oath of office. We didn’t yet have a Supreme Court (the president has to appoint them), so the senior legal official of the state of New York was the natural choice.
The senior judge of New York was Robert R. Livingston, the 25-year Chancellor of New York, best known simply as The Chancellor (there were a LOT of Livingstons in New York politics; calling him The Chancellor made it easier).
It is said that the Chancellor noticed with horror, just before it was time for the oath, that there was no Bible on the balcony, so he quickly had a friend rush to the nearby Masonic lodge to borrow a Bible. Shortly thereafter, borrowed Bible in hand, Robert R. Livingston administered the oath to his old colleague from the Continental Congress, and America had our first President.
Fast forward a dozen years or so. As soon as President Jefferson learned that the territory west of the Mississippi had been transferred from Spain to France, he sent a delegation to France to see if they could negotiate the acquisition of some of it.
Now, we didn’t really know how big that tract of land was, at the time… we just knew we needed the water rights to the Mississippi River. Jefferson hoped that his Minister to France – Robert R. Livingston – might be able to negotiate something with Napoleon.
As our ambassador, Livingston led the delegation, and the general effort… as news from the western hemisphere grew more and more unpleasant to the ears of Napoleon. A slave revolt on Haiti. Piracy and harrassment by the British Navy on the high seas. The ridiculously long communication lines from France across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean, and up the Mississippi to what few European settlements there were.
How could Napoleon possibly govern, and control, an empire with such communication lines? He must have thought back to the difficulties of Ancient Rome, the challenges of Alexander, and come to simple conclusion: the middle of North America was just too far away. Dump it.
Robert R. Livingston therefore managed to obtain a massive tract of land, some 828,000 square miles, as it turned out, for the relatively low sum of $15 million. (estimated to be about $240 to $280 million in today’s money, but who can compare?)
The documents were drawn up, and were dated April 30, 1803, and were signed by the Chancellor and his fellow delegate, James Monroe of Virginia.
So it is that April 30 is a key date for the people of America, and for Chancellor Robert R. Livingston.. This day celebrates two key anniversaries in both his career and America’s: the Inauguration of George Washington, and the Louisiana Purchase.
Robert R. Livingston of New York, Founding Father. Hear, Hear!
copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo