OTD: Jay is appointed Minister to Spain


#Onthisday in 1779 John Jay is appointed Minister to Spain.  Jay’s personal secretary was Battles of Saratoga veteran Henry Brockholst Livingston.

John Jay (12 Dec 1745 – 17 May 1829) was the former president of the Continental Congress.  Jay was appointed minister to Spain and tasked with winning Spanish support for the American Revolution and Spain’s recognition of America’s independence.  (John Jay had an amazing life as an American statesman, diplomat, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, signer of the Treaty of Paris, and first Chief Justice of the United States (1789–95).)  He picked Henry Brockholst Livingston to be his personal secretary.

Henry Brockholst Livingston was the son of Governor William Livingston of New Jersey and was born on November 25, 1757. A classmate of James Madison, he graduated from Princeton in 1774. At the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Livingston joined the 3rd New York Regiment and participated in the siege of Ticonderoga. He served on the staff of General Philip Schuyler.  Then he served as an aide to General Benedict Arnold in the Saratoga campaign, and witnessed British General John Burgoyne’s surrender of a complete army in 1777.  .He was granted leave of absence from the army to accompany his brother-in-law, John Jay, as his private secretary, on his mission to Spain, 15 Oct. 1779.

For more than two years, Jay with Livingston at his side negotiated for Spanish support of the American cause.  They were only successful in getting occasional loans and a supply of war materials from Spain.Their inability to gain recognition of American independence was the result of Spain’s fear that the revolution might spread to Spanish-controlled colonies in the Americas.

On his return voyage, he was captured by the British. He was later paroled, whereupon he commenced his legal studies in the law office of Peter Yates in Albany. Admitted to the bar in 1783, he practiced law in New York City from 1783 to 1802, and was a counsel for the defense in the landmark case of Rutgers v. Waddington (1784).

Henry Brockholst Livingston was appointed an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court on January 8, 1802. During the years 1802 to 1806, he wrote 149 opinions, including a famous dissent in the fox hunting case of Pierson v. Post (1805).

On December 15, 1806, Henry Brockholst Livingston was nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 17, 1806, and served on the Supreme Court from then until his death.

A recognized expert in maritime law, prize law and commercial law, he was considered one of the “silent” members of the Court. Although he wrote few opinions, he was known for his scholarly observations, good humor and quick wit. He had a reputation for easing the tensions among the Justices that threatened to divide the Court.

In 1818, he was conferred with an LL.D. by Harvard College. Henry Brockholst Livingston died in Washington, DC, on March 19, 1823.

Livingston was descended from Robert Livingston Esq who was an original Saratoga patentee.  Through marriage he is related to the Schuylers, van Schaick, Gansevoorts, Duer, Ten Broeck, and van Rensselaer, and occupied a prominent place in the society of the period.

Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance make up this community.  There are many individuals like Henry Brockholst Livingston that help define this country and our community.  It is the determination of our forefathers, in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future.  It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world political development.  That is why studying the people of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human.


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