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Hamilton LS on Declaration-Signer Philip Livingston's Estate, Ten Years After His Death
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ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Autograph Letter Signed, to [William Livingston], December 15, 1788, New York, New York. 3 pp., 6¼ x 7¾ in. Together with an engraving of Hamilton, 6 x 8½ in.

Inventory #27212       Price: $11,000

Complete Transcript

Dr Sir

Doctor Jones has communicated to me a letter of yours to him on the subject of a demand you have against the estate of your brother Phillip. As it is an object to all parties to save expence to the estate I take the liberty to explain you to its present situation. Since the death of Philip the Younger administration with the will annexed has been granted to Doctor Jones Doctor Livingston, your son Brockholst and myself. In permitting ourselves to be included in this troublesome and unprofitable business both Brockholst and myself have yielded to the solicitations of our colleagues. A suit has lately been brought against us for the executor of the trust by some of the Creditors and it is our intention to bring matters forward as soon as possible to have the direction of the Chancery for our guide and sanction.

Having stated this much My Dear Sir, I am only to assure you that it is my fixed resolution to <2>to prevent all unnecessary delay and to get rid of the burthen of the trust in the most expeditious manner consistent with our safety. I am persuaded that the interested Gentlemen associated with us are in the same disposition. They see clearly that this is the only course to be pursued and that to take a different would be to sport reputation and invite censure to no purpose.

But why it may be asked has a suit in Chancery been rendered necessary? The answer is that the affairs of the estate were in themselves complicated, and with the addition of certain transactions of the former administrators involve questions which the present Administrators ought for their own safety to receive the direction of the Chancery upon.

This direction in a single suit will suffice. And indeed it is the intention to bring forward in the <3> present suit such a general view of the subject as will answer the purposes of all the Creditors. Other suits therefore as they cannot expedite and as they will diminish the fund by the expences attending them cannot be adviseable.

I have thought it proper myself to make the statement to you that you may know what is to be depended upon and may the better judge of the utility of a suit on your part. I remain with great respect & attachment

                                                            Dr Sir Yr Obed Sr

A Hamilton

New York Decr 15, 1788 <4>


Letter from the celebrated General Hamilton before he became Secretary of the Treasury under Washington. Sent to me by D. B. Ogden Esq of N. York son of the gentleman to whom it is addressed, (Coll Saml Ogden of Newark, N. Jersey.

                                                                        R. Zilen[?]1832

Historical Background
Although the endorsement asserts that the letter was addressed to Samuel Ogden of Newark, New Jersey, the contents indicate that it was addressed to William Livingston (1723-1790), the first governor of New Jersey who briefly housed the orphaned Hamilton after he arrived in the colonies in 1772. The letter discusses the complicated estate of Philip Livingston (1716-1778), who signed the Declaration of Independence and was the older brother of William Livingston. His unexpected death prompted the New York Legislature to assign trustees for his estate.

When Philip Livingston died in 1778, his estate had insufficient value to meet his debts, and the New York legislature passed an act naming new trustees after the original executors renounced the position.[1] The trustees were his son and heir Philip Philip Livingston (1741-1787), Isaac Roosevelt (1726-1794), and his nephew Robert C. Livingston (1742-1794). When his son Philip, to whom Hamilton here refers as “Philip the Younger,” died, the remaining trustees appointed Hamilton, son-in-law Dr. Thomas Jones (1733-1794), son-in-law Rev. John H. Livingston (1746-1825), and nephew Henry Brockholst Livingston (1757-1823) as the new administrators. It would take years to complete the settlement of the estate.

On December 22, William Livingston replied from Elizabethtown, New Jersey: “I shall upon account of that letter, & upon that account only, postpone the operations I intended to begin on the first of January, by the Doctors of Law, against those of theology & medicine to the 2d of April next. I am convinced that neither you nor Brockholst would have any other view in embarking on such a troublesome business than that of doing speedy justice to the creditors of my brother with as little detriment to his estate as is consistent with that justice, but there are others Sir, who I have reason to believe, will defer that justice as long as they can, knowing that by so doing, such creditors as I am, whose bonds amount to the penalty, upon which there is consequently no interest to be expected, they are gainers.” Livingston’s reference to doctors of “theology & medicine” are likely references to Philip Livingston’s sons-in-law. “I am persuaded,” he continued, “that the proceeds of my brother’s real estate, converted into cash, would after discharging all his debts leave a very considerable overplus to his legatees.” He concluded, “I will have patience, in honour to your application, till the 2d of April when I suppose the affair will be in status quo, as I believe it would be, if postponed to the year 1800.”[2]

In March 1792, the New York legislature removed Hamilton, by then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, from responsibility for administering Philip Livingston’s estate. The settlement of the estate continued past the deaths of both creditor William Livingston and administrator Thomas Jones.

William Livingston (1723-1790) was born in Albany into the prominent Livingston family. He was the son of Philip Livingston (1686-1749) and the younger brother of Philip Livingston (1716-1778). William Livingston graduated from Yale College in 1741 and practiced law in New York City. In 1772, he moved to Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where a young Alexander Hamilton lived with him for at least one winter while attending a grammar school. He served as a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress from July 1774 to June 1776. Though he did not favor independence, he was elected Governor of New Jersey in August 1776. The British offered a substantial reward for his capture, and he was reelected as governor each year until his death. In 1787, he was part of the New Jersey delegation to the Constitutional Convention and signed the U.S. Constitution.

Philip Livingston (1716-1778) was born in Albany and graduated from Yale College in 1737. He returned to Albany to serve a mercantile apprenticeship with his father. He also served as a clerk for local government officials. He settled in New York City, where he became a prosperous merchant and land speculator. He served in the New York provincial House of Representatives from 1763 to 1769 and attended the Stamp Act Congress. He served as the President of the New York Provincial Congress in 1775 and became one of the delegates to the Continental Congress (1774-1778). He signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and also served as a New York State Senator from 1777 until his death in York, Pennsylvania, where he was attending a session of the Continental Congress.

Letter has been silked; repaired separation along integral fold; pieces of tape attached to top edge of pages one and four; sunned in a uniform block on pages two and three; scattered soiling with smoothed folds.

[1] “An Act for vesting the Estate of Philip Livingston, late of the City of New-York, Esquire, deceased, in Trustees for the Payment of his Debts, and other Purposes therein mentioned,” February 25, 1785.

[2] William Livingston to Alexander Hamilton, December 22, 1788, Alexander Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

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