Statehood and Sovereignty: A Case Study of William Livingston from Philosophe to Federalist

Caleb Dagnall


In 1776, in the midst of the American struggle for independence, William Livingston became the first elected Governor of New Jersey. Having been significantly influenced by the works of Enlightenment thinkers and philosophes, William Livingston holds a unique place in history as a bridge between intellectual political theory and its practical application in the American Revolution and the creation of our nation. As governor, he oversaw the transformation of New Jersey from a colony – under British tyranny and then under their own state constitution – to a sovereign state – under the Articles of Confederation – and finally to a member of a federal union – under the Constitution of the United States that he was instrumental in drafting and ratifying. This paper examines William Livingston as a case study of early American political thought regarding the concepts of statehood and sovereignty. Through the analysis of his published and unpublished papers, the relationship between these concepts is outlined within a sociopolitical context through the governments he helped shape. Despite the lack of existing writings demonstrating Livingston’s sympathies towards either side of the Federalist debate, a careful study of his writings reveals Livingston to be a Pragmatic Federalist.

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