The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Casimir Gregory Stapko (after Gilbert Stuart))
Brockholst Livingston was born to a distinguished and powerful New York family. His father was governor of New Jersey and led New York's opposition to British colonial policies.
Livingston and James Madison were classmates at Princeton. Livingston joined the Continental Army and, commissioned as a major, saw service at the siege of Ticonderoga.
Livingston was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1786; at the same he maintained an active law practice. He was a convert from federal to anti- federal views and led the attack against his brother-in-law, John Jay, and the treaty Jay negotiated with England in 1794.
There was a violent side to Livingston's character. In 1798, he killed a man in a duel. In 1785, he was the target of an assassination attempt.
Jefferson gave serious consideration to Livingston's appointment to the Supreme Court in 1804. But that seat went to William Johnson. Another opportunity arose in 1806 when William Paterson died.
Livingston had all the makings of a valuable justice. He sat at the top of the legal profession on New York's highest court and he could give as well as he took from opponents such as Alexander Hamilton. He wrote many opinions while on the state court, and some are still required for law students today. Yet Livingston served for 16 years on the nation's highest court and never left a mark. He did not write a single constitutional opinion. And the total of his contributions were three dissents and five concurrences.