Essay 47 - Guest Essayist: Richard K. Sala

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”[1]

In 1903, in Huntington, New York, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a Fourth of July oration celebrating American independence. During his impassioned remarks, he noted that “[i]t is a good thing, on the Fourth of July […], for us to come together, and we have the right to express our pride in what our forefathers did […].”[2]

For Americans from “sea to shining sea,” the saga of American independence begins in July 1776.[3] For Philip Livingston, one of four New York delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence, the origins of this great epoch commenced some eleven years earlier under comparable duress and at similar risk.[4]

The second lord of Livingston Manor (an estate encompassing approximately 160,000 acres on the Hudson River, a home in Manhattan, and a forty-acre estate in Brooklyn Heights), a graduate of Yale University and a prosperous merchant of considerable wealth, Philip Livingston initially opposed American independence.[5] Livingston opined that “[…] the thought of establishing a republic in America, breaking off our connection with Great Britain, and becoming independent: [was] the most vain, empty, shallow, and ridiculous project that could possibly enter into the heart of man.”[6] Over time, and upon repeated transgressions against the colonies, Great Britain would erode Livingston’s fealty to the British Crown—beginning in 1765.

In March 1765, the British Parliament passed The Stamp Act, “the first direct tax on the American colonies […] to raise money for Britain. [The Act] taxed newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, legal documents, dice, and playing cards. Stamps, issued by Britain, were affixed to documents or packages to show that the Colonists had paid the tax.”[7] The enactment of the Stamp Act enraged the colonist. Parliament passed The Stamp Act absent colonial representation. This passage defied the colonists’ understanding of representative government. Not only were the colonists aware that “the British constitution guaranteed the right to be taxed only by consent, [but] they regarded this right as a product of natural as well as of British Law […].”[8] Colonists “regarded taxation […] not as an act of sovereign power by the whole legislature, but as a free gift of the people by their representatives.”[9]

In October 1765, in response to The Stamp Act, and without the requisite authorization from Great Britain to form a Congress, twenty-seven delegates of the colonies gathered in New York to synchronize a colonial response to The Stamp Act.[10] The gathering became known as The Stamp Act Congress. Philip Livingston was among the twenty-seven delegates. Interestingly, Philip was joined as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress by his cousin, Robert R. Livingston.[11]

Over the course of twelve days, The Stamp Act Congress drew up a statement of the rights and privileges of the British American Colonists.[12] This document is known as The Declaration of Rights and Grievances.[13] The tripartite effect of The Stamp Act Congress was momentous. First, the Parliament relented and repealed The Stamp Act as a result of the unified colonial response. Second, the colonies united in a way that seemed impossible before The Stamp Act Congress. Finally, “[t]he resolutions of the […] intercolonial assembl[y] in 1765 laid down the line on which Americans stood until they cut their connections with England” in 1776.[14]

Nearly eleven years later, Philip Livingston would pledge his life, considerable fortune, and sacred honor to American independence and sign the Declaration of Independence as the delegate from New York. As the fates would have it, Philip and Robert Livingston’s destinies were once again intertwined. Although Robert R. Livingston would not sign the Declaration of Independence, he was one of the Committee of Five responsible for drafting this Charter of Freedom.[15]

In August 1776, true to his oath, Livingston would flee New York after the Continental Army’s defeat at the Battle of Long Island—leaving his New York homes in the hands of the British. Two years later, under the pressure of an advancing British Army occupying Philadelphia, Livingston traveled to York, Pennsylvania, to attend a secret session of Congress. Without knowing whether the fledgling nation would survive, Philip Livingston died of congestive heart failure shortly after arriving in York. He was sixty-two years old.[16]

Richard Sala is a retired Marine Corps Judge Advocate and currently serves as the Academic Success Program Director and Assistant Professor of Law at Vermont Law School. Professor Sala teaches National Security Law, Constitutional Law, various bar preparation courses, and is the faculty advisor to the Vermont Law School chapter of The Federalist Society.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.


[1] The Declaration of Independence para. 32 (U.S. 1776).

[2] Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Huntington, Long Island, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[3] Fisher, William Arms, and Katharine Lee Bates. America the Beautiful. Oliver Ditson Company, Boston, MA, 1917. Notated Music. (last visited on Apr. 20, 2021).

[4] National Archives, America’s Founding Documents, Signers of the Declaration of Independence. (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[5] Denise Kierman & Joseph D’Agnese, Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence, 68-69 (2009).

[6] Philip Livingston, The Other Side of the Question (1774), The Magazine of History With Notes and Queries. Extra numbers · Issues 49-52, Volume 13, 246 (1916).

[7] Library of Congress. Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[8] Edmund S. Morgan & Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, 118 (1995).

[9] Id at 88.

[10] Id at 108.

[11] Id.

[12] Id at 110.

[13] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Resolutions of the Continental Congress October 19, 1765. (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[14] Edmund S. Morgan & Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, 307 (1995).

[15] History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “LIVINGSTON, Robert R.,”,-Robert-R–(L000372)/ (April 20, 2021);

[16] Denise Kierman & Joseph D’Agnese, Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence, 68-69 (2009).

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