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As gentlemen living during the period of the Enlightenment, Chancellor Livingston and Robert Fulton were expected to serve in government and to improve society through science and reason. The Enlightenment, however, was an era full of paradoxes; although one was expected to benefit mankind, it was also perfectly acceptable to seek profit and celebrity from one’s ventures.
As steamboats became a regular sight on the Hudson River, sailing captains began staging near-fatal “accidents” with the steamboat. Livingston wrote Fulton: “Present accidents are all trifles, only let her not be sunk…Next year we will carry all the passengers on the Hudson and starve the skippers of Albany.”