James Wilson (1742-1798) was a Scottish-American lawyer, economist, and founding father of the United States. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he played a key role in drafting the U.S. Constitution. Wilson was also appointed as one of the first Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington.
Born in Scotland, Wilson immigrated to the American colonies in 1765 and settled in Philadelphia. There, he established himself as a successful lawyer and quickly became involved in the revolutionary movement. He served in the Continental Congress and was a vocal proponent of independence from Britain. In 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence, and later played a key role in drafting the U.S. Constitution.
During the Constitutional Convention, Wilson was a staunch advocate for a strong central government and played a major role in shaping the structure of the new government. He argued in favor of a bicameral legislature, with representation based on population, and also advocated for the creation of the executive branch and an independent judiciary. His ideas were incorporated into the final draft of the Constitution, which was ratified in 1788.
After the Constitution was ratified, Wilson was appointed by President George Washington to serve as one of the first Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. During his tenure on the Court, he issued a number of influential opinions, including Chisholm v. Georgia, which established the principle of federal jurisdiction over state governments in certain cases. Wilson died in 1798, leaving behind a legacy as one of the key architects of the American system of government.
To know more about James Wilson, let’s take a look at these 37 interesting facts about him.
- James Wilson was born on September 14, 1742, in Ceres, Scotland.
- His father was a wealthy Scottish merchant, and his mother was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.
- Wilson was educated at the Universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, where he studied law, theology, and philosophy.
- He immigrated to the American colonies in 1765 and settled in Philadelphia, where he established himself as a successful lawyer.
- Wilson was a member of the Pennsylvania State Assembly from 1775 to 1776.
- He served in the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1777 and again from 1783 to 1785.
- Wilson was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
- He was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776, where he helped draft the state constitution.
- Wilson played a key role in drafting the U.S. Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
- He was a staunch advocate for a strong central government and a national judiciary.
- Wilson was the principal author of the “We the People” clause in the Constitution’s preamble.
- He was a proponent of the idea of judicial review, which gives the Supreme Court the power to declare laws unconstitutional.
- Wilson was the only person to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
- He was appointed by President George Washington as one of the first Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789.
- Wilson was the first law professor at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).
- He was a co-founder of the College of Philadelphia’s Law School, which was the first law school in the United States.
- Wilson’s lectures on law were published as a book titled “Lectures on Law” in 1790.
- Wilson was an early advocate for women’s rights and argued that women should be granted equal rights under the law.
- He supported the abolition of slavery and was a member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
- Wilson was a successful land speculator and owned large tracts of land in Pennsylvania and New York.
- He was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and was a pallbearer at Franklin’s funeral in 1790.
- Wilson was also a friend and mentor to Alexander Hamilton, who was a young lawyer when he first met Wilson.
- Hamilton credited Wilson with helping to shape his political and economic ideas.
- Wilson was a prolific writer and published numerous articles and pamphlets on political and economic topics.
- He was a founding member of the American Philosophical Society, which was established by Franklin in 1743.
- Wilson was a member of the Committee on Style at the Constitutional Convention, which was responsible for drafting the final version of the Constitution.
- He was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays that were published in support of the ratification of the Constitution.
- Wilson was one of the leaders of the Anti-Federalist movement in Pennsylvania, which opposed the ratification of the Constitution.
- He was a strong supporter of the national bank, which he believed was necessary for the economic growth of the United States.
- Wilson was the first Supreme Court Justice to declare a law unconstitutional in the case of Hylton v. United States (1796).
- He was also the first Supreme Court Justice to be impeached by the House of Representatives in 1804, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
- Wilson was a skilled orator and was known for his persuasive speaking style. His speeches and lectures on law and government were well-attended and highly respected, and he was considered one of the most articulate and knowledgeable legal scholars of his time.
- Wilson suffered from poor health throughout his life and had a number of serious illnesses.
- In addition to his legal and political pursuits, James Wilson was also a successful businessman. He owned a number of businesses, including a sawmill, a quarry, and a brickyard.
- Wilson was a deeply religious man and was a member of the Presbyterian Church.
- He was married twice and had six children.
- Wilson died on August 21, 1798, at the age of 55, in Edenton, North Carolina, while serving as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court. He was buried in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Cemetery, where his grave can still be visited today.
James Wilson was an influential figure in American history who played a key role in shaping the country’s legal and political institutions. As a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, he was instrumental in establishing the principles of democracy and the rule of law that continue to guide the nation today. Wilson’s advocacy for a strong central government and a national judiciary, as well as his belief in equal rights for all, were ahead of his time and helped to lay the foundation for a more just and equitable society. His contributions to the development of American law and governance are a testament to his intellect, leadership, and enduring legacy.