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James Wilson was born near St. Andrews in Scotland on August 14, 1742. He was one of only six men who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He became a pioneer law professor and served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
Coming to America in 1765, he lived first in New York City and after a year moved to Philadelphia. Having once been a seminary student and then a student of accounting, Wilson switched again and studied law under John Dickinson. He was admitted to the Philadelphia bar, started a practice in Reading, and finally established himself successfully in Carlisle.
Becoming involved in revolutionary activity, he was involved with the Carlisle Committee of Correspondence, and later was elected to represent Carlisle in the Pennsylvania assembly and Pennsylvania in the First Continental Congress, where he was a strong voice for the patriot view against Britain. When it came time to vote, however, he felt that he had not received such a mandate from his Pennsylvania constituents, so he consulted with them before deciding to vote for independence.
Wilson became strongly identified with the conservative, propertied interests and lost his seat in Congress in 1777. In his law practice, he defended the rights of Loyalists. He was returned to Congress in 1782 and served a final stint from 1785 to 1787.
Regarded as one of the best legal minds during the constitutional convention of 1789, Wilson was a strong advocate for the idea that ultimate sovereignty rested with the people.
James Wilson afterwards devoted himself to the advancement of a unique American jurisprudence, separate from its European antecedents, and to the training of American lawyers. Washington appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1789, and when the College of Philadelphia established a school of law in that year, Wilson became the first professor in the law faculty.
Wilson wrote the court's opinion in Chisholm v. Georgia, upholding the authority of the federal government over that of a state.
Wilson's final years were marked with personal financial distress, including a brief stint of imprisonment for a small debt. He died in Edenton, North Carolina, on August 21, 1798. ---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by James Wilson.
Regarding Arguments for a Single Executive
The executive power is better to be trusted when it has no screen. Sir, we have a responsibility in the person of our President; he cannot act improperly, and hide either his negligence or inattention; he cannot roll upon any other person the weight of his criminality; no appointment can take place without his nomination; and he is responsible for every nomination he makes... far from being above the laws, he is amenable to them in his private character as a citizen, and in his public character by impeachment.
Speech at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1787
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