Birthday: September 14, 1742
Nationality: American, Scottish
Died At Age: 55
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Fife
Famous as: Founding Fathers of the United States
Spouse/Ex-: Hannah Gray, Rachel Bird
father: William Wilson
mother: Alison Landall
children: Emily Hollingsworth
Died on: August 21, 1798
place of death: Edenton
education: University of St Andrews, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow,
Who was James Wilson?
James Wilson, a lawyer by profession, was one of the many delegates from Pennsylvania who signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776. A prominent lawyer of his times, he was appointed by the President George Washington as one of the six original justices of the Supreme Court of the U.S which was established by the U.S. Constitution in 1789. A man of revolutionary ideas, he published a pamphlet during the British rule arguing that the British Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the American colonies since the parliament had no representatives from the colonies. Wilson strongly believed that all humans are born free and was very vocal in his support for independence from the British government. He was elected to the Continental Congress twice, and as a congress member, he was the most outspoken and active individual who never feared to express what he felt. He is considered to be one of the most learned among the Founding Fathers of the U.S. He not only signed the Declaration of Independence, but was also one of those delegates who contributed towards framing and drafting of the Constitution of the U.S. Wilson is also regarded as one of the first legal philosophers of America.
Childhood & Early Life
James Wilson was born to William Wilson and Alison Landall in Scotland. He had six siblings. His father was a hard working and respectable farmer.
He earned a scholarship to study at the United College of St. Salvator and St. Leonard at the University of St. Andrews when he was just 15. He had a profound interest in the study of philosophy and logic.
He graduated from St. Andrews in 1762 and continued his studies at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow where he studied about the great thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment period like Adam Smith, John Locke and David Hume.
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In 1766, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and found a teaching position at The Academy and College of Philadelphia, now known as the University of Pennsylvania. He applied for a degree there and was given an honorary Master of Arts after some months.
He began to study law under the famous lawyer cum politician, John Dickinson, and was accepted into the bar in Philadelphia in 1767.
He established his own law practice in the city of Reading. With his intelligence and business acumen, his practice was soon very successful and he became quite wealthy.
His fame spread far and he handled cases from eight local counties. He returned to Philadelphia in 1770 and continued lecturing at The Academy and College of Philadelphia.
In 1774, he was elected as a member of the Committee of Correspondence at Carlisle. He published a pamphlet, "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament" in which he argued that the British government had no right to pass laws for the American colonies.
He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 where he joined the most revolutionary members in demanding for independence. The same year he was also commissioned as a Colonel in the Pennsylvania State Military.
In June 1776, a two day debate was held over Lee’s resolution for independence in which seven colonies were in favour of independence while five were against. Wilson, along with others requested that the date of voting be postponed so that everyone gets enough time to reconsider their thoughts.
The final date for the vote for independence was fixed as 2 July 1776—on this date the vote was cast unanimously in favour of independence. He signed the Declaration of Independence on 2 August along with many other delegates.
When the states started writing state constitutions after independence, he protested against the Pennsylvanian constitution as it called for a unicameral legislature. He was expelled from the congress because of this in 1777.
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He went to Philadelphia and became a corporate counselor in 1778, and was selected as the advocate general for France in America in 1779, holding this post till 1783.
The Bank of North America, the first bank with modern facilities in the U.S, was founded in July 1780. Wilson acted as the legal advisor to Robert Morris during its formation.
He became a congress member once again in 1782 and served for five years till 1787, though not regularly.
He was a member of the Committee of detail which was established in 1787 to prepare the first draft of the U.S. Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, he played a significant role in drafting the new federal constitution. The Constitution was adopted on 17 September 1787.
The President George Washington made him an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1791. He held this post till his death in 1798.
As a politician, his biggest achievement is the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence on behalf of Pennsylvania in 1776. He was a brilliant lawyer who played a major role in framing the new Constitution of the U.S. in 1787.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Rachel Bird, daughter of William Bird, in 1771. They were blessed with six children. Rachel died in 1786.
He married for the second time in 1793. His second wife Hannah Gray gave birth to a son who died in childhood.
In spite of being a respectable public figure during his hey days, he spent his final years in misery. He suffered from financial problems and spent his last years escaping from creditors. He died at the age of 55 in 1798.
Though considered a devoted public servant, he was criticized for running after fame and reputation.
He is called ‘The Architect of the Constitution’.