Saturday, September 10, 2011

James Wilson (1742 – 1798)

James Wilson had a strong sense of Scottish independence and became a principle lawyer in the city of Philadelphia. Although having “Tories” as clients, Wilson was a consistent advocate of the right of the ordinary American colonist to participate in the direct selection of their representatives in government.

His knowledge of history and understanding of constitutional law powerfully enforced his views in the Continental  Congress and the Constitutional Convention. James Wilson was one of six delegates who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. He wrote a pamphlet which was widely read through the colonies in 1774. In the pamphlet, Wilson challenged the authority of British Parliament to regulate the American Colonies. Furthermore, his argument suggested the need for self-determination by the legislatures of the American Colonies.

James Wilson, as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he became a outspoken advocate clarifying legal concepts and structures. He firmly believed in the popular election of the President of the United States and members of Congress. Benjamin Franklin, age 81, was the senior statesmen at the Constitutional Convention.  James Wilson served as Dr. Franklin's spokesman during the convention. Wilson has the distinction of speaking out 168 times during the Constitutional Convention.

As one of the foremost lawyers in the new United States, he included an independent judiciary in the Constitution. It was James Wilson who wrote the first draft of the Constitution which was significantly revised before it received the final approval of the delegates.

Wilson played an important role in securing Pennsylvania's ratification of the Constitution. Once more he supported the right of the people to participate directly in the election of representatives to the federal government.

In 1790, Pennsylvania approved a new state constitution which James Wilson helped to draft. He was responsible for liberalize requirements for holding political office and helped to broaden the voting rights of the citizens of Pennsylvania.

In this same year, Wilson became the first Law Professor of the University of Pennsylvania.

Judge James Wilson is mentioned in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Records of Updegraph v. Commonwealth, 1824, 

“The late Judge Wilson, of the Supreme Court of the United States, Professor of Law in the College in Philadelphia, was appointed in 1791, unanimously, by the House of Representatives on this state...He had just risen from his seat in the convention which formed the constitution of the United States, and of this state; and it is well known, that for our present form of government we are greatly indebted to his exertions and influence. With his fresh recollections of both constitutions, in his Course of Lectures (3d vol. of his Works, 122), he states that ...Christianity is part of the common-law.”

President George Washington appointed James Wilson to become one of five Associated Justices on the first Supreme Court of the United States.

Unfortunately, his financial affairs deteriorated rapidly due to poor land speculation. James Wilson died at the age of 56 in the home of a fellow Supreme Court justice.

James Wilson wrote these words two years before Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution.

James Wilson: Lectures on Law: Law and Obligation, 1790

“It should always be remembered that law... flows from the same divine source; it is the law of God.
“Nature, or,to speak more properly, the Author of nature, has done much for us; but it is His gracious appointment and will, that we should also do much for ourselves. What we do, indeed, must be founded on what He has done; and the deficiencies of our laws must be supplied by the perfections of His. Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law which is divine.”

Wilson was the first Professor of Law at the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania) and an Associate Justice of the first Supreme Court when he compiled a series of addresses between 1790 and 1791 known as his Lectures on Law.

“That our Creator has a supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law, are truths established on the clearest and most solid principles.”

The American legal system was neither a maze of technicalities nor a vehicle for ingenious tactics. Our legal system did not provide the opportunity for judges to render decision primarily based on their arbitrary personal logical capacities. The Founding Fathers of the Constitutional Convention firmly believed that law was founded on special religious precepts found in the Bible.

“How shall we, in particular instances, learn the dictates of our duty, and make, with  accuracy, the proper distinction between right and wrong? In other words, how shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures.” 
“What is the efficient cause of moral obligation? The will of God. This is the supreme law, His just and full right of imposing laws, and our duty in obeying them, are the sources of our moral obligations.”

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