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Wilson, James,1742–98, American jurist, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. near St. Andrews, Scotland. He studied at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and, after emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1766, taught Latin at the College of Philadelphia (now Univ. of Pennsylvania). He studied law there under John DickinsonDickinson, John,
1732–1808, American patriot and statesman, b. Talbot co., Md. After studying law in Philadelphia and in London at the Middle Temple, he developed a highly successful practice in Philadelphia.
..... Click the link for more information. , was later admitted to the bar in 1767, and became a successful lawyer within a few years. He was a member of the Pennsylvania convention (1774) and in the following year was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. Although he strongly disputed Parliament's authority over the colonies, he opposed independence until July, 1776. Because he vigorously opposed the extremely democratic principles of the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776, he lost (1777) his seat in Congress. He became allied with the conservative faction and argued for it in the Congress of the Confederation (1782–83, 1785–87). Wilson is especially known for his part in the Constitutional ConventionConstitutional Convention,
in U.S. history, the 1787 meeting in which the Constitution of the United States was drawn up. The Road to the Convention
The government adopted by the Thirteen Colonies in America (see Confederation, Articles of, and Continental
..... Click the link for more information. of 1787, where he was a proponent of a strong executive. His influence in drawing up the Constitution was second only to that of James MadisonMadison, James,
1751–1836, 4th President of the United States (1809–17), b. Port Conway, Va. Early Career
A member of the Virginia planter class, he attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), graduating in 1771.
..... Click the link for more information. . He was active in drafting the Pennsylvania constitution of 1790 and served as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789–98). He was the first professor of law (1789) at the College of Philadelphia. Wilson wrote a number of pamphlets, addresses, treatises, and lectures on law.
See biography by C. P. Smith (1956, repr. 1973); the collection of his works, 2 vol., ed by R. G. McCloskey (1804, repr. 1967).