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Wilson, James, American jurist
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 the Univ. of Pennsylvania). He studied law there under John Dickinson, 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 Convention 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 Madison. 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).
Wilson, James, American agriculturist and cabinet officer
Wilson, James, 1836–1920, American agriculturist and cabinet officer, b. Ayrshire, Scotland. He emigrated to the United States and settled (1851) in Connecticut, later moving (1855) to Tama co., Iowa, where he became a successful farmer. A member of the Republican party, he served in the state legislature (1867–73) and in the U.S. Congress (1873–77, 1883–85). Wilson was (1891–97) director of the agricultural experiment station and professor of agriculture at Iowa State (now Iowa State Univ. of Science and Technology). As Secretary of Agriculture (1897–1913) under Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, he greatly expanded the services of the department; a number of experimental stations were set up over the country, and the aid of experts and scientists was enlisted.
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Wilson, James(1742–98) lawyer, political thinker, U.S. Supreme Court justice; born in Carskerdo, Scotland. He emigrated from Scotland in 1765, and after reading law under John Dickinson, he began a practice in 1768; by 1773 he had also begun the first of his lifelong speculations in land purchases. In 1774 he distributed to members of the First Continental Congress his pamphlet, Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, in which he rejected any authority of the British Parliament over the colonies. He signed the Declaration of Independence and was a central figure at the Constitutional Convention (1787) where he argued strongly for popular election of both houses of Congress and the President. In 1789 he became one of the first six justices of the Supreme Court. His most important decision was in Chisholm v. Georgia, in which he was able to reaffirm his long-standing belief that sovereignty lay with the people of the U.S.A., not with the state. He had continued his land speculations even as a justice and was being threatened both by creditors and with impeachment when he died.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.