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William Paterson (judge)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Paterson
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 11, 1793 – September 9, 1806[1]
Nominated byGeorge Washington
Preceded byThomas Johnson
Succeeded byHenry Livingston
2nd Governor of New Jersey
In office
October 29, 1790 – March 30, 1793
Preceded byElisha Lawrence (acting)
Succeeded byThomas Henderson (acting)
United States Senator
from New Jersey
In office
March 4, 1789 – November 13, 1790
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byPhilemon Dickinson
Attorney General of New Jersey
In office
GovernorWilliam Livingston
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJoseph Bloomfield
Personal details
Born(1745-12-24)December 24, 1745
County Antrim, Ireland
DiedSeptember 9, 1806(1806-09-09) (aged 60)
Albany, New York, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
Cornelia Bell
(m. 1779; died 1783)
Euphemia White
(m. 1785)
EducationPrinceton University (BA, MA)

William Paterson (December 24, 1745 – September 9, 1806) was an American statesman, lawyer, jurist, and signer of the United States Constitution. He was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the second governor of New Jersey, and a Founding Father of the United States.

Born in County Antrim, Ireland, Paterson moved to the North American British colonies at a young age. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and studying law under Richard Stockton, he was admitted to the bar in 1768. He helped write the 1776 Constitution of New Jersey and served as the New Jersey Attorney General from 1776 to 1783. He represented New Jersey at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, where he proposed the New Jersey Plan, which would have provided for equal representation among the states in Congress.

After the ratification of the Constitution, Paterson served in the United States Senate from 1789 to 1790, helping to draft the Judiciary Act of 1789. He resigned from the Senate to take office as governor of New Jersey. In 1793, he accepted appointment by President George Washington to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He served on the court until his death in 1806.

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Early life

William Paterson was born December 24, 1745, in County Antrim, Ireland, to Richard Paterson, an Ulster Protestant.[2] Paterson immigrated with his parents to New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1747.[3] At 14, he began college at Princeton. After graduating, he read law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He also stayed connected to his alma mater and helped found the Cliosophic Society with Aaron Burr.[4]


Early career

Paterson was selected as the Somerset County delegate for the first three provincial congresses of New Jersey, where, as secretary, he recorded the 1776 New Jersey State Constitution.[5] After Independence, Paterson was appointed as the first attorney general of New Jersey, serving from 1776 to 1783, establishing himself as one of the state's most prominent lawyers.[6] He was sent to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, where he proposed the New Jersey Plan for a unicameral legislative body with equal representation from each state. After the Great Compromise (for two legislative bodies: a Senate with equal representation for each state, and a House of Representatives with representation based on population), the Constitution was signed.[5]

United States Senator

Paterson, who was a strong nationalist who supported the Federalist Party, went on to become one of New Jersey's first U.S. senators (1789–90).[5] As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he played an important role in drafting the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the federal court system.[5] The first nine sections of this very important law are in his handwriting.[7]

Governor of New Jersey

In 1790, he became the first person to resign from the U.S. Senate, when he did so in order to succeed fellow signer William Livingston as governor of New Jersey.[5] As governor, Paterson pursued his interest in legal matters by codifying the English statutes that had been in force in New Jersey before the Revolution in Laws of the State of New Jersey. He also published a revision of the rules of the chancery and common law courts in Paterson, later adopted by the New Jersey Legislature.[7][6]

United States Supreme Court

President George Washington nominated Paterson for the Supreme Court of the United States on February 27, 1793, to the seat vacated by Thomas Johnson. Washington withdrew the nomination the following day, having realized that since the Judiciary Act of 1789 (the law creating the Supreme Court) had been passed during Paterson's current term as a Senator, the nomination was a violation of the Ineligibility Clause (Article I, Section 6) of the Constitution. Washington re-nominated Paterson to the court on March 4, 1793, after his term as Senator had expired; Paterson was immediately confirmed by the Senate and received his commission.[8]

He resigned from the governorship to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. On the circuit, he presided over the trials of individuals indicted for treason in the Whiskey Rebellion, a revolt by farmers in western Pennsylvania over the federal excise tax on whiskey, the principal product of their cash crop. Militia sent out by President Washington successfully quelled the uprising, and for the first time, the courts had to interpret the provisions of the Constitution concerning the use of troops in civil disturbances. Here, and, throughout his long career, Paterson extolled the primacy of law over governments, a principle embodied in the Constitution he helped write.[9] He declined an appointment as Secretary of State in 1795. Paterson was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1789.[10] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1801.[11] Paterson served on the Supreme Court until he died in 1806.[5]

Personal life

Paterson's eldest daughter, Cornelia Bell Paterson Van Rensselaer (1780–1844), painted by Nathaniel Rogers, 1825
Paterson's granddaughter, Euphemia White Van Rensselaer (1816–1888), painted by George P. A. Healy, 1842

In 1779, Paterson married Cornelia Bell (1755–1783), daughter of John Bell, a wealthy Somerset County landowner.[12][5] Together, they had three children, but she died in 1783 shortly after giving birth to their only son. Their children were:

In 1785, he married Euphemia White (1746–1832),[12] sister of Anthony Walton White (1750–1803), daughter of Anthony White (1717–1787), a New Jersey landholder and judge of the Somerset court, and the granddaughter of Lewis Morris (1671–1746), chief justice of New York from 1715 to 1733 and governor of New Jersey from 1738 to 1746.[15][16]

Death and interment

On September 9, 1806, Paterson, aged 60, died from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey. He was on his way to the spa at Ballston Springs, New York, to "take the waters", when he died at the Van Rensselaer Manor home of his daughter, Cornelia, and son-in-law, Stephen Van Rensselaer, in Albany, New York. He was laid to rest in the Van Renssalaer family vault. When the city acquired the property, Paterson's remains were relocated to Albany Rural Cemetery Menands in Albany County, New York. Also buried there are Associate Justice Rufus W. Peckham and President Chester A. Arthur.[17][18]


Through his eldest daughter, his grandchildren include Cortlandt Van Rensselaer (1808–1860), a noted Presbyterian clergyman,[13] and Henry Bell Van Rensselaer (1810–1864), a politician and general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, who married Elizabeth Ray King, a granddaughter of U.S. Senator Rufus King.[13]

Through his son, his grandchildren included twin brothers, William Paterson (1817–1899), who married Salvadora Meade, a Spanish-born woman living in Philadelphia,[19] and Stephen Van Rensselaer Paterson (1817–1872),[20] who married Emily Sophia King (1823–1853), daughter of Charles King (1789–1867), the president of Columbia University, and the second son Rufus King. Both grandsons were members of the Princeton University class of 1835 and William was admitted to the bar in 1838. He later served as a member of the New Jersey Assembly from 1842 to 1843, Secretary of the New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1844, a lay judge of the Court of Errors and Appeals, and mayor of Perth Amboy for ten years in between 1846 and 1878.[20]


Both the city of Paterson, and the college, William Paterson University, are named after him.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Justices 1789 to Present". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  2. ^ McCarthy, Joseph F. X. (1999). "The Constitution of the United States". In Glazier, Michael (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-268-02755-1. [Thomas Fitzsimons] was one of the two Catholic delegates to the Convention (Daniel Carroll was the other).
  3. ^ "PATERSON, William - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  4. ^ "Daily Princetonian Special Class of 1991 Issue 27 July 1987 — Princeton Periodicals". Archived from the original on November 4, 2020. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Vile, John R. (October 10, 2013). The Men Who Made the Constitution: Lives of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-8865-4. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Haskett, Richard C. (1950) William Paterson, Attorney General of New Jersey: Public Office and Private Profit in the American Revolution. William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd. Ser., 7 (January): pp. 26–38.
  7. ^ a b c O'Connor, John E., William Paterson: Lawyer and Statesman, 1745–1806 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1979), pp. 108, 117.
  8. ^ Myers, Gustavus (1912). History of the Supreme Court of the United States. C. H. Kerr. p. 149. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  9. ^ Wright, Robert K. Jr.; MacGregor, Morris J. Jr. (1987). Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History. p. 166. LCCN 87001353. Archived from the original on January 22, 2021. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  10. ^ "William Paterson". American Philosophical Society Member History. American Philosophical Society. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 15, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Epstein, Lee; Segal, Jeffrey A.; Spaeth, Harold J.; Walker, Thomas G. (July 29, 2015). The Supreme Court Compendium: Data, Decisions, and Developments. CQ Press. ISBN 978-1-4833-7663-9. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Reynolds, Cuyler (1914). Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York, Volume 3. New York: Lewis Publishing Company. pp. 1166, 1341. Archived from the original on August 4, 2020. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  14. ^ a b Wood, Gertrude Sceery, William Paterson of New Jersey, 1745–1806 (Fair Lawn, N.J.: Fair Lawn Press, 1933), pp. 49, 199.
  15. ^ Marcus, Maeva (1985). The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-08869-5. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  16. ^ Lefferts, Elizabeth Morris, comp., Descendants of Lewis Morris of Morrisania (New York: Tobias A. Wright, 1907).
  17. ^ Christensen, George A. "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices". Yearbook 1983 Supreme Court Historical Society. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society (1983): 17–30. Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved June 5, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  18. ^ See also, Christensen, George A. (February 2008). "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited". Journal of Supreme Court History. Blackwell Publishing. 33 (1): 17–41. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5818.2008.00177.x. eISSN 1540-5818. ISSN 1059-4329. S2CID 145227968.
  19. ^ Bond, Gordon. "To Cast A Freedman's Vote: How a Handyman from Perth Amboy Made Civil Rights History" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  20. ^ a b "Manuscript Group 718, William Paterson (1817–1899), Student and author". The New Jersey Historical Society. Archived from the original on February 8, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017.

Further reading

External links

Legal offices
New office Attorney General of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Preceded by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
New seat  U.S. senator (Class 2) from New Jersey
Served alongside: Jonathan Elmer
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 30 December 2023, at 22:05
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