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William Paterson

Paterson as a Supreme Court Justice

In office
1790 – 1793
Preceded by Elisha Lawrence
Succeeded by Thomas Henderson

In office
March 4, 1793 – September 9, 1806
Nominated by George Washington
Preceded by Thomas Johnson
Succeeded by Henry Brockholst Livingston

Born December 24, 1745
County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Died September 9, 1806 (aged 60)
Albany, New York
Religion Presbyterian

William Paterson (December 24, 1745 – September 9, 1806) was a New Jersey statesman, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who served as the 2nd governor of New Jersey, from 1790 to 1793.

William Paterson was born on December 24, 1745, in County Antrim, now in Northern Ireland, moved to what is now the United States at age 2, and entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at age 14. After graduating, he studied law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and was admitted to the bar in 1768.

Paterson became an outspoken supporter of American independence. He was selected as Somerset County, New Jersey delegate for the first three provincial congresses of New Jersey, where, as secretary, he recorded the 1776 New Jersey State Constitution.

After Independence, Paterson was appointed as the first Attorney General of New Jersey, serving from 1776-1783, maintaining law and order and establishing himself as one of the state's most prominent lawyers. He was sent to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 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.

Paterson went on to become one of New Jersey's first US. senators (1789-90). He was a strong nationalist who supported the Federalist party. 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. The first nine sections of this very important law are in his handwriting.

He resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1790 in order to succeed fellow signer William Livingston as governor of New Jersey. As governor, he 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's Practice Laws, later adopted by the New Jersey Legislature.

He resigned the governorship to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1793-1806). There 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 George Washington successfully quelled the uprising, and for the first time the courts had to interpret the provisions of the Constitution in regard to the use of troops in civil disturbances. Here, and in fact throughout his long career, Paterson extolled the primacy of law over governments, a principle embodied in the Constitution he helped write.[1]

Paterson served on the Supreme Court until his death (from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey) on September 9, 1806, aged 60. He was "on his way to Ballston Springs, New York to "take the waters" when he died at the Albany, New York home of his daughter and Van Renssalaer son-in-law. He was laid to rest in the Van Renssalaer family vault in 1806, and remained until the property was acquired by the city. His remains were relocated to Albany Rural Cemetery Menands, Albany County, New York, USA. He shares this cemetery with Associate Justice Rufus W. Peckham and President Chester A. Arthur.[1]

Paterson, New Jersey, and William Paterson University are named after him.


Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.  
  • Bibliography on William Patterson at Supreme Court Historical Society.
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1568021267.  
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L.. eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791013774.  
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195058356.  
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0871875543.  
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 590. ISBN 0815311761.  

See also


  1. ^ William Paterson (judge) at Find a Grave. See also, Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook. Supreme Court Historical Society. Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.

External links

Legal offices
First New Jersey Attorney General
Succeeded by
Joseph Bloomfield
Preceded by
Thomas Johnson
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
March 4, 1793 - September 9, 1806
Succeeded by
Henry Brockholst Livingston
United States Senate
New seat United States Senator (Class 2) from New Jersey
Served alongside: Jonathan Elmer
Succeeded by
Philemon Dickinson
Political offices
Preceded by
Elisha Lawrence
Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Thomas Henderson


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