James Wilson’s life began as an Atlantic World success story, with mounting intellectual, political, and legal triumphs, but ended as a Greek tragedy. Each achievement brought greater anxiety about his place in the revolutionary world. James Wilson's life story is a testament to the success that tens of thousands of Scottish immigrants achieved after their trans-Atlantic voyage, but it also reminds us that not all had a happy ending. This book provides a more nuanced and complete picture of James Wilson’s contributions in American history. His contributions were far greater than just the attention paid to his legal lectures. His is a very human story of a Scottish immigrant who experienced success and acclaim for his activities on behalf of the American people during his public service, but in his personal affairs, and particularly financial life, he suffered the great heights and deep lows worthy of a Greek tragedy. James Wilson's life is an entry point into the events of the latter half of the 18th century and the impact of the Scottish Enlightenment on American society, discourse, and government.
Michael H. Taylor teaches at Kennesaw State University.
Chapter One: James Wilson Returns to Philadelphia
Chapter Two: Leaving Scotland for America
Chapter Three: Philadelphia 1768 - James Wilson, William White, and The Visitant
Chapter Four: Reading 1768 - On the Edge of Empire
Chapter Five: Philadelphia 1787 - The Constitutional Convention
Chapter Six: The State House Yard Speech - October 6, 1787
Chapter Seven: The Anti-Federalists Respond
Chapter Eight: Twilight
Chapter Nine: Lingering Effects - The Wilson/Roosevelt Doctrine
Concluding Thoughts – James Wilson’s Contribution
About the Author
James Wilson is an unjustly neglected Founder. As Michael Taylor says, his career did not have the drama of Franklin, Washington, or Hamilton, or the undramatic longevity of Madison. He died of a stroke while on the run from his creditors. Only scholars who have closely studied the 1787 Constitutional Convention have realized Wilson’s importance as a direct link from the Scottish to the American Enlightenment.
This innovative biography concentrates on James Wilson’s thoughts on the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and citizenship qualifications. Ranked among the most important political theorists of the Founding Era, Wilson’s ideas are compared by Professor Taylor with several other foreign-born and foreign-educated Americans. Although Wilson argued that the Constitution of 1787 was limited to enumerated powers, his 1785 arguments espousing implied national powers were revived over a century later by President Theodore Roosevelt and served as the foundation for the concept of a living Constitution promoted during and after the Progressive Era.
James Wilson is one of the “forgotten” Founders: a signatory of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution who has been surprisingly overlooked in many of the standard histories of the American Revolution. Michael Taylor’s excellent new book, much of it based on original research, paints an engaging portrait of this major figure in American life, and a highly readable introduction to his contributions to the founding of the American Republic.