James Wilson

The programme is named in honour of James Wilson, a graduate of the University of St Andrews who played a central role in the American founding period, both as a drafter of the American constitution and Supreme Court Justice.  He is also one of the few to have signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Wilson was born on a farm near St Andrews, Scotland, in September 1742. Earning a scholarship to the University of St Andrews he initially studied Divinity but soon turned to the Classics, Rhetoric and Political Philosophy. Following graduation in 1762, he spent two years in Edinburgh and Glasgow where, as his later writings clearly reveal, he pursued a close study of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, including Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, and Sir James Stewart, among others. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1765, he soon began his legal studies and qualified two years later. His fascination with political and governmental forms is evident in an essay of 1768 entitled Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament. This essay, although not published until 1774, was widely read throughout the Colonies and became a basic authority for the formative steps of the American Republic. Wilson’s influence on the Constitutional convention that wrote the US constitution was profound and after its ratification, Wilson was appointed to the first Supreme Court of the United States, where he served until his death

For those interested in Wilson’s life and thought, see the following: