We know far too little about James Wilson, the Scottish-born and -educated lawyer who played a central role in framing the Constitution as a delegate from Pennsylvania and later served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Wilson was hounded to an early grave in 1798, after financial reversals landed him in debtor’s prison. That ignominious end seems to have cast a long shadow, obscuring his earlier career as lawyer, judge, and statesman. Happily, however, William Ewald has embarked on an intellectual biography of Wilson that will doubtless do much to restore the reputation of this most nationalist of founding fathers.
One interesting chapter of that biography has just appeared in article form. It focuses, as the title suggests, on the work of the Pennsylvania Convention’s Committee of Detail. Wilson was one of five members of that Committee, named in July 1787 to prepare a draft Constitution that reflected the Convention’s deliberations to that point. Much of what we know about the Committee’s work comes from the text of Wilson’s own drafts of the Constitution. We can watch provisions evolve and take shape as the product of a deliberative process of which we have no other record.Read on here. The Ewald article is available here.