William Paterson (jurist)

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William Paterson (b. December 24, 1745; d. September 9, 1806) was the second Governor of New Jersey and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He attended the Federal Constitutional Convention and signed the United States Constitution. [1]


Early Life

Paterson was born in County Antrim, Ireland. His family immigrated to America, where he attended Princeton College, graduating in 1763. Following his graduation, Paterson studied law under Richard Stockton. He was admitted to the bar in 1768 and commenced practice in New Bromley, New Jersey, in 1769. [2]

Political Career

Early in his career, Paterson embraced the cause of independence. He served as the secretary of New Jersey's Provincial Congress from 1775-1776, and also served as a delegate to New Jersey's first constitutional convention. During the Revolutionary War, he served on New Jersey's Council of Safety. In 1776, he assumed the post of Attorney General for New Jersey, declining appointment to the Continental Congress in 1780 because of his responsibilities. [3]

Constitutional Convention

Paterson played a critical role in the creation of the United States Constitution. As co-author of the New Jersey Plan, he called for an equal voice for all states in the national legislature. Eventually, a compromise was reached between this plan and the Virginia Plan proposed by those who felt that representation should be based on population; the result was the bicameral Congress we know today.

Later Political Service

Following the Constitutional Convention, Paterson went on to become one of New Jersey's first senators in 1789. As a member of the Senate, he served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he helped to draft the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the federal court system.

In 1790 he resigned from the Senate in order to serve as Governor of New Jersey. Paterson served in that capacity until 1793, when he resigned to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court--a position he held until his death in 1806. As a Supreme Court justice, Paterson continued to support states' rights and the principle of a government which was subordinate to the law. [4]


William Paterson died on September 9, 1806, in Albany, New York. He was interred in the family vault at Van Rensselear Manor; later, upon the destruction of the house, he was reinterred in Albany Rural Cemetery.


  1. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=P000102
  2. http://www.history.army.mil/books/RevWar/ss/paterson.htm
  3. http://www.history.army.mil/books/RevWar/ss/paterson.htm
  4. http://www.history.army.mil/books/RevWar/ss/paterson.htm
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