William Paterson, Lawyer and Statesman, 1745-1806

William Paterson, Lawyer and Statesman, 1745-1806

William Paterson, Lawyer and Statesman, 1745-1806

William Paterson, Lawyer and Statesman, 1745-1806

Excerpt

"We are building a great empire,". William Paterson wrote to his wife in 1791, "the prospect widens and brightens as we proceed and to every enlarged mind must give the largest pleasure." At the time, Paterson was representing New Jersey in the first Senate of the United States. Although, measured from the date that independence was declared, the American empire was only fifteen years old, its short history had already brought great changes to Paterson's life. His devotion to public service had in turn left its mark on the new nation. In fact, the Senate in which he sat owed its existence to the persistent Jerseyman who had fought so tenaciously for the interests of the small states in the federal convention of 1787. His term in the Senate, as it turned out, led him to the governor's chair and then to the Supreme Court, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Paterson's life reflected the profound changes that took place in American politics and society in the last third of the eighteenth century. He had not been born to status and power. His father was a moderately successful storekeeper who had been able to afford a college education for his son. At college, Paterson made a conscious effort to assume the style and manner of the elite and to cultivate influential friends and acquaintances who could help him later in life. During the American Revolution, his years of legal study and social climbing finally bore fruit, and the success that followed was more than he had ever hoped for. Paterson's personal life and legal career provide a clear example of the unexpected ways in which the turbulent events of the revolutionary era could influence the lives of individuals.

On another level, Paterson's experience is interesting because his complex system of ideological beliefs and values, in some ways central to the revolutionary cause, seems in other ways almost to contradict it. His story . . .

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