After studying the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, I showed my 8th grade classes the Broadway musical ‘1776.’ James Wilson seemed like the weak side-kick to the film’s villain, going along with everything the Tory loyalist said or did- but it turns out, he wasn’t such a wuss after all.
Don’t be too quick to “judge” Judge James Wilson, delegate from Pennsylvania just because he seemed like John Dickinson’s wanna-be in the move ‘1776.’ On reason it seemed that way is that he studied law under Dickinson when he immigrated to Philadelphia from Scotland in 1765.
Before you choose to remember him as the guy who reluctantly cast the final vote on Independence because he DIDN’T want to be remembered, remember this: In 1774 he published a pamphlet that asserted “all power is derived from the people- their happiness is the end of government.” (Maybe not as big as Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense,’ but more like Jefferson’s take on the Social Contract than not.
He wound up being a BIG player at the Constitutional Convention. In fact, only one delegate spoke more than Wilson. Wilson believed that the American people should get to vote directly for President, whereas a lot of delegates thought the President should be appointed by Congress. He also thought that we should get to vote directly for both Representatives & Senators (until the 17th Amendment inn 1913, Senators were appointed by state legislators).
In 1789 George Washington appointed Wilson one of our first Supreme Court Justices. So much for being a wishy-washy shy guy.