Episode 366: Michael H. Taylor, James Wilson & the US Constitution

Cover of James Wilson: The Anxious Founder by Michael H. TaylorOn September 17, 1787, the members of the Constitutional Convention concluded their work by signing the final draft of their new proposed government. The document they signed was the United States Constitution, which is why the United States marks Constitution Day each year on September 17.

In honor of Constitution Day, we explore the life of a Founder who played a large role in the creation and shaping of the United States Constitution: James Wilson.

Michael H. Taylor, Professor of United States History and Political Science at Northeast Community College and author of James Wilson: The Anxious Founder, joins us to investigate the life of James Wilson, who stands as one of the United States’ overlooked founders.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.‌

Episode Summary

Michael H. Taylor, author of James Wilson: Anxious FounderMichael H. Taylor is a Professor of United States History and Political Science at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, where he teaches courses in United States History and American government. He’s also the author of James Wilson: The Anxious Founder.

During our investigation, Michael reveals information about James Wilson’s early life; How James Wilson became involved in the creation of the United States' first government; And, his time as the first Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

What You’ll Discover

  • The lack of records left behind by and about James Wilson’s life
  • James Wilson’s early life and education in Scotland
  • The factors that led James Wilson to emigrate to Philadelphia
  • Why Wilson decided to be a lawyer instead of a minister
  • Wilson’s involvement in the Scottish community in Philadelphia
  • Why Wilson decided to study American law under John Dickinson
  • How Wilson became involved in the politics of the Revolution
  • James Wilson’s move to Redding, PA and his early lawyer career
  • Information about James Wilson’s decision to write and publish Considerations on the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament
  • James Wilson’s friendship and writing partnership with William White
  • The creation of James Wilson’s and William White’s newspaper series
  • Wilson’s life-long relationship with John Dickinson
  • Dickinson’s and Wilson’s disagreement over voting for independence
  • Wilson’s role in voting for Independence
  • James Wilson’s role at the Constitutional Convention
  • How Wilson’s perspective as an “outsider” informed his decisions and perspectives at the Constitutional Convention
  • Why Wilson was selected to give the State House Yard speech to defend the Constitution
  • How Wilson’s speech influenced the public’s support for the Constitution
  • How Wilson became the first Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States
  • James Wilson’s financial issues that prevented him from higher positions in government
  • James Wilson’s time as an Associate Supreme Court Justice
  • The last years of Wilson’s life and his death

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Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what would the Constitution of the United States look like today had James Wilson never left Scotland– had he never become involved in the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States' fledgling government?

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