William Paterson

Burial Location Visited Constitution Signer Grave #
Menands, New York May 22, 2010 8th Visited


A rare nighttime shot, taken at the                                                             In 1793, President Washington
burial site of the Hon. William                                                                    appointed Paterson to the U.S.
Paterson in Albany Rural Cemetery.                                                            Supreme Court.


My father and I spent nearly an                                                  William Paterson was a key delegate to
hour and a half in the dark trying                                                the Constitutional Convention in 1787, as
to locate Paterson's final resting                                                  it was he who proposed the New Jersey
place.                                                                                       Plan.

                                       *** Interesting Facts ***

* William Paterson, a Founding Father and signer of the U.S. Constitution, took his first breaths on Christmas Eve in 1745. He was not born in any of the 13 colonies but in Ireland, which he emigrated from when he was two years of age. Paterson's father made a living selling household goods such as tinware, and he took his family to several colonies before they finally settled in New Jersey. At the youthful age of 14, William Paterson enrolled at the College of New Jersey, which he earned his B.A. from in 1763. After acquiring his M.A. several years later, he began studying law under the tutelage of Richard Stockton, a prominent New Jersey lawyer who would later sign the Declaration of Independence. 
Paterson was admitted to the bar in 1768 and started his own practice in New Bromley, though he later moved it to Raritan. 

* Not too long after, the inevitable war between Great Britain and its North American colonies erupted. Paterson proved to be a candid patriot, and he was elected to serve in the First Provincial Congress of New Jersey. He recorded New Jersey's first constitution in 1776 while serving as the Congress' secretary. Later on, he became the first attorney general of New Jersey after independence was declared. Paterson remained the attorney general until 1783. Also in that year, Paterson's wife passed away due to complications from childbirth.

* Paterson remarried the following year, and was one of a select few men sent by New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. At the convention, a large dispute took place concerning the layout of the government's legislative branch. A delegate from Virginia, James Madison, had drafted a document that proposed the legislature be made up of two houses and that the number of representatives per state be decided by a state's population. That did not sit well with delegates from places like Delaware and New Jersey, as they thought such a plan would prove harmful to smaller states. As a result, William Paterson came up with the New Jersey plan, which proposed a unicameral (one house) legislature in which each state would have equal representation. In the end, Connecticut's Roger Sherman composed a document that was a compromise between Madison and Paterson's plans. The legislature would be composed of two houses, in one of which (the Senate) each state would have equal representation. In the other (the House of Representatives), the number of representatives a state had would be based on its population. Sherman's plan, dubbed "The Great Compromise", was popular and was worked into the U.S. Constitution.

* In 1789, two years after signing the Constitution, Paterson began his tenure as a member of Congress. From 1789 until his resignation in 1790, Paterson served in the Senate, which followed his idea of equal representation. The reason Paterson resigned was so that he could begin serving as the governor of New Jersey, as the position had become vacant with the death of William Livingston.

* The Ireland native resigned as the governor of New Jersey as well in 1793 in order to serve as a United States Supreme Court associate justice. He was nominated for the post by George Washington in February of that year, but the president withdrew the nomination the following day, as it violated Article 1, Section 6, Clause 2 of the Constitution. The clause states that no member of the legislative branch can be appointed to a civil office that was created during the term that the member is still serving. Paterson was a member of the Senate in 1789 when the Supreme Court was created, and, though he had resigned from the Senate in 1790, the term he began serving had not yet expired. When it finally did come to its end several days later, Washington re-nominated Paterson, and he was approved. He served as an associate justice until his death in Albany, New York on September 9, 1806.

Spouse: Cornelia Bell Paterson (      - 1783)
               Euphemia White Paterson (      -1822)

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