James Wilson: Father of the American Presidency

In Plain, Honest Men (2009), Richard Beeman claims that “Only one member of the Convention envisioned an American government, and a president, much like those we have today” (129).  That man, according to Beeman, was James Wilson.  Though he remains more obscure than Framers such as Madison, Franklin or Washington, Wilson was a pivotal figure in 1787.  A member of the Pennsylvania delegation, Wilson was originally from Scotland.  He came to the American colonies in 1765 at the age of twenty-three and soon found himself  studying under John Dickinson.  Wilson then settled in Carlisle where he worked as an attorney and became a participant in Pennsylvania politics.  He relocated to Philadelphia in the late 1770s and by the time of the Constitutional Convention he had become a prominent lawyer and advisor to Robert Morris and other leading figures in the Confederation government.  During the summer of 1787, Wilson argued strenuously for popular sovereignty and a single, strong president.  That is why Beeman identifies him as the most modern of the Framers. 


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