About William Paterson
William Paterson (December 24, 1745 – September 9, 1806) was a New Jersey statesman, a signer of the United States Constitution, and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who served as the 2nd governor of New Jersey, from 1790 to 1793.
William Paterson was born on December 24, 1745, in County Antrim, in Ireland, moved to what is now the United States at age 2, and entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at age 14. After graduating, he studied law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and was admitted to the bar in 1768.
Paterson became an outspoken supporter of American independence. He was selected as Somerset County, New Jersey delegate for the first three provincial congresses of New Jersey, where as secretary he recorded the 1776 New Jersey State Constitution.
After Independence, Paterson was appointed as the first Attorney General of New Jersey, serving from 1776-1783, maintaining law and order and establishing himself as one of the state's most prominent lawyers. He was sent to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he proposed the New Jersey Plan for a unicameral legislative body with equal representation from each state. After the Great Compromise (for two legislative bodies: a Senate with equal representation for each state, and a House of Representatives with representation based on population), the Constitution was signed.
Paterson went on to become one of New Jersey's first US. senators (1789–90). He was a strong nationalist who supported the Federalist party. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he played an important role in drafting the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the federal court system. The first nine sections of this very important law are in his handwriting.
He resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1790 in order to succeed fellow signer William Livingston as governor of New Jersey. As governor, he pursued his interest in legal matters by codifying the English statutes that had been in force in New Jersey before the Revolution in Laws of the State of New Jersey. He also published a revision of the rules of the chancery and common law courts in Paterson, later adopted by the New Jersey Legislature.
He served as Governor of New Jersey and in the New Jersey Senate, where he oversaw the revision and codification of the entire state legal system. George Washington appointed him associate justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1793, where he served until his death (from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey) on September 9, 1806 in Albany, New York, aged 60. He is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany.
Paterson, New Jersey, and William Paterson University are named after him.