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signer of the Constitution, Senator, Governor of New Jersey, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
William Paterson was born in County Antrim, Ireland, on December 24, 1745. His family emigrated to America when he was about 2 years old, and originally settled at New Castle, Delaware. Over the next few years the family lived in New London and other places in Connecticut and Trenton, New Jersey, before finally settling in Princeton, New Jersey. In Princeton his father became a prosperous merchant and manufacturer of tin goods, allowing William to attend local private schools and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton); he received his Bachelor's Degree in 1763, and his Master's in 1766. He began practicing law at New Bromley, New Jersey, in the late 1760's, then moved to South Branch, and finally to New Brunswick, in 1779.
Paterson served in a number of political positions in his early career, including: member of the Provincial Congress, 1775-1776; delegate to the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, 1776; member of the Legislative Council, 1776-1777; and, member of the Council of Safety, 1777. From 1776 to 1783 he was Attorney General of New Jersey, a position that required so much of his time that it prevented him from accepting election to the Continental Congress in 1780.
From 1783 to 1787, Paterson devoted his energies to his law practice and avoided politics. In 1787 he was chosen to represent New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention, but he only attended until late July. Although he did not serve long, he figured prominently in the proceedings because of his advocacy and co-authorship of the New Jersey Plan, which asserted the rights of the small states against the large. He returned to the convention only once, to sign the final document.
Following ratification of the Constitution, Paterson was elected to the first U.S. Senate, serving from 1789 to 1790. During that time he played a pivotal role in drafting the Judiciary Act of 1789. He next served as Governor of New Jersey, from 1790 to 1793, during which time he began working on Laws of the State of New Jersey (published in 1800) and began to revise the rules and practices of the chancery and common law courts. From 1793 to 1806 he served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, presiding over a number of major trials.
William Paterson died on September 9, 1806, and is buried at the Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.
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