Paterson`s Role in the Constitutional Convention

Paterson was born in Ireland, however when he was two years old, his family immigrated to the colonies, where they settled in Trenton, New Jersey. His family did quite well, and Paterson was given the opportunity to attend what is now Princeton University. After he received his master’s degree, he began practicing law. During the revolution, he served in the provincial congress, the state constitutional convention, and New Jersey’s legislative council. From 1776 to 1783, he was the New Jersey state attorney general.

After his wife passed away in 1783, Paterson retired from the exhaustion of politics and instead devoted himself to the law. When he was selected as the New Jersey delegate to the Philadelphia convention, his love for politics was refreshed. He played an essential role in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention after he authored and presented the New Jersey Plan for debate. He left the convention after issues of state Senate representation were ironed out, however he returned and put his full support behind the finished Constitution, which now bears his signature.

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Paterson was a member of the first U.S. Senate and was later voted governor of his state; and from 1793 to 1806, he served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Patersons deeply rooted ties to New Jersey and his excellent education shaped his perspective on American government, which is clearly shown in the federalist views that he shared at in 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Paterson believed in the same principle that each state gets one vote for national matters, originally stated in the Articles of Confederation.

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Every state, no matter what their side, should be given equal representation, according to his methodology. But when the Articles were being enforced, he was the man who pointed out that Congress while under the Articles, had been ashamed to use the word ‘slaves’ and had replaced it with a description of slaves instead. During the Constitutional Convention, Paterson's efforts to abolish slavery eventually paved the way for Congress to be granted the powers to end the international slave trade beginning in 1808. He had previously stated that Congress was ashamed of the term 'slaves,' and that that shame was becoming notably evident in the following debates regarding the African slave trade. Paterson urged the other state representatives to amend the components of the Constitution that remotely encouraged slavery and the African slave trade in the colonies and in general. He also believed that any citizen of the colonies who was free should be respected with equal importance and treated the same in every regarded, no matter what.

He represented New Jersey at the convention. New Jersey was a small state, mostly agriculture based. It was not dominated by puritans, which meant that education outside of religion was much easier to obtain. It major exports were grain, rice, wheat, indigo, and livestock along with other agricultural based products. It’s first state Constitution gave women and blacks the right to vote. Because it was a small state, Paterson wanted to fight for the rights of it. He did not want any large scale national matter to be rejected or ratified without giving New Jersey and other states like New Jersey a fair say in the issue. The New Jersey plan was born out of this desire for equal state representation in government regardless of size or population. The state's stance on general equality of all human beings translated into his views against slavery and his fight to remove parts of the Constitution that hinted, even just the slightest bit, that the colonies supported slavery.

He was a federalist, and he believed that post-war factionalism and apathy for laws and old traditions would eventually lead to property threats, legislative authoritarianism, and unbridled liberty. His definition of liberty was “rational liberty” - or liberty within the bounds of legislation,structure, and harmonious progress. He acknowledged working values as the validity of the people’s sovereignty and civil agreements. He demanded a government that gave the equal number of rights to smaller states as it did to larger states, so that no small states, especially his home state of New Jersey, were left behind when it come to passing important pieces of legislation. He called it the New Jersey plan, and he developed it specifically to counter the Virginia plan. When he won the fight for state equality in the Senate, he put his full support behind the new and improved Convention, when it included a nonpartisan federal judiciary, and Congress was given supremacy on all acts and accords. Essentially, he wanted one that had a centralized national government but still gave significant powers and voting rights to all states, especially the smaller ones.

He might have compromised on having a strong centralized national government as long as the individual states were still given equal representation. He was given a formal education at private schools because of his relatively wealthy background, and was able to earn a bachelor's degree in 1763 from what is now known as Princeton University; he was returned there three years later and earned his masters degree. However, he stayed at Princeton so he could work closely and study law under Richard Stockton. This experience made him one of the most formidable lawyers in New Jersey at the time. It also means that he was extremely well educated, an understood the nuances and extremities in the law that many other convention members may have missed. If he had not gotten what he wanted, he would certainly keep fighting using the law as his biggest weapon. He adamantly refused to allow most of the control of the national government to go to the states with the larger populations, which is why he proposed his the New Jersey plan to keep the one vote per state representation that was present under the Articles of Confederation. Although he served in the vanguard of the New Jersey patriots when the Revolution first erupted, he was primarily a man of deep intellect and incredible education. He was relatively mild-mannered, with a height of only 5 ft 2, and very meticulous about his physical appearance and reputation. He would have fought as long as he could, but not through violent or radical tactics, he would attack with the full force of the law and justice behind him.

I am being true to his character because I am addressing the laws and plans that he himself presented to Congress during the actual constitution. I am studying his beliefs and applying them to this exercise, and remaining mindful of what he fought for regardless of those around me with contradicting views.

Works Consulted

  • “Essay on William Paterson.” William Paterson University,
  • “National Constitution Center.” National Constitution Center –, National Constitution Center,
  • “PATERSON, William - Biographical Information.” JACKSON, Andrew - Biographical Information,
  • Quotes, Liberty. “William Paterson Quote/Quotation.” LibertyQuotes,
  • “The Constitutional Convention.” Teaching American History,
  • “What Were William Paterson's Views on Slavery?” Reference, IAC Publishing,
  • “Who Was William Paterson?” William Paterson University,
  • “William Paterson (Judge).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Sept. 2018,
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
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Paterson`s Role in the Constitutional Convention. (2021, Apr 20). Retrieved from

Paterson`s Role in the Constitutional Convention essay
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