A Message from the Dean
Career Evolution
The Dark Side of James Wilson
A Shepherd to Troubled Youths
Doug Frenkel Steps Down as Clinic Director
The Brief
Faculty News & Publications
The Campaign for Penn Law
Alumni Briefs
In Memoriam
Case Closed
The dark side of James Wilson
BY NATALIE WEXLER, L’83
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8

Generations of Penn Law students have heard reverent invocations of James Wilson, the man considered to be the Law School’s founder. His image has a place of honor as one of the two medallions guarding the 34th Street entrance to Silverman Hall (along with that of George Sharswood); his bust, from its perch on Silverman’s second floor, watches over the proceedings within; and both a Law School scholarship and its highest alumni award bear his name.

But how many law students and alumni actually know much about Wilson’s remarkable, and ultimately tragic, life? While he’s beginning to attract more scholarly attention–a new two-volume edition of his collected works was published last year — Wilson remains the nation’s least known Founding Father. And Founding Father he most certainly was: Wilson was one of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — and his influence on the latter is generally considered to have been second only to James Madison’s. In 1789, Wilson became one of George Washington’s first appointees to the Supreme Court — which at the time consisted of only six Justices– and there was talk of his elevation to Chief Justice. Wilson’s erudition was legendary, and in some ways he was ahead of his time: a firm believer that “the people” were the source of all sovereignty, he advocated direct popular election of the president rather than selection by the electoral college.
 
  Next Page