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The dark side of James Wilson
BY NATALIE WEXLER, L’83
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At about the same time that Wilson took his seat on the newly created Supreme Court, he agreed to deliver a series of law lectures at the College of Philadelphia, the forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania. Accusations of self-interest, which had been leveled at Wilson before, could have been raised over this arrangement: Wilson was on the College’s board of trustees, and even served on the committee that selected the lecturer. But, as perhaps the nation’s foremost legal scholar, Wilson was in fact a logical choice. The lectures were to be a broad consideration of the entire sweep of American law–an American version of Blackstone’s Commentaries — and the audience at the first lecture, on December 15, 1790, was star-studded. With the federal capital located temporarily in Philadelphia, Wilson drew President Washington, Vice President John Adams, and many members of Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature — in short, as a Philadelphia newspaper put it, “a most brilliant and respectable audience.” The subsequent lectures were delivered to a more modest group of about fifteen actual law students, but several of them went on to distinguished careers.
 
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