James Wilson and Modern Democracy

I am starting to give more thought to writing something about James Wilson.  (In other words, my interest is now a step above, “Hey, he’s an interesting guy and somebody should write a new biography about him.”)  As part of my research, I am working through his major speeches, including his arguments at the Constitutional Convention.

What jumps out is that Wilson was probably the most modern Founding Father, by which I mean that his views correspond most closely to the way the Republic works today.  Granted, he had some wacky ideas too (for example, he liked a Council of Revision that would include the President and the Supreme Court), but then again so did Madison and Hamilton.  Consider his positions:

1.  Wilson was the strongest proponent of electing the President through a direct popular vote.  (That still hasn’t happened, of course, but it is closer the modern sensibility.)

2.  He was one of the strongest voices in favor of having the Senate elected based on population because he believed in one-person, one vote (at least, one eligible person, one vote).

3.  Wilson consistently argued against supermajority rules on the same principle.  For example, he wanted a majority of the House and Senate to have the power to approve treaties, which is basically the modern practice.

4.   He argued in favor of shortening the citizenship requirements for members of Congress because immigrants would make an important contribution to our democracy.

5.  Wilson was a devotee of federal authority who argued (along Hamiltonian lines) for a broad reading of implied powers.  Like Hamilton, he was an immigrant (in this case from Scotland), who lacked strong ties to any particular state.

Anyway, I’ll probably post some more tidbits as I move along through what I would call basic research at this point.

You may also like...