Law's Revolutionary: James Wilson and the Birth of American Jurisprudence

119 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2013 Last revised: 3 Jan 2014

See all articles by Aaron T. Knapp

Aaron T. Knapp

Boston University School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2013


This intellectual history of oft-forgotten founder James Wilson contends that as an outgrowth of his peculiar anti-Publian constitutionalism, Wilson’s post-ratification jurisprudence endeavored conceptually to reconcile American Law with the American Revolution in ways that even his ablest commentators have failed to appreciate but which boast a significance in the history of American legal thought that should command the attention of legal and constitutional historians alike. Spanning the period from 1774 to 1798, the Article’s historical analysis of Wilson’s ideas over time complicates prevailing literature on popular sovereignty’s origins and influence in post-Revolutionary America, revises influential scholarship interpreting pre-Marshallian Federalist jurisprudence in the 1790s, and sheds new light on the role of civic virtue in early American constitutional culture.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Constitutional History, American Revolution, Jurisprudence, Legal History, Legal Philosophy, James Wilson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Knapp, Aaron T., Law's Revolutionary: James Wilson and the Birth of American Jurisprudence (March 1, 2013). 29 Journal of Law and Politics 189 (2013)., Available at SSRN:

Aaron T. Knapp (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

United States

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