Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Checking in with the Interns: Zachary

William Paterson ledger, LWS collection.
The reputation of Irish-born William Paterson (1745-1806) could be most attributed to his contribution to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. His contribution was known as the “Paterson Plan” or the “New Jersey Plan”. The result of this contribution, and one Great Compromise, was the US senate, a platform in which every state was represented equally. Outside of this formidable contribution to US history, what was known about William Paterson was kept by avid historians and the alumni of the university named after him in Wayne, NJ. While William Paterson’s contribution to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the culmination of his political career, the future governor of New Jersey started both his legal and political careers in his studies at Princeton University, known then as The College of New Jersey. During his years as a student Paterson took up the study of law. In 1769 he would pass the bar and in 1793 Paterson would become an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. However, the beginning of his career was what would shape the man who would become the 2nd governor of New Jersey. His study of law and his apprenticeship under Richard Stockton, a future representative of New Jersey at the signing of The Declaration of Independence, would be the catalyst for William Paterson’s life in politics and law.

Within the archives at the Morristown National Historical Park, specifically the Lloyd W. Smith Collection, there was a single ledger, or notebook, that belonged to William Paterson during his early years studying law. The third page of the notebook presented the date of November 29th, 1763. When this date was compared to the fact that William Paterson completed his undergraduate degree in 1963, the idea that this notebook was used in the first year of his graduate studies was reinforced. Through the examination of the notebook the influences, his studies, and his thought process of a young William Paterson could be observed. While the ledger gave us an insight into the brain of William Paterson the notebook also allowed us view an approach to law in New Jersey in the 1760s.

By examining this ledger it was obvious that William Paterson took his studies very seriously. There were no doodles, no off topic thoughts, and there were no scribblings. Paterson laid out his notes in a very orderly fashion. He would mark out the topic of the lecture. Some of the law topics that we saw in the ledger were Pleas, Estate Law, Mortgage Law, and Indictments. He also specified which law book he was studying by identifying the author in the margins. Three of the authors he mentioned are Bacon, Coke, and Adams. Furthermore, Paterson’s attention to detail was exemplified by his styles of note taking. He was able to seemingly switch style from standard listing, to quoting and making direct references to his material, to a Question and Answer format. By doing do he was able to mold his notes to get the most possible information out of them. One tool Paterson liked to use throughout his ledger was the hand with pointing finger symbol in the margin of the page. Presumably Paterson used this symbol to mark key information or an area of study he wanted to revisit later to get a better understand its meaning. The many styles, forms, and tools William Paterson used in his law school notebook identified him as a young scholar with serious interest in the study of law.

Paterson’s notes covered two areas that really stick out to the modern reader. Paterson first peculiar focus was on the study of Law during the existence of Ancient Rome. Paterson both examined the Roman law and compared it with the law of his day. According to William Paterson’s notes it could be argued that he believed Ancient Rome was the first to have had a distinguishable set of private and public laws. Another revealing detail of Paterson’s notebook was the talk of slaves and women through the law of the time period. The details became exceedingly odd, in comparison with the present views of United States law, while discussing estate and fortune law. The language Paterson uses to describe the position of both women and slaves in relation to the estate would be off putting if used in a courtroom today.

William Paterson’s notebook allowed us to explore both the culture of the 18th century as well as the development of a bright young scholar who would ultimately have an everlasting effect on New Jersey and the United States. The notebook, as an artifact, was rare because of the ledger was from so early on in his life. However, you would not be able to that the author was only a young adult at the time of the note taking because of how straightforward and serious the lay out of the notebook was. The attention to detail, the seriousness of the note taking process, and the depth of the notes were evidence that William Paterson was heading to a life of importance. His importance would be nationally and locally, as a politician and as a lawyer.

This blog post by Zachary De Leon, Kean University.

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