“I think the Christian religion is a Divine institution; and I pray to God that I may never forget the precepts of His religion or suffer the appearance of an inconsistency in my principle and practice.” – James Iredell (October 5, 1751 – October 20, 1799) was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799. His son, James Iredell, Jr., became governor of North Carolina.
Although employed by the British government, Iredell was a strong supporter of independence and the revolution. In 1774 he wrote To the Inhabitants of Great Britain in which he laid out arguments opposing the concept of Parliamentary supremacy over America. This essay established Iredell, at the age of 23, as the most influential political essayist in North Carolina at that time. His treatise Principles of an American Whig predates and echoes themes and ideas of the Declaration of Independence.
After the revolution began, Iredell helped organize the court system of North Carolina, and was elected a judge of the superior court in 1778. His career advanced through a number of political and judicial posts in the state, including that of attorney general from 1779-1781. In 1787 the state assembly appointed him commissioner and charged him with compiling and revising the laws of North Carolina. His work was published in 1791 as Iredell’s Revisal.
Iredell was a leader of the Federalists in North Carolina, and a strong supporter of the proposed Constitution. In the 1788 convention at Hillsborough, he argued unsuccessfully in favor of its adoption. (North Carolina later ratified the Constitution after Congress amended it through the addition of the Bill of Rights.)
On February 10, 1790, President George Washington nominated James Iredell to the post of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and two days later he was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission. At the age of 38, Iredell was the youngest of the early Supreme Court Justices.