The legislature of New Jersey on March 4, 1789, elected William Paterson United States Senator from New Jersey, his associate being Jonathan Elmer, of Bridgton, Cumberland County. When he took his seat in the Senate on the following 19th, there was no quorum present; the organization accordingly was postponed until April 14. He was placed on a number of the committees. He was a member of five to which the bill regulating the time and manner of administering oaths to the senators-elect was committed. On April 30, 1789, when Washington was inaugurated president, Paterson was one of the committee of three to answer Washington's address. Paterson, Carroll and Wingate were on the committee to revise the Journal of the Senate before publication. A bill providing for the safekeeping of the acts, records and seal of the United States was sent to a committee consisting of King, Read and Paterson. He was one of the tellers to count the electoral votes at the late election and was chairman of the committee to prepare the certificates of the officers of the Senate.
His most important work during the short timehe was in the Senate was as a member of the committee appointed to establish the judiciary system of the United States. His colleagues on the committee were: Oliver Ellsworth, of Connecticut; William Maclay, of Pennsylvania; Caleb Strong, of Massachusetts, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia; William Frew, of Georgia, and James Wingate, of New Hampshire. That the committee was devoted in its attention to the duties imposed upon them is evident from the remarks of Fisher Ames, who under date of July 8, 1789, wrote:
"The Judiciary is before the Senate, who make progress. The committee labored upon it with vast perseverance and have taken as full a view of their subject as I ever knew a committee to take. Mr. Strong, Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Paterson in particular, have their full share of this merit."
The result of the work of the committee was the introduction of a bill on June 12, 1789. The measure was extensively debated, Mr. Lee, a member of the committee making objections to a few of the minor provisions; on July 12 it was passed by a vote of fourteen to six and was sent t6 the House, where it was the subject of extensive debate, and, with a few minor amendments, it was sent back to the Senate, where it was referred to a commitee consisting of Ellsworth, Paterson and Pierce Butler of South Carolina. It was finally passed on September 21 and signed by President Washington on September 24.
The new law provided for a Supreme Court to consist of five judges with five associates. Provision was made for thirteen District courts and three Circuit courts, each to consist of two Supreme Court judges with a District court judge. Appeals from state courts were provided for when questions involving federal issues had arisen. The country was divided into three districts, Eastern, Middle and Southern; in each of these there were to be sessions of the courts twice each year.
Paterson took part in a number of the debates. He also accepted numerous invitations to dine with Washington. But as a whole he found life in the Federal city irksome, as may be judged from the following extract from a letter written to his wife:
"Gay life has never been my wish; my disposition is naturally pensive and in general I had much rather take a solitary walk in a grove or among tombs than mingle in the festivities and pleasures of a ball. I hope soon to take my leave of my present station and return to private life. I have had it for some time in contemplation to retire even from New Brunswick and to make my farm the last place of my abode. There we can live much to ourselves and far removed from the noise and parade of the world."
Paterson had met Alexander Hamilton on a number of occasions and their friendship had ripened into intimacy, so much so that there was a general belief that Paterson was one of the "gladjatorial" band, as the followers of Hamilton had been design~ted. A letter written by Senator William Maclay on March 11, 1790, sheds light on this affiliation and also on Paterson's desire to retire from official life. Maclay referred to Paterson's allegiance to the "gladiatorial" band and then says:
"I never thought since I knew him that he was a loaf-and-fish man. He talks of resigning and I suppose we will hear of his being a judge or something better than a senator."
The question of naturalizing foreigners caused a long and lively debate and the views expressed were various. Paterson's idea was that the right of citizenship could be acquired only by some act of Congress, but that the right to acquire and retain property was a matter solely in each individual state. When the naturalization bill was finally passed it contained the following amendment offered by Paterson:
"That any alien as aforesaid who shall not have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, but who shall have settled or shall have come to settle within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the same with intent to become a citizen thereof, on application to any common law court of record therein and evincing by oath or otherwise to the satisfaction of said court his settlement or his having come to settle with intent to be a citizen as aforesaid, and, a record of such application being made, shall thereafter be capable to hold lands in any part of the United States, and the same to dispose of or transmit by descent."
The question of fixing the location of the capital of the United States aroused some spirited debate and language closely resembling vituperation. Senator Maclay insisted that the claims of Philadelphia were so strong that there could be no other location even subject to debate. Boudinot, supported by the New England delegation, argued in favor of Trenton. The two senators from New Jersey were absent at the time and the subject was dropped for the time being. But on June 2 Maclay started the ball rolling again, by introducing a resolution that the next session of Congress be held in Philadelphia. Hamilton and his followers were strong in opposition, but the matter was finally settled by a compromise providing that the next session of Congress should be held in Philadelphia but that thereafter Congress should meet at some site to be selected on the bank of the Potomac. This was in accordance with the wishes of Hamilton and aroused the ire of Senator Maclay who denounced the result as having been accomplished by a deal and that Paterson could not be depended upon and that he was a "despicable character." Washington, Maclay declared "had been in the hands of Hamilton, the dishclout of every dirty speculation."
Maclay shortly afterwards took another fling at Paterson, the occasion being the appointment of a committee to consider the payment of state debts and the funding of federal pecuniary obligations. Paterson was a member of that committee which Maclay charged had been appointed in the interest of Hamilton's wishes. Maclay denounced every member of the committee individually, referring to Paterson as "more taciturn and lurking in his manner and yet when he speaks commits himself hastily. A summum just man, a 1awyer~and retained by the Secretary."
Hamilton's plan, as presented to the Senate provided for the payment of all the debts of the nation and the assuming of all debts incurred by the various states for war purposes. Debate began on June 11. On June 17, says Senator Maclay,
". . . . up rose Paterson with a load of notes before him. To follow him would be to write a pamphlet, for he was up nearly an hour. Near the beginning he put the question: What principle shall we adopt to settle this business? If we follow justice, he says three per cent. or even two is as much as the holders of the certificates can demand. But what says the law, six per cent. and he was a summum just man to the end of the chapter. It was near three when he was done."
In closing his appeal Paterson urged the Senate not to pass any law which would impair contracts. The bill had already been defeated in the House and there seemed little chance of progress in the Senate. After a delay of about a month the Hamilton-Paterson combination offered a compromise. This provided that Hamilton and his friends would throw their influence, and necessarily votes, in favor of locating the nation's capital on the Potomac if the opposition would agree to the bill providing for the payment of the national debt and the indebtednesses of the various states as provided in the assumption measure. A bill to that effect was introduced and on August 17 became a law.