William Gaston: Southerner, Catholic, Politician

Today marks the death of William Gaston (1778-1844): lawyer, politician, judge, and Southern Catholic. Born in North Carolina to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, in 1791 he was the first student to enroll at Georgetown College in Washington, D.C. (Until the early 1900’s, there wasn’t a clear line of demarcation between high schools and colleges as understood today.) After two years at Georgetown he went on to Princeton. He then returned to North Carolina, where he practiced law and entered local politics. A conservative Federalist, he first served in the state legislature, even though there was a clause in the state constitution banning Catholics from public office. He got in through a loophole, by affirming that he could swear to the truths contained in Protestantism. Later he helped get the restriction removed. He went on to serve in Congress, and in 1833 he was named a judge, a position he held until his death. (Among his many accomplishments, he also wrote the words to the North Carolina state song.) He has a city, a county and a lake named after him in North Carolina.

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