1746 – 1823
James McClurg was born near Hampton, VA, in 1746. He attended the College of William and Mary and graduated in 1762. McClurg then studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and received his degree in 1770. He pursued postgraduate medical studies in Paris and London and published Experiments upon the Human Bile and Reflections on the Biliary Secretions (1772) in London. His work and writings were well-received and respected by the medical community, and his article was translated into several languages. In 1773 McClurg returned to Virginia and served as a surgeon in the state militia during the Revolution.
Before the end of the war the College of William and Mary appointed McClurg its professor of anatomy and medicine. The same year, 1779, he married Elizabeth Seldon. James McClurg’s reputation continued to grow, and he was regarded as one of the most eminent physicians in Virginia. In 1820 and 1821 he was president of the state medical society.
In addition to his medical practice, McClurg pursued politics. In 1782 James Madison advocated McClurg’s appointment as secretary of foreign affairs for the United States but was unsuccessful. When Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry declined to serve as representatives to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, McClurg was asked to join Virginia’s delegation. In Philadelphia McClurg advocated a life tenure for the President and argued for the ability of the federal government to override state laws. Even as some at the convention expressed apprehension of the powers allotted to the presidency, McClurg championed greater independence of the executive from the legislative branch. He left the convention in early August, however, and did not sign the Constitution.
James McClurg’s political service did not end with the convention. During George Washington’s administration McClurg served on Virginia’s executive council. He died in Richmond, VA, on July 9, 1823.
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