James Falconer Wilson was born in Newark, Ohio, on 19th October, 1828. After a brief schooling he was apprenticed as a harnessmaker. In his spare time he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He worked as a lawyer in Newark, Ohio (1851-53) and Fairfield, Iowa (1853-61).
A member of the Republican Party, Wilson was elected to Congress in October, 1861. As chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, he was an important figure in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Wilson, like other Radical Republicans, objected to Johnson's attempts to veto the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts and voted for the impeachment of Johnson in 1868.
President Ulysses S. Grant offered Wilson the post of Secretary of State in 1869. He declined the offer but did agree to become government director of the United Pacific Railroad. Wilson remained in Congress and served as chairman of the Committee of Mines and Mining. James Falconer Wilson died in Fairfield, Iowa, on 22nd April, 1895.