Rare Books Blog

February 9, 2013

In Connecticut and elsewhere, instructors in the proprietary schools played a crucial and self-conscious role in the Americanization of the common law. Applying practical experience, political beliefs, and the ideology of the American Revolution, they revised it to suit local circumstances and showed where it was incorrect, obsolete, or irrelevant. This is especially evident in their reception of Blackstone’s Commentaries. On a fundamental level they helped to de-Anglicize the law by teaching the positive and case law of their state.

Instructors in the Connecticut schools played a dominant role in this process, training dozens of men who became influential lawyers, judges, legislators, and teachers. Litchfield’s alumni list, our largest and most distinguished example, includes two vice-presidents, 101 United States congressmen, twenty-eight United States senators, six cabinet members, three United States Supreme Court justices, fourteen governors, thirteen chief justices of state supreme courts, and seventeen members of the Connecticut House of Representatives. Reeve, Gould, and Swift’s widely circulated treatises, all published versions of their lectures, were equally influential.

Benjamin Pomeroy (1787-1855), Manuscript notes of lectures by Sylvester Gilbert at his Law School in Hebron, Connecticut (c. 1811). [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Instructors in the Connecticut schools rejected Blackstone’s unquestioned reverence for the common law. As we see in this lecture by Gilbert, they often subjected his doctrines to counterexamples drawn from natural, civil, and Roman law.

Tapping Reeve, The Law of Baron and Femme (New-Haven: Oliver Steele, 1816). [Image cropped.] Ownership signature of Isaac Leavenworth (1791-1864), a student at the New Haven Law School in 1822. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

The first American treatise on family law, Reeve’s Law of Baron and Femme is a restatement of Blackstone’s Commentaries, Book I, Chapters XIV-XVII. It rejects some of the fundamental doctrines of the common law, most notably coverture. As Blackstone puts it, “the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage.” Reeve says the opposite. Also a prescriptive work, Baron and Femme aimed to liberalize the American law of domestic relations, arguing, for example, that married women were permitted to make wills, a point contradicted by the contemporary statute and case law of Connecticut and several other states.

Zephaniah Swift, A Digest of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (New-Haven: Printed and published by S. Converse, 1822-1823).
[Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Zephaniah Swift’s System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut, the first original American legal treatise, was highly regarded throughout the United States. Published on a subscription basis, its subscribers included George Washington, John Adams, Aaron Burr, James Kent, James Madison and other notables. Structured in the manner of Blackstone’s Commentaries, it presented an overview of the common law of Connecticut, and the common law generally, based on local court decisions and legislation. Swift’s Digest, a more ambitious work, is a complete recasting of the Commentaries. Though it referred to Connecticut law, the Digest addressed American law generally and was intended for a national audience. Both works were deeply influential and are still cited today.

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 9, 2013

A handful of college and college-affiliated law schools existed in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The College of William & Mary established a law department in 1790, which granted America’s first LL.B. in 1793. Others schools followed, such as Transylvania University (1799-1861), Harvard University (1817), and the University of Virginia (1826).

Although some have proposed earlier dates, it is generally agreed that the New Haven Law School was joined to Yale College in 1826. Existing records do not explain the reasons for this union, but we can point to a few possibilities. In the early nineteenth century American colleges were beginning to evolve into universities by establishing or acquiring professional schools. Elite lawyers, many of them members of college corporations, encouraged the creation of college-based law schools.

Finally, the New Haven Law School was an attractive bargain; it was a successful, self-financed, self-managed school with a fine library and a distinguished faculty. And it was available to Yale for nothing more than the prestige conferred by its name. On their part, Hitchcock and Daggett probably viewed their school’s union with their prestigious alma mater as a way to raise its profile and compete with other prestigious schools, Harvard especially.

Catalogue of the Officers and Students in Yale College (Nov. 1826). [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Yale’s 1826 Catalogue marked the re-birth of the New Haven Law School as Yale Law School, a peer institution of the “Theological Department,” founded in 1822, and the “Medical Institution,” founded in 1813. Daggett was appointed to the Yale College faculty as “Professor of Law” in 1826, another factor that joined the two schools. He was granted an LL.D the same year. Hitchcock received a courtesy title of instructor in the college in 1830 and an LL.D in 1842.

Aholiab Johnson (1799-1893), Account book, 1825-1840. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. Gift of Lois S. Montbertrand, Law ’85.

Johnson’s account book records the cost of a year’s tuition at the New Haven Law School: “Due Hitchcock & Daggett for tuition use of Library &c from Dec. 1st 1824 to Dec. 1st 1825 - $75.00”. Johnson went on to practice law in Enfield, Connecticut for over 50 years. His obituary in the Connecticut Reports noted, “he had lived during all the lives of the presidents of the United States. He had been for a long time the oldest lawyer in the state.”

Samuel J. Hitchcock, letter to Yale Corporation requesting permission to grant LL.B., 1842 Aug. 6. Yale University Corporation Records (RU 164, Accession 1993-A-083: box 2, folder 2). Courtesy Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.

Hitchcock offers two reasons why Yale should confer the LL.B.: it would enable the law school to compete with other degree-conferring schools, especially Harvard, and it would “raise the standard of attainments” and “moral conduct” of the students. His second point reflects a larger effort among elite lawyers to expand the scope of legal education beyond preparation for the bar exam, which was the sole purpose of the proprietary schools.

Yale College Law School [circular]. New Haven, 1843 Sept. 1. [Image cropped.] Yale Law School Records (RU 449, Accession 1939-A-001: box 1, folder 6). Courtesy Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.

Intended for enrolled and prospective students, the 1843 circular describes requirements for the LL.B. This text was also published as an advertisement in several nationally circulated journals. The law school’s enrollments increased after 1826, but it drew even more students after it became a degree-granting institution. By 1865 it had trained students from 31 states and territories and six foreign countries.

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 9, 2013

Affiliation with Yale helped to insure the continuity of Hitchcock and Daggett’s school. The others did not survive. Gilbert closed his school in Hebron around 1818. We’re not sure why, but he was probably responding to a combination of professional obligations, including his term in the U.S. Congress in 1818-1820, and advancing age. The Windham school ended with Swift’s death in 1823; ill health and declining enrollments led Gould to close the Litchfield Law School in 1833. From then, Yale remained the only law school in the state until the establishment of the University of Connecticut Law School in 1921.

Yale College diploma, 1852 July 1, awarding William Thomas Marsh the degree of Bachelor of Laws. [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

An early example of a Yale Law School diploma. A North Carolinian, William T. Marsh (1830-1862) graduated with honors, returned home, and became a distinguished member of the North Carolina bar. In 1860 he represented Beaufort County in the state House of Representatives. Though he opposed secession, he chose to serve his state when it joined the Confederacy. In 1861 he became an officer in a local militia regiment, the Pamlico Rifles, and was fatally wounded during the Battle of Antietam.

-- Notes by Michael von der Linn

"From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843," curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

February 9, 2013

Baldwin, Simeon E. “Zephaniah Swift.” In Great American Lawyers (William Draper Lewis; ed.; Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1907-1909).

Fisher, Samuel H. Litchfield Law School 1774-1833: Biographical Catalogue of Students. Yale Law Library Publications, no. 11. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946.

Forgeus, Elizabeth. “An Early Connecticut Law School: Sylvester Gilbert’s School at Hebron.” 35 Law Library Journal 200-203 (1942).

Forgeus, Elizabeth. “Sylvester Gilbert’s Law School at Hebron, Connecticut: The Students.” 39 Law Library Journal 49-52 (1946).

Hicks, Frederick C. Yale Law School: The Founders and the Founders’ Collection. Yale Law Library Publications, no. 1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935.

Hoeflich, Michael H. Legal Publishing in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Klafter, Craig Evan. Reason Over Precedents: Origins of American Legal Thought. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Klafter, Craig Evan. “The Americanization of Blackstone’s Commentaries.” In Essays on English Law and the American Experience (Elisabeth A. Cawthon & David E. Narrett, eds.; College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994).

Langbein, John H. “Blackstone, Litchfield, and Yale: The Founding of Yale Law School.” In A History of the Yale Law School: The Tercentennial Lectures (Anthony T. Kronman, ed.; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

Langbein, John H. “Law School in a University: Yale’s Distinctive Path in the Later Nineteenth Century.” In A History of the Yale Law School: The Tercentennial Lectures (Anthony T. Kronman, ed.; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

The Litchfield Ledger, <http://www.litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org/ledger>. A biographical database of students at the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy, provided by the Litchfield Historical Society.

McKenna, Marian C. Tapping Reeve and the Litchfield Law School. New York: Oceana, 1986.

Reed, Alfred Zantzigner. Training for the Public Profession of the Law: Historical Development and Principal Contemporary Problems of Legal Education in the United States, with Some Account of Conditions in England and Canada. New York: Charles Scribners’s Sons, 1921.

White, G. Edward. “Law and Entrepreneurship.” In White, Law in American History, Volume 1: From the Colonial Years Through the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

The image: Zephaniah Swift, A System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut, vol. 1 (Windham: Printed by John Byrne, for the author, 1795-1796). Ownership signature of Samuel W. Southmayd (1773-1813), a student at the Litchfield Law School in 1793. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 9, 2013

We sincerely thank the following individuals for their help in making this exhibit possible.
      – Michael von der Linn & Michael Widener

 

Virginia Apple
State of Connecticut Judicial Branch

Whitney Bagnall

Kate Baldwin
Litchfield Historical Society

The Hon. Henry S. Cohn

Judge of the Connecticut Superior Court

Linda Hocking
Litchfield Historical Society

Shana Jackson
Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

Mark Jones
Connecticut State Library

Debra R. Kroszner
Office of Public Affairs, Yale Law School

Bill Landis
Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library

Christine Pittsley
Connecticut State Library

Emma Molina Widener
Southern Connecticut State University

 

The image: Catalogue of the Litchfield Law School, from 1793 to 1827 inclusive (Litchfield, Conn.: S. S. Smith, 1828). Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

February 6, 2013

A new Yale Law Library exhibit celebrates Connecticut’s role as the birthplace of vocational legal education in the United States.

The exhibit, “From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” is on display through May 2013 in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School. It was curated by Michael von der Linn, Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department at The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., with help from Michael Widener, Rare Book Librarian in the Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Although Virginia’s College of William & Mary began offering law lectures in 1779, the Litchfield Law School in northwest Connecticut was the first school to provide a focused curriculum of legal training, beginning in 1782. The school’s success inspired the establishment of a law school in New Haven in about 1800, which eventually evolved into today’s Yale Law School. Two other law schools operated for several years in Hebron and Windham. In the early 19th century Connecticut had more law schools than any other state in the union.

On display are student notebooks, textbooks, letters and other documents of the schools and their instructors. Included are items on loan from the Litchfield Historical Society and from Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.

The exhibit is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily, February 5-May 31, 2013 in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School. It will also go online here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

At right: Lectures on law delivered in Litchfield (Connt.) by the Hon. Tapping Reeve and James Gould, esqr. in 1809 & 1810 / transcribed by Josias H. Coggeshall. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

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