Rare Books Blog

February 9, 2013

Until the end of the nineteenth century most students prepared for the bar through an apprenticeship or self-study. These methods were often criticized by elite lawyers, who believed legal education would be more rigorous and thorough if it was taught in a classroom. By the late-eighteenth century a few colleges offered law lectures, beginning in 1779 with the College of William and Mary, but these lectures were designed not to train lawyers, but rather to educate future political leaders and businessmen.

Vocational legal education in America began with Tapping Reeve’s establishment of the Litchfield Law School in 1784. The success of Reeve’s program, and its perceived value, inspired the establishment of three other schools in Connecticut: Seth Staples’s in New Haven, Zephaniah Swift’s in Windham, and Sylvester Gilbert’s in Hebron.

Into the second decade of the nineteenth century Connecticut had more law schools than any other state in the union. Their proprietors had similar backgrounds. Born into comfortable circumstances, they were mostly graduates of Yale College, who became some of Connecticut’s leading attorneys. Their ability at the bar brought them wealth, fame, and high social status. They tended to be politically and socially conservative. Civic-minded and active in politics, they were involved in public service as legislators, judges, and local officials.

(1) Litchfield Law School. Years of operation: 1782-1833. Proprietor: Tapping Reeve, 1782-1820, James Gould, 1820-1833. Instructor: James Gould, 1798-1820. Number of students: 1,000+. (2) New Haven Law School. Years of operation: c.1800-1826. Proprietor: Seth Staples, c.1800-1824, Samuel Hitchcock, 1824-1826. Instructor: Samuel Hitchcock, 1820-1824, David Daggett, 1824-1826. Number of students: 67+ (lists of students prior to 1819 are unknown). (3) Gilbert’s Law School, Hebron. Years of operation: 1810-1818. Proprietor: Sylvester Gilbert. Number of students: 56. (4) Swift’s Law School, Windham. Years of operation: 1805-1823. Proprietor: Zephaniah Swift. Number of students: 12+ (records incomplete).

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

Map: Amos Doolittle & Mathew Carey, “Connecticut From the Best Authorities,” in The general atlas for Carey’s edition of Guthrie’s Geography improved (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1795). Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

“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

“Advertisement.” In Catalogue of the Litchfield Law School, from 1793 to 1827 inclusive (Litchfield, Conn.: S. S. Smith, 1828). [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

For the most part, Connecticut law schools attracted students through the reputation of their instructors and the recommendations of former students. As indicated here, they also relied on circulars and advertisements. Several were published in prominent regional and national periodicals. Litchfield’s course was completed in fourteen months, but students were welcome to attend for briefer periods. The other three schools adopted Litchfield’s schedule (and charged similar fees).

John C. Calhoun, Letter of introduction to Tapping Reeve, 1810 Feb. 10. Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.

The reputation of the Connecticut schools attracted students from nearby states and, over time, other regions of the country. John C. Calhoun, a future U.S. Senator, cabinet secretary, and Vice President trained at Litchfield, is a distinguished example. In this letter he introduces William Martin, a fellow South Carolinian who will be attending Litchfield. Martin did not choose Litchfield due to a lack of options in the South; by 1810 there were good law schools in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Certificate of Charles Adams’s attendance at Litchfield Law School lectures in the summer of 1812, signed by Tapping Reeve, 1812 Aug. 2. [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Certificate of Elijah P. Grant’s studies at Yale Law School from August 1831 to April 1832, signed by David Daggett and Samuel J. Hitchcock, 1832 Dec. 22. [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

In most cases, bar associations would not admit a candidate to his examination unless he submitted a testimonial letter that confirmed his satisfactory completion of an apprenticeship. Applicants trained at law schools were not excluded from this requirement.

– 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.

Tapping Reeve
February 9, 2013

Engraving by Peter Maverick, 1820, based on a portrait by George Catlin. Reproduced courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.

Tapping Reeve (1744-1823)

  • B.A., Princeton, 1763, M.A., 1766.
  • Read law in Hartford under Judge Jesse Root, later chief justice of Connecticut.
  • Judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, 1798-1815, chief judge, 1815-1816.
  • Author of The Law of Baron and Femme (1816) and A Treatise on the Law of Descents in the Several United States of America (1825).

 

James Gould (1770-1838)

  • B.A., Yale, 1791, LL. D, 1819.
  • Received his legal education at Litchfield Law School.
  • Judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, 1816-1818.
  • Author of Principles of Pleading in Civil Actions (1832).

 

Oil on canvas, by Samuel L. Waldo. Reproduced courtesy of the Yale Law School.

 

 

 

 

 

Zephaniah Swift (1759-1823)

  • B.A., Yale 1778, M.A. 1781, LL.D., 1815.
  • Appears to have been self-educated as a lawyer.
  • Judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, 1801-1806, chief justice 1806-1819; Connecticut State Assemblyman, 1787-1793, 1820-1822; representative, U.S. Congress, 1793-1797.
  • Author of System of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (1795-1796) and Digest of the Laws of the State of Connecticut (1822-1823); compiler of Laws of the United States of America (1797), the first official digest of U.S. statutes.

Oil on canvas, by James Weiland, based on an engraving. Reproduced courtesy of the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.

 

Sylvester Gilbert (1755-1846)

  • B.A., Dartmouth, 1775.
  • Read law in Hartford under Judge Jesse Root, later chief justice of Connecticut.
  • State attorney for Tolland County, 1786–1807; chief judge of the Tolland county court and judge of the probate court 1807–1818, 1820-1825; Connecticut State Assemblyman 1780–1812, 1815-1816; representative, U.S. Congress, 1818-1819.

From “Journal or chronicle of Sylvester Gilbert.” Reproduced courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

 

Seth P. Staples (1776-1861)

  • B.A., Yale, 1797, M.A., 1801.
  • Read law in New Haven under David Daggett.
  • Practiced in New Haven, later New York City; Connecticut State Assemblyman (representing New Haven), 1814-1816.

Oil on canvas, by Jared Bradley Flagg. Reproduced courtesy of the Yale Law School.

 

Samuel J. Hitchcock (1786-1845)

  • B.A., Yale, 1809, M.A. 1812, LL.D., 1842.
  • Attended Litchfield, studied in New Haven with Staples.
  • Judge of the New Haven County Court, 1838-1842; chief judge of the New Haven City Court, 1842-1844; mayor of New Haven, 1839-1841.

 

Oil on canvas, by Jared Bradley Flagg. Reproduced courtesy of the Yale Law School.

 

David Daggett (1764-1851)

  • B.A., Yale, 1781, LL.D., 1826.
  • Read law under Charles Chauncey, a distinguished New Haven lawyer.
  • Connecticut State Assemblyman, 1791-1804, 1809-1813; U.S. Senator, 1813-1819; associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, 1826-1832, chief justice, 1832-1834; mayor of New Haven, 1828-1829.

Oil on canvas, by Ulysses Dow Tenney, after a portrait by Nathaniel Jocelyn. Reproduced courtesy of the Yale Law School.

– 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

Reeve, Gilbert, Gould, and Swift taught their students through lectures. This was the most common pedagogical system of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The lectures presented a synopsis and interpretation of a given topic, along with case summaries and references to authorities. Students would record the lectures as they were read, then edit and preserve them in notebooks.

Journal or chronicle of Sylvester Gilbert (1755-1846) of Hebron. Photostat. [Image cropped.] Reproduced courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The law schools at Litchfield, Hebron, and Windham used the lecture method throughout their existence. In this memoir Gilbert notes that he read a set of lectures based on two years of intensive research and study. Like Reeve, Gould, and Swift, Gilbert believed that he could transmit a complete summary of the law to his students.

 

 

James Gould, “Law School at Litchfield,” United States Law Journal and Civilian’s Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3 (Jan. 1823). [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Gould emphasized the pedagogical value of taking lecture notes and organizing them in a notebook. It was also a practice that gave each student a “manual, or commonplace book, (including a repository of references,) to aid him in his professional practice.” Increasingly obsolete over the course of the nineteenth century, Gould’s method reflected an era when law books were scarce and expensive.

 

Litchfield Law School, Moothall Society. Continuation of reports of cases argued and determined in Moothall Society from August 5th 1797 to July 12 1798. Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.

In Litchfield and the other schools, students participated in moot courts and learned how to draft legal instruments. Hitchcock and Daggett also required occasional essays and presentations on legal topics.

– 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

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century law books became widely available at affordable prices, thanks to the growth of the American publishing industry and improved communications. Instruction shifted gradually to the textbook-lecture method. In this system, still used today, students are assigned a schedule of readings, asked to summarize their readings in class, and answer questions about them. From its founding, this was the method used at the New Haven Law School. It remained the dominant form of instruction in American law schools until the late nineteenth century, when it was gradually supplanted by the case method, which was introduced by Harvard Law School in the 1870s.

William Cruise, A Digest of the Laws of England Respecting Real Property (4th American ed.; New York: Collins and Hannay, 1834), vol. 2. Ownership signature of Samuel J. Hitchcock. Founders Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

The library that Hitchcock assembled was used by students in the New Haven (later Yale) Law School. The titles owned in multiple copies, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries and Cruise’s Digest of Real Property, were those issued to students. The remnants of this library make up the Founders Collection. This volume of Cruise’s Digest, from the Founders Collection, indicates the dates of recitations under Hitchcock’s supervision.

– 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

Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769) was based on a course of undergraduate lectures that Blackstone delivered at Oxford University. Intended for future members of England’s ruling class, it was the first truly comprehensive synopsis of the common law and its underlying principles. Attractively written, it was soon adopted by aspiring lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Blackstone’s Commentaries was especially popular in America. Members of the legal elite cited its origins to promote the establishment of law schools. Students used it for self-guided study or background reading. Instructors used it as a syllabus. In a letter to a prospective Yale law student dated Dec. 9, 1831, for example, Daggett says that “Blackstones Com. are the outlines & I endeavor to fill up certain of his topics such as mortgages, evidence, pleadings, contracts, equity &c. &c.”

Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 1 (Portland [Maine]: Thomas B. Wait, & Co., 1807). Armorial bookplate, “Doggett Daggett,” which is the family of Yale law professor David Daggett. William Blackstone Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Notebook of Charles Adams (1795-1821) from lectures of Tapping Reeve and James Gould at the Litchfield Law School, June-Aug. 1812. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

The Connecticut law schools were devoted almost exclusively to private law, then the purview of elite lawyers, which is covered in the first three volumes. The first citation in the right margin, “1 B_ 426”, is to Blackstone’s Commentaries, volume 1, page 426.

– 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 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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