Rare Books Blog

March 22, 2013

From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843
An exhibition talk
by Michael von der Linn

Connecticut gave birth to the earliest American law schools, one of which lives on today as the Yale Law School. A March 27 talk at the Yale Law School will delve into the school’s origins.

The speaker, Michael von der Linn, is guest curator of the Yale Law Library’s current exhibition, “From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843.” Since 2001, von der Linn has been Manager of the Antiquarian Book Department at The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., one of the world’s leading dealers in antiquarian law books. He holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Columbia University. Von der Linn has an ongoing interest in the history of American legal education. The Summer 2010 issue of The Green Bag included his article, “Harvard Law School’s Promotional Literature, 1829-1848.”

The talk, entitled “From Litchfield to Yale: Footnotes to the Exhibit,” takes place at 2pm on Wednesday, March 27, in Room 122 of the Sterling Law Building (127 Wall Street) on the Yale University campus. The talk is free and open to the public.

The exhibition is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily through May 31, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. It was curated by Michael von der Linn and Mike Widener, the Law Library’s Rare Book Librarian. It can also be viewed online here in the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

March 4, 2013

The Legal History and Rare Books Special Interest Section (LHRB-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries, in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Fourth annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition.

The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. Professor Cohen was a leading scholar in the fields of legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography.

The purpose of the competition is to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and law librarianship.

Eligibility: Students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, or related fields are eligible to enter the competition. Both full- and part-time students are eligible. Membership in AALL is not required.

Requirements: Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website: http://www.aallnet.org/sis/lhrb/. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 1, 2013.

Awards: The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses associated with attendance at the AALL Annual Meeting. The runner-up will have the opportunity to publish the second-place essay in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: An Annual Review of Legal History and Rare Books.

Please direct questions to Robert Mead at or Maguerite Most at .

February 18, 2013

The news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation brings to mind an image from our rare book collection that illustrates a previous papal resignation, that of Pope Celestine V. Celestine appears together with his successor, Boniface VIII, in an image at the opening of a 1514 edition of the Liber Sextus: Sextus decretalium liber a Bonifacio. viij. in concilio Lugdunensi editus (Venice: Luca Antonio Giunta, 1514). The Liber Sextus formed part of the Corpus Juris Canonici ("The Body of Canon  Law") that served as the foundation of canon law in the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages until 1917. 

It is unsurprising to find images of Boniface VIII at the opening of the Liber Sextus, since he is the pope who ordered its compilation. It is surprising to find such unflattering images. The woodcut depicts two scenes from Boniface's life.

In the foreground, Boniface embraces a fox who pulls the papal tiara from the head of his predecessor, Celestine V. A dove over Celestine's head symbolizes the Holy Spirit conferring its blessing upon Celestine. In essence, the image repeats the accusation that Boniface tricked the saintly Celestine into resigning.

Celestine V had been a monk renowned for his piety and asceticism, who founded a strict branch of the Benedictines. A divided College of Cardinals elected him in July 1294 after having failed for over two years to elect one of their own. The new pope accepted his election reluctantly, and soon concluded that he was unfit and unwilling to continue to serve as pope. Some sources say Celestine's decision to resign was his alone, while others say Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, the future Boniface VIII, goaded and tricked him into resigning. All agree that Boniface drafted the papal constitution authorizing a pope's resignation. Boniface was elected pope immediately afterward, in December 1294. Celestine tried to return to a hermit's life, but he died as Boniface's prisoner in 1296. Celestine was canonized in 1313.

Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI visited Celestine's remains in 2009, after they had survived the L'Aquila earthquake (see photos here). He proclaimed the Celestine Year from 28 August 2009 to 28 August 2010, to mark the 800th anniversary of Celestine's birth.

On the right of the image shown here is a scene from the end of Boniface VIII's papacy, in 1303. He was taken prisoner by the powerful Colonna clan of Rome, with whom Boniface carried on a bitter and bloody feud. The Colonnas and their ally, King Philip IV of France, demanded Boniface's resignation, to which Boniface replied that he would "sooner die." His wish was granted a few days later. It was Philip IV who later nominated Celestine V for sainthood.

Both Boniface and Celestine make appearances in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Dante places Boniface in the eighth circle of Hell, reserved for those guilty of simony. Dante's exile from Florence was a direct result of Boniface VIII's political machinations, and Boniface was "Dante's most reviled theological, political, and personal enemy" (Danteworlds website, University of Texas at Austin). Celestine V is believed to be the coward beside the gate of Hell who made "the great refusal" by abdicating the papacy and paving the way for Boniface's election as pope.

For citations to scholarly writings on papal resignations in the Middle Ages, see "The first papal abdication since six centuries", a posting in the excellent Rechtsgeschiedenis Blog, "Legal history with a Dutch view." The Wikipedia articles on Celestine V and Boniface VIII provide additional details and links to additional sources.

-- MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


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 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.


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