Litchfield Law School

Litchfield Law School

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The Litchfield Law School of Litchfield, Connecticut
Litchfield, Connecticut
Litchfield is a town in and former county seat of Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States, and is known as an affluent summer resort. The population was 8,316 at the 2000 census. The boroughs of Bantam and Litchfield are located within the town...

, was the first formal school offering training for the legal profession in the United States. It was established in 1784 by Tapping Reeve
Tapping Reeve
Tapping Reeve was an American lawyer and law educator. In 1784, he opened the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, the first school to offer a comprehensive legal curriculum in the United States....

, who would later became the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court
Connecticut Supreme Court
The Connecticut Supreme Court, formerly known as the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors, is the highest court in the U.S. state of Connecticut. It consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The seven justices sit in Hartford, across the street from the Connecticut State Capitol...

. By the time the school closed in 1833, over 1,100 young men from throughout the country had attended, many of whom went on to have an amazing influence on political, economic and legal developments of the ante-bellum period. Some of the school's most notable students include John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent...

 and Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr, Jr. was an important political figure in the early history of the United States of America. After serving as a Continental Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful lawyer and politician...

.

The law school, including Reeve's house, was declared a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1965 as the Tapping Reeve House and Law School. The Tapping Reeve House and Law School are owned and operated by the Litchfield Historical Society as a museum and contains the interpretive exhibit The Noblest Study which illustrates the lives and studies of the students who traveled to Litchfield to study at the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy
Litchfield Female Academy
The Litchfield Female Academy, founded in 1792 by Sarah Pierce, was one of the most important institutions of female education in the United States. During the 30 years after its opening the school enrolled more than 2,000 students from 17 states and territories of the new republic, as well as...

.

The Society also operates the Litchfield History Museum, and admission includes both sites.

Tapping Reeve


Tapping Reeve
Tapping Reeve
Tapping Reeve was an American lawyer and law educator. In 1784, he opened the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, the first school to offer a comprehensive legal curriculum in the United States....

, the founder of the Litchfield Law School, was born in 1744, son of the Rev. Abner Reeve, a Presbyterian minister who had graduated from Yale in 1731, and his wife Deborah. Tapping Reeve attended the College of New Jersey, later Princeton, graduating in 1763. He remained in Elizabethtown to teach at a grammar school associated with the college. Reeve then tutored at Princeton and was hired to privately teach the orphaned children of the Rev. Aaron Burr, Sr., the former President of the college, and his wife Esther Edwards Burr. Tapping Reeve taught young Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr, Jr. was an important political figure in the early history of the United States of America. After serving as a Continental Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful lawyer and politician...

 and his sister Sally for several years. By 1771 Reeve had moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he studied law with Judge Jesse Root, passing the bar there in 1772.

Reeve moved to Litchfield the same year and established a practice, marrying his former pupil Sally Burr. He built a home on South Street and established a legal practice. In 1774 his brother-in-law, Aaron Burr, left his ministerial studies with the Reverend Joseph Bellamy for the ministry and moved to Litchfield to study the law with Reeve. Burr left a year later to join the Continental Army on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, but Reeve continued to take law students.

Law School


In the early years Reeve continued the clerking or apprenticeship system of having the young men work for him while they studied his law books. He also presented talks on the principles of law. In 1784, as the number of young men in his office increased following the close of the Revolution, Reeve built a small building (similar to a one room school house) next to his house where he gave his lectures. He based them upon Blackstone’s Commentaries, which he refined into a 14 month-long course of study. The curriculum covered all areas of legal practice, noting developing changes in the new nation’s adaptation of British Common Law. Students took rough notes during the lectures, copying them carefully after checking citations, which were put in the margins. Many students had their notes carefully bound into leather volumes, which became important reference works for them in their future practice.

Reeve was the sole proprietor of the school until 1798, when he was elected to the Connecticut State Supreme Court. At that point, he hired James Gould, a former student, as a partner. Gould built his own small lecture room next to his home on North Street and men attended lectures there as well as at Reeve’s. Both men lectured to the students until Reeve’s retirement in 1820, after which Gould continued the school on his own until retiring in 1833.

The Litchfield Law School was the first formal school of law in the United States offering a vocational curriculum for future attorneys. William and Mary College in Virginia offered lectures on the law, but they provided a brief introduction to the law believed to be a part of a “liberal education” for the gentleman scholars who would later assume political responsibilities.

The Litchfield Law School was never chartered by the state, remaining a proprietary effort of Reeve and Gould. It therefore never offered degrees as a credential. At the conclusion of their studies, many of the students took the Bar exam in Litchfield, even though they would be required to clerk in the office of a lawyer on returning to their homes and take the local Bar exam. The students would also obtain letters of reference from Reeve or Gould, stating their attendance and completion of the Litchfield course of lectures. In the apprenticeship tradition, these letters usually attested to the young man having “read law” with Reeve or Gould.

The Litchfield Law School was unique among the proprietary law schools of the period in that its students came from every part of the United States. Only one third of the students enrolled from Connecticut and one quarter from the adjacent states of New York and Massachusetts. A fifth of the students were from southern states, including 60 from Georgia, 40 from South Carolina and 21 from North Carolina. The Litchfield Law School had no educational entrance requirements. Two-thirds of the known students had attended college, with one quarter of them being Yale graduates. In the tradition of apprenticeship training, the school also admitted non-college men from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

Between 1774 and 1833, 945 young men who attended the school have been identified. An additional 200 or more men are believed to have attended the school in the early years when no lists of students were kept. The number of students was notable, given that in 1800 there were only 100 practicing lawyers in the state of Connecticut. Peak enrollment at the school was reached in 1813, when 55 men attended.
The Litchfield Law School’s greatest influence was in shaping future legal education in the United States. Reeve distinguished the study of the law as based upon general principles and methods, and upon a national level, not as they pertained to specific states. The school established the formal study of law as graduate education, distinct from an undergraduate curriculum. However, The school left the more practical or clinical aspects of learning the law was left to further apprenticeship.

The primary reason for the end of the Litchfield Law School was competition from new courses at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Virginia and other university law schools. Equally important was the boom in legal publishing by 1830, which made the lecture model obsolete. The new law schools replaced the lecture method with text reading and recitations and, much later, with the case method. The growth in legal theory and practice made it impossible to be covered by one person in a 14 month series of lectures. Other factors which kept the school from flourishing in the 1830s were the inability of a proprietary institution to attract philanthropy to endow facilities, libraries and faculty, as well as the general decline of Litchfield as an intellectual, economic and cultural center.

Alumni settled in 34 states and three territories, where many served as legal and political reporters, clerks of courts and legislatures. Others published legal texts and treatises. Litchfield trained lawyers were instrumental in developing laws to deal with the economic and industrial boom of the nineteenth century. Each new technological advance created a need for new laws, while the growth of corporate law greatly increased the importance of lawyers in the economy.

The influence of the Litchfield Law School students on American politics is largely unknown. Ninety-seven students, more than 10%, later served in the United States House of Representatives and 28 were United States Senators. These alumni played major roles in every important national political issue of the pre-Civil War period. At the state level, 15 alumni were elected governors of states and territories. Large numbers served as state senator and representatives and many were city and county office holders. Others became prominent in fields such as education, religion and the arts. The influence of alumni of the Litchfield Law School as individuals is well known. Their collective influence and the impact of their experiences at the school have yet to be analyzed.

Notable students


The list of students who attended Tapping Reeve's law school includes two Vice Presidents of the United States (Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun), 101 members of the United States House of Representatives, 28 United States senators, six United States cabinet secretaries, three justices of the United States Supreme Court, 14 state governors and 13 state supreme court chief justices. Litchfield Law School students also held state and local political office and became business leaders. Students went on to found university law schools and become university presidents. Framed pictures of students are still hung in the school, including George Catlin
George Catlin
George Catlin was an American painter, author and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West.-Early years:...

, Horace Mann
Horace Mann
Horace Mann was an American education reformer, and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1827 to 1833. He served in the Massachusetts Senate from 1834 to 1837. In 1848, after serving as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education since its creation, he was...

 (the educator), Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr, Jr. was an important political figure in the early history of the United States of America. After serving as a Continental Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful lawyer and politician...

, Jr., Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Oliver Wolcott, Jr. was United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1795 to 1800 and the 24th Governor of Connecticut from 1817 to 1827.-Youth and education:...

, and US Senator & Connecticut Governor Roger Sherman Baldwin
Roger Sherman Baldwin
Roger Sherman Baldwin was an American lawyer involved in the Amistad case, who later became the 17th Governor of Connecticut and a United States Senator.-Early life:...

. Each name in this list is followed by the year that the student finished, when known.
  • John Allen
    John Allen (Connecticut)
    John Allen was a United States Representative from Connecticut. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he attended the common schools and studied at the Litchfield Law School...

    , 1784
  • Ezekiel Bacon
    Ezekiel Bacon
    Ezekiel Bacon was an American lawyer and politician from Massachusetts and New York.-Life:...

    , 1794
  • William J. Bacon
    William J. Bacon
    William Johnson Bacon was an American lawyer and politician from New York.-Life:...

    , 1823
  • Joshua Baker
    Joshua Baker
    Joshua Baker was the 22nd Governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction.-Early life:Joshua was born March 23, 1799 in Mason County, Kentucky. His father was Joshua Baker and his mother was Susan Lewis. In 1803, the Baker family moved to the Mississippi Territory and by 1811 they had settled at...

    , 1821, Governor of Louisiana
  • Henry Baldwin
    Henry Baldwin (judge)
    Henry Baldwin was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from January 18, 1830, to April 21, 1844.-Biography:...

    , 1797, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court
  • Roger Sherman Baldwin
    Roger Sherman Baldwin
    Roger Sherman Baldwin was an American lawyer involved in the Amistad case, who later became the 17th Governor of Connecticut and a United States Senator.-Early life:...

    , 1812 (son of Simeon Baldwin
    Simeon Baldwin
    Simeon Baldwin was son-in-law of Roger Sherman, father of Connecticut Governor Roger Sherman Baldwin and the grandfather of Connecticut Governor Simeon Eben Baldwin. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut. He completed preparatory studies Simeon Baldwin (December 14, 1761 – May 26, 1851) was...

     and the grandson of Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman was an early American lawyer and politician, as well as a founding father. He served as the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, and served on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was also a representative and senator in the new republic...

    )
  • James Bell
    James Bell (New Hampshire)
    James Bell was a United States Senator from New Hampshire from 1855 until his death in 1857. He was the son of Samuel Bell, the uncle of Samuel Newell Bell and the cousin of Charles Henry Bell....

    , 1824
  • Edmund H. Bennett
    Edmund H. Bennett
    Edmund Hatch Bennett was an American lawyer, judge, the first Mayor of Taunton, Massachusetts, and Dean of Boston University School of Law.- Family and education :...

  • Aaron Burr
    Aaron Burr
    Aaron Burr, Jr. was an important political figure in the early history of the United States of America. After serving as a Continental Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Burr became a successful lawyer and politician...

    , Jr., 1774, U.S. Vice President, U.S. Senator
  • Chester Pierce Butler
    Chester Pierce Butler
    Chester Pierce Butler was a Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.Chester P. Butler was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He attended Wilkes-Barre Academy and was graduated from Princeton College in 1817. He served as trustee of Wilkes-Barre Academy from 1818 to...

    , 1818
  • John Caldwell Calhoun, 1805, U.S. Vice-President, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, Secretary of War
  • George Catlin
    George Catlin
    George Catlin was an American painter, author and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West.-Early years:...

    , 1817
  • John M. Clayton
    John M. Clayton
    John Middleton Clayton was an American lawyer and politician from Delaware. He was a member of the Whig Party who served in the Delaware General Assembly, and as U.S. Senator from Delaware and U.S. Secretary of State....

    , 1817, U. S. Senator and Secretary of State
  • John A. Collier
    John A. Collier
    John Allen Collier was an American lawyer and politician.-Life:...

    , 1805
  • Joel Crawford
    Joel Crawford
    Joel Crawford was an American politician, soldier and lawyer.Crawford was born in Columbia County, Georgia. He attended the Litchfield Law School in Connecticut. After receiving admission to the state bar, he began practice in Sparta, Georgia...

    , 1806
  • William Crosby Dawson
    William Crosby Dawson
    William Crosby Dawson was a lawyer, judge, politician, and soldier from Georgia.-Early life, education and legal career:...

    , 1817
  • Thomas Day, 1797
  • John Stark Edwards, 1796
  • Amos Ellmaker
    Amos Ellmaker
    Amos Ellmaker was a U.S. political figure from Pennsylvania. He served as the Anti-Masonic vice-presidential candidate in the 1832 presidential elections....

    , 1806
  • Henry Leavitt Ellsworth
    Henry Leavitt Ellsworth
    Henry Leavitt Ellsworth was a Yale-educated attorney who became the first Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, where he encouraged innovation by inventors Samuel F.B. Morse and Samuel Colt...

    , 1811
  • John Myers Felder
    John Myers Felder
    John Myers Felder was born in the vicinity of Orangeburg, South Carolina, on July 7, 1782. He graduated from Yale University in 1804, a roommate and close friend of John Caldwell Calhoun. He was admitted to the bar in 1808 and was elected to the South Carolina State house of representatives in 1812...

    , 1806
  • Thomas Flournoy Foster
    Thomas Flournoy Foster
    Thomas Flournoy Foster was an American politician and lawyer.Foster was born in Greensboro, Georgia. He attended Franklin College, the founding college of the University of Georgia in Athens, and graduated in 1812 with a Bachelor of Arts degree...

    , 1816
  • Samuel A. Foot
    Samuel A. Foot
    Samuel Augustus Foot was the 28th Governor of Connecticut as well as a United States Representative and Senator. Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, he graduated from Yale College in 1797, and attended the Litchfield Law School...

    , 1797, Connecticut Governor, U.S. Representative and Senator
  • John Brown Francis
    John Brown Francis
    John Brown Francis was a United States Senator from Rhode Island.-Biography:Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he attended the common schools of Providence, Rhode Island and graduated from Brown University in 1808. He engaged in mercantile pursuits, attended the Litchfield Law School, and was...

    , 1813, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island 1844-45, Governor of Rhode Island 1833-38
  • Hopkins Holsey
    Hopkins Holsey
    Hopkins Holsey was a United States Representative, newspaper publisher and lawyer from Georgia.Born near Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1779, Holsey attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and graduated from the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut...

  • Ward Hunt
    Ward Hunt
    Ward Hunt , was an American jurist and politician. He was Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals from 1868 to 1869, and an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1873 to 1882.-Life:...

    , 1830, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • James G. King
    James G. King
    James Gore King was an American businessman and Whig Party politician who represented New Jersey's 5th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1849 to 1851...

     (1791–1853), businessman and politician who represented from 1849 to 1851.
  • Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (I)
    Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (I)
    Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar was a native Georgian, a jurist who was the father of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice by the same name, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar...

    , 1817
  • Horace Mann
    Horace Mann
    Horace Mann was an American education reformer, and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1827 to 1833. He served in the Massachusetts Senate from 1834 to 1837. In 1848, after serving as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education since its creation, he was...

    , 1822
  • Rutger B. Miller
    Rutger B. Miller
    Rutger Bleecker Miller was a United States Representative from New York. His father was Morris Smith Miller, also a U.S...

    , 1824
  • Eugenius Aristides Nisbet
    Eugenius Aristides Nisbet
    Eugenius Aristides Nisbet was an American politician, jurist, and lawyer.Nisbet was born near Union Point, Georgia. He attended the Powellton Academy in Hancock County, Georgia from 1815 to 1817, the University of South Carolina in Columbia from 1817 to 1819, and graduated from the University of...

    , 1823
  • Elisha Phelps
    Elisha Phelps
    Elisha Phelps was a United States Representative from Connecticut. He was the son of Noah Phelps and father of John Smith Phelps who was a United States Representative from Missouri. He was born in Simsbury, Connecticut. In 1800, he was graduated from Yale College and from Litchfield Law School...

    , 1801
  • Horatio Seymour
    Horatio Seymour (Vermont)
    Horatio Seymour was a United States Senator from Vermont. He was the uncle of Origen S. Seymour and the great-uncle of Origen's son Edward W. Seymour....

    , 1798
  • Roger Minott Sherman
    Roger Minott Sherman
    Roger Minott Sherman was the youngest of six children of Rev. Josiah Sherman , a brother of the distinguished Roger Sherman; and his mother was Martha Minott, the daughter of the Honorable James and Elizabeth Minott of Concord,...

    , 1794 (son of Rev. Josiah Sherman, the brother of Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman was an early American lawyer and politician, as well as a founding father. He served as the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, and served on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was also a representative and senator in the new republic...

    )
  • Richard Skinner
    Richard Skinner
    Richard Skinner was an American politician, attorney, and jurist from the US state of Vermont.Skinner was born in Litchfield, Connecticut. He completed preparatory studies and graduated from Litchfield Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1800, beginning a practice in Manchester, Vermont...

    , 1798
  • Perry Smith
    Perry Smith (U.S. Congressman)
    Perry Smith was a Connecticut State Representative and was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1836, where he served one term. Smith served on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. He practiced law in New Milford, where he died on June 8, 1852 and is buried at...

    , 1807, U. S. Senator
  • Truman Smith
    Truman Smith
    Truman Smith was a politician, lawyer and judge from Connecticut. He was the nephew of Nathaniel Smith and Nathan Smith....

    , 1817, U. S. Senator
  • Frederick A. Tallmadge
    Frederick A. Tallmadge
    Frederick Augustus Tallmadge was an American lawyer and politician from New York. He was a Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom New York's 5th congressional district from 1847 to 1849.-Biography:...

    , 1811
  • Uriah Tracy
    Uriah Tracy
    Uriah Tracy was an American politician from Connecticut who served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate....

    , 1778
  • Stephen Upson
    Stephen Upson
    Stephen Upson was an American politician and lawyer.Upson was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale College in 1804. He then studied law at the Litchfield Law School. In 1807, Upson, moved to Hoover, Virginia, and later to Lexington, Georgia in order to study law under William H....

    , 1805
  • Nicholas Ware
    Nicholas Ware
    Nicholas Ware was a United States Senator from Georgia.Ware was born in Caroline County, Virginia and later moved with his parents to Edgefield, South Carolina and a few years later to Augusta, Georgia. He received a thorough English education and studied medicine, and studied law in Augusta as...

    , 1792
  • Lemuel Whitman
    Lemuel Whitman
    Lemuel Whitman was a United States Representative from Connecticut. He was born in Farmington, Connecticut where he completed preparatory studies. He graduated from Yale College in 1800 and taught in a seminary in Bermuda in 1801. Later, he studied law and was graduated from the Litchfield Law...

    , 1805
  • Elisha Dana Whittlesey
    Elisha Whittlesey
    Elisha Whittlesey was a lawyer, civil servant and U.S. Representative from Ohio.-Biography:Born in Washington, Connecticut, Whittlesey moved with his parents in early youth to Salisbury, Connecticut...

    , 1813
  • Frederick Whittlesey
    Frederick Whittlesey
    Frederick Whittlesey was a U.S. Representative from New York, cousin of Elisha Whittlesey and Thomas Tucker Whittlesey.Born in New Preston, Connecticut, Whittlesey pursued academic studies....

    , 1819
  • Thomas T. Whittlesey
    Thomas T. Whittlesey
    Thomas Tucker Whittlesey was a U.S. Representative from Connecticut, cousin of Elisha Whittlesey and Frederick Whittlesey....

    , 1818
  • Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
    Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
    Oliver Wolcott, Jr. was United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1795 to 1800 and the 24th Governor of Connecticut from 1817 to 1827.-Youth and education:...

    , 1778
  • Levi Woodbury
    Levi Woodbury
    Levi Woodbury was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a U.S. Senator, Governor of New Hampshire and cabinet member in three administrations. He was the first Justice to have attended law school....

    , 1809, U. S. Supreme Court Justice, Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Navy, and Governor of New Hampshire.
  • Augustus Romaldus Wright
    Augustus Romaldus Wright
    Augustus Romaldus Wright was an American politician and lawyer, as well as an officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.-Biography:...

    , 1833

See also

  • List of National Historic Landmarks in Connecticut
  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Litchfield County, Connecticut
  • Tapping Reeve
    Tapping Reeve
    Tapping Reeve was an American lawyer and law educator. In 1784, he opened the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, the first school to offer a comprehensive legal curriculum in the United States....


External links