Law School, A,

Law School, A, had a brief existence at Princeton in the middle of the nineteenth century. Its faculty included the former chief justice of New Jersey, Joseph C. Hornblower of Newark, and two local attorneys of high standing, James S. Green and Richard S. Field 1821. Its classes were held in a brownstone building on Mercer Street, which Field had built at his own expense for this purpose. The school was formally opened at the College's centennial celebration in 1847, with an extended discourse by Chief Justice (later Chancellor) Henry Woodhull Green 1820 on the need for a well-educated bar.

Despite its auspicious beginnings, the Law School failed to become viable. Lacking any special endowment, the College depended solely upon tuition fees for its expenses, and enrollment was insufficient to provide adequate salaries for the lecturers. Only seven men qualified for the degree of bachelor of laws -- four in 1849, two in 1850, one in 1852. The announcement of the school was dropped from the catalog in 1852 and the names of the three professors in 1854. Later the law school building was given the name, Ivy Hall, and used for other purposes; it was eventually acquired by its neighbor, Trinity Episcopal Church.

The venture of 1847 represented the trustees' third attempt to found a law school. In the 1820s they had begun preparations for courses of lectures in law and in medicine to be given by two of their members, ex-Senator Richard Stockton 1779 and Dr. John Van Cleve 1797, a local physician; but before the plans could be matured, both men died.

In 1835, on being assured by a committee that they had promises of enough financial support to make an experiment ``without encroaching on the means of the Board,'' the trustees had elected ex-Governor Samuel L. Southard 1804 and two other eminent members of the bar as professors of law, but they all declined appointment.

These three unsuccessful attempts notwithstanding, the desirability of having some kind of program of legal studies has been revived several times. President Patton brought the subject up in 1890. ``We have Princeton philosophy, Princeton theology, but we have to go to Harvard and Columbia for our law,'' he told an alumni gathering. ``Gentlemen, that is a shame. Just as soon as I find a man with half a million, I am going to found a law school.''

Nothing came of this pronouncement, however, much to the disappointment of the professor of jurisprudence -- Woodrow Wilson. Shortly after his election as president in 1902, Wilson, in a report to the trustees, proposed a school of jurisprudence in which law would be taught ``only to university graduates and by men who could give it full scholarly scope and meaning without rendering it merely theoretical or in any sense unpractical, -- men who could, rather, render it more luminously practical by making it a thing built upon principle, not a thing constructed by rote out of miscellaneous precedents.'' But in his order of priorities, new funds for faculty salaries, preceptorships, the library, a recitation hall, science laboratories, and a graduate school of arts and sciences took precedence, and when Wilson resigned in 1910, the school of jurisprudence had not been realized.

Two developments in the seventies gave new emphasis to Princeton's continuing interest in legal education. The first was the initiation in 1973 of a four-year joint Master of Public Affairs-Doctor of Jurisprudence program by the Woodrow Wilson School in collaboration with Columbia and New York University law schools. The second was President Bowen's appointment in 1974 of a committee to explore the factors which might enter into a University decision on a program in law. Following a year-long study, this committee, which was composed of Woodrow Wilson School Dean Donald E. Stokes '51, chairman, New York lawyer Robert Owen '52, and Politics Professor Dennis F. Thompson, submitted an extensive report to President Bowen. While concluding that a law program with qualities adapted both to Princeton's special characteristics and the special needs of legal education ``could bring new strength to Princeton and could make a genuine contribution to the nation,'' the committee emphasized that very substantial gifts would be needed to endow such a program and to meet its initial plant and library costs. President Bowen and the trustees' executive committee accepted the Stokes committee's recommendation that in view of the ``serious financial constraints'' facing Princeton, active consideration of a law program be postponed, but they suggested that the committee's ``thoughtful and creative'' report deserved wider distribution, and a summary was accordingly published in the Alumni Weekly.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion