Professor of Law and Police

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After becoming the Governor of Virginia and a member of the Board of Visitors at the College of William & Mary in 1779, Thomas Jefferson set into motion a change in legal education. His idea was that a formal educational program for lawyers should replace the practice of taking on legal apprentices.[1] His goal was to introduce a program of study that would teach law with the aim of "inculcate[ing] republican virtue, those traits needed by public men to evoke public trust in public institutions."[2] At a meeting of the College's Board of Visitors on December 4, 1779 he was able to do just that: a resolution was passed that created the Chair of Law and Police as one of the six professorships at the College.[3]

George Wythe, Jefferson’s teacher, was recruited to fill the position. Wythe lectured twice a week on topics such as the political economy, public law, and English common law and created regular moot court sessions where students argued in front of Wythe and other professors.[4] Wythe served as the Chair of Law and Police[5] until 1789 and was succeeded by St. George Tucker who continued the focus on public affairs. Tucker, like Wythe, also served concurrently as a judge, a tradition that continued for the Chair of Law and Police at William & Mary until 1851.[6] In 1861 the school would close due to the Civil War and would not re-open until 1922 as the Marshall-Wythe School of Government and Citizenship.

See also


  1. Paul D. Carrington, “The Revolutionary Idea of University Legal Education,” William & Mary Law Review 31 (1990), 527.
  2. Paul D. Carrington, Teaching Law and Virtue at Transylvania University: The George Wythe Tradition in Antebellum Years, Mercer Law Review 41 (1989), 675.
  3. The Virginia Gazette, "At a convocation of the visitors of the college of William and Mary, on the 4th day of December 1779, a statute was passed, of which the following is an extract," December 18, 1779, at 1.
  4. W. Taylor Reveley, III, “W&M Law School Came First. Why Care?” University of Toledo Law Review 35 (2003), 185.
  5. '"Police" meant civil order or administration.' Alonzo Thomas Dill, George Wythe: Teacher of Liberty (Williamsburg, Virginia: Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1979), 42.
  6. Carrington, “Teaching Law and Virtue at Transylvania University: The George Wythe Tradition in Antebellum Years,” 675-6.