Wythe's Judicial Career

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In 1778, Wythe was appointed to the newly created High Court of Chancery. Beverly Tucker describes the choice of Wythe as a judge:

... the people were not wholly insensible of the want of a Court of somewhat different character; and to supply that want was one of the objects, to which the framers of the new Constitution directed their attention. To do this, they established three Courts, for which sixteen Judges learned in the law were wanting. The difficulty was to find the men fit to fill these important posts. Integrity and talent were abundant, but a learned lawyer was indeed a rara avis. What motive had the lawyers had to acquire learning? With the exception of some few who had studied the profession abroad, and had not been long enough in Virginia to lose the memory of what they knew, in the loose practice prevailing here, there was but one man in the State who had any claims to the character. I speak of the venerable Chancellor Wythe, a man who differed from his contemporaries in this, because in his ordinary motives and modes of action he differed altogether from other men. Without ambition, without avarice, taking no pleasure in society, he was by nature and habit addicted to solitude, and his active mind found its only enjoyment in profound research. The languages of antiquity, the exact sciences, and the law, were the three studies which alone could be pursued with a reasonable hope of arriving at that certainty which his upright and truth-loving mind contemplated as the only object worthy of his labors. To these he devoted himself, and he became a profound lawyer for the same reason that he was a profound Greek scholar, astronomer and mathematician.[1]

Wythe frequently cited Greek and Latin classics in his case decisions in addition to other non-legal titles.

County court cases

Chancery court cases

Cases from Virginia Reports

Court of Appeals cases

See also


  1. Beverly Tucker, The Principles of Pleading, (Boston: Charles C. Little & James Brown, 1846), 56.

Further reading

  • Bryson, W. Hamilton. "The Use of Roman Law in Virginia Courts." In American Journal of Legal History 28 (1984): 135-146.
  • Hoffman, Richard J. "Classics in the Courts of the United States, 1790-1800." In American Journal of Legal History 55 (1978): 55-84.