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 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.[5] 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. Carrington, “Teaching Law and Virtue at Transylvania University: The George Wythe Tradition in Antebellum Years,” 675-6.