As a professor at the first law school established in the United States, Connecticut legal luminary James Gould helped educate some of the most important legal minds in early 19th century America. Born in Branford, Connecticut on this date in 1770, Gould’s parents initially doubted his promise as a scholar on account of his exceptionally poor eyesight, which they figured would be too great an obstacle for the bright young man to overcome. Nevertheless, Gould persevered in his studies and graduated from Yale College at the age of 21.
Gould remained in New Haven for two more years in the college’s employ as a tutor while studying law underneath a local judge. In 1795, Gould and his wife Sally settled in Sally’s hometown of Litchfield, where Gould promptly began studying law at the Litchfield Law School — the first law school in the nation, founded twenty-three years earlier by Tapping Reeve. Reeve clearly considered Gould to be one of his most promising students; three years later, when Reeve was appointed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, he asked Gould to join him as a co-instructor at the school. (Previously, Reeve had been the sole instructor.)
Together with Reeve, Gould developed a regimented, 14-month curriculum wherein students would study, recite, and debate Blackstone’s Commentaries and other seminal legal works of British — and early American — jurisprudence before pursuing more practical experience as legal apprentices working alongside established judges and lawyers. In 1820, due to poor health, Reeve formally relinquished full control of the Litchfield Law School to James Gould, who ran the school for thirteen more years before his own declining health forced him to close the school for good. During his tenure of thirty-five years, Gould authored a number of significant legal commentaries and textbooks and taught hundreds of law students, many of whom would play significant roles in early American legal and political circles. According to the Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library, the alumni of the Litchfield Law School included twenty-eight Senators, one hundred one Congressmen, fourteen Governors, thirteen Supreme Court Chief Justices. Among the most famous names are vice presidents Aaron Burr, Jr. and John C. Calhoun, as well as educator Horace Mann and Levi Woodbury, the first U.S. Supreme Court justice to have attended a formal law school. Thanks to James Gould, the bar for early American law was set higher than ever, beginning on this day in Connecticut history.
“James Gould,” Litchfield Historical Society
“Tapping Reeve and the Litchfield Law School,” State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library
“Museums: Tapping Reeve House and the Litchfield Law School,” Litchfield Historical Society