Guide to the Record Book of the Institutio Legalis (Newark, N.J.) 1783-1891 (bulk 1783-1817) MG 214
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Stephen Yautz as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Finding aid encoded by Danielle Kovacs. February 2004. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
The Institutio Legalis was founded in Newark, New Jersey, in 1783 as a moot court society by a group of law clerks in Newark and Elizabethtown, New Jersey, with the purpose of providing practical training for their apprentices studying to become lawyers. The founding members included Jacob D. Hart, Jr., J. Ogden Hoffman, Aaron Ogden, Jonathan Rhea, Richard Stockton, and Nehemiah Wade; Elisha Boudinot served as a mentor for the group.
This society was considered a transitional facility in terms of formal training for law students, since aspiring lawyers usually were admitted to the bar by apprenticing with attorneys with well-established practices. As requirements for admission to the New Jersey bar became more stringent, it became apparent that more practical training was required of law students, and universities in the United States had yet to establish formal law schools at the time. The moot court society was revived to fill this void. The concept of the moot court society dated to the Middle Ages in England, where establishments such as Gray’s Inn in London pioneered the concept of a moot court for practicing attorneys. The Institutio Legalis, although based upon the moot courts of Gray’s Inn, as well as newly-formed moot courts in New York City and Litchfield, Connecticut, were slightly different in that they admitted law students as the participants rather than established attorneys to practice the argument of cases in court.
The Institutio Legalis elected one of its senior members to act as judge for the cases tried in the moot court. The cases were argued before him, and he rendered his decision based upon legal precedents in English common law, as well as New Jersey state law, and later, United States law. Sessions were held at various locations in Newark, most notably The Newark Academy, or at one of the offices of one of the senior members of the society. Many of the members of the society were well-educated, and were graduates of The College of New Jersey (Princeton), Yale College, Kings College (Columbia), and Queens College (Rutgers). Many of the members who honed their legal skills at the Institutio Legalis went on to have successful careers in law and in politics. Such prominent men included Joseph C. Hornblower, a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, William S. Pennington and Aaron Ogden, who both became Governor of New Jersey, and Richard Stockton, who represented New Jersey in the United States Congress, and Joseph P. Bradley, who became a United States Supreme Court Justice.
The last session was held in November 1817, and then disbanded. In 1837, the society was revived for about a period of two years, but again disbanded for lack of participation. The establishment of law schools at the university level throughout the United States in the early nineteenth century further expedited its demise.
This collection contains the record book of the Institutio Legalis of Newark, New Jersey, covering the years 1783 to 1817, with annotations from 1837 when the society was revived and notes and a membership list that were added by Joseph P. Bradley in 1891.
Included in the record book are the original constitution and by-laws of the society, as well as its original membership list. However, the bulk of the volume is devoted to the particulars of the moot court cases in which the law students argued their cases, as well as the decisions issued by the moot court judge, followed by a brief performance review of the students. The cases tried in the moot court of the Institutio Legalis were, as the record book shows, of a wide variety. For instance, in July 1783, a case was presented, The State vs. John Styles, in which Styles was arraigned for high treason, entered a plea of not guilty, and was indicted de novo for the same crime. The students, Wade and Stockton, argued their case for the prosecution and defense, respectively. The judge, a senior member of the society who was already admitted to the bar, ruled in favor of the defendant, basing his decision on the precedent that the “former indictment is pending against the prisoner at the bar for the same crime, therefore this new indictment must be set aside.” The judge then reviewed the students’ arguments, stating for the record, “the dispute was well argued on both sides of the Question, but rather better by the Council on the part of the prisoner.”
Legal problems in relation to slavery were also argued in the Institutio Legalis, in which a series of five cases were presented starting in July 1786, in which the defendant manumitted his slaves, but failed to post bond as then required by law in New Jersey. However, Chief Justice of the Institutio Legalis Alexander C. McWhorter ruled that such a strict construction of the statute made manumission practically impossible, and ruled that the manumission could stand, based upon the fact that the law was “wanting both of Benevolence and Humanity.” Gradually, these sentiments eventually led to new legislation in which the process of manumission was made gradual, and easier to execute. As these alterations in the law were made, the moot court’s decisions reflected these changes.
The collection also includes notes and membership listings from the society’s short-lived revival in 1837 and a final note by Joseph P. Bradley in 1891. A photocopy of the volume in its entirety is provided and follows the original in this collection.
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.
For related material in print on the Institutio Legalis, see:
Skemer, Don C. “The Institutio legalis and Legal Education in New Jersey: 1783-1817,” New Jersey History, vol. 96 (1978), 123-134.
For related collections on the members of the Insitutio Legalis, see:
Due to the condition of the original record book, researchers are encouraged to use the photocopy of this collection before consulting the manuscript.
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 214, Institutio Legalis Record Book, The New Jersey Historical Society.
This collection is the gift of Joseph P. Bradley, circa 1891-1892.
Skemer, Don C. “The Institutio Legalis and Legal Education in New Jersey: 1783-1817,” New Jersey History, vol. 96 (1978), 123-134.