Friday, December 21, 2012

Konefsky on Simon Greenleaf and the Stillborn Bowdoin Law School

Simon Greenleaf (credit)
You won’t see it on SSRN anytime soon, but that shouldn’t keep you from reading the latest from Alfred S. Konefsky, SUNY Buffalo Law School: “Piety and Profession: Simon Greenleaf and the Case of the Stillborn Bowdoin Law School, 1850-1861,” New England Quarterly 85 (December 2012): 695-734.  One wouldn’t think a failure would be all that interesting–after all, Bowdoin College never did get a law school–but this one is.  In part that is because Konefsky has brought to bear on a revealing cache of manuscripts his great understanding of the antebellum legal profession to give us a lively account of the attempt to create in Maine something like the legal adjuncts to the antebellum colleges in Cambridge and New Haven.  It helps, as well, that the articulate and thoughtful Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), retired from his professorship at the Harvard Law School, was the principal advisor to Bowdoin’s president.  Greenleaf was not about to sever “my present pursuits & connexions, which are like pleasant and profitable,” to teach in distant Brunswick–although for a time he entertained a similar offer from Brown’s Francis Wayland.  Still he prepared a lengthy report, which in Konefsky’s hands, reveals much about the pedagogy, dubious business model, and ideological mission of the antebellum law school, as envisioned by a devout Whig, who, with Richard Hooker, said of law that “her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world.”  In his report and other correspondence with the Bowdoin president we can see how much Greenleaf counted on the instruction of “the sons of New England” in legal doctrine and a moral code to deliver the republic from “men without religion or moral principle, foes of all manner of legal restraint, mistaking licentiousness for liberty & having no just conception of the nature of free government.”  When he died in 1853, few remained to keep alive Greenleaf’s belief in “moral science as an animating force in legal education” and hope that a cadre of learned lawyers could contain the passions of a polyglot people.

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