William & Mary Law Review


Rupert Cross


This is the second in a series of four articles commemorating the bicentennial of American legal education, dating from the establishment of the first chair of law and police, occupied by George Wythe, at the College of William and Mary on December 4, 1779. The colonial antecedents to the College's formal relation to professional legal education may be traced to the career of Sir John Randolph, a student at William and Mary, 1705-1713, who then prepared for the bar at Gray's Inn, London (1715-1717). Randolph's two sons, Peyton ("The Patriot") and John ("The Tory") followed his example, first at the College of William and Mary and subsequently at the Middle Temple. His grandson, Edmund, after study at the College on the eve of the Revolution, read for the bar under his father and uncle. The Randolphs and their cousins, Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, were prototypes of various leaders of legal and political thought in colonial and early post-Revolutionary Virginia whose efforts "Americanized" English legal institutions and thus created a logical need for a new school to teach this "Americanized" law. This series of articles addresses some aspects of law and procedure and legal thought which were the backdrop for the establishment of the first American law school in 1779.

The chair of law and police at William and Mary is the second oldest chair of common law in the English speaking world. The oldest is the Vinerian Chair of English Law at All Souls College in the University of Oxford.

To help commemorate the bicentennial of America's oldest chair of law, The College of William and Mary, through its Marshall- Wythe School of Law, invited Sir Rupert Cross, the current Vinerian Professor, to deliver a Vinerian Lecture in Williamsburg. This lecture, the George Wythe Lecture for 1979-1980, was given so as to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History, which was held in Williamsburg in honor of the bicentennial. This article is substantially a transcript of that lecture.


Presented as the 1979-1980 George Wythe Lecture at the College of William & Mary Law School.

Publication Information

20 William and Mary Law Review 602-624 (1979)

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