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Now on Display in the Biddle Law Library: Thomas Jefferson and the Study of Law

December 21, 2011

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In 1970, Morris Wolf, Esq., a senior member of the Philadelphia bar, donated to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a manuscript letter by Thomas Jefferson. Written on August 30th, 1814, from Jefferson at Monticello, the letter outlines a course of law study and readings Jefferson had prepared “near[ly] fifty years ago for the use of a young friend.” Addressed to General John Minor, the letter is most likely written for Minor’s son, John, who studied law for a short time.

Reproductions of the letter are on display (the original can be viewed by request) in the Gateway of Biddle Law Library. Accompanying the letter are selections from the rare books room at Biddle. The books on display are those recommended by Jefferson as proposed readings on pages three and four of his letter.  The texts were all printed between 1768 and 1805, and would perhaps have been the actual books that the young law student in 1814 would have had on his bookshelf.

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Included in the exhibit are the books The Law of Evidence by Sir Geoffrey Gilbert, printed in 1805; Coke’s Institutes by Sir Edward Coke, printed in 1711; The Law of Uses and Trusts by Sir Geoffrey Gilbert, printed in 1811; Blackstone’s Commentaries, George Tucker’s edition, printed in 1803; A Treatise of Equity in Six Books, by Sir Geoffrey Gilbert, printed in 1792; A New Abridgement of the Law by Matthew Bacon, printed in 1768.

The exhibition will be up through March of 2012.