1902 Encyclopedia > James Kent

James Kent
American jurist
(1763-1847)




JAMES KENT (1763-1847) American jurist, was born at Philippi in New York State, July 31, 1763. He graduated at Yale College in 1781, and began to practise law at Poughkeepsie, in 1785 as an attorney, and in 1787 at the bar. In 1790 and 1792 Kent was chosen to represent Dutchess county in the State legislature. In 1793 he removed to New York, where Governor Jay, to whom the young lawyer's Federalist sympathies were a strong recom-mendation, appointed him a master in chancery for the city. The year 1796 saw Kent again a member of the legislature and professor of law in Columbia College. In 1797 he became recorder of New York, in 1798 judge of the supreme court of the State, in 1804 chief justice, and in 1814 chancellor of New York. In 1822 he became a member of the convention to revise the State constitution. Next year, having attained the age of sixty, Chancellor Kent resigned his office, and was re-elected to his former chair. Out of the lectures he now delivered grew the Commentaries on American Law (4 vols., 1826-30), which by their learning, range, and lucidity of style, have won for him a high and permanent place in the estimation of both English and American jurists. Kent rendered most essential service to American jurisprudence while serving as chancellor. Chancery law had been very unpopular during the colonial period, and had received down to his time but little development, and no decisions had been published. His judgments of this class (see Johnson's Chancery Reports, 7 vols., 1816-24) cover a wide range of topics, and are so thoroughly considered and developed as unquestionably to form the basis of American equity jurisprudence. Kent was a man of great purity of character, of singular simplicity and guilelessness in his ways, and is altogether a conspicuous and remarkable figure in American annals. He died in New York, December 12, 1847.

To Kent we owe several other works (including a Commentary on International Law) of less importance than the Commentaries. These have passed through twelve editions, the most recent (1873) being annotated by O. W. Holmes, jun. See Duer's Discourse on tlie Life, Character, and Public Services of James Kent, 1848; and The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, vol. ii., 1852.








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