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James Kent

Kent, James, 1763–1847, American jurist, b. near Brewster, N.Y. He was admitted to the bar in 1785 and began practice in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Active in the Federalist party, he served several terms in the New York legislature. In 1793, Kent moved to New York City, where his reputation for learning established him as first professor of law at Columbia College. His lectures (1794–98) were not especially well received, and he welcomed the appointment in 1798 as a judge of the state supreme court. He was made chief judge in 1804, and from 1814 until his statutory retirement in 1823 he presided over the state court of chancery. Kent's written opinions as chancellor were instrumental in reviving equity, which had largely lapsed in the United States after the American Revolution. He refashioned many of the doctrines in that area by combining concepts from English chancery jurisprudence with the principles of Roman law. After his retirement he again (1824–26) was professor of law at Columbia, but found the delivery of lectures tedious and soon resigned. He vastly expanded the material of his courses to prepare his Commentaries on American Law (4 vol., 1826–30), a systematic treatment of international law, American constitutional law, the sources of state law, and the law of personal rights and of property. It was enthusiastically received by the legal profession and in Kent's lifetime went through six editions.

See Memoirs and Letters of James Kent by his great-grandson, William Kent (1898, repr. 1970); study by J. T. Horton (1939, repr. 1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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