Roscoe Pound

Nathan Roscoe Pound (October 27, 1870 – June 30, 1964) was a distinguished American legal scholar and educator. He was Dean of University of Nebraska College of Law from 1903 to 1911 and then Dean of Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936. He was a member of the faculty at UCLA School of Law in the school's first years, from 1949 to 1952.[1] The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Pound as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.[2]

Roscoe Pound
Born(1870-10-27)October 27, 1870
DiedJune 30, 1964(1964-06-30) (aged 93)
Alma materUniversity of Nebraska
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard Law School
University of Nebraska College of Law
UCLA School of Law
InfluencesLouis Brandeis
InfluencedZechariah Chafee

Early life

Pound was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Stephen Bosworth Pound and Laura Pound.

Pound studied botany at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where he became a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He received his bachelor's degree in 1888 and his master's degree in 1889.[3] In 1889 he began the study of law; he spent one year at Harvard but never received a law degree. He received the first PhD in botany from the University of Nebraska in 1898.

The University of Nebraska fielded its first football team the year after Pound graduated. Pound traveled with the teams to their games, including their first one. He also covered the team in the student newspaper and even refereed some. Pound created many chants and songs for the team and helped create a fan base that traveled well, which is something that the Cornhuskers still see to this day.[4]

Law career

In 1903 Pound became dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law. In 1911 Pound began teaching at Harvard and in 1916 became dean of Harvard Law School and served in that role until 1937. He wrote "Spurious Interpretation" in 1907, Outlines of Lectures on Jurisprudence in 1914, The Spirit of the Common Law [5] in 1921, Law and Morals in 1924, and Criminal Justice in America in 1930.

In 1908 he was part of the founding editorial staff of the first comparative law journal in the United States, the Annual Bulletin of the Comparative Law Bureau of the American Bar Association. Although it is not often remembered now, Pound was a Roman law scholar. He taught that subject at Nebraska, Northwestern and Harvard.[6] Pound was sufficiently adept at Latin to translate Roman law into English for a sourcebook he used for those classes, and he was said by Professor Joseph Beal to have "brought the spirit of Roman law to Harvard." [7] (He even taught a course in Harvard's Department of Classics after he ceased to be the dean of the law school.)[8] Pound was also the founder of the movement for "sociological jurisprudence", an influential critic of the U.S. Supreme Court's "liberty of contract" (freedom of contract) line of cases, symbolized by Lochner v. New York (1905), and one of the early leaders of the movement for American Legal Realism, which argued for a more pragmatic and public-interested interpretation of law and a focus on how the legal process actually occurred, as opposed to (in his view) the arid legal formalism which prevailed in American jurisprudence at the time. According to Pound, these jurisprudential movements advocated "the adjustment of principles and doctrines to the human conditions they are to govern rather than to assumed first principles".[9] While Pound was dean, law school registration almost doubled, but his standards were so rigorous that one-third of those matriculated did not receive degrees. Among these were many of the great political innovators of the New Deal years.[10]

In 1929 President Herbert Hoover appointed Pound as one of the eleven primary members of the Wickersham Commission on issues relating to law enforcement, criminal activity, police brutality, and Prohibition.[11]

During Roosevelt's first term, Pound initially supported the New Deal.[10] In 1937, however, Pound turned against the New Deal and the legal realist movement altogether after Roosevelt proposed packing the federal courts and bringing independent agencies into the executive branch.[10][12] Other factors contributing to this "lurking conservatism" within Pound included bitter battles with liberals on the Harvard law faculty, the death of his wife, and a sharp exchange with Karl Llewellyn.[13] Pound, however, had for years been an outspoken advocate of these court and administrative reforms that Roosevelt proposed[10] and it was acknowledged that he only became conservative because he saw an opportunity to gain attention after his Harvard colleagues had turned on his ideas of government reform after Roosevelt had proposed them.[10][14]

In 1937 Pound resigned as Dean of Harvard Law School to become a University Professor[10] and soon became a leading critic of the legal realists.[10][14] He proposed his ideas of government reform to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek.[10] In 1934 Pound received an honorary degree from the University of Berlin, presented by the German Ambassador to the United States.[15] Pound was among the famous American jurists to express a liking for Adolf Hitler.[16]

In the 1940s, Pound was apparently favourably disposed to replacing John P. Higgins as a judge on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which was conducting a war crimes trial in Tokyo, though an appointment did not eventuate.[17] He joined the faculty of UCLA School of Law in 1949, the year the law school opened, and remained on the faculty until 1952.

Criminal justice in Cleveland

In 1922 Roscoe Pound and Felix Frankfurter undertook a detailed quantitative study of crime reporting in Cleveland newspapers for the month of January 1919, using column inch counts. They found that in the first half of the month, the total amount of space given over to crime was 925 in., but in the second half, it leapt to 6642 in. This was despite the fact that the number of crimes reported had increased only from 345 to 363. They concluded that although the city's much publicized "crime wave" was largely fictitious and manufactured by the press, the coverage had a very real consequence for the administration of criminal justice.

Because the public believed they were in the middle of a crime epidemic, they demanded an immediate response from the police and the city authorities. The agencies, wishing to retain public support, complied, caring "more to satisfy popular demand than to be observant of the tried process of law." The result was a greatly increased likelihood of miscarriages of justice and sentences more severe than the offenses warranted.[18][19]

Contribution to jurisprudence

Roscoe Pound also made a significant contribution to jurisprudence in the tradition of sociological jurisprudence, which emphasized the importance of social relationships in the development of law and vice versa. His best-known theory consists of conceptualising law as social engineering. According to Pound, a lawmaker acts as a social engineer by attempting to solve problems in society using law as a tool.[20]

Personal life

In 1903 Pound, with George Condra, founded the Society of Innocents, the preeminent senior honor society at Nebraska. It is still in existence. Pound is also a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame. He was a Freemason, and was a member and Past Master of Lancaster Lodge No. 54 AF & AM Lincoln, Nebraska. He also served as Deputy Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1915 and delivered a series of Masonic lectures for the Grand Lodge in March and April 1916. He helped to found The Harvard Lodge A.F. & A.M. along with Kirsopp Lake a Professor of the Divinity School, and others.


  1. Dan Gordon, "History of UCLA School of Law: A History of Innovation," UCLA Law Magazine, Spring 2004, 10.
  2. Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies. 29 (1): 409–26. doi:10.1086/468080.
  3. Acacia Fraternity. "Acacia Fraternity: Notable Acacians". Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  4. Nebraska Educational Television. "Roscoe Pound: Nebraska's First Fanatic". Archived from the original on November 25, 2010.
  5. Roscoe Pound. ""The Spirit of the Common Law" by Roscoe Pound". Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  6. Paul Sayre, "The Life of Roscoe Pound" 143, 155, and 213 (1948).
  7. The book is "Readings in Roman Law and the Civil Law and Modern Codes as Developments Thereof" (2nd ed., 1914). See Timothy G. Kearley, "Lost in Translations: Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early Twentieth Century America," 74-75 (2018).
  8. Id. at 75.
  9. Root, Damon (2011-02-11) "Are We All Originalists Now?", Reason
  10. "Roscoe Pound Dies at 93, Revitalized Legal System". The Harvard Crimson. 3 July 1964. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  11. Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 1, edited by David Levinson, p. 1708
  12. Willrich, Michael (2003). City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 332. ISBN 9780521794039.
  13. Duxbury, Neil (1997). Patterns of American Jurisprudence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 536. ISBN 978-0198264910.
  14. Norwood, Stephen H. (May 2009). The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-76243-4. chapter 2, "Legitimating Nazism: Harvard University and the Hitler Regime, 1933–1937".
  15. James Q. Whitman, ""Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law," (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), p. 15
  16. Personal correspondence, Sir William Webb, as President of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to Dr Evatt, Minister for External Affairs and Attorney General. Letter of 3 July 1946. Available at:
  17. Jensen, Klaus Bruhn (May 10, 2002). A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies. UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22588-4. pp. 45–46
  18. Pound, Roscoe; Felix Frankfurter (1922). Criminal Justice in Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: The Cleveland Foundation., p. 546
  19. "Social Engineering Theory Of Roscoe Pound Free Essays 1 – 20". Retrieved 2012-09-05.


Academic offices
Preceded by
Ezra Ripley Thayer
Dean of Harvard Law School
Succeeded by
James M. Landis
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