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Roscoe Pound

Roscoe Pound
Born (1870-10-27)October 27, 1870
Lincoln, Nebraska
Died June 30, 1964(1964-06-30) (aged 93)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Fields Botany
Institutions Harvard Law School
University of Nebraska College of Law
Alma mater University of Nebraska
Influences Louis Brandeis
Influenced Zechariah Chafee

Nathan Roscoe Pound (October 27, 1870 – June 30, 1964) was a distinguished American legal scholar and educator. He was Dean of Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Pound as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Law career 2
    • Criminal Justice in Cleveland 2.1
    • Contribution to jurisprudence 2.2
  • Personal life 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

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 Acacia Fraternity. He received his bachelor's degree in 1888 and his master's degree in 1889.[2] 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 matches. 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.[3]

Law career

In 1903 Pound became dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law. In 1910 Pound began teaching at Harvard and in 1916 became dean of Harvard Law School. He wrote "Spurious Interpretation" in 1907, Outlines of Lectures on Jurisprudence in 1914, The Spirit of the Common Law [4] 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. He 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”.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

During Roosevelt's first term, Pound initially supported the bringing independent agencies into the executive branch.[6][8] 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.[9] Pound, however, had for years been an outspoken advocate of these court and administrative reforms that Roosevelt proposed[6] 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.[6][10]

In 1937 Pound resigned as Dean of Harvard Law School to become a University Professor[6] and soon became a leading critic of the legal realists.[6][10] He proposed his ideas of government reform to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek.[6] In 1934 Pound received an honorary degree from the University of Berlin, presented by the German Ambassador to the United States.[11] 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.[12]

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, whereas, in the first half of the month, the total amount of space given over to crime was 925 inches, in the second half it leapt to 6642 inches. This was in spite the fact that the number of crimes reported had only increased 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. These 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.[13][14]

Contribution to jurisprudence

Roscoe Pound also made a significant contribution to jurisprudence in the tradition of sociological jurisprudence, which emphasized on 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.[15]

Personal life

Roscoe Pound was the brother of noted folklorist and scholar 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. ^ Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies 29 (1): 409–426.  
  2. ^ Acacia Fraternity. "Acacia Fraternity: Notable Acacians". Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  3. ^ Nebraska Educational Television. "Roscoe Pound: Nebraska's First Fanatic". 
  4. ^ Roscoe Pound. The Spirit of the Common Law" by Roscoe Pound""". Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  5. ^ Root, Damon (2011-02-11) "Are We All Originalists Now?", Reason
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Roscoe Pound Dies at 93, Revitalized Legal System". The Harvard Crimson. 3 July 1964. Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 1, edited by David Levinson, page 1708
  8. ^ Willrich, Michael (2003). City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 332.  
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ a b Duxbury, Neil (1997). Patterns of American Jurisprudence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 536.  
  11. ^ Norwood, Stephen H. (May 2009). The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses. Cambridge University Press.   chapter 2, "Legitimating Nazism: Harvard University and the Hitler Regime, 1933–1937".
  12. ^ 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:
  13. ^ Jensen, Klaus Bruhn (May 10, 2002). A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies. UK: Routledge.   pp. 45–46
  14. ^ Pound, Roscoe; Felix Frankfurter (1922). Criminal Justice in Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: The Cleveland Foundation. , p. 546
  15. ^ "Social Engineering Theory Of Roscoe Pound Free Essays 1 – 20". Retrieved 2012-09-05. 


  • Presser, Stephen B. (2008). "Pound, Roscoe (1870–1964)". In  
  • Pound, Roscoe. American National Biography. 17:760–763. 1999.

External links

  • Roscoe Pound papers at Nebraska State Historical Society
  • Justice According to Law (1914) essay
  • The Spirit of the Common Law (1921) book based on Dartmouth Alumni Lectures
  • An Introduction to the Philosophy of LawRoscoe Pound, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922). See original text in The Online Library of Liberty.
  • The Ideal Element In LawRoscoe Pound, , ed. Stephen Presser (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 2002). See original text in The Online Library of Liberty.
  • "Finding aid for Roscoe Pound, Papers, 1888–1964.". Harvard Law School Library. 
  • Works by Roscoe Pound at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Roscoe Pound at Internet Archive
Academic offices
Preceded by
Ezra Ripley Thayer
Dean of Harvard Law School
Succeeded by
James M. Landis
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