Roscoe Pound

Roscoe Pound (1870-1964), American jurist and botanist, furthered the development of sociological jurisprudence, which significantly altered American legal thought.

Roscoe Pound was born at Lincoln, Nebr., on Oct. 27, 1870, the son of a judge. After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1888, he earned a master of arts degree in 1889 and then attended Harvard Law School for a year. He passed the bar exam in 1890 and began practicing law, teaching at the University of Nebraska Law School, and working toward his doctorate in botany, which he earned in 1897. For several years he directed the botanical survey of Nebraska and discovered a rare lichen (later designated the "roscopoundia"). His botanical writings are still considered important.

As commissioner of appeals of the Supreme Court of Nebraska (1901-1903), Pound wrote 102 opinions that have often been cited. He was commissioner for uniform state laws for Nebraska (1904-1907) and dean of the law department at the University of Nebraska (1903-1907). He taught law at Northwestern University (1907-1909) and at the University of Chicago (1909-1910).

Pound's vast erudition included all phases of the law and jurisprudence as well as the classics and foreign languages. He often worked 16 hours a day and had a phenomenal memory and great intellectual curiosity. He became the leading exponent of sociological jurisprudence, that is, applying pragmatism to the law to make it amenable to society's needs rather than adhering to inapplicable precedents. Pound first set forth his concept of sociological jurisprudence in a 1906 address and continued to expound it for nearly a generation. At about the same time, he also began expressing his "formative era" concept, which stated that an indigenous new law for the country was evolved by American judges between 1789 and 1860.

In 1910 Pound became professor of law at Harvard. He was dean from 1916 to 1936 during what was called Harvard Law School's "golden age". He helped shape a faculty and program of legal education equipped to implement his concept of sociological jurisprudence. A large number of the law school graduates were active in formulating policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and Pound supported many of its early measures. But though he had once felt that the law stifled administration, he came to feel that courts must serve as a bulwark against potential dictatorship. Similarly, he became critical of the legal realists of the 1930s, whose thinking was founded in Pound's earlier work; he felt that they placed value only on experience in setting legal standards.

In 1936 Pound resigned as dean and was assigned to one of the first Harvard "roving professorships"; for the next 11 years he taught everything from law to the classics. In 1938 he was named director of the National Conference of Judicial Councils. He received the American Bar Association's medal for "conspicuous service to the cause of American jurisprudence" in 1940. He served as adviser to the Nationalist China Ministry of Justice (1946-1949), which was reorganizing its judicial system. When he returned to the United States, he was extremely critical of America's China policy, because of its ineffective support of Chiang Kai-shek.

Pound retired from Harvard in 1947 but continued to teach at a number of law schools for several years and maintained his steady flow of publications. In all, he authored over 1, 000 items, including his massive fivevolume Jurisprudence (1959). He died in Cambridge, Mass., on July 1, 1964.


Further Reading on Roscoe Pound

Pound's own Roscoe Pound and Criminal Justice was edited by Sheldon Glueck in 1965. Studies of Pound include Paul Lombard Sayre, The Life of Roscoe Pound (1948), and Arthur Leon Harding, ed., The Administration of Justice in Retrospect: Roscoe Pound's 1906 Address in a Half-century of Experience (1957).

Additional Biography Sources

Sayre, Paul Lombard, The life of Roscoe Pound, Littleton, Colo.: Rothman, 1981, 1948.

Wigdor, David, Roscoe Pound; philosopher of law, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press 1974.