James Kent Collection, 1785-1845
SC20231

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: See Provenance Note
Processed By: Regina Berry, Student Assistant, University at Albany, for Manuscripts & Special Collections, March 2015

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Biographical Note:

Jurist and legal commentator James Kent (1763-1847) began his legal career in 1781 as an attorney in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York.  In 1793 he moved his practice to New York City where he also served as the first professor of law at Columbia College. He remained there until 1798 when Governor John Jay appointed him to a justice of the New York State Supreme Court; he became chief justice of that court in 1804, a position he held until 1814, when he was appointed Chancellor of New York.

Forced to retire (because he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 60) as chancellor in 1824, he accepted re-appointment to the law professorship at Columbia. Here, he devoted much time to writing the Commentaries on American Law which became one of the foremost legal treatises.

Kent also was involved in politics, serving three terms in the New York State Assembly during the 1790s. His affiliation was first with the Federalist Party and then, after its demise, with the Whig Party.

Scope and Contents Note:

This is a small collection comprised mostly of letters written by Kent that reflect his legal and political thought, which was regarded as quite conservative during the early decades of the new American republic. Of particular note is a letter, dated June 3, 1830, addressed to James Hillhouse, a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, concerning a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution on changing the presidential election procedure. In a letter dated November 1, 1813, addressed to New York State Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, Kent writes that he believes the State of New York has no legal jurisdiction in matters concerning Indians on reservations. The case in question involved the “murder committed by one Oneida Indian upon another Oneida Indian within the Oneida reservation.” Kent recommended the offender be released unconditionally. A letter addressed to Citizen Genet, dated July 7, 1795, concerns a suit filed by Cornelius Read against Genet for the loss of a vessel due to the “unskilfulness” of the pilot employed by Genet. Other letters expose his strong Federalist views in opposition to policies of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, DeWitt Clinton, and Tompkins, then as a Whig in later years as exemplified by his disappointment with the defeat of Henry Clay in a letter to Ambrose Spencer, dated April 14, 1845. The collection also includes a draft of articles for the proposed New York State Constitution that relate to Kent’s participation as a voting member at the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821.

Provenance Note

The collection was created by collating single items that had been accessioned and catalogued separately. The original accession number appears in parenthesis following the description of the item. Further details on the origins of specific items are available upon request.

Box and Folder List:

Box Folder Description
1 1 Letter: James Kent, Poughkeepsie, [N.Y.] to Nathaniel Lawrence, New York, [N.Y.], April 14, 1787. A.L.S. (A2710)
1 2 Note on a court case from 1788-1791, undated. (5599)
1 3 Certificates: (A.D.S.)
  1. Certifying the clerkship of Moss Kent, Jr. (brother), April 25, 1789. (4029)
  2. Request for payment from James Kent to Gerard Bancker, Treasurer of the State of New York, April 2, 1791. (4028)
1 4 Letter: James Kent, New York, [N.Y.], to Citizen (Edmond-Charles) Genet, July 7, 1795. A.L.S. (1140)
1 6 Letter: James Kent, Albany, [N.Y.], to Gilbert Livingston (law partner), Poughkeepsie, [N.Y.], September 1, 1802. A.L.S. (1918)
1 7 Letter: James Kent, Albany, [N.Y.], to Governor Daniel Tompkins, Albany, [N.Y.], November 1, 1813. L.S. (20231)
1 8 Letter: James Kent, Albany, [N.Y.], to Killian K. van Rensselaer, Washington, D.C., January 9, 1820. A.L.S. (5595)
1 9 Document: In Chancery, John D. Coxe vs. Daniel Coxe, Copies Commissioners Returned, undated. Signed by Isaac L. Kip, Asst. Register, December 7, 1821. 14(16) p. (4595)
1 10 James Kent’s Draft of Articles for proposed New York State Constitution, 1821. 5 leaves (13788)
1 11 Letter: James Kent, Albany, [N.Y.], to William Bailey, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], April 25, 1824. (3655)
1 12 Letter: James Kent, New York, [N.Y.], to James Hillhouse, June 3, 1830.  (18517)
1 13 James Kent opinion on the probate of the will of David Seaman (died 1827), June 5, 1835; with attached statement of case by Philo T. Ruggles. 3 p. D.S. (12075)
1 14 Letter: James Kent, New York, [N.Y.], to Messrs. Carey & Hart, Booksellers, Philadelphia, [Pa.], November 22, 1843. A.L.S. (11064)
1 15 Letter: James Kent, New York, [N.Y.], to Ambrose Spencer, Lyons, [N.Y.], April 14, 1845.  A.L.S . (17247)
Last Updated: September 17, 2019