Wigmore, John Henry

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Wigmore, John Henry

John Henry Wigmore ranks as one of the most important legal scholars in U.S. history. A law professor and later dean of Northwestern University Law School from 1901 to 1929, Wigmore was a prolific writer in many areas of the law. He is renowned for his ten-volume Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law—usually referred to as Wigmore on Evidence—originally released in four volumes (1904–1905) but expanded to ten volumes by the third edition (1940). Legal scholars consider this treatise one of the greatest books on law ever written.

Wigmore was born on March 4, 1863, in San Francisco, California. He graduated from Harvard University in 1883 and entered Harvard Law School in 1884. While attending law school, he helped to found the Harvard Law Review, which was to become a pre-eminent legal journal. After graduating in 1887, Wigmore was admitted to the Massachusetts bar and entered private practice in Boston. He supplemented his income by doing research and writing for Chief Justice Charles Doe of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In 1889, Wigmore moved to Tokyo to accept the post of chief professor of Anglo-American law at Keio University. In addition to his teaching duties, Wigmore wrote extensively and researched Japanese Legal History. Extremely adept at languages, he became fascinated by the field of comparative law and pursued this interest throughout his life.

"Some day, it may be hoped, the method of rationalization will be recognized in systematic treatment of all legal ideas, and not merely of the fundamental institutions."
—John Henry Wigmore

Wigmore returned to the United States in 1892 and accepted a teaching position with Northwestern University Law School in 1893. He taught a variety of courses, including evidence, torts, and International Law. In 1901, he accepted the position of dean, a post he held until his mandatory retirement in 1929. As dean, Wigmore raised money to build the Albert Gary Library, one of the finest university law libraries in the United States, as well as a new law school building. He recruited some of the leading legal scholars of his day and made Northwestern one of the most prominent U.S. law schools.

Wigmore's output as a writer was astounding. He produced 46 original volumes of legal scholarship, 38 edited volumes, and more than 800 articles, pamphlets, and reviews. Much of Wigmore's writing was not of timeless quality, but his treatise on evidence is recognized as a classic because of the scope of its coverage and the insightful explanations of doctrine drawn from the most advanced U.S. Jurisprudence.

Wigmore died April 20, 1943, in Chicago.

Further readings

Celebration Legal Essays: To Mark the Twenty-Fifth Year of Service of John H. Wigmore as Professor of Law in Northwestern University. 1981. Littleton, Colo.: F.B. Rothman.

Roalfe, William R. 1977. John Henry Wigmore: Scholar and Reformer. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press.

Twining, William L. 1985. Theories of Evidence: Bentham and Wigmore. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.