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COLLECTION Identifier: LAW-MMC-093

James Bradley Thayer papers


This collection includes materials relating chiefly to Thayer's writing and teaching career. Includes research notes and drafts for A Preliminary Treatise on the Law of Evidence at the Common Law (1898) and his biography of John Marshall (1901); papers relating to his participation in the writing of the constitutions of North and South Dakota, 1889, and his chairmanship of a committee concerned with Indian legislation, 1887-1892; diary-like letters to his wife, Sophia Bradford (Ripley) Thayer, written while on a Western journey with Ralph Waldo Emerson; and letters to Emerson relating to Emerson's business affairs.


  • 1787-1902


Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open to the public, but is housed off-site at Harvard Depository and requires 2 business-day advance notice for retrieval. Consult the Special Collections staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


1 collection (31 boxes, 6 Paige boxes)

The 1700 items in the papers of James Bradley Thayer (1831-1902) span the years 1850 to 1902; a small number of research items used by Professor Thayer date back to the time of James Monroe and Chief Justice John Marshall.

The collection includes correspondence; memoranda; bound and unbound notes and drafts; copies of letters from other institutions used for research purposes; bona fide legal documents and moot court briefs; clippings; and other printed items, some with inscriptions to Thayer, and some with marginalia by Thayer.

The bulk of James B. Thayer's papers related to his teaching years at the Harvard Law School, covering the years 1874 to his death in 1902. The papers include fairly complete notes for the various courses that he taught, particularly for his course on evidence. Most of these notes are entered chronologically by lecture dates in softbound notebooks. These papers covering his teaching years also contain a considerable amount of research materials, research notes and drafts of his various writings such as his casebooks, his Preliminary Treatise on the Law of Evidence at Common Law, occasional journal articles, speeches, and other writings. He collected much research material in connection with his address and published piece on the occasion of the Centennial celebration of the installation of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the United States (1901). Miscellaneous items relating to his Harvard years consist of moot court notes and briefs from his law student and his teaching years, and some general Law School administrative matters.

Two small but interesting groups of papers deserve special mention. One relates to Thayer's participation in the writing of the Dakota Constitution of 1889, the other to his chairmanship of a committee on Indian legislation, 1887-1892. The latter group includes a carbon of a letter of Thayer's addressed to U.S. President Grover Cleveland, dated December 10, 1887.

Thayer's correspondence mainly concerns his publications, including both correspondence with his publishers and "fan mail." There is a small group of miscellaneous personal-professional correspondence covering the years 1863-1902 which is arranged in roughly chronological periods. Two important folders contain his diary-letters to his wife, "Sophy," which he wrote to her on his western journey in 1871 with Ralph Waldo Emerson and a small party of others from the Boston area. In 1884 Thayer published a small volume entitled A Western Journey With Mr. Emerson, based on these letters. There is also a small group of holograph letters of Thayer's addressed to Emerson, covering the dates 1861-1876, but relating mostly to business matters of Emerson's. There is a small group of letters, dating 1890-1897, which Thayer marked "Letters from important persons"; these are mostly letters thanking him for the receipt of reprints of various articles of his, and they include letters from Augustus Noble Hand, Learned Hand, George Shattuck, and William Howard Taft.

Historical/Biographical Information

Thayer, James Bradley, attorney, law professor, legal scholar.

b. Haverhill, Massachusetts, January 15, 1831.

s. Abijah Wyman and Susan Bradley Thayer.

A.B., Harvard College, 1852.

Graduate work, Harvard University; LL.B., Harvard Law School, 1856.

LL.D., Iowa State University, 1891; Harvard University, 1894.

m. Sophia Bradford Ripley, 1861.

Practiced law in Boston from 1856 until 1874.

Royall Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, 1874-1883 (appointed Royall Professor December 8, 1873); Weld Professor of Law, 1883-1902.

d. February 14, 1902 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  1. A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson, 1884.
  2. The Teaching of English Law in Universities, 1892.
  3. " The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law, " read at the Congress of Jurisprudence and Law Reform in Chicago, August 9, 1893, and published in the Harvard Law Review, 7:129 (1893).
  4. The Development of Trial by Jury, 1896.
  5. Reverend Samuel Ripley of Waltham, 1897.
  6. A Preliminary Treatise on the Law of Evidence at Common Law, 1898.
  7. John Marshall, 1901.
  8. Also articles in legal journals, monthly magazines and Bovier's Dictionary of Law.


  1. Letters of Chauncey Wright, 1878.
  2. Selected Cases on Evidence at Common Law, 1892, 1900.
  3. Cases on Constitutional Law, 2 volumes, 1895.

Series List

  1. Series I. Student and Moot Court Notes of JBT as Student at the Harvard Law School. 1854-1856. 1854-1856.

    This Series consists of bound notes on miscellaneous moot court cases, and individual unbound briefs for specific cases.

  2. Series II. Teaching Notes. 1874-1901. 1874-1901.

    This Series contains notebooks in which JBT entered his lecture notes chronologically for courses he taught at the Harvard Law School. Some of these sets are complete for the entire academic year or years covered, while some are incomplete. The largest group is his notebooks for his courses on evidence, a field which became his specialty. The Series is arranged alphabetically by names of courses, and chronologically within courses.

  3. Series III. Moot Court Notes of JBT as Teacher. 1874-1877, 1880-1895. 1874-1877, 1880-1895.

    These are loose notes which are arranged in fairly consistent chronological order.

  4. Series IV. Writings and Research. 1880-1902. 1880-1902.

    This Series contains various soft-cover notebooks of notes, drafts, and research materials for JBT's published and projected works on the law of evidence. The second largest group of materials in this Series relates to JBT's research for his address and printed booklet (in 1901) on John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and to the delivery of his address and publication of his booklet. There is also a small group of miscellaneous notes for speeches and articles, mostly in the 1890's. Materials are arranged by subject.

  5. Series V. Correspondence. 1850-1902. 1850-1902.

    Correspondence is of a mixed personal and professional nature. The most interesting group of letters are JBT's diary-letters to his wife while he was on a journey in the western part of the United States with Ralph Waldo Emerson and other friends from the Boston area. Much of the remainder of the correspondence relates to JBT's various publications and his views on political issues of his time.

    There is also a group of seven file folders of unsorted letters received by JBT from various acquaintances, both business and personal. The arrangement is alphabetical - chronological.

  6. Series VI. Harvard and Other Miscellany. 1872-1902. 1872-1902.

    The papers in this Series relate to some of JBT's contributions as a consultant on government legal matters, particularly in regard to North American Indian legislation and the Dakota Constitution of 1889. There is also a miscellaneous group of materials on official Harvard Law School matters and additional items relating to his research for his writings in the field of evidence. Materials are arranged by subject.

  7. Series VII. Biographical. 1846-1916. 1846-1916.

    This Series includes miscellaneous items relating to JBT and other members of his family, many posthumous.

  8. Series VIII. Addenda

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Papers of James Bradley Thayer (1831-1902), attorney, law teacher and legal scholar, were presented to the Harvard Law School Library in 1949 as a gift by his grandson, James B. Thayer (1899-).

Paige Box 1

1 Ledger book recording JBT's sales of his books on evidence and on constitutional law

1 Notebook of cases used in JBT's course on torts

1 Notebook of cases used in JBT's course on constitutional law

Processing Information

Prepared by Tom Brudney and the Staff, October 1974.

Thayer, James Bradley, 1831-1902. Papers, 1787-1902: Finding Aid.
Harvard Law School LibraryCambridge, MA 02138
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

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