1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kent, James

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KENT, JAMES (1763-1847), American jurist, was born at Philippi in New York State on the 31st of July 1763. He graduated at Yale College in 1781, and began to practise law at Poughkeepsie, in 1785 as an attorney, and in 1787 at the bar. In 1791 and 1702-93 Kent was a representative of Dutchess county in the state Assembly. In 1793 he removed to New York, where Governor Jay, to whom the young lawyer’s Federalist sympathies were a strong recommendation, appointed him a master in chancery for the city. He was professor of law in Columbia College in 1793-98 and again served in the Assembly in 1796-97. In 1797 he became recorder of New York, in 1798 judge of the supreme court of the state, in 1804 chief justice, and in 1814 chancellor of New York. In 1822 he became a member of the convention to revise the state constitution. Next year, Chancellor Kent resigned his office and was re-elected to his former chair. Out of the lectures he now delivered grew the Commentaries on American Law (4 vols., 1826-1830), which by their learning, range and lucidity of style won for him a high and permanent place in the estimation of both English and American jurists. Kent rendered most essential service to American jurisprudence while serving as chancellor. Chancery law had been very unpopular during the colonial period, and had received little development, and no decisions had been published. His judgments of this class (see Johnson’s Chancery Reports, 7 vols., 1816-1824) cover a wide range of topics, and are so thoroughly considered and developed as unquestionably to form the basis of American equity jurisprudence. Kent was a man of great purity of character and of singular simplicity and guilelessness. He died in New York on the 12th of December 1847.

To Kent we owe several other works (including a Commentary on International Law) of less importance than the Commentaries. See J. Duer’s Discourse on the Life, Character and Public Services of James Kent (1848); The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, vol. ii. (1852); W. Kent, Memoirs and Letters of Chancellor Kent (Boston, 1898).