John Norton Pomeroy (April 12, 1828 – February 15, 1885) was an American lawyer, writer, and law professor. “Perhaps the most important text book writer of the last third of the nineteenth century,” Pomeroy is one of the foremost contributors to American jurisprudence on topics ranging from equity to municipal law. 
John Norton Pomeroy
John Norton Pomeroy
April 12, 1828
Rochester, New York, U.S.
|Died||February 15, 1885 (aged 56)|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Ann Rebecca Carter|
|Education||Hamilton College (BA)|
John Norton Pomeroy was born on April 12, 1828, in Rochester, New York. Enos Pomeroy, his father, was a pioneer settler in Rochester as well as one of the first lawyers to practice in western New York. Pomeroy started at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York at just 15 years old. He was a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity and graduated at 1847. After graduating from college, he served as an instructor of Rochester Academy. After three years, he was promoted to lead their campus at Lebanon, Ohio. He next began to study law by apprenticing in Cincinnati in the law office of Senator Thomas Corwin.
In 1851, Pomeroy was admitted to the New York and then returned to practice in Rochester as part of the office of Henry R. Selden. He then served as Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and was admitted to the bar in 1851, practicing in Rochester until 1861. There he “displayed a genuine scholarly bent that a cynic might feel was confirmed by the fact that in his nine years of practice in Rochester, his native town, he had little if any business.” He married Ann Rebecca Carter, one of his former pupils in 1855.
Pomeroy moved to New York City in 1861 to try to start his own law practice. He was not successful, instead resorting to working as a school teacher again. For four years served as the principal of a boys' school called the Academy in Kingston, New York. It was there he wrote his first book, An Introduction to Municipal Law, in 1864. It was designed as a book for the general lay reader and as a textbook for colleges and law schools.
The success surrounding the publication of Introduction to Municipal Law earned him an LL.D degree from his alma mater and an appointment to University of New York City as a professor of Law, and later chair of political science in the undergraduate department. Pomeroy later served as dean of the recently established school until 1871. While teaching, he also wrote the treatise, Introduction to the Constitutional Law of the United States, in 1868, which was the first legal text on constitutional law published after the Civil War.
He was known to use the “conference” or seminar method. Pomeroy developed this system as using a “printed ‘syllabus’ or outline of topics, with lists of illustrative cases, and the first-hand study, of these cases and their free discussion in the class room.” He believed that the “central principle of all true education, whether professional or general” is that the student “must be taught and accustomed to acquire [knowledge] for himself.” United States Secretary of State Elihu Root, one of his pupils, described his teaching style as highly personal and centered on small class sizes:
He thought that law school should last three years and at least provide an elementary understanding of all of the basic doctrines of law, rather than an intimate knowledge of a smaller range of topics. In his view, legal education should be practical launching off point, rather than an end in of itself. His expressed these views in his inaugural address, on taking the chair of municipal law in the University of California, in 1878:
He also believed that law school should last three years and at least provide an elementary understanding of all of the basic doctrines of law, rather than an intimate knowledge of a smaller range of topics. In his view, legal education should be practical launching off point, rather than an end in of itself. His expressed these views in his inaugural address, on taking the chair of municipal law in the University of California, in 1878:
In 1871, he resigned from his position and returned to Rochester due to ill health. There he continued his legal writing on codes and codification. Six years later published Remedies and Remedial Rights to meet the need for a text that could clarify the changes in practice resulting from the codification of law across many states. He also wrote almost two hundred articles on legal topics for Johnson’s Encyclopedia, of which he became an assistant editor, helped prepare annotated editions of Theodore Sedgwick’s Statutory and Constitutional Law (1874) and Archbold’s Criminal Procedure (1877), and was a contributor to The Nation and the American Law Review on topics ranging from international law and diplomacy to constitutional law.
In 1878, the University of California opened Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, California, the state’s first law school. The reputation he built as a legal writer helped lead to an appointment there. Serranus Clinton Hastings, California’s first Chief Justice and third Attorney General, selected Professor Pomeroy to lead the development of Hastings Law’s legal education. Before the first meeting of the faculty on August 8, 1878, the Board of the College created a Professorship of Municipal Law with a salary $300 per month, appointing Pomeroy to that position. They first directed him to draw up his “whole system” of legal education to present to the Board and asked him to lecture 10 hours a week. This was the only direction given to him. Pomeroy was given wide latitude to set up this institution for the first 103 students.
Pomeroy served as both its main administrator and sole professor of Hastings by himself during its early years. Those duties entailed serving almost two hundred students across three large classes, while making himself a master of the many peculiarities of California state law. On top of that, he worked on A Treatise on the Specific Performance of Contracts, which was published in 1879. For the next four years, he worked on perhaps his most notable work, Equity Jurisprudence. This three-volume text, published between 1881 and 1883, greatly shaped the development of equity law in the United States. Case reporting was developing into its present system at the time, and Pomeroy edited the main West Coast Reporter with his son Carter Pitkin.
Another influential work he published at this time was a series of articles entitled, The True Method of Interpreting the Civil Code. In 1872, California enacted a new substantive Civil Code based on a draft by Field. Pomeroy felt dismayed at how the code operated, deeming it full of “defects, imperfections, omissions, and . . . inconsistencies.” He believed that judges should use the code simply as a guide of common law rules and practices rather than an authoritative source of law. The California Supreme Court adopted the approached he laid out in his True Method articles in 1888.
Between 1882 and 1884, Pomeroy served as counsel in the Railroad Tax Cases, in involved grave questions of constitutional law. He also served as counsel on behalf of the farmers in the Debris' Case, which shaped the economic history of California by enjoining the industry of hydraulic mining that was polluting the California river ways. Although Pomeroy was known for his writing, he was also a skilled orator in the courtroom. A California judge who he appeared before in San Mateo complimented his presentation, calling it “lucid and eminently instructive.”
At the time of his death, Pomeroy was starting a treatise on Equity Pleading, which was set to review the equity practice with the supreme courts of each state. He also intended to draft a modern version of James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, Institutes of American Law as well as a second treatise on constitutional law. He died at 56 years old at his home on the corner of Clay and Hyde Streets in San Francisco, after a brief illness of pneumonia on February 15, 1885. He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery across the bay in Oakland, California.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Pomeroy, John Norton". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.