Joseph Story (September 18, 1779 – September 10, 1845) was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the
Supreme Court of the United States The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the Supreme court, highest court in the Federal judiciary of the United States, federal judiciary of the United States of America. It has ultimate (and largely Procedures of the Supreme Court ...

Supreme Court of the United States
from 1812 to 1845, during the Marshall Court and early- Taney Court eras. He is most remembered for his opinions in ''Martin v. Hunter's Lessee'' and ''United States v. The Amistad, The Amistad'' case, and especially for his magisterial ''Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States'', first published in 1833. Dominating the field in the 19th century, this work is a cornerstone of early American jurisprudence. It is the second comprehensive Legal treatise, treatise on the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and remains a critical source of historical information about the forming of the American republic and the early struggles to define its law. Story opposed Jacksonian democracy, saying it was "oppression" of property rights by republican governments when popular majorities began (in the 1830s) to restrict and erode the property rights of the minority of rich men. R. Kent Newmyer presents Story as a "Statesman of the Old Republic" who tried to be above democratic politics and to shape the law in accordance with the republicanism of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall and the New England Whig Party (United States), Whigs of the 1820s and 1830s, including Daniel Webster. Historians agree that Justice Joseph Story reshaped American law—as much or more than Marshall or anyone else—in a conservative direction that protected property rights. He was uniquely honored in the historical Steven Spielberg film ''Amistad (film), Amistad'' when he was portrayed by retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court Harry Blackmun. Justice Blackmun portrays Justice Story reading the Supreme Court's decision in the case in which the film was based, and for which Justice Story is most widely remembered, ''United States v. The Amistad, United States v. The Amistad Africans, et al.'' This is the only time in known film history that an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has portrayed another Associate Justice.

Early life

Story was born at Marblehead, Massachusetts. His father was Dr. Elisha Story, a member of the Sons of Liberty who took part in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Dr. Story moved from Boston to Marblehead during the American Revolutionary War. His first wife, Ruth (née Ruddock) died and Story remarried in November 1778, to Mehitable Pedrick, nineteen, the daughter of a wealthy shipping merchant who lost his fortune during the war. Joseph was the first-born of eleven children of the second marriage. (Story also fathered seven children from his first marriage.) As a boy, Joseph studied at the Marblehead Academy until the fall of 1794, where he was taught by schoolmaster William Harris (academic), William Harris, later president of Columbia University. At Marblehead he chastised a fellow schoolmate and Harris responded by beating him in front of the school; his father withdrew him immediately afterward. Story was accepted at Harvard University in January 1795; he joined Adelphi, a student-run literary review, and was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Story's young wife, Mary F.L. Oliver, died in June 1805, shortly after their marriage and two months after the death of his beloved father. In August 1808, he married Sarah Waldo Wetmore, the daughter of Judge William Wetmore of Boston. They had seven children but only two, Mary and William Wetmore Story, would survive to adulthood. Their son became a noted poet and sculptor—his bust of his father was mounted in the Harvard Law School Library—who would later publish ''The Life and Letters of Joseph Story'' (2 vols., Boston and London, 1851)
''Volume I''
''Volume II''
Story was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1810, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814. He would later serve as that society's vice-president from 1831 to 1845. In 1844, he was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Supreme Court justice

In November 15, 1811, at the age of , Story became—and, , remains—the youngest person nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was chosen by President James Madison to succeed William Cushing, who had died 14 months earlier. Madison's previous nominee for the seat, John Quincy Adams, was confirmed by the United States Senate, but had declined to serve. The Senate confirmed Story's nomination and Madison signed his commission on November 18, 1811. Story swore his oath and assumed office on February 3, 1812. Story's opinion in ''Martin v. Hunter's Lessee'' was profoundly significant before Story ever so much as addressed the issue explicitly. The manner in which Story framed the American republic is profoundly indicative of his philosophy. Story noted, "The Constitution of the United States was established, not by the states in their sovereignty capacities, but emphatically, as the preamble declares 'by the people of the United States." Regarding the nominal issue of the case, whether the Supreme Court possessed appellate jurisdiction over the states, Story argued that the Court must possess such jurisdiction. Without national oversight over local courts the law could become discordant. This fear of discordant law was part of Story's belief in legal science, in this instance manifested as a belief in the uniformity of law. Without uniformity, each state would be allowed to develop its own idiosyncrasies, and such provincialism ran contrary to Story's aim of a national republic. Story citied the Constitution's assertion to be "The supreme law of the land" and that "Judges in every state shall be bound thereby". The case came to symbolize a profound transformation in Story's tenure on the Court. Initially Marshall's most influential ally, Story enjoyed the success that came along with the nearly uniform agreement by the justices in Marshall's Court. Following the death of the chief justice and the arrival of the Age of Jackson, Story for the first time on the bench, seemed out of step with the rest of the Court. The Court ruled 4–2 in favor of the Warren Bridge, rejected the petitioner's claim that their charter granted them exclusive rights. Story, writing for the minority, noted "I stand upon the old law." One of Story's more vexing opinions was ''Prigg v. Pennsylvania'', in which he wrote for the majority in 1842. Story was forced to consider the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania personal liberty law which placed procedural requirements on those seeking to extradite fugitive slaves. Story, despite his hatred of slavery, sided with the southern justices to declare the Pennsylvania law unconstitutional. This appears especially hard to square with Story's anti-slavery philosophy, as one of the individuals kidnapped by Edward Prigg, the slave catcher in question, was actually not a slave at all. However, despite the outcome as appearing entirely in favor of the South, a more accurate assessment can be gleaned from the text and time period. Concerning the former, Story argued that fugitive slaves were addressed in the Article 4 Section 2. Despite the fact that slavery was not mentioned, Story concluded that it was all too clear that the clause was meant to secure runaway slaves for southern slaveholders. He went on to note, "The full recognition of the right and title was indispensable to the security of this species of property in all the slaveholding States; and, indeed, was so vital to the preservation of their domestic interests and institutions, that it cannot be doubted that it constituted a fundamental article, without the adoption of which the Union could not have been formed." Story's apparent endorsement of slaveholders' rights must be read through this light, that the justice felt that this was a bargain integral to the Constitution. Consequently, Story had an obligation to honor the deal struck at the Constitutional Convention. Further insight is provided by the political activity of southerners of the day. H. Robert Baker notes, "Story chose the path that he believed best supported a strong Union and rejected the natural right of slaveholders to the people they claimed as property. His resonating opinion answered southern constitutional claims in ways that protected slaveholders' rights, but not on the terms they wanted." Though still embroiled in his struggle with Roger Taney, Story achieved his last great victory in ''Swift v. Tyson''. This 1842 case concerned a bill of exchange, essentially a promise of payment, given from a businessman in New York, in exchange for land in Maine. However, the individuals who received the bill of exchange, Jarius Keith and Nathaniel Norton, did not own the land in question. The central issue of the case focused on Article 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 which established that the Court was to employ state statutes as authoritative rules when they were applicable for the Court's cases. Story, ever the nationalist, had long despised using state statutes as authoritative when he deemed federal common law a much more preferable alternative. Simply put, Story longed to place more power in the hands of judges, in particular federal judges, instead of local legislatures. Though Story, writing for the unanimous majority, rejected the fraudulent Bill of Exchange, this remains less significant than his development of federal common law. As aforementioned, section 34 of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789 held that courts were bound to local state statutes. Story, though had long desired to establish federal common law, had been unable to sway sufficient support to the cause. In ''Swift'' he finally rallied sufficient support to chip away at the barrier. He noted, "This section (34 of the Judiciary Act), upon it sure intendment and construction, is strictly limited to local statutes and local usages of the character before started, and does not extend to contracts and other instruments of a commercial nature.". ''Swift's'' ultimate overruling in ''Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins'' marked a turning point in American civil procedure. In 1829, he moved from Salem to Cambridge and became the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University, meeting with remarkable success as a teacher and winning the affection of his students, who had the benefit of learning from a sitting Supreme Court justice. He was a prolific writer, publishing many reviews and magazine articles, delivering orations on public occasions, and publishing books on legal subjects which won high praise on both sides of the Atlantic. Among Story's works of this period, one of the most important is the Justice's ''Commentaries on the Constitution''. The commentaries are divided into three sections, the first two concerning the colonial origins of the confederation and revolution, and the final section concerns the origins of the Constitution. Story's ''Commentaries'' encapsulate and expound his ideology. Within his ''Commentaries'' Story, in particular, attacks notions of state sovereignty. Even at this moment when his time on the Court was drawing towards a close, Story remained concerned with the welfare of the Union. His guide to the Constitution stressed the sovereignty of the people rather than the states, and extensively attacked those elements, i.e. southern sovereignty advocates, that Story felt could destabilize the Union. Story's ''Commentaries'' summarize much of the Justice's philosophy and demonstrate how Story, sought to use his work off the bench to continue to foster popular sovereignty over state sovereignty.R. Kent Newmeyer, ''Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic'' (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985)


Justice Story remains one of the most significant figures in early American constitutional history. Of the many justices of the Marshall Court, only the chief justice himself wrote more opinions than Story. In the 33 years that Story sat on the Court, he would transition from being an ally of Marshall to the last of an old race. Joseph Story, throughout his time on the Marshall and Taney courts, championed the notion of legal science. He believed that the Union could be made stronger through the proper application of law, in particular proper application necessitated uniformity of application. Consequently, federal control and judicial oversight were important tools in order to craft a more centralized Union. Story was in many respects a creature of New England; however, his chief aim was the creation of a strong Union. Consequently, several of his opinions, such as Prigg, emerge as efforts to protect the Union at the expense of black lives and freedom. Justice Story's jurisprudence stressed the importance of nationalism through economic centralization and judicial review. While aspects of his jurisprudence would fall into the minority with the rise of Jackson, he continued to guide the Constitutional dialogue through cases like Prigg and Swift.


Justice Story was one of the most successful American authors of the first half of the 19th century. "By the time he turned 65, on September 18, 1844, he earned $10,000 a year from his book royalties. At this point, his salary as Associate Justice was $4,500." Among his publications are:
Commentaries on the Law of Bailments
(1832)--Link to an 1846 printing.
''Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States'': Volume I''Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States'': Volume II
''Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States'': Volume III
(3 vols., 1833), a work of profound learning which is still the standard treatise on the subject. Story published
One Volume Abridgment
the same year.
The Constitutional Class Book: Being a Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States
(1834)--Story published an expanded edition, entitle
''A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States''
in 1840.
Commentaries on the Conflict of Laws
(1834), by many regarded as his most significant work.
The second edition
in 1841 was revised, corrected and greatly enlarged. *''Commentaries on Equity Jurisprudence'' (2 vols., 1835–1836
Vol. 1
1846 printin
Vol. 2
1866 printing-revised by Isaac F. Redfield.
Equity Pleadings
Law of Agency
(1839) Link to an 1851 printing.
Law of Partnership
(1841)--Link to the second edition published in 1846.
Law of Bills of Exchange
(1843)--Link to second edition published in 1847.
Law of Promissory Notes Law of Promissory Notes
1845)--Link to the 1851 printing.
A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States
(1847). He also edited several standard legal works. Hi
Miscellaneous Writings
first published in 1835, appeared in an enlarged edition i
The ''Life and Letters of Joseph Story'' (1851), edited by his son William Wetmore Story, was published in two volumes
Volume I
Volume II
Story contributed articles (in full, and or as part of larger articles) to ''The Encyclopedia Americana'' including this articl
Death, Punishment of
William Wetmore Story in ''The Life and Letters of Joseph Story'', Volume 2, listed the articles Joseph Story wrote for ''The Encyclopedia Americana''."
''Common Law,''''Congress of the United States,''''Conquest,''''Contracts,''''Corpus Delicti,''''Courts of England and the United States,''''Criminal Law,''
Story's contribution begins at "To the preceding article. ... ") ''Death, Punishment of,'
''Domicil,''''Equity,''''Evidence,''''Jury,''''Lien,''Legislation, and Codes,''
(Story's contribution begins on p. 581.
''Natural Law,''''Nations, Law of,''''Prize,''
Story is sometimes identified as an "eminent American jurist" by the editors when he is a joint author of an article. See the ''Law, Legislation, and Codes'' article for an example.


United States v. The Amistad, ''The Amistad.'' Reports of Cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, ''United States v. Schooner Amistad'', 40 U.S. (15 Pet.) 518 (1841). ''Gallison's Reports.'' Reports of Cases in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit 2d ed. With additional Notes and References. By John Gallison. 2 vols. Boston, 1845
Vol 1Vol 2
''Mason's Reports.'' Reports of Cases in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, from 1816 to 1830. By William P. Mason. 5 vols. Boston, 1819–31
Vol 5
''Sumner's Reports.'' Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit. By Charles Sumner. 3 vols. Boston, 1836–40. ''Story's Reports.'' Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit. By W. W. Story. 3 vols. Boston, 1842–4
Vol 3
"These volumes contain all the decisions of Mr. Justice Story on his Circuit. The decisions relate particularly to questions of Equity and Admiralty, and are of great practical value."

Death and legacy

Justice Story spoke at the dedication ceremony for Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831, which set the model for dozens of subsequent addresses over the next few decades. It also helped spark the "rural cemetery" movement and to link that movement to the development of the republic. Story emphasized the ways that rural cemeteries contributed to an ordered and well-regulated republic of law. Upon his death in 1845, he was buried there "as are scores of America's celebrated political, literary, religious, and military leaders. His grave is marked by a piece of sepulchral statuary executed by his son, William Wetmore Story." He is the namesake for Story County, Iowa.

Quotations by Story

On the Supreme Court's authority over State court (United States), state courts in civil matters of federal law (''Martin v. Hunter's Lessee'', ): On United States patent law, patent law (Title 35 of the United States Code), specifically regarding the patentability of inventions and the granting of patents (''Lowell v. Lewis'', 1 Mason. 182; 1 Robb, Pat. Cas. 131 Circuit Court, D. Massachusetts. May Term. 1817.):
The patent act uses the phrase 'useful invention' merely incidentally. ... All that the law requires is, that the invention should not be frivolous or injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society. The word 'useful,' therefore, is incorporated into the act in contradistinction to mischievous or immoral. For instance, a new invention to poison people, or to promote debauchery, or to facilitate private assassination, is not a patentable invention. But if the invention steers wide of these objections, whether it be more or less useful is a circumstance very material to the interests of the patentee, but of no importance to the public. If it be not so extensively useful, it will silently sink into contempt and disregard.''Lowell v. Lewis''
15 F. Cas. 1019, 1817 U.S. App. LEXIS 169 (C.C.D. Mass. 1817).
On the subject of church and state: On the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, Second Amendment:

See also

*List of Justices of the United States Supreme Court



* * * * * * Stanley Kutler, Privilege and Creative Destruction: The Charles River Bridge Case (Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1990) * United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1841). * Kermit L. Hall and Timothy S. Huebner, Major Problems in American Constitutional History (Boston: Wadsworth Learning Center, 2010) * H. Robert Baker, "A Better Story in Prigg v. Pennsylvania?," Journal of Supreme Court History Vol. 39 (2014) * R. Kent Newmeyer, The Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney (Wheelling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson Company, 2006)

Further reading

* * * * * * * *

External links

Ariens, Michael, The Supreme Court, Joseph Story.
* ''Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States First Edition'' on Google Books
Volume IVolume II
Volume III

Public Broadcasting Service. *
History of the Court, Joseph Story
Supreme Court Historical Society.
The Joseph Story papers
William L. Clements Library.
Harvard Law School Library: Joseph Story Digital Suite
, - {{DEFAULTSORT:Story, Joseph 1779 births 1845 deaths 19th-century American judges American Unitarians Burials at Mount Auburn Cemetery Conflict of laws scholars Democratic-Republican Party members of the United States House of Representatives Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame for Great Americans inductees Harvard University alumni Harvard Law School faculty Massachusetts Democratic-Republicans Members of the American Antiquarian Society Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Speakers of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Members of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts People from Marblehead, Massachusetts United States constitutional law scholars United States federal judges appointed by James Madison Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States United States federal judges admitted to the practice of law by reading law