James Iredell was born and educated in England. He emigrated to the colonies in 1768, taking up a position as comptroller of customs in Edenton, North Carolina. While working in the customs house, Iredell also read law and took up legal practice.
Though employed by the British, Iredell was sympathetic to the colonists' cause for independence. He attended the state ratification convention and served as a Federalist leader.
Washington offered the High Court position to Robert Harrison, who declined. Iredell was his next choice. Though constitutional opinions were few in this period of the Court's history, Iredell comes off well in the view of Court scholars.