Joseph Story was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He graduated second in his class at Harvard College. He read law and was admitted to the bar three years later. He established a successful private practice in Salem despite the acts of prejudice heaped upon him by Federalists because he was a Republican- Democrat.
Story served in the Massachusetts legislature and then in the U.S. House of Representatives for one term. Story was selected by Madison for the High Court in 1811. This was Madison's fourth attempt to fill the seat. Levi Lincoln and John Quincy Adams declined invitations; the Senate rejected Alexander Wolcott.
Story was instrumental in the establishment of Harvard Law School. He was appointed professor of law there in 1829. Story maintained true academic interest in the law. He wrote a series of "Commentaries" which went through nine editions and were published in several languages. Story also contributed essays on law to a variety of publications.