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Joseph Story

Story, Joseph, 1779–1845, American jurist, associate justice of the Supreme Court (1811–45), b. Marblehead, Mass. Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1801, he practiced law in Salem and was several times elected to the Massachusetts legislature. He served briefly in the U.S. Congress in 1808–9. Story's legal scholarship quickly earned him great prominence, and in 1811 (at the age of 32) he was appointed by President Madison to the U.S. Supreme Court, the youngest person ever to hold that position. In the early period of his judicial tenure, as part of his duties on the Supreme Court, he was also a circuit justice in New England. His decisions helped frame U.S. admiralty and prize law. Story's judicial views nearly always agreed with those of John Marshall; this was not the case with Marshall's successor, Roger B. Taney. One of the most important opinions Story wrote for the Supreme Court was Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816); it established the power of the federal court to review issues of constitutional law raised in state cases. Story expressed his strong antislavery sentiments in several judgments that ordered the repatriation to Africa of blacks brought into U.S. ports by slavers. In 1829, Story became the first Dane professor of law at Harvard. For the remainder of his life he sat on the Supreme Court and taught at Harvard. In connection with his teaching, Story wrote many legal works, systematic summaries of bodies of case law (mostly British), so treated as to elucidate the legal and philosophical bases. A nationalist in principle, he attempted to provide a justification for rational and uniform legal principles, thereby not privileging the legal standards practiced in any region. Story's texts must be ranked with James Kent's Commentaries on the American Law as formative influences on American jurisprudence and legal education. They include commentaries on bailments (1832), the U.S. Constitution (3 vol., 1833), conflict of laws (1834), equity jurisprudence (2 vol., 1836), equity pleading (1838), agency (1839), partnership (1841), bills of exchange (1843), and promissory notes (1845). All his books appeared in several editions; that on equity jurisprudence (14th ed. 1918) perhaps retained its utility longest.

See Life and Letters of Joseph Story, ed. by his son, W. W. Story (1851); studies by J. McClellan (1971) and R. K. Newmyer (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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