In 1802, his family, who were part of the Quakers (his mother was a member of the well-known Benezet family), emigrated to America and settled in Philadelphia. In 1808, he began a printing business, and in 1810, he wed Elizabeth Widdifield, with whom he had one daughter, Hannah Mary Bouvier. Bouvier became a citizen of the United States in 1812, and thereafter had varied experiences as proprietor of a book shop and as a country editor before he was admitted to the bar in 1818, under the tutelage of Andrew Stuart.
He attained high standing in his profession, was recorder of Philadelphia in 1836, and from 1838 until his death was an associate justice of the court of criminal sessions in that city. He was best known, however, for his able legal writings.
Dissatisfied with the tendency of treatises to focus on British laws no longer applicable to the United States, Bouvier set out to write his own American law dictionary. His Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union (1839, revised and brought up to date by Francis Rawle, under the title of Bouvier's Law Dictionary, 2 vols, 1897) was well received, garnering praise even from Justices then sitting on the United States Supreme Court. Bouvier also published an edition of Matthew Bacon's Abridgment of the Law (10 vols, 1842-1846), and a compendium of American law entitled The Institutes of American Law (4 vols, 1851; new ed. 2 vols, 1876). New editions of his Law Dictionary were put out by Bouvier in 1843 and 1848, and by his successors in interest following his death in 1851.