Joseph Story

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Joseph Story
Daguerreotype of Joseph Story, 1844.jpg
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
November 18, 1811 – September 10, 1845
Nominated by James Madison
Preceded by William Cushing
Succeeded by Levi Woodbury
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd district
In office
May 23, 1808 – March 3, 1809
Preceded by Jacob Crowninshield
Succeeded by Benjamin Pickman, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1779-09-18)September 18, 1779
Marblehead, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died September 10, 1845(1845-09-10) (aged 65)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Democratic-Republican
Religion Unitarian[1]

Joseph Story (September 18, 1779 – September 10, 1845) was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and 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 first comprehensive 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.[2] 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 Whigs of the 1820s and '30s, including Daniel Webster.[3] 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.[4]

Early life[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6] Joseph was the first-born of eleven children of the second marriage. (Dr Story also fathered seven children from his first marriage.)[7]

As a boy, Joseph studied at the Marblehead Academy until the fall of 1794, where he was taught by schoolmaster William Harris, later president of Columbia University. At Marblehead he chastized a fellow schoolmate and Harris responded by beating him in front of the school; his father withdrew him immediately afterwards.[8] Story was accepted at Harvard University in January 1795;[9] he joined Adelphi, a student-run literary review, and was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[10] He graduated from Harvard in 1798, second in his class behind William Ellery Channing; he noted that his graduation was with "many bitter tears".[11] He read law in Marblehead under Samuel Sewall, then a congressman and later chief justice of Massachusetts. He later read law under Samuel Putnam in Salem.

He was admitted to the bar at Salem, Massachusetts in 1801. As the only lawyer in Essex County aligned with the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, he was hired as counsel to the powerful Republican shipping firm of George Crowninshield & Sons. Story was also writing poetry and, in 1804, published "The Power of Solitude", one of the first long poems by an American. In 1805 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving until 1808, when he succeeded a Crowninshield son to represent Essex County in the Congress, serving from December 1808 to March 1809. There he led the effort to end the 'Jefferson' embargo of maritime commerce. He re-entered private practice in Salem; and was again elected to the state House of Representatives, where he was chosen Speaker in 1811.

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 and Volume II

Supreme Court justice[edit]

Bust of Joseph Story, sculpted by his son William Wetmore Story, currently on display at the United States Supreme Court building.

In November 1811, at the age of thirty-two, Story became the youngest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by President James Madison on November 15, 1811, to a seat vacated by William Cushing, and was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on November 18, 1811. Story remains the youngest Supreme Court Justice at appointment. Here he found a congenial home for the brilliance of his scholarship and the development and expression of his political philosophy.

Soon after Story's appointment, the Supreme Court began to bring out into plain view the powers which the United States Constitution had given it over state courts and state legislation. Chief Justice John Marshall led this effort, but Story had a very large share in the remarkable decisions and opinions issued from 1812 until 1832. For instance, Story wrote the opinion for a unanimous court in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee following Marshall's recusal. He built up the department of admiralty law in the United States federal courts; he devoted much attention to equity jurisprudence and the department of patent law. In 1819 he attracted much attention by his vigorous charges to grand juries denouncing the slave trade, and in 1820 he gave a public anti-slavery speech in Salem and was prominent in the proceedings of the Massachusetts Convention called to revise the state constitution.

Non-lawyers are most likely to be familiar with Story's 1841 opinion in the case of United States v. The Amistad, which was the basis for a 1997 movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Story was played by an actual retired Supreme Court justice, Harry Blackmun.

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.

Works[edit]

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."[12]

Among his publications are:

He also edited several standard legal works. His Miscellaneous Writings, first published in 1835, appeared in an enlarged edition in 1851.

The Life and Letters of Joseph Story (1851) edited by his son William Wetmore Story was published in two volumes: Volume I and Volume II

Story contributed articles (in full, and or as part of larger articles) to The Encyclopedia Americana including this article 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.":[13] 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, Law, Legislation, and Codes, (Story's contribution begins on p. 581.) Natural Law, Nations, Law of, Prize, and Usury. 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.

Decisions[edit]

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 1 Vol 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, 1842-47 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."[14]

Death and legacy[edit]

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.[15] 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."[16]

Story County, Iowa was named in his honor, as was Story Hall, a dormitory at Harvard Law School, and the DePaul University College of Law chapter of the legal fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta.

Quotations by Story[edit]

On the Supreme Court's authority over state courts in civil matters of federal law (Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)):

The Constitution unavoidably deals in general language. It did not suit the purposes of the people, in framing this great charter of our liberties, to provide for minute specifications of its powers, or to declare the means by which those powers should be carried into execution. It was foreseen that this would be a perilous and difficult, if not an impracticable, task. The instrument was not intended to provide merely for the exigencies of a few years, but was to endure through a long lapse of ages, the events of which were locked up in the inscrutable purposes of Providence.

On 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.[17]

On the subject of church and state:

... Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution declares, that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation. It had a higher objective: to cut off for ever every pretence [sic] of any alliance between church and state in the national government.[18]

The real object of the First Amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which should be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.[19]

Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state government, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.[20]

On the Second Amendment:

The militia is the natural defence [sic] of a free country against sudden foreign invasions domestic insurrections and domestic usurpations of power by rulers It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace both from the enormous expenses with which they are attended and the facile means which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers to subvert the government or trample upon the rights of the people The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers and will generally even if these are successful the first instance enable the people to resist and triumph over them And yet though this truth would seem so clear and the importance of a well regulated would seem so undeniable it cannot be disguised that among the American people there is a growing to any system of militia discipline and a disposition from a sense of its burthens [sic] to be rid of all regulations How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization it is difficult to see There is certainly no small danger that indifference may lead to disgust and disgust to contempt and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.[21]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Newmyer, p. 13
  2. ^ David Brion Davis, Antebellum American culture (1997), pp. 14-15
  3. ^ Newmyer, p. 4
  4. ^ Presser, p. 526
  5. ^ Dunne, p. 32
  6. ^ Newmyer, pp. 7-8
  7. ^ Friedman, p. 254
  8. ^ Newmyer, p. 21
  9. ^ Dunne, p. 23
  10. ^ Newmyer, p. 27
  11. ^ Dunne, p. 26
  12. ^ Rotunda & Nowak "Introduction" to Story's Commenteries on the Constitution of the United States, p. xxiv, Reprint Edition, Carolina Academic Press, 1987.
  13. ^ Story, Life and Letters, Vol 2 pp. 27-28, Boston, 1851.
  14. ^ Story, Life and Letters, Vol. 2 p. 665, Boston, 1851.
  15. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, "These Great and Beautiful Republics of the Dead": Public Constitutionalism and the Antebellum Cemetery
  16. ^ Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (Feb 19, 2008), University of Alabama.
  17. ^ http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/IPCoop/17lowe.html
  18. ^ Story, Joseph (1833) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Volume III, p. 705, §1841.
  19. ^ Story, Joseph (1833) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Volume III, page 728, §1871.
  20. ^ Story, Joseph (1858) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Third Edition, Volume II, p. 667, §1879.
  21. ^ Story, Joseph (1833) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Volume III, page 746–747, §1890.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jacob Crowninshield
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd congressional district

May 23, 1808 – March 3, 1809
Succeeded by
Benjamin Pickman, Jr.
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Cushing
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
November 18, 1811 – September 10, 1845
Succeeded by
Levi Woodbury