England, United Kingdom
Gales immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1795. The family settled in Philadelphia, where his father, a printer, established the Independent Gazette. In 1797, the family moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. Gales studied at a private school, and he also received instruction in Latin from his mother. He attended the University of North Carolina but was expelled for ill discipline after only a short tenure. Concerned about his son's potential indolence, Gales's father apprenticed him to a printer in Philadelphia. After receiving a diploma from the Typographical Society of Philadelphia in 1807, Gales became a reporter for the National Intelligencer in Washington D.C. In 1809, he became part owner of the paper, and in 1810, he assumed sole proprietorship upon the retirement of his partner. In 1812, his brother-in-law William W. Seaton became an equal partner in the venture. In 1813, Gales married Sarah Juliana Maria Lee. Under Gales and Seaton, the National Intelligencer became one of the largest printing establishments in the United States. The paper devoted most of its space to the proceedings in Congress, with Gales personally reporting debate in the U.S. Senate. The Intelligencer had been the semi-official organ of Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans, and Gales continued that allegiance. He supported President James Madison and the War of 1812, enlisting in the militia assigned to defend Washington to demonstrate his loyalty to the administration and his adopted country. He continued to supervise operation of the paper until the British attacked Washington and destroyed the type and presses. After the war, Gales and Seaton re-built the Intelligencer, and from 1819 to 1827, the paper was the official organ of the administrations of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. It also became the official publisher of Congress, garnering it considerable wealth and widespread circulation. Gales and Seaton subsequently compiled and published its records of Congressional activity in such volumes as the Register of Debates (1825-1837), the Annals of Congress (1834, 1849-1856), and the American State Papers (1832-1861). The election of Andrew Jackson and the decline of the National Republicans forced Gales to re-evaluate his political allegiances. Gales' personal indebtedness to the Second Bank of the United States put him at odds with President Jackson on the bank, and eventually Gales embraced the Whig Party, and the National Intelligencer began to endorse Henry Clay and his American System. As Gales moved further from Jackson and his supporters, the National Intelligencer saw its influence wane, and eventually it lost its government contracts and readership to the Washington Globe and other new papers.
Outside of newspaper publishing, Gales served as mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1827 to 1830. He opposed the Mexican War, but favored compromise on slavery, and supported the American Colonization Society. He was a member of the Unitarian Church.
Gravestone, Range 55, Site 168, Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC; Joseph P. McKerns, "Gales, Joseph," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8:633-34.