He was the son of Joseph and Maria Ellis (Watmough) Reed.
He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1822. He was a representative in the state legislature in 1834, and Attorney-General of Pennsylvania in 1838. He became the state Senator in 1841 and vice-provost of the law academy, Philadelphia in 1840. He took the post of Professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania in 1850. He was US Minister to China from 1857 to 1858. He published collections of H. H. Reed's (his brother) lectures, which were very popular.
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, vol. 9, p. 55. Who Was Who in America, Chicago, 1963, p. 436.