He was born in St. Louis, the son of William and Adele (Wuerpel) Taussig. His parents encouraged his literary and musical interests, and he played the violin at an early age. He was educated in the St. Louis public schools and at Smith Academy in that city. He then went to Washington University there, but after a year transferred to Harvard from where he graduated in 1879. He then traveled in Europe for a year, taking some time to study economics at the University of Berlin. He then did graduate work at Harvard in law and economics, and during this time was secretary to President Charles W. Eliot for some years. He got a law degree in 1886 and was appointed assistant professor at Harvard.