Cooper, Thomas

Cooper, Thomas,

1759–1839, American scientist, educator, and political philosopher, b. London, educated at Oxford. His important works include Political Essays (1799); the appendixes to the Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley (2 vol., 1806), in which he reviews Priestley's life and works at length; Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (1826); Treatise on the Law of Libel (1830); and (as editor) The Statutes at Large of South Carolina (5 vol., 1836–39). Cooper emigrated to the United States in 1794 and, settling near his friend Joseph Priestley in Northumberland, Pa., was his partner in scientific research. As a supporter of the Jeffersonian opposition to the Federalists, he wrote many political pamphlets, especially against the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Convicted under the acts, he was imprisoned and fined $400; after his death this fine was repaid to his heirs. He taught at Dickinson College and the Univ. of Pennsylvania and was president (1820–33) of South Carolina College (now the Univ. of South Carolina).


See D. Malone, The Public Life of Thomas Cooper (1926); J. N. Ireland, A Memoir of the Professional Life of Thomas Abthorpe Cooper (repr. 1970).

Cooper, Thomas


Born Oct. 22, 1759, in Westminster; died May 11, 1839, in Columbia, S.C. Anglo-American materialist philosopher, physician, chemist, economist, and political figure.

Cooper studied at Oxford and was a member of the Manchester Constitutional Society. During the French Revolution he visited France (1792), and in 1793 he emigrated to the USA with the family of his teacher and father-in-law, the English scholar and philosopher J. Priestley. He became a friend of T. Jefferson. He was appointed a judge and later taught chemistry and economics, serving as president of South Carolina College in Columbia from 1821 to 1833. In his philosophical works and anonymous antireligious pamphlets, Cooper advocated a materialist and atheist world view, denying the existence of a spiritual substance, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of free will and innate ideas. Cooper’s work on psychophysiology followed the trend initiated by the French materialists J. La Mettrie and P. Cabanis.


Tracts, Ethical, Theological and Political. Warrington, 1789.
Political Essays. Philadelphia, 1800.
A View of the Metaphysical and Physiological Arguments in Favor of Materialism. Philadelphia, 1823.
The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism. Philadelphia, 1823.
Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy. Columbia, 1826.
In Russian translation:
In Amerikanskie prosvetiteli, vol. 2. Moscow, 1969. Pages 325–408.


Gol’dberg, N. M. Svobodomyslie i ateizm v SShA. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965. Chapter 5.
Malone, D. The Public Life of Th. Cooper. New Haven-London, 1926.


Cooper, Thomas

(1759–1839) social agitator, scientist, educator; born in Westminster, England. Trained as a lawyer and doctor, with a smattering of chemistry and philosophy, he espoused radical ideas that closed off advancement in England; so in 1794 he emigrated to the U.S.A. with Joseph Priestley. He practiced both law and medicine in Pennsylvania but also became a pamphleteer in support of Thomas Jefferson; attacking the Sedition Law, he was briefly imprisoned and fined $400 (1800). Between 1801–04 he served as a Luzerne County (Pa.) commissioner and then as a Pennsylvania state judge (1804–11); by then he was becoming more conservative and, disgusted with politics, he turned to teaching chemistry, first at Carlisle (now Dickinson) College (1811–15), then at the University of Pennsylvania (1815–19). Moving on to South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), he soon became its president (1820–34) while teaching the sciences and political economy; he helped open the first medical school and insane asylum in the state. His strong individualism and libertarianism led him to become a defender of states' rights and he promoted the southern view on the tariff, nullification, and even slavery; following his own logic, he was one of the first to argue for secession.
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