English School 18th, Century
Portrait of Josiah Tucker, Dean Tucker, 1713-1799
Josiah Tucker, Dean Tucker,
oil on canvas
21 x 16 cm. (8.1/2 x 6.1/2in.)


Josiah Tucker, (1713–1799), economist and political writer, was born at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, in December 1713. His reluctance to discuss his antecedents left few details regarding his family and later gave rise to many apocryphal stories regarding his Welsh peasant stock, long life, and physical strength. His father, however, was probably Josiah Tucker, a member of the salt office at Nevern, Pembrokeshire, who, after his marriage to Eliza Bradshaw at Laugharne in October 1711, inherited a small estate in Aberystwyth. A certain amount of mystery also surrounds Tucker's two marriages. His first wife was Elizabeth Woodward (1696–1771), a widow seventeen years his senior. Although the couple lived apart Tucker educated her sons, one of whom, Richard Woodward, later became bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. In 1781 Tucker married his housekeeper, a Miss Crow, the daughter of a local schoolmaster. This second marriage, which seems to have been one of genuine affection, produced no children. Tucker's later correspondence indicates that he had a sister whose eight children he helped to provide for.
Early career
Whatever his background, Tucker received an excellent education. Following his attendance at the endowed Elizabethan grammar school at Ruthin, Denbighshire, he went up as an exhibitioner to St John's College, Oxford, in January 1733. Having graduated BA in 1736 he took holy orders; he graduated MA in 1739, and DD in 1755. He was appointed curate of St Stephen's, Bristol, in 1737 and made rector of All Saints', in the same city, two years later. In 1750 he was appointed vicar of St Stephen's, a large and wealthy parish, and his long residence in Bristol, England's second city and an important commercial centre, was crucial to the development of his religious, political, and economic viewpoints. It also brought him into contact with the bishop, Joseph Butler (1692–1752).

One of the most celebrated theologians of his day, Butler greatly influenced Tucker's outlook regarding human motivation, as well as the role that private virtue and enlightened self-interest could play in public life. Tucker considered Butler's Analogy of Religion (1736) a masterpiece. Their close friendship led to Tucker's advancement: Butler appointed Tucker his private chaplain in 1738 and a minor canon in Bristol Cathedral in 1742. A decade later Tucker acted as one of the executors of Butler's will. Butler's scepticism regarding religious freethinkers, deists, and the growing movement of religious enthusiasm also influenced Tucker's views and involved him in local controversy regarding Methodist beliefs then taking root under George Whitefield and John Wesley in Bristol.

In 1739 Tucker's first published work, attacking Methodism, led to a heated newspaper exchange, a lengthy rebuttal of his attacks in An Answer to Mr. Tucker's Defence of his Queries, possibly written by Wesley, and to Tucker being physically assaulted in the streets of Bristol. Ignoring his local unpopularity, Tucker went on to publish, at the request of the archbishop of Armagh, A Brief History of the Principles of Methodism (1742). One of his twelve published works on religious topics, all of which displayed great learning, this work attacked Methodism as little more than a medley of older, conflicting religious ideas artificially thrown together by the personal whim of Whitefield himself. Wesley, who admired Tucker as a preacher, published a sincere reply, Principles of Methodism (1746), which brought an end to this particular controversy but not to Tucker's development as something of a born controversialist. In a long career he published over forty-four works, many of which considered the pressing problems of the day. His published works consistently interwove moral, religious, political, and—above all—economic ideas into a general outlook that many interpreted as toryism, although he considered himself a true whig and an upholder of the revolution settlement of 1689.

Tucker's first major work on economics, A Brief Essay on the Advantages and Disadvantages, which Respectively Attend France and Great Britain, which was published in 1749 and thereafter went through numerous editions, made his name in the new discipline of economic theory; it was later translated into French by Plumart d'Angeul and influenced the later French physiocrats. Dedicated to the earl of Halifax, president of the Board of Trade from 1748, A Brief Essay attacked unnatural restrictions on national trade as well as the continuing monopolistic vested interests that hampered its growth. Rejecting the older notion of bullionism—which maintained that commercial success could be measured by the national acquisition of gold—Tucker argued that commerce was really an artificial exchange motivated by both individual and national wants, and that the wealth of a nation could only be truly measured by the useful and profitable employment of its people. Tucker did not, and never did, advocate a truly laissez-faire system, one which favoured the abolition of all governmental control of commerce, for he believed that the true role of government was to consider economic self-interest by passing judicious laws necessary for directing commerce into its proper and profitable channels. This work also considered other themes evident in Tucker's later publications, including the need to create a true national and constitutional union with Ireland as well as the necessity of restructuring the questionable liberties afforded by the British constitution itself. While Tucker attacked the autocracy of the French government he none the less believed that British liberties encouraged the pursuit of pleasure in the lower orders at the expense of industry. His Brief Essay therefore recommended the increase in taxes on spirituous liquor, government action over increasing smuggling, and changes in the ballot by restricting it to £20 for freeholders in the counties and to £200 in stock for tradesmen in the boroughs. Adam Smith is known to have owned a copy of A Brief Essay, though Tucker's influence on Smith's later writings remains debatable.

In the third edition of the work (1753) Tucker added new proposals for the encouragement of the American colonial trade. Before 1754 he was hardly opposed to the colonies and, in echoing the work of earlier economic theorists such as Charles Davenant, Sir Josiah Child, and Joshua Gee, he stressed the need to strengthen a mutually beneficial trade with America. This, he thought, could best be encouraged by government action: by granting bounties upon required raw materials and by the reduction of customs duties to discourage colonial smuggling. Smuggling, he believed, damaged not only the economic but also the political connection, as it bred economic independence, debauched its participants, and tutored the colonials in vice and perjury. Such viewpoints were also evident in Tucker's letters to the press and in his Case of the Importation of Bar Iron from our Colonies in North America (1756).
Jewish naturalization
In 1752, at the request of Thomas Hayter, bishop of Norwich and tutor to the future George III, Tucker began work on his most systematic book on commerce, a work that remained unfinished. Part of this major work was privately printed and circulated among friends as The Elements of Commerce and Theory of Taxes (1755), and fragments of it appeared as Instructions for Travellers (1758) and The Case of Going to War for the Sake of Procuring, Enlarging or Securing of Trade, Considered in a New Light (1763). The latter work was Tucker's first publication critical of Britain's American colonies, expressing a viewpoint developed by his opposition to the Seven Years' War (1756–63). He did not publish the whole work, he informed Lord Kames in October 1761, because his ideas remained out of step with public opinion.

In 1747 Robert Nugent, later Viscount Clare and Earl Nugent (1702–1788), introduced into the Commons a bill to relax the British naturalization laws against resident foreign protestants. The bill had a stormy passage, its third reading being delayed until April 1751. To support the bill Tucker published a history of Britain's lamentable treatment of industrious foreign residents, Reflections on the Expediency of a Law for the Naturalization of Foreign Protestants (1751). Following the bill's failure he published a review of its history in a second part, published in the following year. It was in this work that he developed the established theory that a concentrated, industrious population generated economic success. The opposition to the naturalization bill was generated, he believed, by both bigotry and entrenched, monopolistic vested self-interest. His strong views received support from Charles Townshend, third Viscount Townshend, who anonymously published a work on the subject, National Thoughts Recommended to the Serious Attention of the Public by a Landowner (1751).

The failure of Nugent's bill was not the end of the naturalization question. In 1753 the Portuguese and Spanish Jewish residents in Britain petitioned parliament for the removal of similar restrictions that prevented them from gaining citizenship, a petition supported by Nugent and other whig politicians such as Henry Pelham, the earl of Hardwicke, and the earl of Halifax. In the face of great opposition the Jewish Naturalization Act was passed in 1753, and Tucker again involved himself in controversy. In A Letter to a Friend Concerning Naturalization (1753) he attacked the religious bigotry that he believed lay behind the opposition of such groups as the common council of the City of London. In that same year he published another work in which the historical treatment of Jews in Britain was reviewed, A Second Letter to a Friend Concerning Naturalization. His efforts failed to prevent the repeal of the Jewish Naturalization Act later in the same year. Tucker also supported Nugent's attempt to relax the restrictive membership policies of the Levant Company, which controlled British commerce with the eastern Mediterranean, in Reflections on the Expediency of Opening the Trade to Turkey (1753). He believed that the company's monopolistic policies had transformed this once important trade into a losing concern, and for his efforts in support of these unpopular policies he was burnt in effigy in Bristol and ridiculed as ‘Josiah ben Judas Iscariot’.

Tucker's important political influence in Bristol and his interest in commercial reform forged a strong political alliance with Nugent, a politician whom he helped to have elected for Bristol in the general election of 1754. In turn Nugent, who was appointed a member of the Treasury board that same year, further advanced Tucker's career. Owing to both his and Lord Hardwicke's influence Tucker was appointed in 1756 to the third prebendal stall in Bristol Cathedral, and two years later he was made dean of Gloucester. He retained the vicarage at St Stephen's until 1793, dividing his time between the two cities. An apparently hard-working dean, he did much to restore the fabric of Gloucester Cathedral. He also remained a firm political ally of Nugent, who, following his resignation from his seat in Bristol in 1774 (owing to his firm stand regarding the American colonies), received praise for his political career in Tucker's A Review of Lord Viscount Clare's Conduct as Representative of Bristol (1775).
Attitudes to America
On 22 March 1775 Tucker's view of America was attacked in a speech by Edmund Burke, the recently elected MP for Bristol. Tucker was, Burke argued, little more than a court reporter, a vermin whose outlook was motivated by his wish for a bishopric. In turn Tucker attacked as ridiculous Burke's plan to allow the colonies to regulate themselves within the empire. His Letter to Edmund Burke (1775) was the beginning of a systematic attack on the opinions of the friends of the American revolutionaries and the radical element within British politics. In his correspondence with the historian and biographer Thomas Birch, Tucker had expressed the beginnings of his critical views of the American colonies as early as 1754, opinions which he also published in the press. Opposing the outbreak of hostilities in the Ohio region that led to the Seven Years' War he warned that Britain already owned more territory in America than it could populate in 500 years. Dismissing notions of a French threat to British commercial interests in America he warned that an extension of British colonial territory west of the Appalachian mountains could lead only to colonial manufacturing, colonial economic independence, additional and unnecessary British expense, and conditions that would create a future harvest of colonial complaints.

Already unpopular, Tucker remained surprisingly quiet during the Seven Years' War but he became increasingly vocal after the treaty of Paris in 1763. The developing American crisis over taxation touched upon all Tucker's major interests: the need to maintain a mutually self-interested and beneficial trade between Britain and her colonies, his dislike of war and mock patriotism, and his distrust of political radicalism. His Case of Going to War (1763) argued that a nation would never improve its commerce by bankrupting its neighbours, and he drew comparisons between Britain's own growing imperial concerns with those conditions that had led to the decline of Rome. His warnings went largely unnoticed before the Stamp Act crisis (1765–6) and he came to view himself as something of a Cassandra, a pen-name that he frequently employed in his letters to the press.

Tucker's developing attitude to the American colonies was motivated neither by a belief in free trade nor by any sympathy for the Americans themselves, a people he came to see as grasping and ungrateful. Their rapid economic growth and dislike of regulation would, he believed, eventually lead them to separate from Britain through self-interest. He argued that all colonies historically had their date of independence and, concerned that their radical political ideas would eventually infect Britain, he advocated as early as 1766 the separation of Britain and her American colonies. In A Letter from a Merchant in London to his Nephew in North America he dismissed objections to British taxation as political cant masking the American desire for independence. In rejecting calls for colonial representation at Westminster as both impracticable and unwise he upheld the notions of parliamentary sovereignty and virtual representation, yet also rejected the forcible coercion of the colonies. A shopkeeper, he advised, would never increase his custom by beating his customers and, consequently, what was true for a shopkeeper was true for a shopkeeping nation.

Tucker returned again and again to the need for a political separation in a series of tracts and sermons that he had republished on the eve of the final crisis as Four Tracts with Two Sermons (1774). Responding to the decisions of the first continental congress he published The Respective Pleas and Arguments of the Mother Country and her Colonies (1775), in which he argued that any compromise was now impossible and took the opportunity to berate the Americans over their treatment of their slaves and the Native Americans. This work too was republished, together with the other four tracts, in the year of the Declaration of Independence (1776). In A Series of Answers to Certain Popular Objections Against Separating from the Rebellious Colonies (1776) Tucker praised the wisdom of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, concluding that although separation was not a popular idea in Britain, to achieve this voluntarily would be in Britain's long-term economic interest. Britain and America, he believed, belonged to two distinct political systems, and he warned France that its increasing involvement in the conflict could only bring about its destruction.

The escalation of the war prompted Tucker to undertake a systematic analysis of the possible results of the war as well as the effects it had on generating radicalism within Britain itself. As early as 1778 he had attacked the friends of America, including John Cartwright, Joseph Priestley, and especially John Wilkes, whom he personally detested, in a privately printed work, The Notions of Mr. Locke and his Followers. Most of his themes found a place in two later wartime works, Cui bono? and A Treatise Concerning Civil Government, both published in 1781. Addressed to the late French minister Jacques Necker, Cui bono? predicted a Franco-American victory but also the dissolution of the American union and the post-war resumption, to Britain's vast benefit, of the American trade. While a number of the states, especially those in the southern part of America, would probably petition to rejoin the empire, France's involvement in the war would ultimately lead to her destruction, owing to her alliance with republics founded upon the dangerous Lockean notion of natural liberty. Tucker considered the Lockean concept that government could be based only upon the consent of the governed as the new intolerant enthusiasm of the age. It was, he argued, becoming as much of a religion as the divine right of kings had been in the previous century. Its religious devotees, the friends of America, were involved in little more than a conspiracy to extend republicanism to Britain, a political catastrophe that would increase the power of the people to the destruction of the established institutions of the country. Tucker's own experience of the ordinary people of England reinforced his misgivings, and in one of his earliest published sermons, Hospitals and Infirmaries, Considered as Schools of Christian Education (1746), he had dismissed the common people of England as ‘the most depraved and licentious wretches upon the earth’ who had already drunk too deep of the ‘cup of liberty’ (pp. 8–9). In view of his belief that the origin of government was not to be found in a state of nature but in the divine purpose of God it is not surprising that he resisted any extension of the franchise or weakening of the established relations between church and state. Unlike many of the dissenting ministers who came to support the radical reform of the constitution he firmly adhered to what he saw as a balanced constitution and the subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

In the last two decades of his life Tucker was viewed in some circles as something of a sage. His writings declined as he aged, although he continued to champion schemes he had long supported, especially the need for a union between Britain and Ireland. Following the gradual decay in his health he resigned his position at St Stephen's in November 1793; he suffered a paralytic stroke in his deanery, and died on 4 November 1799, survived by his wife. His death was noted in the British press and caused lengthy comments in both the Gentleman's Magazine and the European Magazine. He was buried in the south transept of Gloucester Cathedral, where a monument was later erected to his memory. A controversial figure during his lifetime, he has been increasingly recognized as an important and original eighteenth-century theorist. If his influence upon the later economic ideas of Adam Smith remains debatable, he was, as Karl Marx thought, a competent political economist.

Rory T. Cornish DNB