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Cooper, Thomas, Philosopher

COOPER, THOMAS, PHILOSOPHER. THOMAS COOPER (1759-1840), American educationalist and political philosopher, was born in London, England, on the 22nd of October 1759, and educated at Oxford. Threatened with prosecution at home because of his active sympathy with the French Revolution, he emigrated to America about 1793, and began the practice of law in Northumberland county, Pennsylvania. He was president-judge of the Fourth District of Pennsylvania in 1806-1811. Like his friend Joseph Priestley, who was then living in Northumberland, he sympathized with the Anti-Federalists, and took part in the agitation against the Sedition Act, and for a newspaper attack in 1799 on President John Adams, Cooper was convicted, fined and imprisoned for libel. Like Priestley, Cooper was very highly esteemed by Thomas Jefferson, who secured for him the appointment as first professor of natural science and law in the University of Virginia - a position which Cooper was forced to resign under the fierce attack made on him by the Virginia clergy. After filling the chair of chemistry in Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. (1811-1814), and in the University of Pennsylvania (1818-1819), he became professor of chemistry in South Carolina College, at Columbia, in 1819, and afterwards gave instruction in political economy also. In 1820 he became acting president of this institution, and was president from 1821 until 1833, when he resigned owing to the opposition within the state to his liberal religious views. In December 1834, owing to continued opposition, he resigned his professorship. He had been formally tried for infidelity in 1832. He was a born agitator: John Adams described him as "a learned, ingenious, scientific and talented madcap." Before his college classes, in public lectures, and in numerous pamphlets, he constantly preached the doctrine of free trade, and tried to show that the protective system was especially burdensome to the South. His remedy was state action. Each state, he contended, was a sovereign power and was in duty bound to protest against the tyrannical acts of the Federal government. He exercised considerable influence in preparing the people of South Carolina for nullification and secession; in fact he preceded Calhoun in advocating a practical application of the state sovereignty principle. The last years of his life were spent in preparing an edition of the Statutes at Large of the state, which was completed by David James McCord (1797-1855) and published in ten volumes (1836-1841). Dr Cooper died in Columbia on the 11th of May 1840. As a philosopher he was a follower of Hartley, Erasmus Darwin, Priestley and Broussais; he was a physiological materialist, and a severe critic of Scotch metaphysics. Among his publications are Political Essays (1800); An English Version of the Institutes of Justinian (1812); Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (1826); A Treatise on the Law of Libel and the Liberty of the Press (1830); and a translation of Broussais' On Irritation and Insanity (1831), with which were printed his own essays, "The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism," "View of the Metaphysical and Physiological Arguments in favour of Materialism," and "Outline of the Doctrine of the Association of Ideas."

See I. Woodbridge Riley, American Philosophy: the Early Schools (New York, 1907).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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