Thomas Cooper (U.S. politician)
Thomas Cooper (October 22, 1759 – May 11, 1839) was an Anglo-American economist, college president and political philosopher. Cooper was described by Thomas Jefferson as "one of the ablest men in America" and by John Adams as "a learned ingenious scientific and talented madcap." Dumas Malone stated that "modern scientific progress would have been impossible without the freedom of the mind which he championed throughout life." His ideas were taken very seriously in his own time: there were substantial reviews of his writings, and some late eighteenth-century critics of materialism directed their arguments against Cooper, rather than against the better-known Joseph Priestley.
Life in Europe 
Cooper was born in London, England. He attended Oxford University, but did not graduate. He then studied law, devoting at the same time considerable attention to medicine and the natural sciences. After being admitted to the bar he travelled a circuit for a few years, but took an active part in the politics of the time, and was sent with James Watt Jr., son and heir of the inventor James Watt, by the democratic clubs of England to those of France, where his sympathies were with the Girondists. This course called out severe censure from Edmund Burke in the house of commons, to which Cooper replied with a violent pamphlet. Its circulation was prohibited among the lower classes by the attorney-general, although no exception was made to its appearance in expensive form.
While in France he studied chemistry and learned the process of obtaining chlorine from sea salt, and this knowledge he tried to apply on his return to England by becoming a bleacher and a calico printer, but was unsuccessful.
Early years in the United States 
Threatened with prosecution at home because of his active sympathy with the French Revolution, he emigrated to America with Priestley in 1794, and began the practice of law in Northumberland county, Pennsylvania. Like his friend Joseph Priestley, who was then living in Northumberland, he sympathized with the Jeffersonian Republicans, and took part in the agitation against the Alien and Sedition Acts.
On 26 October 1799, the Reading, Pennsylvania Advertiser published a strong attack he wrote against President John Adams. This led to his being tried for libel under the Sedition Act, and he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, with a fine of $400. It was during this trial that Cooper stated that he knew the king of England could do no wrong, "but I did not know till now that the President of the United States had the same attribute."
In 1806 Cooper was appointed a land commissioner and succeeded in overcoming the difficulties with the Connecticut claimants in Luzerne county. That year he was also appointed president-judge of the Fourth District of Pennsylvania in 1806. In 1811, having become obnoxious to the members of his own party, he was removed from his position as judge on a charge of arbitrary conduct.
Academic leader 
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. He later served as the chair of chemistry at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (1811–1814) and at the University of Pennsylvania (1818–1819).
He became a professor of chemistry at South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1819. Later he would also provide instruction in political economics. 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. Though he became increasingly controversial during his tenure as president, he was very popular with his students. Most of them came to his defense in the years of 1831–33, when Cooper was frequently challenged by the state legislature. Although many students disagreed with Cooper's philosophies, they liked the man personally.
Views on Government 
Upon his arrival in America, Cooper had a positive outlook towards the country saying he preferred America because, "There is little fault to find with the government of America, either in principle or in practice…we have no animosities about religion; it is a subject about which no questions are asked…the present irritation of men's minds in Great Britain, and the discordant state of society on political grounds is not known there. The government is the government of the people and for the people". By 1831 his perspective had changed: "In no other country is the wise toleration established by law, so complete as in this. But in no country whatever is a spirit of persecution for mere opinions, more prevalent than in the United States of America. It is a country most tolerant in theory, and most bigoted in practice", not that this made him feel obliged to return to Mother England.
He was a born agitator. In 1832, he had been formally tried for infidelity. 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.
Cooper was a relentless campaigner for political freedom. He believed freedom of speech was the most fundamental of those freedoms and that America had major improvements to make in this area: "the value of free discussion is not yet appreciated as it ought to be in these United States". He blamed the clergy in particular for this state of affairs: "the clergy of this country...are united in persecuting every man who calls in question any of their metaphysical opinions, or who hints at their views of ambition and aggrandizement". Not surprisingly, the evangelical Charles Colcock Jones, who was a missionary to slaves as well as a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, was unimpressed with Cooper. Jones called him "the Father" of the "infidel Party" in South Carolina. "That old man," he wrote, "has done this state more evil than fifty years can remove. He has a world of iniquity to answer for in poisoning the State with his infidel principles."
Cooper was at the center of the nullification movement and taught South Carolina about the dangers of consolidation. In 1827, as the tariff controversy grew, Cooper publicly questioned the benefit of the Union. In a speech, he described the South as the perennial loser in an "unequal alliance." Cooper predicted that South Carolina would in the near future "be compelled to calculate the value of our union." The idea that the South should withdraw "received its first extensive advertising as a result of that speech."
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. By nature of being an adamant advocate of states' rights was in favor of Interposition. Cooper was one of the most vocal supporters of secession. Cooper's political views made him enemies, and his religious views made even more.
Views on slavery 
He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against "that infamous and impolitic traffic". He wrote that "negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves", claimed that "as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain". But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that "in South Carolina or Georgia...the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour".
In addition to Thomas Jefferson, he was friends with James Madison and several Governors of South Carolina. As a philosopher he was a follower of David Hartley, Erasmus Darwin, Priestley, and François-Joseph-Victor Broussais; he was a physiological materialist, and a severe critic of Scottish metaphysics.
Later years 
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). Cooper died in Columbia on the 11th of May 1839. He is interred in the churchyard at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
- Letters on the Slave-Trade (London, 1787)
- Tracts, Ethical, Theological, and Political (1790)
- Information concerning America (1790)
- Political Essays (together with Elizabeth Priestley, 1800)
- Account of the Trial of Thomas Cooper, of Northumberland (Philadelphia, 1800)
- The Bankrupt Law of America Compared with that of England (1801)
- Introductory Lecture at Carlisle College (1812)
- An English Version of the Institutes of Justinian (1812)
- The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (editor of two of the five volumes, Philadelphia, 1812–1814)
- Thomas Thomson, System of Chemistry (editor, 4 vols., Philadelphia, 1818)
- Tracts on Medical Jurisprudence (1819)
- Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (Charleston, 1826)
- A Treatise on the Law of Libel (1830)
- Liberty of the Press(1830)
- Broussais, On Irritation and Insanity (translation printed with his own essays “The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism,” “View of the Metaphysical and Physiological Arguments in favor of Materialism” and “Outline of the Doctrine of the Association of Ideas,” 1831)
The University of South Carolina has a library named for Cooper and bestows an achievement award presented by the University's Thomas Cooper Society: the Thomas Cooper Medal for Distinction in the Arts and Sciences.
- Quoted in Cohen (2000)
- Hoffer (2011)
- Erskine Clarke, Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 172.
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- Anderson, P. R. and M. H. Fisch. Philosophy in America (1939), pp. 247–71.
- Cohen, Seymour S. "Cooper, Thomas" American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
- Conkin, Paul K. Prophets of Prosperity (1980), pp. 141–52.
- Dorfman, Joseph. The Economic Mind in American Civilization, vol. 2 (1946), pp. 527–39,
- Hoffer Peter Charles. The Free Press Crisis of 1800: Thomas Cooper's Trial for Seditious Libel (University Press of Kansas; 2011) 149 pages; history of the landmark case involving the Sedition Act of 1798.
- Hollis, D. W. University of South Carolina, vol. 1 (1951), pp. 74–118.
- Encyclopedia Dickinsonia biography of Thomas Cooper
- Malone, Dumas. The Public Life of Thomas Cooper (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1926).
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Cooper, Thomas". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cooper, Thomas (educationalist)". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.