Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/McCulloch, John Ramsay

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McCULLOCH, JOHN RAMSAY (1789–1864), statistician and political economist, born at Whithorn, Wigtownshire, on 1 March 1789, was eldest son of Edward McCulloch, laird of Auchengool, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, by Sarah, daughter of the Rev. James Laing, D.D., minister of the parish of Glasserton, Wigtownshire. His father dying while he was a mere child, he received the rudiments of knowledge from his grandfather. His mother married again, and removed to Kinross, where McCulloch went to school for some years, after which he studied at Edinburgh, attending the classes of Sir John Leslie [q. v.], who became his friend, and Dr. Thomas Brown, who gave him a distaste for metaphysics. He took no degree, entered, and soon quitted in disgust, the office of a writer to the signet, and devoted himself to the study of economics. His first publication was ‘An Essay on a Reduction of the Interest of the National Debt, proving that this is the only possible means of Relieving the Distresses of the Commercial and Agricultural Interests; and Establishing the Justice of that Measure on the Surest Principles of Political Economy,’ London, 1816, 8vo. McCulloch wrote the economical articles for the ‘Scotsman’ during the first ten years of its existence, 1817–27, and for two years 1818–20, acted as its editor. Between 1818 and 1828 he was a regular contributor to the ‘Edinburgh Review.’

McCulloch also lectured on political economy, and formed classes for its discussion both in Edinburgh and in London, where in 1824 he delivered the Ricardo Memorial Lectures, the substance of which did double duty as an article on ‘Political Economy’ in the supplement to the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and ‘A Discourse on the Rise, Progress, Peculiar Objects and Importance of Political Economy,’ Edinburgh, 1824, 1825, 8vo (French translation by Guillaume Prévost, Paris, 1825, 8vo). Expanded into a formal treatise, it reappeared as ‘The Principles of Political Economy: with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Science,’ Edinburgh, 1825, 8vo (later editions, London, 1830; Edinburgh, 1843 and 1849, 8vo; popular reprints, London, 1870, 1878, and 1886, 8vo). For some years McCulloch continued his lectures at London, forming classes as at Edinburgh in connection with them, and succeeded in making the dismal science temporarily fashionable. Examined before the select committee on the state of Ireland in June 1825, he argued that absenteeism could not materially injure that country, because rent was ordinarily remitted through the medium of bills of exchange drawn against exports, a fallacy trenchantly exposed in ‘Blackwood,’ xix. 55 et seq. and xxiv. 758 (see his evidence in Parl. Papers, 1825, Reports from Committees, viii. 807 et seq.) In 1828 he accepted the chair of political economy at the newly founded university of London, now University College; the chair was unendowed, and McCulloch resigned it in 1832.

In an ‘Essay on the Circumstances which determine the Rate of Wages and the Condition of the Labouring Classes,’ Edinburgh, 1826, 12mo (later editions, London, 1851, 1854, 1868, 8vo), McCulloch expounded the celebrated ‘wages' fund theory,’ which, after being regarded as an impregnable position by one entire generation, was surrendered by the next almost without a struggle, on the first assault [see Leslie, Thomas Edward Cliffe, 1827–1882]. In 1828 he published an edition of ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ with ‘a Life of the Author, an Introductory Discourse, Notes, and Supplemental Dissertations,’ Edinburgh, 4 vols. 8vo, which at once superseded all existing editions, and has been frequently reprinted (London, 1839, 1846, 1857, 1863, 8vo). To the ‘Library of Useful Knowledge’ he contributed in 1831 a ‘Treatise on the Principles, Practice, and History of Commerce,’ London, 8vo, which contained a powerful statement of the case for free trade. It was reprinted in Waterston's ‘Cyclopædia of Commerce,’ London, 1847, 8vo.

In 1832 McCulloch published his most important work, ‘A Dictionary, Practical, Theoretical, and Historical, of Commerce and Commercial Navigation,’ London, 8vo, an admirable compendium of information on all matters connected with commercial transactions, based on consular reports and other exact statistics, embodying the results of researches extending over twenty years, and which, frequently revised, held throughout McCulloch's life, and still retains, the rank of a work of authority. It was followed by ‘A Statistical Account of the British Empire’ (Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge), London, 1837, 8vo, 1839, 2 vols. 8vo, in which eminent scientific specialists collaborated.

In 1838 McCulloch was appointed to the comptrollership of the stationery office, and discharged the duties of the office with great efficiency until his death.

He still pursued his favourite studies with hardly abated energy. In 1841 he published ‘A Dictionary, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical, of the Various Countries, Places, and Principal Natural Objects in the World,’ London, 2 vols. 8vo (latest edition by Martin, London, 1866, 4 vols. 8vo); in 1845 ‘A Treatise on the Principles and Practical Influence of Taxation and the Funding System,’ London, 8vo, and ‘The Literature of Political Economy: a Classified Catalogue of Select Publications in the different Departments of that Science; with Historical, Critical, and Bibliographical Notices,’ London, 8vo—an excellent bibliography, marred by a somewhat inadequate treatment of foreign writers.

In 1846 he edited ‘The Works of David Ricardo, with a Notice of the Life and Writings of the Author,’ London, 8vo. In 1848 appeared his ‘Treatise on the Succession to Property Vacant by Death: including Inquiries into the Influence of Primogeniture, Entails, Compulsory Partition, &c., over the Public Interests,’ London, 8vo. In 1853 he published a volume of ‘Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economical Policy; with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith, and Ricardo,’ Edinburgh, 8vo; 2nd edit. enlarged, 1859. For the Political Economy Club, of which he was an original member, he edited in 1856 ‘A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money, from the Originals of Vaughan, Cotton, Petty, Lowndes, Newton, Prior, Harris, and others,’ London, 8vo; for his friend Lord Overstone in 1857, ‘A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts and other Publications on the National Debt and the Sinking Fund, from the Originals of Harley, Gould, Pulteney, Walpole, Hume, Price, Hamilton, and others,’ London, 8vo, and a similar collection ‘On Paper Currency and Banking, from the Originals of Hume, Wallace, Thornton, Ricardo, Blake, Huskisson, and others,’ London, 8vo; in 1858 ‘Tracts and other Publications on Metallic and Paper Currency,’ London, 8vo; and in 1859 ‘A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Commerce, from the Originals of Evelyn, Defoe, Richardson, Tucker, Temple, and others,’ London, 8vo. In 1860 he contributed the article on ‘Taxation’ to the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ vol. xxi. (reprinted separately the same year, Edinburgh, fol.).

After some years of failing health McCulloch died at the stationery office on 11 Nov. 1864. His valuable library, of over ten thousand volumes, passed to Lord Overstone.

McCulloch was elected in 1843 a foreign associate of the Institute of France, and from 1846 was in receipt of a government pension of 200l. a year. He married, on 11 Nov. 1811, Isabella Stewart, by whom he had four sons and six daughters. His wife was buried by his side in Brompton cemetery in July 1867.

A portrait of McCulloch by Sir Daniel Macnee is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

McCulloch's place is rather among statisticians than economists. Completely dominated by his masters, Adam Smith and Ricardo, he shrank from no conclusion, however paradoxical, which seemed deducible from their principles, and practically did little more than restate their views in the most unqualified and dogmatic terms (cf. J. B. Say, Œuvres Diverses, 1848, pp. 261 et seq.) His ‘Principles,’ however, had the merit of extreme lucidity, were translated into French, German, and Italian, and, until superseded by the great work of Mill, constituted a sort of manual of politico-economical orthodoxy. His habit of repeating himself in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ is exposed with much humour by Wilson (Christopher North) in ‘Some Illustrations of Mr. McCulloch's Principles of Political Economy, by Mordecai Mullion,’ Edinburgh and London, 1826. Amusing notices of him, sometimes under the nickname of ‘The Stot,’ will also be found scattered through the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ (see also Blackwood, xxvi. 511 et seq., 677 et seq., xxix. 311, 394, and xxxiii. 439). As a diligent collector, however, of economic facts, McCulloch did eminently useful work. He was a man of immense physical strength and sturdy and strongly marked individuality, and, despite his long residence in London, retained to the end his broad Scottish accent, and his attachment to whig principles, his native Whithorn, and his native whisky.

McCulloch contributed seventy-six articles to the ‘Edinburgh Review’ between 1818 and 1837. Minor miscellanea are: 1. ‘Observations on the Duty on Seaborne Coal and on the Peculiar Duties and Charges on Coal in the Port of London, founded on the Reports of Parliamentary Committees and other Official Documents,’ London, 1831, 8vo. 2. ‘Observations on the Influence of the East India Company's Monopoly on the Price and Supply of Tea, and on the Commerce with India, China, &c.,’ London, 1831, 8vo. 3. ‘Historical Sketch of the Bank of England, with an Examination of the Question as to the Prolongation of the Exclusive Privileges of that Establishment,’ London, 1831, 8vo. 4. ‘Observations illustrative of the Practical Operation and Real Effect of the Duties on Paper, showing the expediency of their Reduction or Repeal,’ London, 1836, 8vo. 5. ‘Statements illustrative of the Policy and Probable Consequences of the Proposed Repeal of the existing Corn Laws, and the Imposition in their stead of a Moderate Fixed Duty on Foreign Corn when entered for Consumption,’ London, 1841 (3rd edit.), 8vo. 6. ‘Memorandums on the Proposed Importation of Foreign Beef and Live Stock, addressed to Alexander Murray, Esq., M.P.,’ London, 1842, 8vo. 7. ‘Sketch of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D.,’ Edinburgh, 1855, 8vo. 8. ‘Considerations on Partnerships with Limited Liability,’ London, 1856, 8vo. 9. ‘An Essay on Weights and Measures,’ appended to Nicholl and Fowler's ‘Handy-Book of Weights and Measures,’ London, 1860, 8vo.

McCulloch, William (1816–1885), resident at Manipur, McCulloch's eldest son, born on 28 Feb. 1816, in the parish of St. Cuthbert's, co. Edinburgh, attended the Edinburgh High School; joined Addiscombe as a cadet, on the nomination of James Rivett Carnac, on 15 Feb. 1833, and receiving a commission as ensign 12 Dec. 1834, arrived at Fort William 21 July 1835. He was appointed successively to 56th native infantry at Dinapore (8 Aug. following), to 30th native infantry at Benares (12 Aug.), and to 13th native infantry at Bareilly (24 Sept.), and he commanded the detachment at Deoleeah, employed on cordon duty. Becoming lieutenant 18 Feb. 1839, he was appointed interpreter and quartermaster to his corps in July 1839, and assistant to the political agent at Manipur or Munnipore in April 1840. Although he temporarily acted as superintendent of Cachar from 2 Feb. to 7 Nov. 1842, he continued to hold his office at Manipur till the middle of 1845, when he was promoted to the post of political agent there. He obtained the rank of captain 30 June 1848, and of major 4 Sept. 1857, and retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel 31 Dec. 1861. In 1863 his place at Manipur was taken by Assistant-surgeon Dillon, but Dillon's failure to manage the natives led to a resumption of the office by McCulloch late in 1864. He finally retired in 1867, and died in 1885. He was author of an ‘Account of the Valley of [Manipur or] Munnipore and the Hill Tribes,’ Calcutta, 1859 (information kindly procured from the India office by H. Galbraith Reid, esq.).

[Scotsman, 12 Nov. 1864; Gent. Mag. 1838 pt. i. p. 311, 1865 pt. i. p. 111; Reid's Biog. Notice of J. R. McCulloch, prefixed to the Dictionary of Commerce, ed. 1869; Biblioteca dell' Economista, 1ma serie, vol. xiii., 2nda serie, vol. iii.; Conversations Lexikon, 10th ed. Leipzig, 1851, &c.; Vapereau's Dict. des Contemp.; Bain's Life of James Mill; Cockburn's Life of Lord Jeffrey, i. 277, ii. 377; Macvey Napier's Selections from the Corresp. of the late Macvey Napier; Henry Cockburn's Letters, p. 131; Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, xxxii. 60, xxxv. 836 et seq.; Pryme's Autobiographic Recollections, 1870, p. 127; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 262; A Letter to the Shareholders and Council of the University of London on the Present State of that Institution, 1830; Leonard Horner's Letter to the Council of the University of London, 1830; Observations on a Letter addressed by Leonard Horner, esq., to the Council of the Univ. of London, 1830; private information.]

J. M. R.