1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/M'Culloch, John Ramsay

M‘CULLOCH, JOHN RAMSAY (1789–1864), British economist and statistician, was born on the 1st of March 1789 at Whithorn in Wigtownshire. His family belonged to the class of “statesmen,” or small landed proprietors. He was for some time employed at Edinburgh as a clerk in the office of a writer to the signet. But, the Scotsman newspaper having been established at the beginning of 1817, M‘Culloch sent a contribution to the fourth number, the merit of which was at once recognized; he soon became connected with the management of the paper, and during 1818 and 1819 acted as editor. Most of his articles related to questions of political economy, and he delivered lectures in Edinburgh on that science. He now also began to write on subjects of the same class in the Edinburgh Review, his first contribution being an article on Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy in 1818. Within the next few years he gave both public lectures and private instruction in London on political economy. In 1823 he was chosen to fill the lectureship established by subscription in honour of the memory of Ricardo. A movement was set on foot in 1825 by Jeffrey and others to induce the government to found in the university of Edinburgh a chair of political economy, separate from that of moral philosophy, the intention being to obtain the appointment for M‘Culloch. This project fell to the ground; but in 1828 he was made professor of political economy in London University. He then fixed his residence permanently in London, where he continued his literary work, being now one of the regular writers in the Edinburgh Review. In 1838 he was appointed comptroller of the stationery office; the duties of this position, which he held till his death, he discharged with conscientious fidelity, and introduced important reforms in the management of the department. Sir Robert Peel, in recognition of the services he had rendered to political science, conferred on him a literary pension of £200 per annum. He was elected a foreign associate of the Institute of France (Académie des sciences morales et politiques). He died in London, after a short illness, on the 11th of November 1864, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. To his personal character and social qualities very favourable testimony was borne by those who knew him best. In general politics he always remained a Whig pure and simple; though he was in intimate relations with James Mill and his circle, he never shared the Radical opinions of that group.

M‘Culloch cannot be regarded as an original thinker on political economy. He did not contribute any new ideas to that science, or introduce any noteworthy correction of the views, either as to method or doctrine, generally accepted by the dominant school of his day. But the work he did must be pronounced, in relation to the wants of his time, a very valuable one. His name will probably be less permanently associated with anything he has written on economic science, strictly so called, than with his great statistical and other compilations. His Dictionary of Commerce and Commercial Navigation (1832) and his Statistical Account of the British Empire (1837) remain imposing monuments of his extensive and varied knowledge and his indefatigable industry. Another useful work of reference, also the fruit of wide erudition and much labour, is his Literature of Political Economy (1845). Though weak on the side of the foreign literature of the science, it is very valuable as a critical and biographical guide to British writers.