writings of

Joseph Priestley


In his life, "Gunpowder Joe," as Joseph Priestley's enemies would dub him, was an historian, teacher, political theorist, publisher, scientist, grammarian, heterodox theologian, one of the founders of Unitarianism, the author of over 150 texts, the discoverer of oxygen and several other gases, the inventor of soda water, and one of the great liberal writers of his or any other age. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson wrote Priestley, who was then residing in Pennsylvania, to tell him that "Yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind, & for the continuance of which every thinking man is solicitous." Priestley died three years later, but his words live on.

 An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty (1768)
Written to defend Dissenters in England against a rising tide of persecution, this Essay became a liberal classic. Priestley lays out the liberal line on governments, offers a strong defense of religious liberty, and opposes a system of general public education in England. His grounds for the latter is particularly noteworthy--he believes such a system would incorporate indoctrination that would lead to despotism.

 Classical Liberals