James Wilson (UK politician)

James Wilson (UK politician)

James Wilson (June 3, 1805 – August 11, 1860) was a Scottish hat maker, politician and economist, as well as the founder of "The Economist".

Early life

Wilson was born in Hawick in the Borders. A successful disciplined autodidact scholar from a Quaker family, he was destined to be a schoolmaster but hated it so much that he "would rather to be the most menial servant in [his] father's mill". After considering studying for election to the Faculty of Advocates, against his family religion, he decided to be schooled in economics. So at the age of 16, he became an apprentice in a hat factory. Later, his father then bought the business for him and his elder brother, William. They left Scotland and moved to London, England when James was 19, with a gift of £2,000 each (£130,000 in 2005 pounds).

The entrepreneur in London

The brothers established a manufacturing factory that they dissolved it in 1831. Wilson continued in the same line of business with much success (his net worth was £25,000 in 1837, or £1,630,000 in 2005 pounds). In January 1832, he married Elizabeth Preston of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They had six daughters and Eliza, the eldest, married Walter Bagehot. During the economic crisis of 1837, he lost most of his wealth when the price of indigo fell. By 1839 he sold most of his property and avoided bankruptcy. However, in 1853 he founded The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, which later merged with the Standard Bank of British South Africa to form Standard Chartered Bank in 1969.

The Editor

Wilson was generally opposed to privileging the Church of England, the secret ballot when it was proposed in 1853, and the Corn Laws. He wrote a pamphlet titled "Influences of the Corn Laws, as affection all classes of the comminity, and particularly the landed interests". It slowly received positive feedback and Wilson's fame had grown. He then went on writing on currency, and especially "The Revenue; or, What should the Chancellor do?". He started to write for newspapers, including the Manchester Guardian.

In 1843 he established "The Economist" as a newspaper to campaign for free trade, and acted as Chief editor and sole proprietor for sixteen years. "The Economist" is still published today, now with a weekly circulation of over 1.2 million globally.

Political Life

He entered the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a Liberal member of the Commons for Westbury, Wiltshire in 1847. For his economic experience he was swiftly appointed as Secretary of the Board of Control, which ran the affairs of India, and served for four years. In the Aberdeen coalition government he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Vice-President of the Board of Trade. In August 1859 he resigned his seat to sit as the financial member of the Council of India, but was in office only a year before he died: he refused to leave the stifling heat of Calcutta in the summer, and contracted dysentery.

He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1859.


* "James Wilson" by Ruth Dudley Edwards in Oxford DNB
* "The Pursuit of Reason:" The Economist "1843-1993", Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts ISBN 0-87584-608-4
* "Who's Who of British MPs" by Michael Stenton (Harvester, Sussex, 1976) ISBN 0-85527-219-8

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