The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Wilson, James (1805–1860)

  • Asa Briggs
Reference work entry


Politician, political economist, founder and owner of The Economist and father-in-law of Walter Bagehot, James Wilson was born at Hawick, Scotland, the son of a millowner. After a personal financial crisis in 1837 Wilson turned to pamphleteering against the Corn Laws, which in 1839 he claimed benefited the agricultural interest no more than manufacturers or workers. In two later pamphlets, 1840 and 1842, he traced business fluctuations to the artificial influence of the corn laws and advised increased direct taxation and reduced customs and excise duties to restore prosperity. Until Sir Robert Peel, following the main thrust of this policy, repealed the Corn Laws in 1846, Wilson worked closely with Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League. The Economist, the first number of which, written mainly by Wilson, appeared on 2 September 1843, was a free-trade advocate which soon attracted a regular business readership as an internationally known journal of fact and opinion. In 1847, when Wilson was returned to Parliament, he published ‘Capital, Currency and Banking’, pleading for a ‘sound currency’ and opposing sections of Peel’s Bank Charter Act of 1844. He also argued for the repeal of the Navigation Laws. Soon given government office in 1848, Wilson was an able Financial Secretary to the Treasury from 1853 to 1858; and in 1859, after briefly holding the Vice-Presidency of the Board of Trade, he served in India as first financial member of the Viceroy’s Council with the task of reforming finances. His 1860 budget introduced a controversial income tax and later in the year, just before his death, he established a paper currency.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Asa Briggs
    • 1
  1. 1.