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George Tucker

George Tucker

The American historian George Tucker (1775-1861) was the most significant historian from the South in the era preceding the Civil War.

George Tucker was born on Aug. 20, 1775, in St. Georges, Bermuda. He received his early education from tutors and entered the College of William and Mary in 1795, graduating 2 years later. He studied law in his uncle's office at Williamsburg and, after admission to the bar, moved to Richmond to practice. He married Maria Carter, grandniece of George Washington, in 1802. Four years later the Tuckers moved to a country estate in Pittsylvania County, Va.

Tucker's Letters from Virginia: Translated from the French (1816), a satire on local customs, was published anonymously. Two years later he moved to Lynchburg and was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Jeffersonian Republican. During his three terms he was politically consistent, voting against protective tariffs and Federal subsidies for internal improvements.

In 1825 Tucker became professor of moral philosophy and chairman of the faculty at the University of Virginia. He expanded the curriculum, enrollment, and support of the university. He also taught political economy. He retired from the university in 1845. During this time he wrote The Law of Wages, Profits, and Rent Investigated (1837), The Life of Thomas Jefferson (2 vols., 1837), Theory of Money and Banks Investigated (1839), and Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth (1843). In his economic works Tucker assumed a modified classical position, denying the absolute determinism of population pressure and advocating governmental regulation of paper money. He favored a silver-based currency, and although he was not opposed to the idea of a national bank he believed that banks located strategically in three commercial centers would diminish the fear of monopoly.

At the age of 75 Tucker began his best-known work, The History of the United States to the End of the 26th Congress in 1841 (4 vols., 1856-1857). He had planned to include social history but failed to do so in the completed work, which consists mainly of the annual messages of the presidents and the acts of Congress. The history spends little time on the colonial period, concentrating more on contemporary times. His own position by this time was that of a Southern unionist who believed that slavery could be defended on the basis of social control. He denounced abolitionists and argued that slavery was dying because of unfavorable economic conditions and that African Americans should be colonized. Because of these views his history did not win much acceptance North or South: his Southern position on slavery alienated the North, and his unionism proved too much for the South. He died on April 10, 1861, at a plantation near Charlottesville, Va.

Further Reading

A balanced treatment of Tucker's history is in Michael Kraus, The Writing of American History (1953). Alexander Bruce, History of the University of Virginia (3 vols., 1920), evaluates Tucker as chairman of the faculty. □

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