Priestley, Joseph


Priestley, Joseph

biographical name

(born March 13, 1733, Birstall Fieldhead, near Leeds, Yorkshire, Eng.—died Feb. 6, 1804, Northumberland, Pa., U.S.) English theologian, political theorist, and physical scientist. He worked as a teacher and lecturer in various subjects before joining the ministry in 1767. His early scientific studies resulted in his History and Present State of Electricity (1767), which became a fundamental text in the field. His Essay on Government (1768) influenced later utilitarianism. He did important work in the field of chemical reactions and change. He is considered the discoverer of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and several other gases, and in 1774 he became the first to identify oxygen; his report led Antoine Lavoisier to repeat the experiment, deduce oxygen's nature and role, and name it. His theological works include History of the Corruptions of the Christian Church (1782), burned as sacrilegious in 1785, and A General History of the Christian Church, 6 vol. (1790–1802). His nonconformist religious views and his political activities, particularly in support of the French Revolution, made him increasingly controversial in England, and he immigrated to the U.S. in 1794.

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