James Mill is a historian, economist, political theorist and philosopher born on 6 April 1773 at Northwater Bridge, in the parish of Logie-Pert, Angus, Scotland. His father James Mill was a shoemaker and his mother, Isabel Fenton, came from a family that suffered a reversal of fortunes in the wake of the Stuart rising. James Mill studied at Montrose Academy before joining University of Edinburgh, where he became a Greek scholar. He married Harriet Burrow in 1805, and their eldest son, John Stuart Mill, who later became a famous philosopher, was born in 1806.
Though James Mill was licensed as a preacher in October 1798, he could not make it big in the ecclesiastical field. So, he turned to history and philosophy from 1790 onwards. In 1802, he moved to London and immersed himself in literary work. Between 1803 and 1806, he worked as the editor of Literary Journal and St James's Chronicle. In 1805, James Mill published a translation of CF Villers's work on the Reformation before beginning his seminal work The History of British India, towards the end of the year. Between 1806 and 1818, he wrote for the Anti-Jacobin Review, the British Review, The Eclectic Review and the Edinburgh Review on a range of topics, such as Money and Exchange, Spanish America, China, Francisco de Miranda, the East India Company and the Liberty of the Press. James Mill has also written extensively on Education, Freedom of the Press and Prison Discipline in Philanthropist in 1811, along with the British scientist William Allen. In 1814, he wrote a number of articles on several topics, including those on "Jurisprudence", "Prisons" and "Government" for the supplement to the fifth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
In 1818, after nearly twelve years of dedicated work, The History of British India saw the light of the day. The book became an instant hit and changed his fortunes. It also led to his appointment as an official in the department of the examiner of Indian correspondence in the India House. He climbed up the ladder steadily till he ended up as the head of the office.
James Mill was greatly influenced by the ideas of the British jurist and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, whom he became acquainted with in 1808. Another intellectual with whom James Mill was closely associated was the economist, David Ricardo. He not only helped David Ricardo in publishing his treatise on value and distribution, but also encouraged him to contest for the Parliament. Besides contributing heavily to the development of the “Classical Ricardian” school, James Mill was instrumental in the establishment of the Political Economy Club in London.
His Elements of Political Economy, a compilation from the lectures on the subject that he had given to his son, became a leading textbook on Ricardian economics. In 1829 appeared An Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, which etched his name in the annals of psychology and ethics too. In 1835, he published his last book, the Fragment on Mackintosh.
James Mill also played a crucial role in the deliberations that led to the establishment of the University of London in 1825.