\Joseph Priestley’s upbringing as a Dissenter stuck with him throughout his life.
Priestley was a freethinker with bold ideas on science, theology, and politics. Despite his interest in experimental science, he remained a pastor his entire life.
He wrote often on religion, including his very controversial History of Corruptions of Christianity.
In this work, he blasted Roman Catholicism as “the chief repository of error” and rejected many of the beliefs of the Church of England as well. The book made him many enemies in England, and it was officially burned by a public hangman.
Priestley also strongly supported the freedom movements of the American and French Revolutions.
Dissenters were deprived of citizenship in England at the time, so many shared the democratic, anti-monarchal views of the two revolutions.
Priestley was so vocal in his support for the French Revolution that the French government granted him citizenship. They also made him a member of their National Assembly while England’s House of Commons denounced him.
When England and France went to war in 1793, Priestley’s position in England became dangerous.
His church, home, and laboratory in Birmingham were burned to the ground by an angry mob as Priestley fled to London with his family. He could find no support in London either, even his scientist friends deserted him.
Priestley emigrated to America and spent the final 10 years of his life in Pennsylvania.
Leaders of the American Revolution like Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson welcomed him as a hero and attended his sermons.
Priestley would probably rather be remembered as a theologian than a scientist, but his discoveries made him one of the founders of modern chemistry.