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Sumner, William Graham (1840–1910)

William Graham Sumner, professor of economics and sociology at Yale University, was a leading advocate of free-market capitalism, minimal government, and individualism. In the 1890s, he opposed American imperialism. His Folkways (1907) was one of the most important works in early American sociology.

Born in Patterson, New Jersey, Sumner was the son of recent British immigrants. From his artisan father, he inherited a distrust of social reform and an admiration for the hard-working, tax-paying citizen whom he called the “forgotten man.” After attending Yale on a scholarship, Sumner traveled to Europe and studied languages and theology in Geneva, Göttingen, and Oxford. From 1868 to 1872, he was an Episcopalian minister, finally as rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey.

Sumner returned to Yale ...

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