Nearly two centuries before Edward Glaeser or Richard Florida, there was George Tucker.

In 1822 his essay, “On Density of Population,” he argued that the concentrated energy of cities is necessary for economic growth and progress in science and the arts. Two decades later he expanded his analysis in Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth for Fifty Years, as Exhibited by the Decennial Census (1843), where he celebrated urban potential. When he wrote that “the growth of cities commonly marks the progress of intelligence and the arts,” he foreshadowed Florida’s ideas about the creative class and Glaeser’s “gifts of the city.” ... Tucker was a polymath—a politician, novelist, historian, and professor at the University of Virginia—whose ideas today still sound impressively modern. He built his career in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson, a skilled phrase-maker who relished coming up with catty things to say about places like Philadelphia. Tucker, in contrast, appreciated cities as engines of progress and offered some of the clearest early statements on their behalf. He also reminds us that the early republic had a long list of urban advocates including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Hinton Helper. Jefferson’s agrarian vision makes the textbooks, but the advocacy of urban life has been alive and well since the nation’s early years.