Adam Smith 1723-1790
An outline biography
Adam Smith was born in 1723 in the town of Kirkaldy in the county
of Fife just north of, and across the Firth (i.e. estuary) of Forth, from Edinburgh, Scotland.
His mother, Margaret, nee Douglas, had come from a family of substantial
landowners whilst his father had unfortunately died some six months before Adam Smith's
birth, having earned his living as "comptroller of customs" at Kirkaldy.
Adam Smith began a course of study in
moral philosophy at Glasgow University at the age of fourteen in 1737 and was profoundly
influenced by a famous philosophy teacher named Francis Hutcheson and by living in a Glasgow that was at the
center of the so-called "Scottish Enlightenment". He graduated 1740 having been singled out for the awardance of a prestigious "Snell
Exhibition" scholarship which facilitated his heading south over several days on horseback
to study at Oxford University's Balliol College.
At Oxford fell incurred the displeasure of the university authorities because of his taking
an approving interest in the philosophical works of David Hume. Some twelve years older than Adam Smith David Hume
was a fellow Scot and a son of the "Scottish Enlightenment" becoming the author of his "A Treatise of Human Nature",
which was held by influential opinion at Oxford University to be guilty of promoting an "atheistic"
philosophy. He also seems to have suffered from troubles with his nerves and, as a result of the situation, Adam
Smith relinquished his scholarship in 1746 returning homewards
to base himself in Edinburgh. He had in any case been unimpressed with the standard of teaching he had found
Back in Edinburgh, Adam Smith moved in intellectual circles
and gave a number of public lectures that brought him to the attention of the wider intellectual
public such that at the age of twenty-eight he became Professor of Logic at
Glasgow University in 1751. Shortly thereafter, in 1752, Adam Smith secured the more richly rewarded
professorial chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.
Smith was a reserved and absent minded individual much inclined
to enjoy the books in his own library and continuing to live in the same house as his ageing mother.
Though often awkward in social situations he acquired a great reputation
as an interesting and animated lecturer. In this he was perhaps aided by following Francis Hutcheson
in giving his own lectures in English rather than the previously more expected scholarly medium of Latin.
In his spare time Adam Smith had opportunities to meet with many influential persons in intellectual
and business circles in a city still under the influence of the "Scottish Enlightenment" and which even
had its own Political Economy Club.
In 1759 a major work by Adam Smith entitled Theory of Moral Sentiments
attracted much attention even beyond British shores winning him an an intellectual reputation
in such foreign countries as France and Germany. Adam Smith's enhanced reputation resulted in his being able,
in 1763, to resign from
the University of Glasgow to take on the very well paid role of private tutor to the youthful Henry Scott,
heir presumptive to the Dukedom of Buccleuch, whom he was to accompany on an eighteen
month "Grand Tour" on the continent of Europe as was perhaps expected for the priviledged sons of the wealthy
As tutor Adam Smith found that he had much time to himself and seems to have embarked
on what was to become his massively influential masterpiece
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations, as an interesting way of productively spending otherwise idle hours in Toulouse, France, in the summer of
In Geneva and Paris, Adam Smith, established philosophical author and holder
of the post of tutor to an immensely wealthy lordling, met such intellectuals as Voltaire,
several economic theorists such as the "Physiocrat" Quesnay and also important French economic administrators
like Turgot and Necker.
On his return to London from continental Europe Smith stayed there for some time and met
amongst others Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon. His established reputation
and ongoing well-regarded ideas resulted in his being elected as member of a particularly prestigious intellectual
association known as the Royal Society.
Having proven to be a satisfactory tutor to the Duke of Bucchleuch Adam Smith was awarded
an annuity that had been agreed was to be his at the end of his period of service. He then returned to Scotland
where he stayed
quietly with his
mother at his native town of Kirkcaldy and occupied himself in study and
writing such his "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of
the Wealth of Nations" was published in 1776.
Influential movements that led to the emergence of Modern
Capitalism are substantially based on Smith's work and hence he deserves
to be regarded as one of the most dramatically influential philosophers or
philosophic writers of modern times.
In 1777 he was named lord rector of the University of Edinburgh
and in 1778 was appointed as commissioner of customs in Scotland. This
post was well paid and Adam Smith even contacted his former aristocratic pupil volunteering to relinquish
the annuity that he had been awarded. In the event, however, the young nobleman preferred to
continue with the annuity.
On July 17th, 1790, Adam Smith died at Edinburgh and
was buried some days later in Canongate churchyard in that city.
More on Adam Smith
Wealth of Nations
- 1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
- A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.
- 2 The French Revolution of 1848
- A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
- 3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
- "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted
to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.
- 4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
- A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.
- 5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
- Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support
the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power
in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European
structure of states and their sovereignty.