Wealth of Nations
[Adam Smith, biography]
Adam Smith biography

Home > Philosophy Index > Adam Smith biography

 Site Map | Archaeology | History | Historical Biography | Quotations & Quotes | Social Psychology | Download 

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 at oxford.

  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 and powerful.

  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 1764.

  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

Italian Unification - Cavour, Garibaldi and
the Unification of Risorgimento Italy
Otto von Bismarck &
The wars of German unification
Italian unification map
Risorgimento Italy
Map of German unification
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.
Introductory quotations
Adam Smith


Start of
Adam Smith
An outline biography