Happy Birthday, Adam Smith: Prince of the Enlightenment, 1723-1790


Smith was a hugely influential Scottish political economist and philosopher, best known for his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’.

Adam Smith’s exact date of birth is unknown, but he was baptised on 5 June 1723. His father, a customs officer in Kirkcaldy, died before he was born. He studied at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. He returned to Kircaldy f13d38520a837e7a409a32e558c8d801ac40c880in 1746 and two years later he was asked to give a series of public lectures in Edinburgh, which established his reputation.

In 1751, Smith was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow University and a year later professor of moral philosophy. He became part of a brilliant intellectual circle that included David Hume, John Home, Lord Hailes and William Robertson.

In 1764, Smith left Glasgow to travel on the Continent as a tutor to Henry, the future Duke of Buccleuch. While travelling, Smith met a number of leading European intellectuals including Voltaire, Rousseau and Quesnay.

In 1776, Smith moved to London. He published a volume which he intended to be the first part of a complete
theory of society, covering theology, ethics, politics and law. This volume, ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations‘, was the first major work of political economy. Smith argued forcefully against the regulation of commerce and trade, and wrote that if people were set free to better themselves, it would produce economic prosperity for all.

In 1778, Smith was appointed commissioner of customs in Edinburgh. In 1783, he became a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He died in the city on 17 July 1790.

Source: BBC – History – Historic Figures: Adam Smith

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