Papers of Adam Smith, 1723-1790, political economist

Scope and Content

Correspondence 1769-1776

Administrative / Biographical History

Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, in  1723 . He attended the  University of Glasgow, Scotland, from the age of 14 where he was greatly influenced by Francis Hutcheson who held the Chair of Moral Philosophy there. In  1744 , Adam Smith won the Snell Exhibition to the  University of Oxford, England, where he claimed he learned very little. He returned to Glasgow, being elected to the Chair of Logic at the University of Glasgow in  1751  and transferring to the Chair of Moral Philosophy the following year. His lectures covered the field of ethics, rhetoric, jurisprudence and political economy. He held this position for 13 years, claiming them to be by far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life. Glasgow at this time was a thriving mercantile centre with the Tobacco Lords at the apex of its society and in whose clubs and coffee-houses he was able to cultivate the acquaintances of businessmen and test his ideas against practical knowledge. He resigned from the Chair of Moral Philosophy in  1764  to become tutor to the Duke of Buccleuch on his Grand Tour, a much more lucrative post that gave him a position for life. The post allowed him to meet many of Europe's most notable people, including Voltaire. Smith returned to Kirkcaldy in  1767  to concentrate on his writing, and subsequently, in  1776 , he moved to London where he published his major work, The Wealth of Nations (1776 ). This work was immediately, and still remains to be, recognised as one of the seminal works of European philosophy, establishing political economy as a subject of study in its own right. Smith established his reputation as a moral philosopher with A Theory of Moral Sentiments in  1759 , and insisted that a framework of moral obligation underlined all his thinking. In  1778  he was appointed Commissioner of Customs for Scotland and he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow,  1787-1789 . He died in Edinburgh, Scotland, in July  1790 .


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information


Acquisition Information

MS Gen 510/47: Unknown, May 1964, ACCN 4131; MS Gen 514/35-38: presented by Thomas Skeat, Keeper of Manuscripts, British Museum, 1969, ACCN 4209

Other Finding Aids

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at the University of Glasgow Library, Department of Special Collections, searching by the call number MS Gen 510/47 and MS Gen 514/35-38.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Special Collections.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 0247 procedures

Custodial History

MS Gen 510/47: Held by the British Association until May 1964; MS Gen 514/35-38: Unknown


None expected

Related Material

GB 0247, Bannerman Papers, Correspondence and papers, 1740-1790 (Glasgow University Library Special Collections). For contact details of all repositories with a GB code, see the  Archon repository search page, at the Historical Manuscripts Commission.

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Fonds level description compiled by Elaine MacGillivray, Archive Assistant, July-August 2003, assisted by Lucy Burrows, Archive Assistant volunteer.

Corporate Names