Collection of correspondence to and from Adam Smith, 1723-1790, political economist

Scope and Content

This is an artificial collection of correspondence sent to, or received by, Adam Smith, 1723-1790, political economist brought together from 3 separate accessions by Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department.

Letters from Adam Smith to: 

  • James Stuart Menteath, rector of Borrowby, Lincolnshire, England and later Closeburn castle, Dumfries, Scotland, 1785-1789
  • Gilbert Elliot, 3rd baronet of Minto, Jedburgh, 1762
  • his mother, Margaret Smith n.d.
  • Charles Townsend, step-father of the Duke of Buccleuch 1766

Letters to Adam Smith from: 

  • Charles Townsend, step-father of the Duke of Buccleuch 1763
  • Dugald Stewart, professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Edinburgh 1789
  • Adam Smith, cousin of Adam Smith, 1754
  • Account of funeral charges for Adam Smith, father of Adam Smith the economist 1723

Administrative / Biographical History

Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, in 1723 to Adam and Margaret Smith. He entered the University of Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 14 where he was greatly influenced by Francis Hutcheson who held the Chair of Moral Philosophy. In 1744 , Adam 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, or'police and revenue.' 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.Adam resigned his Chair 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.

He returned to Kirkcaldy in 1767 to concentrate on his writing. In 1776, he moved to London where he published his major work, The Wealth of Nations (1776) that was immediately recognised as one of the seminal works of European philosophy, establishing political economy as a subject of study in its own right and it remains an influential work still. However, Smith was first and foremost a moral philosopher who established his reputation with A Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, and an insistence on a framework of moral obligation underlined all his thinking.

In 1778 he was appointed Commissioner of Customs for Scotland based in Edinburgh and he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1787-1789. Despite being perfectly capable of running his own and University affairs, he was notoriously absent minded and inattentive to his surroundings, almost coming to a premature end for example, when showing a friend the operations of a tannery he fell into the tanning pit. He died in Edinburgh in July 1790.

Source: Carol Primrose, St Mungo's Bairns (Glasgow University Library, 1990)


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

Access Information

Access to records within this collection is open, however an appointment may be required. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

Gift : Sir William Stewart-Menteth : 1937 : ACCN 1464 (Items 1-4 only)

Gift : Professor Jacob Hollander : 1938 : ACCN 2509 (Item 5 only)

Gift : 1948 : ACCN 2510 (Items 6-11 only)

Other Finding Aids

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Applications for permission to quote should be sent to Archives and Special Collections, please email:

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History

Held by the depositors


None expected

Related Material

GB 247 MS Gen 514/35-38 Photographic prints of letters from Adam Smith to Lord Hales

GB 247 MS Gen 1035 Bannerman papers containing Adam Smith material

GB 248 DC 331 Records of the Adam Smith Club, Glasgow