Wealth of Nations

Thomas Jefferson acquired a copy of the three-volume 3rd edition of this title while in France between 1784 and 1789, paying 24 shillings. The full citation of this important enlightenment work is:

An Inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. By Adam Smith, LL.D. and F.R.S. of London and Edinburgh: one of the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Customs in Scotland; and formerly Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow. The third edition, with additions, in three volumes. Vol. I [-III]. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, mdcclxxxiv . [1784.]

Included in the sale to Congress in 1815, these volumes are still extant at the Library of Congress. Jefferson did not initial these books in his typical manner of marking the books he owned. He used three topics to classify this title within his own subject categories:

  • History--Civil--Civil Proper--Antient History--Antient History
  • Philosophy--Moral--Oeconomical--Commerce
  • Philosophy--Moral--Oeconomical--Politics--General Theory

Jefferson reacquired a 2-volume 1818 edition after the 1815 sale, and it was held in his library at his retirement retreat at Poplar Forest. This title was later offered up for sale in 1873 by his grandson Francis Wayles Eppes.

E. Millicent Sowerby, in her monumental 5-volume work, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, provides the following notes on Jefferson's regard for this title:

On May 30, 1790, in a letter to Thomas Mann Randolph recommending books for the study of law, Jefferson wrote: "...in political economy I think Smith’s wealth of nations the best book extant..."

Seventeen years later, on June 11, 1807, in a letter recommending books to John Norvell, Jefferson wrote: "...if your views of political enquiry go further to the subjects of money & commerce, Smith’s wealth of nations is the best book to be read, unless Say’s Political economy can be had, which treats the same subjects on the same principles, but in a shorter compass & more lucid manner..."

In Jefferson’s Prospectus for Destutt de Tracy’s Treatise on Political Economy, sent to Milligan for printing on April 6, 1816, one paragraph read: Adam Smith, first in England, published a rational and systematic work on Political economy, adopting generally the ground of the Economists, but differing on the subjects before specified. the system being novel, much argument and detail seemed then necessary to establish principles which now are assented to as soon as proposed. hence his book, admitted to be able, and of the first degree of merit, has yet been considered as prolix & tedious.

Jefferson made considerable use of Smith’s work, and frequently quoted from it, on the subject of banks and paper money. A long letter to John Wayles Eppes on this subject, written from Monticello on November 6, 1813, contains numerous quotations from this book and comments on them.

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