Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations


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SMITH, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. A New Edition. Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1796. Three volumes. Thick 12mo, modern half calf, red morocco spine labels, marbled boards; pp. I: viii, [1], 10-412; II: vi, [1], 8-430; III: v, [2], 8-387, [55].

Second American edition of Smith's magnum opus. "Many of the Founding Fathers read Wealth of Nations," including Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson, who had a copy of the 1784 London edition in his library and "made considerable use of Smith's work."

Smith's cornerstone of political economy contains many specific references to America, including a clear argument against the so-called 'Mercantile System' that engendered the American revolution. "Two months after Paine's Common Sense had helped precipitate the Declaration of Independence… a book destined to bring profound repercussions in a different sphere of human activity appeared… The Wealth of Nations was a delayed action bomb" (Books That Changed the World, 225). "Many of the Founding Fathers read Wealth of Nations. Madison read it, and Alexander Hamilton borrowed heavily from it in his Report on Manufacturers [1791]… Both Smith and American statesmen were trying to devise social systems in accord with the spirit of natural law" (Marroquin, Invisible Hand, 25-26). While the new nation often conceded to Realpolitick in confronting powerful European economies, "in the best of all possible worlds Hamilton preferred free trade, open markets and Adam Smith's 'invisible hand'" (Chernow, 377).

Jefferson, with a 1784 London edition in his library, also "made considerable use of Smith's work, and frequently quoted from it on the subject of banks and paper money." Following publication of the 1789 first American edition, Jefferson wrote: "in political economy I think Smith's Wealth of Nations the best book extant" and in 1816 he called it a work "of the first degree of merit" (Sowerby III:3346). "Where the political aspects of human rights had taken two centuries to explore, Smith's achievement was to bring the study of economic aspects to the same point in a single work… The certainty of its criticism and its grasp of human nature have made it the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM 221). Buckle's History of Civilization calls Wealth of Nations "probably the most important book which has ever been written," while economist J.A.R. Marriott asserts that "there is probably no single work in the language which has in its day exercised an influence so profound." First published in London in 1776; first published in America in Philadelphia, 1789. Volume I mispaginated as issued (165 as 195). Sabin 82305. Evans 31196. Kress B3288. ESTC W13002. Early owner ink signature on title pages.

Faint evidence of dampstain in Volumes I and III. Bindings attractive and fine. A nice set of the second American edition.

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