Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms
Category: Ideas
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Lectures on Justice, Police Revenue and Arms is a collection of the work and lectures of philosopher Adam Smith. Smith believed the purpose of government was justice. How does Smith define justice, though? Read the early thoughts and lectures of the well-respected economist on these controversial and still relevant topics. See how de defines jurisprudence and breaks down the rules of civil government.

Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms


Adam Smith




Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms


The history of the manuscript now made public and the principles which I have followed in editing it are fully dealt with in the Introduction.

I have here only to express my gratitude to Mr. Thomas Raleigh, who, when I first took the work in hand, was Reader in English Law at Oxford and a Delegate of the University Press, and is now Registrar to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Besides reading through the text, and making observations on passages which he thought corrupt or in need of explanation, he has since answered from time to time, with unwearied patience, the inquiries I have addressed to him on legal points, many of which must have appeared trivial to any one except an editor desirous of believing himself to be conscientious. It must be understood, however, that, as he has had no opportunity of seeing what use I have made of the information derived from him, he is no more responsible for anything which actually occurs in the notes than Mr. Serjeant Hawkins or any other legal authority whom I have consulted.

August 1896

Editor's Introduction

Chapter I
History of the Report

‘Of Mr. Smith’s lectures while a professor at Glasgow, no part has been preserved, excepting what he himself published in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and in the Wealth of Nations.’ This statement was made by Dugald Stewart in the ‘Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith,’ which he read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh early in 1793. He allowed it to be printed in the Transactions of the society in 1794, and to be reprinted both in 1795 and in 1811 without alteration. For a little more than a century it has remained unquestioned, and, so far as Adam Smith’s own lecture-notes are concerned, it is doubtless correct.

When setting out for London in April, 1773, Adam Smith wrote a letter to Hume, whom he had made his literary executor, giving instructions as to the disposal of his papers in case of his death. Except those which he carried along with him, that is to say, the manuscript of the Wealth of Nations, there were none, he said, worth publication, unless perhaps the fragment on the history of astronomical systems, to be found in a certain desk, might be printed as a portion ‘of an intended juvenile work.’ ‘All the other loose papers which you will find in that desk,’ the letter continues, ‘or within the glass folding doors of a bureau which stands in my bedroom, together with about eighteen thin folio paper books which you will likewise find within the same glass folding doors, I desire may be destroyed without any examination.’ Fourteen years later, when again contemplating a visit to London, Adam Smith ‘enjoined his friends to whom he had entrusted the disposal of his manuscripts, that in the event of his death, they should destroy all the volumes of his lectures, doing with the rest of his manuscripts what they pleased.’ In July, 1790, ten days or a fortnight before he died, ‘he spoke to his friends again upon the same subject. They entreated him to make his mind easy, as he might depend upon their fulfilling his desire. He was then satisfied. But some days afterwards, finding his anxiety not entirely removed, he begged one of them to destroy the volumes immediately. This accordingly was done, and his mind was so much relieved that he was able to receive his friends in the evening with his usual complacency.’ He was unable, however, to sit up with them as usual, and retired to bed before supper, taking leave with the words, ‘I believe we must adjourn this meeting to some other place.’

Dr. James Hutton, the narrator of this story, was one of the two friends to whom Adam Smith had entrusted the disposal of his manuscripts, Dr. Joseph Black being the other. From his cautious use of the phrase ‘one of them,’ and the impersonal ‘this was done,’ most readers would infer that Hutton himself was the destroyer of the manuscripts, but Mackenzie, who was present at the supper, is reported to have told Samuel Rogers that Black did the deed. No one who has tried to burn some hundreds of leaves of folio manuscript will feel any surprise that Adam Smith, in his feeble state, should have shrunk from attempting the task with his own hands, even if he was sitting up and had a fire on that July morning. What is suggested, however, by the wording of the narrative, taken in conjunction with the letter to Hume already quoted, is that Smith was in bed in the morning when his friend called on him, and that the ‘thin folio paper books’ were still, as they had been seventeen years before at Kirkcaldy, ‘within the glass folding doors of a bureau’ in his bedroom, and thus in his sight, but, while he was so ill, before his revival in the evening, altogether out of his reach. Nothing could be more natural in these circumstances than that he should ask his visitor to take the manuscripts out of the bureau and destroy them at once, whether before his eyes in the bedroom or elsewhere.

The manuscripts having thus perished, three generations have been obliged to content themselves with the account of the lectures which Dugald Stewart obtained from John Millar, who seems to have heard all or most of the lectures himself : —

‘In the professorship of Logic, to which Mr. Smith was appointed on his first introduction into this University, he soon saw the necessity of departing widely from the plan that had been followed by his pre decessors, and of directing the attention of his pupils to studies of a more interesting and useful nature than the logic and metaphysics of the schools. Accordingly, after exhibiting a general view of the powers of the mind, and explaining so much of the ancient logic as was requisite to gratify curiosity with respect to an artificial method of reasoning which had once occupied the universal attention of the learned, he dedicated all the rest of his time to the delivery of a system of rhetoric and belles lettres. . . .

About a year after his appointment to the professorship of Logic, Mr. Smith was elected to the chair of Moral Philosophy. His course of lectures on this subject was divided into four parts. The first contained Natural Theology, in which he considered the proofs of the being and the attributes of God, and those principles of the human mind upon which religion is founded. The second comprehended Ethics strictly so called, and consisted chiefly of the doctrines which he afterwards published in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” In the third part he treated at more length of that branch of morality which relates to justice, and which, being susceptible of precise and accurate rules, is for that reason capable of a full and particular explanation.

Upon this subject he followed the plan that seems to be suggested by Montesquieu; endeavouring to trace the gradual progress of jurisprudence, both public and private, from the rudest to the most refined ages, and to point out the effects of those arts which contribute to subsistence and to the accumulation of property, in producing corresponding improvements or alterations in law and government. This important branch of his labours he also intended to give to the public; but this intention, which is mentioned in the conclusion of the “Theory of Moral Sentiments” he did not live to fulfil.

In the last part of his lectures, he examined those political regulations which are founded not upon the principle of justice, but that of expediency, and which are calculated to increase the riches, the power and the prosperity of a state. Under this view, he considered the political institutions relating to commerce, to finances, to ecclesiastical and military establishments. What he delivered on these subjects contained the substance of the work he afterwards published under the title of “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”’

From a purely biographical point of view it would doubtless be extremely interesting to have before us the text or a full report of Adam Smith’s lectures on rhetoric, belles lettres and natural theology. But these are not of historical importance. However excellent any of them may have been, they had not the opportunity of exercising a very wide influence in their own time, and it is of course idle to expect that anything first printed a century and a half after it was written will ever have much influence on human thought or action. Each generation requires to be addressed from a particular standpoint, and arguments which would have been convincing in 1763 will fall perfectly flat in 1896. There are indeed some classics which have been lost or have suffered total eclipse for a time and yet seem to have exercised an influence after their reappearance, but it will always be found on examination that the influence is really that of their commentators and critics, or even in some cases of their translators.

To the second part of Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy course, his lectures on ‘Ethics strictly so called,’ very little interest attaches, either for the historian or the biographer. There is no reason to doubt Millar’s statement that it consisted chiefly of the doctrines contained in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and as that work was published in 1759, while Smith still occupied the professorial chair, and only seven years after his appointment, it is scarcely possible that the publication of the lectures could add anything of much value to the history either of the lecturer or of his subject.

But the third and fourth parts of the Moral Philosophy course occupy an entirely different position. The influence of the Wealth of Nations in politics has been so great that every inquirer into the history of political science must have regretted that he had no access to the third part, in which Adam Smith ‘endeavoured to trace the gradual progress of jurisprudence, both public and private, from the rudest to the most refined ages, and to point out the effects of those arts which contribute to subsistence and to the accumulation of property, in producing corresponding improvements or alterations in law and government.’ The fourth part of the course resembles the second in being said to have served as the foundation for a published book. But that book — the Wealth of Nations — was of incomparably greater importance than the Moral Sentiments, and it was not published till more than twelve years after Smith had ceased lecturing. Of this period a portion is known to have been spent in communion with the French Économistes, and nearly all the rest in research. There has consequently been good reason to believe that the lectures, if they could be obtained, would show exactly how certain economic ideas which were eventually received into public favour, grew up in the mind of the man who did most to commend them to the world.

No one could have been more sensible of the historical value of the last two parts of the lectures than I, but I can not claim any credit for having discovered the manuscript which is now published. On April 21, 1895, Mr. Charles C. Maconochie, Advocate, whom I then met for the first time, happened to be present when, in course of conversation with the literary editor of the Oxford Magazine, I had occasion to make some remark about Adam Smith. Mr. Maconochie thereupon immediately said that he possessed a manuscript report of Adam Smith’s lectures on jurisprudence, which he regarded as of considerable interest.

This manuscript, which is copied in the present volume, forms an octavo book 9 in. high, 7½ in. broad and 1⅛ in. thick. It has a substantial calf binding, the sides of which, however, have completely parted company with the back, apparently, as often happens in the case of calf-bound books a century old, from age rather than from use. On the back there is some gilt-cross-hatching and the word JURIS PRUDENCE (thus divided between two lines) in gilt letters on a red label. There are in all 192 leaves. Two of these are fly-leaves of dissimilar paper and have their fellows pasted on the insides of the cover, front and back. The rest all consist of paper of homogeneous character, water-marked ‘L. V. Gerrevink.’

The manuscript is written on both sides of the paper in a rectangular space formed by four red ink lines previously ruled, which leave a margin of about three-quarters of an inch. Besides the fly-leaves there are three blank leaves at the end and two at the beginning.

There is nothing to show conclusively whether the writing was first executed on separate sheets subsequently bound up, or in a blank note-book afterwards rebound, or in the book as it appears at present.

No characteristic of the orthography, handwriting or paper affords any reason for suspecting that the manuscript is of a later date than that which it bears on its title-page, namely, 1766. Mr. Falconer Madan of the Bodleian Library, before seeing that date, conjectured the handwriting to be as early as the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Paper water marked ‘L. V. Gerrevink’ was in use fifteen years before, as is shown by the fact that there is in the Glasgow University Library a letter from Dr. Pearce, Bishop of Bangor, to Professor Rosse, written on such paper under the date June 20, 1751.

Inside the front cover, written large with a very thick pen, is the inscription ‘J. A. Maconochie 1811,’ near the top, and in the middle the same signature, without the date, is written small with a very fine pen over the remains of a book plate which has been unfortunately so ruthlessly cut away with a knife that nothing except the discovery of another copy would make identification possible. There is also Mr. C. C. Maconochie’s signature with the date 1876. On the inside of the first blank-leaf ‘1/2’ is marked in the top left-hand corner in ink as faded as that of the manuscript.

Mr. Maconochie gives the following account of the way in which the manuscript came into his possession: —

Charles C. Maconochie
June 12, 1896
Edwin Cannan

65 Northhumberland Street,

June 12, 1896

My Dear Cannan,
I am sorry to say that I have entirely failed to trace the source from which the MS. of Adam Smith’s lectures passed into the hands of my grand-uncle, James Allan Maconochie. It is not possible, looking to dates and other facts, that either he, his father, the first Lord Meadowbank, or his brother, the second judge of that name, took the notes which were subsequently copied out, and I am inclined to think that the book must have been bought at a sale or elsewhere, as I cannot find at Meadowbank House any copy of a bookplate the scroll work of which at all resembles that of the obliterated plate on the cover of the MS.

James Allan Maconochie, who was an advocate and Sheriff of Orkney, died in 1845 unmarried. Many of his books are still at Meadowbank, where law books naturally accumulated in large numbers, as two judges and a Professor in the Faculty of Law in Glasgow University have been among the proprietors of the estate during the last hundred and thirty years, and several other members of the family, as well as J. A. Maconochie, have been in the legal profession. A large number of these books, some of which were very bulky, had from time to time been stacked in heaps on the floor of a garret room, and in 1876, immediately before I was called to the Bar, I was given permission to take away such of them as I thought would be useful to me. Amongst others I took the MS. in question, and it has been in my possession since that date.

Believe me,
Yours very truly,
Charles C. Maconochie.

That the manuscript is a fair copy and not the original notes taken at the lectures is shown, first, by the fact that the date on the title-page is ‘MDCCLXVI,’ whereas Adam Smith relinquished his professorial chair in January, 1764; secondly, by its clean and well-written character and the almost entire absence of abbreviations, coupled with the fact that the report is often obviously verbatim, and, thirdly, by the circumstance that some of the mistakes are evidently caused by misreading and not by mishearing.

That the fair copy was not made by the person who took the original notes is shown by the fact that though the original note-taker must have been able and intelligent, the transcription is evidently the work of a person who often did not understand what he was writing. For example, at a place where the context obviously requires ‘one’ he writes ‘me,’ simply because the initial letter of ‘one,’ written narrow or blind, resembles the first part of the initial letter of ‘me,’ carelessly written with a loop. In other places he substitutes ‘shop’ for ‘ship’ and ‘corn’ for ‘coin,’ regardless of the sense. He habitually makes nonsense of the argument by dividing sentences and paragraphs at the wrong place. Moreover, his somewhat elaborate and characterless handwriting suggests the professional copyist of mature years rather than the young man who has just completed his academical course.

It does not seem possible to give a decided answer to the question whether the copyist copied directly from the original notes or from a fair copy made by the original note-taker. It is evident throughout the manuscript that he takes pains to make his pages correspond with the pages from which he was copying. He constantly spreads out or compresses his handwriting as he approaches the end of a page, and when unsuccessful in filling the page exactly, he does not scruple to leave the last line partially blank. For example, the last two lines on p. 134 and the first on p. 135 of the manuscript are written thus:

‘a better chance for its being abolished, Because One Single Person is Lawgiver
And the Law will not extend to him nor diminish — — ’
and the last two lines on p. 223 and the first on p. 224 appear as follows:

‘progress of Opulence both in Ancient and Modern Times,
Which Causes shall be shown either to Affect — — ’

The amounts contained in a page are very unequal. Page 104, for instance, contains twenty-six lines of manuscript which occupy twenty-five of print, while page 106 contains only twenty lines of manuscript, equal to nineteen lines of print, two of which, owing to the chances of paragraphing, are more nearly empty than any in the manuscript. Such great inequality makes it appear probable that the pagination of the original notes is followed, and this would scarcely have been the case unless an index existed to the original notes. Now it seems improbable that a student who was likely to make a fair copy of his notes would have made the index before instead of after making the fair copy, so that we might infer that the copyist copied directly from the original notes. But, on the other hand, it seems improbable that any rough notes, almost necessarily full of abbreviations, could have been clear enough for a not very intelligent copyist to reproduce without many more obvious blunders than are to be found in the manuscript.

The original notes were probably destroyed after the fair copy was made, and if the manuscript was copied from them direct, it may have been always unique, but in any case it is quite possible, and even probable, that there were at one time several copies in existence. ‘In those days manuscript copies of a popular professor’s lectures, transcribed from his students’ note-books, were often kept for sale in the booksellers’ shops. Blair’s lecture on rhetoric, for example, were for years in general circulation in this intermediate state.’ There can, however, scarcely have been many copies, or Adam Smith himself and his literary executors would have become aware of the fact. The description of the burning of the manuscripts before Adam Smith’s death makes it certain that none of the three parties concerned suspected such a thing.

Adam Smith lectured at Glasgow as Professor of Moral Philosophy from 1752 to the end of December, 1763, and perhaps for a few days at the beginning of January, 1764. Internal evidence enables us to attribute the report of the lectures to the end of this period. Frequent references to the Seven Years’ War as ‘the late’ or ‘the last’ war indicate a date certainly not earlier than the beginning of the academical session of 1762-3, when negotiations were proceeding, and almost certainly not earlier than the signature of the treaty of Fontainebleau on November 3, 1762. If this indication of date be rejected on the ground that it would be natural after the conclusion of peace for the reporter or the transcriber to alter ‘the war’ or ‘the present war’ into ‘the late war,’ and if the correspondence of the price of wheat, mentioned on p. 182, with the price quoted in the newspapers for February, 1763, be rejected for the very good reason that it is too slender a foundation on which to build, we are driven back upon the reference to 1760 or 1761 contained in the statement that ‘a late minister of state raised twenty-three millions in one year,’ and upon the account of the ransom of the Litchfield prisoners, which was not settled till April, 1760. It is accordingly probable that the actual lectures from which the notes were taken were delivered either in the portion of the academical session of 1763-4 which preceded Adam Smith’s departure, or in the session of 1762-3, almost certain that they were not delivered before 1761-2, and absolutely certain that they were not delivered before 1760-1.

In the present edition the punctuation of the manuscript has been entirely disregarded, the spelling has been modernized and sectional headings have been added. To have followed the punctuation of the manuscript would have been simply ridiculous, and would have made the work almost unreadable. If the spelling had been merely archaic, it would of course have been right to retain it, but in fact it is not so much archaic as outrageously erratic and inconsistent, even when judged by the easy standard prevailing in the middle of the eighteenth century; to spell as Adam Smith himself would have spelled in 1763 was a counsel of perfection which soon in practice proved impossible to carry out with sufficient success to make the laborious task worth attempting. Without the addition of new headings and divisions, the work would have been in tediously long blocks, and the reader would have found it difficult to find his way, owing to the abrupt changes of subject not indicated by any outward marks. So far as possible, the new headings have been adapted from words used in the text and modelled on the headings in the Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations. The added headings are distinguished from those which occur in the manuscript by being enclosed in square brackets.

No attempt has been made to amend the report itself, much less the lectures, but mere clerical errors of the copyist have been amended wherever there appeared to be no reasonable doubt as to the correct reading. In every such case, however trivial, the reading of the manuscript is placed on record, words left out or altered being printed in the notes, and words added being enclosed in square brackets.

The notes are purely explanatory and historical. They are intended to help the reader to understand the text, to judge of the accuracy of the report, and to compare it with the authorities open to Adam Smith and with the subsequent development of his thought in the Wealth of Nations. The most conscientious effort has been made to resist the temptation to which commentators on the Wealth of Nations have generally succumbed, of using the text as a mere clothesline on which to hang editorial opinions on economic theory.

To estimate in every case the degree of the probability that Adam Smith used a particular work would have occupied too much space. Consequently, as a rule, the passages in earlier authors which he may possibly have used, and those which he almost certainly did use, are alike simply quoted or referred to without comment.

Except in a few cases where practical difficulties stood in the way, the references to earlier authors have been made to that edition of each work which Adam Smith is most likely to have used in 1763. The volume and page references to the Wealth of Nations (abbreviated to ‘W. of N.’) are to Thorold Rogers’ edition published by the Oxford University Press (2nd ed. 1880).

Chapter II
Value of the Report

Doubts may well be felt as to whether it is right to publish a report of lectures which has been made by a University student. A lecturer generally finds that his apparently most incorruptible ideas have considerably deteriorated when they have passed through the minds and note-books of his pupils. But, after all, the doctrines of more than one of the greatest teachers of antiquity have come down to us in no other way than by means of the records left by disciples who had listened to their oral instruction. If we were to reject all that has been transmitted to us in this way, we should be left with some very considerable gaps both in philosophy and religion. In the present case we know that the disciple was both faithful and intelligent. We have most unusual means for judging of the accuracy of his work, and we find that it stands the severest tests in a manner which might be envied by a modern reporter with the advantage of shorthand. It is unnecessary to give examples here. A reader who will take the trouble to look out a few of the hundred references to the Wealth of Nations, and of the four hundred other references given in the notes, may easily satisfy himself on the point.

Granting that the report is satisfactory in itself, the further objection to its publication may be made that it is an act of impiety towards Adam Smith’s memory. It is an evasion of his last wishes, and if Black and Hutton had not honestly complied with those wishes, we should be inclined to condemn their action, even if we could not profess to regret it. Adam Smith himself, however, would not have judged harshly of disregard of wishes more than a century old. He did not trust even his good friends Black and Hutton to fulfil their solemn promise to destroy his manuscripts immediately after his death, and thirty years before he had taught the Glasgow students that ‘piety to the dead can only take place when their memory is fresh in the minds of men: a power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly absurd.’

Moreover it is probable that if he had been acquainted with the criticisms which were to be passed upon his work, he would have withdrawn all objection to the publication of his lectures.

Du Pont de Nemours said, in his haste, of the Wealth of Nations, ‘everything that is true in this respectable but tedious work in two fat quarto volumes is to be found in Turgot’s Réflexions on the Formation and Distribution of Riches; everything added by Adam Smith is inaccurate, not to say incorrect.’ At a later period he repented of this outbreak, and confessed to a certain want of knowledge of the English tongue which had prevented him from appreciating Smith’s work as he ought to have done. But down to quite recent times, if not to the present day, writers of authority have often expressed belief that the Wealth of Nations owes much to Turgot’s Réflexions. Du Pont’s learned and able biographer, as lately as 1888, permitted himself to speak of ‘the care with which’ Adam Smith ‘omits to quote’ the principal works of the physiocrats and ‘especially that of Turgot.’

For the particular accusation, indeed, that Adam Smith does not acknowledge his obligations to Turgot, there never was much foundation. He certainly does not acknowledge obligations; but had he any to acknowledge? Turgot’s book, though written in 1766, was only published six years before the Wealth of Nations, and then only in the periodical Éphémérides du Ciloyen. As this was not in the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh in 1776, and is not among the collections of Adam Smith’s books which Dr. James Bonar has catalogued, we are not justified in assuming that Adam Smith had so much as seen the work. The internal evidence is of the weakest possible character. To rely on general similarities of doctrine in such a case is childish. Such similarities are constantly found in the writings of contemporary authors who cannot possibly have been acquainted with each other’s works. The coincidence is to be explained simply by the fact that in literature, as in everything else, the same effects produce the same causes. There is surely nothing surprising in the fact that two men who have read the same books and observed the same events, should occasionally use the same arguments and arrive at the same conclusions. Something much more definite is needed, and no serious attempt has ever been made to supply it by pointing out particular passages in the Wealth of Nations which appear to owe anything to the Réflexions.

Myths of this kind, however, die hard, and if the lectures had remained unknown, the statement that Adam Smith made much use of the Réflexions would probably have been repeated from text-book to text-book for at least another half-century. But as it now appears that the resemblance between the Réflexions and the lectures is just as close as that between the Réflexions and the Wealth of Nations, and as the Réflexions were not even written till after Adam Smith had ceased lecturing and had seen and conversed with Turgot, it may be supposed that the enthusiasts of plagiarism will now seek to show that instead of Smith stealing from Turgot, the truth was that Turgot stole from Smith.

But the report of the lectures does much more in regard to the Wealth of Nations than merely dispose finally of the Turgot myth. It enables us to follow the gradual construction of the work almost from its very foundation, and to distinguish positively between what the original genius of its author created out of British materials on the one hand and French materials on the other.

In the work of professors, as in many other things, a kind of atavism is often observable. A professor has rarely been a student under his immediate predecessor in the chair. While he has been obtaining experience in a less dignified post, or has been absent acquiring the honour which it is proverbially difficult for a prophet to obtain in his own country, his master has died or retired and been succeeded by a man of an intermediate generation, and probably of intermediate views, whom he very likely regards with that slight dash of contempt which men are apt to feel for those who are older than themselves, but yet not old enough to obtain from them the respect universally and fortunately accorded to the surviving lights of a past age and an ‘old school,’ whose virtues have become uncommon, and whose weaknesses and eccentricities, instead of annoying or disgusting, afford kindly amusement. We should do well therefore to look in Adam Smith’s work for important traces of the influence of Francis Hutcheson, who was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow from 1729 to 1746, even if Hutcheson had been but an undistinguished member of the series of professors, instead of a teacher of unusual ability and originality, to whom Adam Smith acknowledged obligations, and of whom he used warm words of praise.

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