Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms, Adam Smith
Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms
Adam Smith
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Lectures on Jurisprudence, also called Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms (1763) is a collection of Adam Smith's lectures, comprising notes taken from his early lectures. It contains the formative ideas behind The Wealth of Nations. Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence, originally delivered at the University of Glasgow in 1762–1763, present his ‘theory of the rules by which civil government ought to be directed.’ The chief purpose of government, according to Smith, is to preserve justice; and ‘the object of justice is security from injury.’ The state must protect the individual’s right to his person, property, reputation, and social relations. Smith specifically defines the term jurisprudence as "the theory of general principles of law and government". It is also defined as the general guidelines about the essence of a nation's laws.

Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms


Adam Smith





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.

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