Sunday, March 3, 2024

Adam Smith: Shaping Economic Thought in the United States


Adam Smith, the renowned Scottish economist and philosopher, exerted a profound influence on the economic ideas that underpinned the founding principles of the United States. His seminal work, "The Wealth of Nations," published in 1776, provided a blueprint for free-market capitalism and laid the groundwork for the economic policies embraced by America's founding fathers. This article explores the ways in which Adam Smith's ideas shaped the thinking of key figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, and influenced the economic framework of the fledgling nation.

Adam Smith's Ideas and "The Wealth of Nations":

In "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith articulated the principles of free trade, division of labor, and the invisible hand—the concept that individuals, by pursuing their self-interest, unintentionally promote the social good. Smith argued against government intervention in the economy, advocating instead for a laissez-faire approach where market forces determine prices and production. His ideas challenged the prevailing mercantilist doctrines of the time and laid the foundation for classical liberalism and modern economics.

Thomas Jefferson and Agrarianism:

Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, was deeply influenced by Adam Smith's ideas, particularly in his advocacy for agrarianism and limited government. Jefferson envisioned an America of independent yeoman farmers, free from the constraints of government regulation and interference. He believed that Smith's principles of free trade and economic freedom were essential for the success of a democratic society and sought to incorporate them into the fabric of the new nation.

Alexander Hamilton and Economic Development:

In contrast to Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, embraced a more interventionist approach to economic policy, drawing inspiration from Adam Smith's ideas on industrialization and economic development. Hamilton believed that a strong central government would foster economic growth and advocated for measures such as tariffs, subsidies, and a private central bank to promote domestic industry and infrastructure. While Hamilton's policies diverged from Smith's laissez-faire principles, they nevertheless reflected a nuanced understanding of economic theory and its application to the American context.

James Madison and Federalism:

James Madison, often hailed as the "Father of the Constitution," played a central role in shaping the framework of American government and the balance of power between the federal and state governments. Influenced by both Jeffersonian agrarianism and Hamiltonian economic nationalism, Madison sought to reconcile competing interests through a system of checks and balances and federalism. While advocating for limited government interference in economic affairs, Madison thought there was a need for a strong federal authority to regulate commerce and maintain national unity—a delicate balance informed by Adam Smith's ideas on the role of government in the economy.

Legacy and Impact:

The legacy of Adam Smith's ideas extends far beyond the founding era, shaping the economic policies and debates that continue to define the United States to this day. His advocacy for free markets, individual liberty, and limited government laid the groundwork for America's economic prosperity and global influence. While the founding fathers may have interpreted and applied Smith's ideas in different ways, they shared a common commitment to the principles of economic freedom and self-determination that continue to resonate in the modern world.


Adam Smith's influence on the founding fathers of the United States cannot be overstated. His ideas provided the intellectual foundation for America's economic system and informed the debates that shaped the nation's founding documents and institutions. Whether through Jefferson's vision of agrarian democracy, Hamilton's program of economic development, or Madison's principles of federalism, Smith's ideas permeated the political discourse of the era and left an indelible mark on the economic landscape of the United States. As the nation grapples with new challenges and opportunities, the enduring legacy of Adam Smith serves as a reminder of the enduring power of ideas to shape the course of history.

For more information, read CODE RED: The Secret Communist Takeover of America.



James Parrish Hodges, Ph.D., Author

Winner of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge Medal of Honor
Member: National Speakers Association, American Society for Training and Development


Cynthia F. Hodges, JD, LLM, MA
Attorney and Author

Auriga Books, LLC
Email: cyn (at)




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