On Tuesday June 6, we hosted Mark Skousen for an enriching breakfast discussion on the connections between Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith, including Benjamin Franklin’s possible influence on The Wealth of Nations.

Mr. Skousen first began by creating connections between the two influential men. They had much in common: moral philosophers who shared opinions about commercial society, free trade, economics and, of course, a love of Scotland!

Although Mark stated that letters between the two are yet to be discovered, he was keen to point out that, during the British invasion of America, a large amount of Franklin’s letters and personal belongings were destroyed. In addition, many of Adam Smith’s papers were burned after his death. As a result, historians have turned towards the work and ideas of the two prominent historical figures to look for signs of communication and influence.


Benjamin Franklin’s ties to history are obvious; however, it is his influence on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations that is more subtle.

  • Benjamin Franklin allegedly told Dr. Logan of Adam Smith’s “habit of bringing chapter after chapter, as he composed it [Wealth of Nations], to himself, Dr. Price and others of the literati,” Smith often rewrote chapters or reversed his original ideals.

Both philosophers also strongly opposed the idea of mercantilism and supported the idea of free trade:

  • Mark Skousen communicated Franklin’s stance on the topic of free trade through Benjamin Franklin’s popular quote “no nation was ever ruined by trade” (1774)
  • Adam Smith reinforces this position by comparing nations that allow free trade to an empire in The Wealth of Nations, stating, “were all nations to follow the liberal system of free exportation and free importation, the different states into which a great continent was divided would so far resemble the different provinces of a great empire”

Those listening to Mark certainly began to understand how similar the philosophies of these two great men were. However they did also share some differences.


They may not be major, but the two men did have different focuses when it came to fundamental factors within the economy…

  • Benjamin Franklin focused on three issues within England and America:
    – Industry: Productivity of the participants within the market
    Thrift: Management of money, time and energy
    Prudence can be understood as the use of wisdom or reason
  • Adam Smith believed to create the best society and economy you would need:
    Easy Taxes
    A Tolerable Administration of Justice

Despite these differences, there is plenty of evidence that Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith either influenced each other or were in communication, socialising with the same people and within similar organisations.

Mr. Skousen gave a truly enriching talk, and we implore you to explore Benjamin Franklin House to better understand how Franklin himself spent his time in London.