Adam Smith had retired from a professorship at Glasgow University and Was living in France in 1764-5 when he began his great work, The Wealth of Nations. The book was being written all during the years of strife between Britain and her colonies, but it was not published until 1776. In the passages which follow, Smith points to the impossibility of monopolizing the benefits of colonies, and pessimistically calculates the cost of empire, but the book appeared too late to have any effect upon British policy. Because the Declaration of Independence and The Wealth of Nations, the political and economic reliations of empire and mercantilism, appeared in the same year, historians have often designated 1776 as one of the turning points in modern history. The text On the cost of Empire, the eloquent exhortation to the rulers of Britain to awaken from their grandiose dreams of empire, is the closing passage of Smith's book.The countries which possess the colonies of America, and which trade directly to the East Indies, enjoy, indeed, the whole show and splendour of this great commerce. Other countries, however, notwithstanding all the invidious restraints by which it is meant to exclude them, frequently enjoy a greater share of the real benefit of it. The colonies of Spain and Portugal, for example, give more real encouragement to the industry of other countries than to that of Spain and Portugal. . .
After all the unjust attempts, therefore, of every country in Europe to engross to itself the whole advantage of the trade of its own colonies, no country has yet been able to engross to itself anything but the expense of supporting in time of peace, and of defending in time of war, the oppressive authority which it assumes over them. The inconveniencies resulting from the possession of its colonies, every country has engrossed to itself completely. The advantages resulting from their trade it has been obliged to share with many other countries.