Describe why the "discovery" of America was one of the "most important events recorded in the history of mankind," according to Adam Smith?

1 Answer | Add Yours

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Although Adam Smith does say that the discovery of the Americas (along with the discovery of a trade route around Africa to Asia) was one of the “greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind,” he really means that it was one of the most important events in terms of its impact on Europe.  He appears to be guilty of Eurocentrism, saying that an event that was important for Europe was important for all of mankind.

Smith’s main point is that the discovery of the Americas had a huge impact on the economy of Europe.  Smith argues that all of the countries of Europe were impacted by the discovery of the Americas.  He says that there are three kinds of countries in Europe, each of which has a different economic relationship with the Americas.  The first type of country is the country that trades directly with the Americas.  He lists Spain, Portugal, France, and England as the examples of this type of country.  Second, there are countries whose goods go to the Americas through intermediaries.  These countries sell goods to the four countries mentioned previously and those countries export the goods to the Americas.  Finally, there are countries whose goods never end up in the Americas but who are affected by the Americas nonetheless.  These countries, such as Poland, have to produce goods that they can sell to other countries in order to buy American goods.  If people in Poland want sugar, for example, they might have to produce goods that they can sell to Spain, thus enabling them to buy American sugar.  All of these countries are impacted by the discovery of the Americas.

Smith says that the discovery of the Americas was extremely important because it opened up new economic opportunities for European countries.  He says that the countries of Europe “have now become the manufacturers for the numerous and thriving cultivators of America.”  Because the discovery of America allowed this to happen, it is (to Smith) one of the most important events in human (this probably ought to be "European") history.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,946 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question