To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation that is governed by shopkeepers.
Adam Smith (1723–1790), Scottish economist. The Wealth of Nations, vol. 2, bk. 4, ch. 7 (1776).
Stevenson's Book of Quotations cites a similar remark made slightly earlier—by English economist Josiah Tucker in Four Tracts on Political and Commercial Subjects (1766)Mbut Adam Smith's version was probably the source for its wider dissemination, and the origin of Napoleon's more famous utterance, "England is a nation of shopkeepers." (See England and the English.).