The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

January 2003

AAP Homepage

Emma Rothschild

Economic Sentiments

Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

Chapter 4: Apprenticeship and Insecurity

Harvard University Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001

Text pp. 87-115, Notes 283-288


1. Letter of February 26, 1776, in Lettres d’André Morellet, ed. Dorothy Medlin, Jean-Claude David, and Paul Leclerc (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1991), 1:312.  Morellet adds, self-importantly, that he is himself at least as worthy of censorship as Smith: “Je me flatte bien qu’il n’y aura pas une page de mon livre qui ne soit au moms aussi brulable que l’extrait de Smith.”

2. Letter of February 22, 1776, ibid., 1:310.  The reference is presumably to Smith’s observations on the inefficiency of apprenticeships - ”long apprenticeships are altogether unnecessary” - and on “the art of the farmer.” WN, pp. 138-140 and 143-144.

3. Lettres d’André Morellet, 1:311,n. 1.

4. See Chapter 1.

5. Beatrice (Potter) Webb, “The History of English Economics” (1885), Passfield Mss., London School of Economics, 3:5, 3:16-17; see also Beatrice Webb’s diary entry of 1886, quoted in Chapter 2.

6. WN, pp. 96, 138, 530.

7. K. D. M. Snell, “The Apprenticeship System in British History: The Fragmentation of a Cultural Institution,” History of Education, 25, 4 (1996), 303-304.

8. WN, pp. 79, 135-136, 140, 151, 470.

9. The compulsory apprentice clauses of the Elizabethan statute of artificers - 5 .Eliz.c.4 - were repealed in 1814; they had been suspended in relation to the woollen trade from 1803, and repealed in 1809.  See 0. Jocelyn Dunlop, English Apprenticeship and Child Labour: A History (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912), chap. 15; T. K. Derry, “The Repeal of the Apprenticeship Clauses of the Statute of Apprentices,” Economic History Review, 3 (1931-1932), 67-87.

10. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 11th ed., ed. William Playfair (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1805), 1:195, 207, with references to Smith’s comments on clockmakers in WN, pp. 139-140, and on incompetent workers in incorporated towns, WN, p. 146; see also 3:243-246.


11. William Playfair, Political portraits in this New Aera (London: C. Chapple, 1813), 1:364, 385; idem, An Inquiry into the permanent causes of the decline and fall of powerful and wealthy nations (London: Greenland and Norris, 1805), pp. 219-220.

12. William Playfair, A Letter to the Right Honourable and Honourable the Lords and Commons of Great Britain, on the Advantages of Apprenticeships (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1814), pp. 15, 30=31.

13. See, for example, Committee of Manufacturers of London and Its Vicinity, “The Origin, Object and Operation of the Apprentice Laws; with their application to Times Past, Present, and To Come,” in The Pamphleteer, 3, 5 (March 1814), 228, 235; Smith’s arguments are at WN, p. 137.

14. Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” p. 237.

15. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture of England; Comnd. no. 268 (1806), pp. 15, 17.

16. Sir Frederick Eden, The State of the Poor (London: Davis, 1797), 1:436, 3:ccccxxvi.  Eden’s reference, like Playfair’s, is to WN, p. 146: “If you would have your work tolerably executed, it must be done in the suburbs, where the workmen having no exclusive privilege, have nothing but their character to depend upon, and you must then smuggle it into the town as well as you can.”

17. Dugald Stewart, “Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL. D.,” in EPS, p. 339; see Chapter 2.

18. “Substance of the Speech of Mr. Seileant Onslow,” in The Pamphleteer, 4, 8 (November 1814), 303-304; Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” p. 231; The Parliamentary Debates (hereafter PD), 1st ser., vol. 27, April 27, 1814, col. 572.

19. Onslow, “Speech,” p. 309; see also, on the origins of Onslow’s clause, Derry, “Repeal,” p. 79.

20. WN, pp. 84, 96, 99, 114; see also p. 599, on the contribution of the “high profits of British stock” to “raising the price of British manufactures.”

21. WN, pp. 115,599.

22. Lujo Brentano, On the History and Development of Gilds, and the Origin of Trade-Unions (London: Trubner, 1870), p. 100.

23. PD, vol. 27, April 27, 1814, cols. 572-573.

24. WN, p. 141, 146, 15 1-152.

25. WN, pp. 119, 134, 141, 152, 644.

26. WN, p. 144; on Smith’s sympathy for landed property and country labor, see John Dwyer, “Virtue and Improvement: The Civic World of Adam Smith,” in Adam Smith Reviewed, ed. Peter Jones and Andrew S. Skinner (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992), pp. 190-216.

27. Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” pp. 221-222.  The manufacturers’ secretary was John Richter, one of Home Tooke’s co-defendants and Francis Place’s close associate.  Place himself was actively engaged in the enterprise, writing in January 1814 that “the affair of Seijeant Onslow partly

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originated with me,” and “I never was so intensely occupied in my life as I have been lately with... the statute of Elizabeth.” Graham Wallas, The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 (London: Longmans, Green, 1898), pp. 95, 159.  See also E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Penguin Books, 1988), esp. pp. 303, 506, 565.

28. Serjeant Onslow himself said in the House of Commons that “the case of the female sex” - of women working illicitly in trades to which they had not been apprenticed, “though many have been driven from them by threats of prosecution” - was one “that presses most strongly on my mind.” Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” pp. 231-232; Onslow, “Speech,” p. 306.

29. The Wealth of Nations, Godwin wrote, “makes me feel... a painful contraction of the heart.”  It was “refreshing,” nonetheless, after “the perusal of such a book as that of Mr. Maithus.”  William Godwin, Of Population: an Enquiry concerning the power of increase in the numbers of mankind, being an answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that subject (London: Longman, 1820), p. 611; see also Wallas, Francis Place, p. 157.

30. Arnold Toynbee, Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in Britain (London: Rivington, 1884), p. 16.

31. WN, pp. 139-140, 143, 151-152.

32. “If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their workmen.”  Smith argues here that “the liberal reward of labour” is itself something which “increases the industry of the common people.” WIN, pp. 99-100, 139.

33. WN, pp. 138-139, 146.

34. Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” p. 229.

35. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, p. 14; “Minutes of the Committee,” pp. 373-374.

36. Playfair, “Supplementary Chapter,” in The Wealth of Nations, 3:243, 251.

37. Playfair, An Inquiry into Decline, p. 223; idem, Political Portraits, 2:450-451.  On Samuel Whitbread’s evocation of Smith as a friend of the laboring poor in the debates of 1795-96 over minimum wages, see Chapter 2. WN, pp. 28-29; and see Chapter 1.

38. WN, pp. 28-29, and see Chapter 1.

39. WN, pp. 28, 782, 784.

40. LJ, pp. 539-540.

41. WN, pp. 785, 788; see also Andrew S. Skinner, “Adam Smith and the Role of the State: Education as a Public Service,” in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: New Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. Stephen Copley and Kathryn Sutherland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp. 70-96.

42. WN, p. 788; and see Chapter 8.

43. His emphasis on public education, he told two of the Edinburgh Law Lords, came rather “from an anxious desire to prevent the danger of such an evil.”  See Chapter 2.

44. WN, pp. 785-786; LJ, p. 540.


45. Playfair, Inquiry into decline, p. 222; idem, Letter, pp. 11-13.

46. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, p. 14.

47. PD, 1st ser., vol. 9, July 13, 1807, cols. 798, 800.

48. Onslow, “Speech,” p. 305; Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” p. 233.

49. TMS, pp. 220-222.

50. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, p. 17.

51. Playfair, Letter, p. 31.

52. Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblées provinciales (1788), in OC, 8:275, 471, 473; “Sur l’instruction publique” (1791-92), in OC, 7:455-456.

53. WN, pp. 138, 143.

54. WN, pp. 154-157, 660.

55. WN, pp. 100-101, 119, 139.

56. “La suppression des jurandes,” in OT, 5:242-244.

57. Vie de M. Turgot, in OC, 5:68, 77; Brentano, The History and Development of Gilds, p. 100.

58. “Lit de Justice,” in OT, 5:278, 287-288, 291; see Chapter 1, and, on working for collective utility without willing it, Chapter 5.

59. Derry, “Repeal,” pp. 78-79.

60. Committee of Manufacturers, “The Origin,” p. 238.

61. WN, p. 119.

62. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, p. 10.

63. PD, 1st ser., vol. 9, April 23, 1807, cols. 535-536.  See also, on the replacement of calico workers - ”at once after the expiration of their apprenticeship,” or “immediately on their sight beginning to fail them” - by young children, Brentano, The History and Development of Gilds, pp. 122-123.  The children, Brentano says, were “partly parish apprentices, partly children of workmen, who were forced by their employers by threats of instant dismissal in case of refusal to apprentice their children” (p. 122).

64. “Minutes,” p. 43.

65. Playfair, Letter, p. 21; see also obituaries of Playfair, in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 93, Pt. 1 (June 1823), 564, and the Dictionary of National Biography.

66. “Minutes,” p. 102.

67. Dorothy Marshall, The English Poor in The Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1926), pp. 182, 189.

68. Indenture reproduced in Dunlop, English Apprenticeship, p. 353.

69. “It is plain that seven years apprenticeship cannot be legally served at any age, and it is equally plain that it must be performed in a state of nonage”; this is the conclusion to be drawn, according to one of the documents quoted by the committee, from the decision of Lord Kenyon in the case of Mary Ann Davis, who bound herself for seven years at the age of seventeen, but was described at the time as only fourteen.  “Minutes,” p. 36.


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70. PD, lstser.,vol.27, April 27, 1814, col. 573.

71. They were rediscovered, yet again, much later in the nineteenth century.  W. S. Jevons thus quotes Smith at length in 1882, in a powerful denunciation of “Apprenticeship or Industrial Slavery of Youths.”  He called the Elizabethan statute “a monstrous law”; “from beginning to end it aimed at industrial slavery,” in which the local magistrates, “if they chose to exert their powers, could become the industrial despots of their district.”  The statute was only completely repealed, as he pointed out, by the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875 (an act of which it was said, by a supporter, that “everybody must feel that it was extremely desirable that there should be one law for both the rich and the poor”).  But even under the current common law, Jevons said, “the apprentice is in the position of a slave to his master,” protected only, if at all, by the “merciful discretion of the justices.”  Children are in the power, and subject to the will, of both parents and masters.  “The child is bound at an age when he can have no sure judgment,” Jevons says, citing the “greatest authorities,” and “Adam Smith especially”; “his nominal consent, even at a very tender age, is held sufficient to consign him to industrial slavery.”  See W. S. Jevons, The State in Relation to Labour (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 34, 36, 75-81; PD, 3rd ser., vol. 225, July 12, 1875, col. 1342.

72. PD, 1st ser., vol. 28, June 8, 1814, col. 14.

73. PD, 3rd ser., vol. 17, May 14, 1833, cols. 1193-94, 1222; Annual Register, 75, 202.

74. PD, 3rd ser., vol. 17, May 14, 1833, col. 1230; W. L. Burn, Emancipation and Apprenticeship in the British West Indies (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), pp. 108-120, 374.

75. PD, 3rd ser., vol. 18, May 30, 1833, col. 142; Burn, Emancipation, p. 145.

76. Stephen Hobhouse, Joseph Sturge: His Life and Work (London: J. M. Dent,

1919), p. 45.

77. PD, 3rd ser., vol. 18, June 3, 1833, col. 313.

78. PD, 3rd ser., vol. 17, May 14, 1833, cols. 1235, 1245.

79. The Gladstone Diaries, ed. M. R. D. Foot (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 2:358 (March 30, 1838); W. E. Gladstone, Speech delivered in the House of Commons on the motion of Sir George Strickland, for the abolition of the Negro Apprenticeship, March 30, 1838 (London: J. Hatchard, 1838), pp. 12-13.

80. Gladstone, Speech, pp. 8, 49.

81. WN, pp.l36-l37,l52-l53.

82. Letter of October 26, 1780, in Corr., p. 251.

83. See, for example, WN, p. 136, 142, 143, 734.

84. Eden, The State of the Poor, 1:436-437.

85. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, “General Introduction,” in WN, pp. 53-54, 138, n. 14, and 152, n. 50; see also K. D. M. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 228-269.


86. Annotation at p. 207 of the first volume of Pryme’s copy of Playfair’s Wealth of Nations, Cambridge University Library, Rare Books Room.

87. Onslow, “Speech,” p. 303.

88. Godwin, Of Population, pp. 607-611; Brentano, The History and Development of Gilds, p. 113; Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution, pp. 15-16; Webb, “History,” 3:15.

89. WN, pp. 157-158; and see Chapter 2.

90. Brentano, The History and Development of Gilds, p. 113.

91. WN ,p. 158.

92. Gladstone, Speech, p. 25; Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey, The West Indies in 1837 (London: Hamilton, 1838), pp. lxxxv, 350-351.

93. Webb, “History,” 3:16.

94. He is speaking here of the “masters of coal works.” U, p. 192.  In the Wealth of Nations, too, he says in his account of slavery that “the pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors.”  WN, p. 388.

95. WN, pp. 827, 899, 927, 936; and see Chapter 1.

96. Onslow, “Speech,” p. 308.

97. WN, p. 145.

98. Dunlop, English Apprenticeship, pp. 234-235.

99. This is Smith’s own description of his disposition.  See letter of March 25, 1789, in Corr., p. 318.

100. WN, p. 145.

101. WN, p. 412.

102. “Mémoire sur les prêts d’argent,” in OT, 3:155.

103. Vie de M. Turgot, in OC, 5:43.

104. Playfair, “Supplementary Chapter,” in The Wealth of Nations, 3:519.

105. WN, pp. 793, 797.

106. TMS, p. 225.

107. Walter Bagehot, Economic Studies (London: Longmans, Green, 1908), p. 129.

108. LRBL, pp. 106, 164; Thucydides, History of Peloponnesian War, vol. 1, trans. Charles Forster Smith (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), 1.22, p. 41.

109. Bagehot, Economic Studies, p. 22.

110. Report from the Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, p. 12.


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The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

January 2003

AAP Homepage