Front Page Titles (by Subject) [III.ii] CHAPTER II: Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the antient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire 1 - Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 2a An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1
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[III.ii] CHAPTER II: Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the antient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire 1 - Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 2a An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1 
An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. I ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, vol. II of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the antient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire1
1When the German and Scythian nations over–ran the western provinces of the Roman empire, the confusions which followed so great a revolution lasted for several centuries.2 The rapine and violence which the barbarians exercised against the antient inhabitants, interrupted the commerce between the towns and the country.3 The towns were deserted, and the country was left uncultivated, and the western provinces of Europe, which had enjoyed a considerable degree of opulence under the Roman empire, sunk into the lowest state of poverty and barbarism. During the continuance of those confusions, the chiefs and principal leaders of those nations, acquired or usurped to themselves the greater part of the lands of those countries. A great part of them was uncultivated; but no part of them, whether cultivated or uncultivated, was left without a proprietor. All of them were engrossed, and the greater part by a few great proprietors.4
2This original engrossing of uncultivated lands, though a great, might have been but a transitory evil. They might soon have been divided again, and broke into small parcels either by succession or by alienation. The law of primogeniture hindered them from being divided by succession: the introduction of entails prevented their being broke into small parcels by alienation.5
3When land, like moveables, is considered as the means only of subsistence and enjoyment, the natural law of succession divides it, like them, among all the children of the family; of all of whom the subsistence and enjoyment may be supposed equally dear to the father. This natural law of succession accordingly took place among the Romans, who made no more distinction between elder and younger, between male and female, in the inheritance of lands, than we do in the distribution of moveables.6 But when land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace, and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours.7 The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately, indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution. That the power, and consequently the security of the monarchy, may not be weakened by division, it must descend entire to one of the children. To which of them so important a preference shall be given, must be determined by some general rule, founded not upon the doubtful distinctions of personal merit, but upon some plain and evident difference which can admit of no dispute. Among the children of the same family, there can be no indisputable difference but that of sex, and that of age. The male sex is universally preferred to the female; and when all other things are equal, the elder everywhere takes place of the younger. Hence the origin of the right of primogeniture, and of what is called lineal succession.8
4Laws frequently continue in force long after the circumstances, which first gave occasion to them, and which could alone render them reasonable, are no more.9 In the present state of Europe, the proprietor of a single acre of land is as perfectly secure of his possession as the proprietor of a hundred thousand. The right of primogeniture, however, still continues to be respected, and as of all institutions it is the fittest to support the pride of family distinctions, it is still likely to endure for many centuries. In every other respect, nothing can be more contrary to the real interest of a numerous family, than a right which, in order to enrich one, beggars all the rest of the children.
5Entails are the natural consequences of the law of primogeniture. They were introduced to preserve a certain lineal succession, of which the law of primogeniture first gave the idea, and to hinder any part of the original estate from being carried out of the proposed line either by gift, or devise, or alienation; either by the folly, or by the misfortune of any of its successive owners. They were altogether unknown to the Romans.10 Neither their substitutions nor fideicommisses bear any resemblance to entails, though some French lawyers have thought proper to dress the modern institution in the language and agarba of those antient ones.
6When great landed estates were a sort of principalities, entails might not be unreasonable.11 Like what are called the fundamental laws of some monarchies, they might frequently hinder the security of thousands from being endangered by the caprice or extravagance of one man. But in the present state of Europe, when small as well as great estates derive their security from the laws of their country, nothing can be more completely absurd. They are founded upon the most absurd of all suppositions, the supposition that every successive generation of men have not an equal right to the earth, and to all that it possesses; but that the property of the present generation should be restrained and regulated according to the fancy of those who died perhaps five hundred years ago. Entails, however, are still respected through the greater part of Europe, in those countries particularly in which noble birth is a necessary qualification for the enjoyment either of civil or military honours. Entails are thought necessary for maintaining this exclusive privilege of the nobility to the great offices and honours of their country; and that order having usurped one unjust advantage over the rest of their fellow–citizens, lest their poverty should render it ridiculous, it is thought reasonable that they should have another. The common law of England, indeed, is said to abhor perpetuities, and they are accordingly more restricted there than in any other European monarchy; though even England is not altogether without them.12 In Scotland more than one–fifth, perhaps more than one–third part of the whole lands of the country, are at present bsupposed to beb under strict entail.13
7Great tracts of uncultivated land were, in this manner, not only engrossed by particular families, but the possibility of their being divided again was as much as possible precluded for ever. It seldom happens, however, that a great proprietor is a great improver.14 In the disorderly times which gave birth to those barbarous institutions, the great proprietor was sufficiently employed in defending his own territories, or in extending his jurisdiction and authority over those of his neighbours. He had no leisure to attend to the cultivation and improvement of land. When the establishment of law and order afforded him this leisure, he often wanted the inclination, and almost always the requisite abilities.15 If the expence of his house and person either equalled or exceeded his revenue, as it did very frequently, he had no stock to employ in this manner. If he was an œconomist, he generally found it more profitable to employ his annual savings in new purchases, than in the improvement of his old estate. To improve land with profit, like all other commercial projects, requires an exact attention to small savings and small gains, of which a man born to a great fortune, even though naturally frugal, is very seldom capable. The situation of such a person naturally disposes him to attend rather to ornament which pleases his fancy, than to profit for which he has so little occasion. The elegance of his dress, of his equipage, of his house, and houshold furniture, are objects which from his infancy he has been accustomed to have some anxiety about. The turn of mind which this habit naturally forms, follows him when he comes to think of the improvement of land. He embellishes perhaps four or five hundred acres in the neighbourhood of his house, at ten times the expence which the land is worth after all his improvements; and finds that if he was to improve his whole estate in the same manner, and he has little taste for any other, he would be a bankrupt before he had finished the tenth part of it.16 There still remain in both parts of the united kingdom some great estates which have continued without interruption in the hands of the same family since the times of feudal anarchy.17 Compare the present condition of those estates with the possessions of the small proprietors in their neighbourhood, and you will require no other argument to convince you how unfavourable such extensive property is to improvement.
8If little improvement was to be expected from such great proprietors, still less was to be hoped for from those who occupied the land under them. In the antient state of Europe, the occupiers of land were all tenants at will.18 They were all or almost all slaves; but their slavery was of a milder kind than that known among the antient Greeks and Romans, or even in our West Indian colonies. They were supposed to belong more directly to the land than to their master. They could, therefore, be sold with it, but not separately. They could marry, provided it was with the consent of their master; and he could not afterwards dissolve the marriage by selling the man and wife to different persons. If he maimed or murdered any of them, he was liable to some penalty, though generally but to a small one. They were not, however, capable of acquiring property.19 Whatever they acquired was acquired to their master, and he could take it from them at pleasure. Whatever cultivation and improvement could be carried on by means of such slaves, was properly carried on by their master. It was at his expence. The seed, the cattle, and the instruments of husbandry were all his. It was for his benefit. Such slaves could acquire nothing but their daily maintenance. It was properly the proprietor himself, therefore, that, in this case, occupied his own lands, and cultivated them by his own bondmen. This species of slavery still subsists in Russia,20 Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and other parts of Germany.21 It is only in the western and southwestern provinces of Europe, that it has gradually been abolished altogether.22
9But if great improvements are seldom to be expected from great proprietors, they are least of all to be expected when they employ slaves for their workmen. The experience of all ages and nations, I believe, demonstrates that the work done by slaves, though it appears to cost only their maintenance, is in the end the dearest of any.23 A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible. Whatever work he does beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance, can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own. In antient Italy, how much the cultivation of corn degenerated, how unprofitable it became to the master when it fell under the management of slaves, is remarked by both Pliny and Columella.24 In the time of Aristotle it had not been much better in antient Greece. Speaking of the ideal republick described in the laws of Plato, to maintain five thousand idle men (the number of warriors supposed necessary for its defence) together with their women and servants, would require, he says, a territory of boundless extent and fertility, like the plains of Babylon.25
10The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors.26 Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen. The planting of sugar and tobacco can afford the expence of slave–cultivation.27 The raising of corn, it seems, in the present times, cannot. In the English colonies, of which the principal produce is corn, the far greater part of the work is done by freemen. The late resolution of the Quakers in Pennsylvania to set at liberty all their negro slaves, may satisfy us that their number cannot be very great. Had they made any considerable part of their property, such a resolution could never have been agreed to.28 In our sugar colonies, on the contrary, the whole work is done by slaves, and in our tobacco colonies a very great part of it. The profits of a sugar–plantation in any of our West Indian colonies are generally much greater than those of any other cultivation that is known either in Europe or America: And the profits of a tobacco plantation, though inferior to those of sugar, are superior to those of corn, as has already been observed.29 Both can afford the expence of slave–cultivation, but sugar can afford it still better than tobacco. The number of negroes accordingly is much greater, in proportion to that of whites, in our sugar than in our tobacco colonies.
11To the slave cultivators of antient times, gradually succeeded a species of farmers known at present in France by the name of Metayers. They are called in Latin, Coloni Partiarii.30 They have been so long in disuse in England that at present I know no English name for them. The proprietor furnished them with the seed, cattle, and instruments of husbandry, the whole stock, in short, necessary for cultivating the farm. The produce was divided equally between the proprietor and the farmer, after setting aside what was judged necessary for keeping up the stock, which was restored to the proprietor when the farmer either quitted, or was turned out of the farm.31
12Land occupied by such tenants is properly cultivated at the expence of the proprietor, as much as that occupied by slaves. There is, however, one very essential difference between them. Such tenants, being freemen, are capable of acquiring property, and having a certain proportion of the produce of the land, they have a plain interest that the whole produce should be as great as possible, in order that their own proportion may be so. A slave, on the contrary, who can acquire nothing but his maintenance, consults his own ease by making the land produce as little as possible over and above that maintenance. It is probable that it was partly upon account of this advantage, and partly upon account of the encroachments which the sovereign, always jealous of the great lords, gradually encouraged their villains to make upon their authority, and which seem at last to have been such as rendered this species of servitude altogether inconvenient, that tenure in villanage gradually wore out through the greater part of Europe. The time and manner, however, in which so important a revolution was brought about, is one of the most obscure points in modern history. The church of Rome claims great merit in it; and it is certain that so early as the twelfth century, Alexander III. published a bull for the general emancipation of slaves. It seems, however, to have been rather a pious exhortation, than a law to which exact obedience was required from the faithful.32 Slavery continued to take place almost universally for several centuries afterwards, till it was gradually abolished by the joint operation of the two interests above mentioned, that of the proprietor on the one hand, and that of the sovereign on the other.33 A villain enfranchised, and at the same time allowed to continue in possession of the land, having no stock of his own, could cultivate it only by means of what the landlord advanced to him, and must, therefore, have been what the French call a Metayer.
13It could never, however, be the interest even of this last species of cultivators to lay out, in the further improvement of the land, any part of the little stock which they might save from their own share of the produce, because the lord, who laid out nothing, was to get one–half of whatever it produced. The tithe, which is but a tenth of the produce, is found to be a very great hindrance to improvement.34 A tax, therefore, which amounted to one half, must have been an effectual bar to it. It might be the interest of a metayer to make the land produce as much as could be brought out of it by means of the stock furnished by the proprietor; but it could never be his interest to mix any part of his own with it. In France, where five parts out of six of the whole kingdom are said to be still occupied by this species of cultivators,35 the proprietors complain that their metayers take every opportunity of employing the masters cattle rather in carriage than in cultivation; because in the one case they get the whole profits to themselves, in the other they share them with their landlord. This species of tenants still subsists in some parts of Scotland. They are called steel–bow tenants.36 Those antient English tenants, who are said by Chief Baron Gilbert37 and Doctor Blackstone38 to have been rather bailiffs of the landlord than farmers properly so called, were probably of the same kind.
14To this species of tenancy succeeded, though by very slow degrees, farmers properly so called, who cultivated the land with their own stock, paying a rent certain to the landlord.39 When such farmers have a lease for a term of years, they may sometimes find it for their interest to lay out part of their capital in the further improvement of the farm; because they may sometimes expect to recover it, with a large profit, before the expiration of the lease.40 The possession even of such farmers, however, was long extremely precarious, and still is so in many parts of Europe.41 They could before the expiration of their term be legally outed of their lease, by a new purchaser; in England, even by the fictitious action of a common recovery. If they were turned out illegally by the violence of their master, the action by which they obtained redress was extremely imperfect. It did not always re–instate them in the possession of the land, but gave them damages which never amounted to the real loss. Even in England, the country perhaps of Europe where the yeomanry has always been most respected, it was not till about the 14th of Henry the VIIth that the action of ejectment was invented,42 by which the tenant recovers, not damages only but possession, and in which his claim is not necessarily concluded by the uncertain decision of a single assize. This action has been found so effectual a remedy that, in the modern practice, when the landlord has occasion to sue for the possession of the land, he seldom makes use of the actions which properly belong to him as landlord, the writ of right or the writ of entry, but sues in the name of his tenant, by the writ of ejectment. In England, therefore, the security of the tenant is equal to that of the proprietor. In England besides a lease for life of forty shillings a year value is a freehold, and entitles the lessee to vote for a member of parliament; and as a great part of the yeomanry have freeholds of this kind, the whole order becomes respectable to their landlords on account of the political consideration which this gives them.43 There is, I believe, nowhere in Europe, except in England, any instance of the tenant building upon the land of which he had no lease, and trusting that the honour of his landlord would take no advantage of so important an improvement. Those laws and customs so favourable to the yeomanry, have perhaps contributed more to the present grandeur of England than all their boasted regulations of commerce taken together.44
15The law which secures the longest leases against successors of every kind is, so far as I know, peculiar to Great Britain. It was introduced into Scotland so early as 1449, by a law of James the IId.45 Its beneficial influence, however, has been much obstructed by entails; the heirs of entail being generally restrained from letting leases for any long term of years, frequently for more than one year. A late act of parliament has,46 in this respect, somewhat slackened their fetters, though they are still by much too strait. In Scotland, besides, as no leasehold gives a vote for a member of parliament, the yeomanry are upon this account less respectable to their landlords than in England.47
16In other parts of Europe, after it was found convenient to secure tenants both against heirs and purchasers, the term of their security was still limited to a very short period; in France, for example, to nine years from the commencement of the lease. It has in that country, indeed, been lately extended to twenty–seven,48 a period still too short to encourage the tenant to make the most important improvements. The proprietors of land were antiently the legislators of every part of Europe. The laws relating to land, therefore, were all calculated for what they supposed the interest of the proprietor. It was for his interest, they had imagined, that no lease granted by any of his predecessors should hinder him from enjoying, during a long term of years, the full value of his land. Avarice and injustice are always short–sighted, and they did not foresee how much this regulation must obstruct improvement, and thereby hurt in the long–run the real interest of the landlord.
17The farmers too, besides paying the rent, were antiently, it was supposed, bound to perform a great number of services to the landlord, which were seldom either specified in the lease, or regulated by any precise rule, but by the use and wont of the manor or barony. These services, therefore, being almost entirely arbitrary, subjected the tenant to many vexations. In Scotland the abolition of all services, not precisely stipulated in the lease,49 has in the course of a few years very much altered for the better the condition of the yeomanry of that country.
18The public services to which the yeomanry were bound, were not less arbitrary than the private ones. To make and maintain the high roads,50 a servitude which still subsists,51 I believe, every where, though with different degrees of oppression in different countries, was not the only one. When the king’s troops, when his household or his officers of any kind passed through any part of the country, the yeomanry were bound to provide them with horses, carriages, and provisions, at a price regulated by the purveyor. Great Britain is, I believe, the only monarchy in Europe where the oppression of purveyance has been entirely abolished. It still subsists in France and Germany.
19The publick taxes to which they were subject were as irregular and oppressive as the services. The antient lords, though extremely unwilling to grant themselves any pecuniary aid to their sovereign, easily allowed him to tallage,52 as they called it, their tenants, and had not knowledge enough to foresee how much this must in the end affect their own revenue.53 The taille, as it still subsists in France, may serve as an example of those antient tallages. It is a tax upon the supposed profits of the farmer, which they estimate by the stock that he has upon the farm. It is his interest, therefore, to appear to have as little as possible, and consequently to employ as little as possible in its cultivation, and none in its improvement. Should any stock happen to accumulate in the hands of a French farmer, the taille is almost equal to a prohibition of its ever being employed upon the land.54 This tax besides is supposed to dishonour whoever is subject to it, and to degrade him below, not only the rank of a gentleman, but that of a burgher, and whoever rents the lands of another becomes subject to it. No gentleman, nor even any burgher cwhoc has stock, will submit to this degradation. This tax, therefore, not only hinders the stock which accumulates upon the land from being employed in its improvement, but drives away all other stock from it. The antient tenths and fifteenths,55 so usual in England in former times, seem, so far as they affected the land, to have been taxes of the same nature with the taille.
20Under all these discouragements, little improvement could be expected from the occupiers of land. That order of people, with all the liberty and security which law can give, must always improve under great disadvantages. The farmer compared with the proprietor, is as a merchant who trades with borrowed money compared with one who trades with his own. The stock of both may improve, but that of the one, with only equal good conduct, must always improve more slowly than that of the other, on account of the large share of the profits which is consumed by the interest of the loan. The lands cultivated by the farmer must, in the same manner, with only equal good conduct, be improved more slowly than those cultivated by the proprietor; on account of the large share of the produce which is consumed in the rent,56 and which, had the farmer been proprietor, he might have employed in the further improvement of the land.57 The station of a farmer besides is, from the nature of things, inferior to that of a proprietor. Through the greater part of Europe the yeomanry are regarded as an inferior rank of people, even to the better sort of tradesmen and mechanicks, and in all parts of Europe to the great merchants and master manufacturers. It can seldom happen, therefore, that a man of any considerable stock should quit the superior, in order to place himself in an inferior station. Even in the present state of Europe, therefore, little stock is likely to go from any other profession to the improvement of land in the way of farming. More does perhaps in Great Britain than in any other country, though even there the great stocks which are, in some places, employed in farming, have generally been acquired by farming, the trade, perhaps, in which of all others stock is commonly acquired most slowly. After small proprietors, however, rich and great farmers are, in every country, the principal improvers. There are more such perhaps in England than in any other European monarchy. In the republican governments of Holland and of Berne in Switzerland, the farmers are said to be not inferior to those of England.58
21The antient policy of Europe was, over and above all this, unfavourable to the improvement and cultivation of land, whether carried on by the proprietor or by the farmer; first, by the general prohibition of the exportation of corn without a special licence, which seems to have been a very universal regulation;59 and secondly, by the restraints which were laid upon the inland commerce, not only of corn but of almost every other part of the produce of the farm, by the absurd laws against engrossers, regrators, and forestallers, and by the privileges of fairs and markets.60 It has already been observed in what manner the prohibition of the exportation of corn, together with some encouragement given to the importation of foreign corn, obstructed the cultivation of antient Italy, naturally the most fertile country in Europe, and at that time the seat of the greatest empire in the world.61 To what degree such restraints upon the inland commerce of this commodity, joined to the general prohibition of exportation, must have discouraged the cultivation of countries less fertile, and less favourably circumstanced, it is not perhaps very easy to imagine.
[1 ]In both LJ (A) and LJ (B) Smith dealt at some length with the rise, progress, and decline, of Greece and Rome. The argument then offered a version of the events outlined in the following chapters of this Book, treating these events as parts of a single historical argument ranging from the foundation of Greek civilization to the English Revolution Settlement. See generally, LJ (A) iv. and LJ (B) 5–99, ed. Cannan 9–72. It would appear that when Smith came to write this section of the WN, he decided to divide the historical argument by starting from the fall of Rome, and placing much of the material which was concerned with earlier classical experience in V.i.a and b.
[2 ]The causes of the decline of Rome are considered below, V.i.a.36. Smith also refers, at V.i.b.16, to ‘our German and Scythian ancestors’ as having just emerged from the shepherd state. Smith refers to the savage nations ‘issuing out from Scandinavia and other Northern countries’ in LJ (A) iii.12; LJ (A) ii.97 records that among the nations which invaded Rome, ‘society was a step further advanced than amongst the Americans at this day’ in that they had arrived at ‘the state of shepherds, and had even some little agriculture’. Cf. below, V.i.a.2, and LJ (B) 184, ed. Cannan 137, where it is stated that the ‘Germans were much further advanced than the Americans at this day’. Smith also comments on the confusions following the collapse of Rome, Astronomy, IV.21, in explaining the ‘entire neglect’ of the sciences for several centuries thereafter.
[3 ]LJ (A) iv.117: ‘the country was infested by robbers and banditti, so that the cities soon became deserted, for unless there be a free communication betwixt the country and the town to carry out the manufactures and import provisions, no town can subsist.’ See also LJ (B) 50, ed. Cannan 35.
[4 ]ED 5.5 comments that ‘the chiefs of an independent nation which settles in any country, either by conquest or otherwise, as soon as the idea of private property in land is introduced never leave any part of the Land vacant, but constantly, from that greediness which is natural to man, seize much greater tracts of it to themselves than they have, either strength or stock to cultivate.’ See also LJ (B) 289–90, ed. Cannan 224–5; 50, ed. Cannan 35. In LJ (A) iv.114 it is stated that the Germans had a knowledge of ‘agriculture and of property in land’ and that ‘The first thing therefore which they set about after they had got possession of any kingdom, as Britain, France, etc., was to make a division of the lands.’ The form of government thus introduced by such peoples as the Saxons, Franks, Visigoths, and Burgundians, is described in LJ (A) iv.114–24 and stated to be ‘allodial properly so called’.
[5 ]It is pointed out at III.iv.19 that such institutions impede the sale of land and thus the flow of capital to agriculture. Smith attributed the rapid rate of growth attained in America, at least in part, to the absence of such laws, IV.vii.b.19. Cf. Montesquieu ‘. . . The laws ought to abolish the right of primogeniture among the nobles, to the end that by a continual division of the inheritances their fortunes be always upon a level.’ (Esprit, V.viii.20):
[6 ]The law of succession among the Romans is described in LJ (A) i.94–104, where it is stated that ‘all children shared equally in the estate of the father or master of the family’. Smith also commented that wealth was divided equally in the shepherd states of Greece at the time of the Trojan War in LJ (A) iv.11. Speaking of modern countries in LJ (A) i.104 he states that the succession to moveables was founded ‘on precisely the same principles’ as in Rome and that ‘during the allodiall government of Europe, the succession to land estates was directed in the same manner’. It is stated in LJ (A) i.115–16 that the Goths, Huns and Vandals originally used the natural law of succession and that the law of primogeniture was ‘contrary to nature, to reason, and to justice’, being occasioned by the nature of the feudal government. The laws of succession among the Romans are considered at some length by Montesquieu (Esprit, XXVII.i). See below, IV.vii.a.3.
[7 ]Lord Stair justified primogeniture as the means for ‘the preservation of the memory and dignity of families, which by frequent divisions of the inheritance would become despicable or forgotten’. (Institutions of the Law of Scotland, III.iv.22).
[8 ]Cf. LJ (A) iv.46: ‘We see that there is in man a great propensity to continue his regard towards those which are nearly connected with him whom we have formerly respected. The sons and particularly the eldest son commonly attract this regard, as they seem most naturally to come in the place of their father; and accordingly in most nations have been continu’d in their father’s dignity.’ See also LJ (B) 161, ed. Cannan 118, and LJ (A) i.133: ‘it was not the introduction of the feudal government and military fiefs that brought in the right of primogeniture; but the independency of the great allodiall estates, and the inconveniences attending divisions of such estates.’
[9 ]A similar phrase is used below, V.i.f.20, in discussing religious observances. Smith gave a good deal of attention to these issues, and provides examples of institutions which had once been useful but were now outdated in LJ (B) 304, ed. Cannan 235, and LJ (A) i.96, LJ (A) ii.38–41. In the latter place he argued that thirlage, i.e. that rule which obliged a number of farms to grind their corn at a certain mill, while justified at its first inception, was ‘one of those old constitutions which had much better be removed; and of this sort there are many.’
[10 ]LJ (B) 167, ed. Cannan 123, states that ‘Entails were first introduced into the modern law by the ecclesiastics, whose education made them acquainted with the Roman customs.’ It is also stated at LJ (A) i.155 that ‘In time however entails were introduced among the Romans, and . . . this was brought about by means of fideicommisses.’
[11 ]Smith makes this point at some length in LJ (A) i.130 and suggests that the great allodial lords were ‘in much the same state as the greater and lesser princes of Germany at this day’. He also pointed out that the problem of power made the division of lands undesirable, using the homely example of the Gordon, Douglas, and Fraser families in Scotland (133).
[12 ]Hume makes the interesting comment: ‘the most important law in its consequences, which was enacted during the reign of Henry [4 Henry 7, c.24] was that by which the nobility and gentry acquired a power of breaking the ancient entails, and of alienating their estates.’ (The History of England (1778) iii.400.) See also v.490.
[13 ]The figure might not be unreasonable. It was estimated that about one–half of the land of Scotland was entailed early in the nineteenth century. H. H. Monteath, ‘Heritable Rights’, in G. C. H. Paton, ed., An Introduction to Scottish Legal History (Edinburgh, 1958), 177.
[14 ]It is stated in LJ (B) 163, ed. Cannan 120, that the right of primogeniture ‘hinders agriculture’ and at 168, ed. Cannan 124, that entails are ‘absurd’. Similar points are made in LJ (B) 295, ed. Cannan 228, and ED 5.9. It is argued in LJ (A) i.164 that it is ‘altogether absurd to suppose that our ancestors who lived 500 years ago should have had the power of disposing of all lands at this time’. See below, III.iv.3.
[15 ]See below, III.iv.13.
[16 ]In Letter 30 addressed to Lord Shelburne, dated 4 April 1759, Smith wrote that: ‘We have in Scotland some noblemen whose estates extend from the east to the west sea, who called themselves improvers, & are called so by their countrymen, when they cultivate two or three hundred acres round their own family seat, while they allow all the rest of their country to lie waste, almost uninhabited & entirely unimproved, not worth a shilling the hundred acres, without thinking themselves answerable to God, their country & their Posterity for so shameful as well as so foolish a neglect.’
[17 ]Smith refers to the ‘disorderly state’ of Europe at the time of the feudal government at V.ii.g.6, III.iv.9, and comments at I.xi.e.23 on the ‘disorderly state’ of England under the Plantagenets ands its economic consequences. See also V.iii.1, where Smith mentions the problem of hoarding in a ‘rude state of society’, and cf. II.i.31.
[18 ]Cf. LJ (B) 282, ed. Cannan 220: ‘The peasants had leases which depended upon the caprice of their masters . . . As little could the landlords increase their wealth as they lived so indolent a life and were involved in perpetual wars.’ LJ (A) iii.112 comments: ‘The reason of the loss in cultivating land in this manner other than by free tenants will be very evident. The slave or villain who cultivated the land cultivated it entirely for his master; whatever it produced over and above his maintenance belonged to the landlord.’ Cf. I.viii.44 and I.x.b.15.
[19 ]These points are also made in LJ (A) iv.142, where Smith also adds that the tenants at will were secured in the benefit of marriage by the clergy: ‘It was also a rule that if the lord used him unjustly, or did not plead his cause and appear for him in court when he was accused, and it was found that he was innocent in this case, he was free.’ In the same place, Smith described the villeins as the first of the ignoble classes, and the inhabitants of cities as the second. See below, III.iii, and LJ (B) 56–7, ed. Cannan 39–40.
[20 ]See below, V.ii.g.11.
[21 ]Montesquieu cites as the most imperfect form of its type, the aristocratic government of Poland where ‘the peasants are slaves to the nobility’ (Esprit, II.iii.11). He also states that ‘real’ (as distinct from ‘personal’) slavery still subsisted in Hungary, Bohemia, and ‘several parts of Lower Germany (Esprit, XV.ix.1).
[22 ]See LJ (B) 134, ed. Cannan 96 and ED 5.6–7. Cf. LJ (A) iii. 101–2:
[23 ]Smith comments on the poor productivity of slave labour at I.viii.41 and IV.ix.47. See also LJ (A) iii.112, ED 5.6, and LJ (B) 138, 290, 299, ed. Cannan 99, 225, 231. He also remarked in LJ (A) iii.131 that slavery was detrimental to population growth. For alternative views, though in a different context, see A. H. Conrad and J. R. Meyer, Studies in Econometric History (London, 1965), 43–114.
[24 ]‘And we forsooth are surprised that we do not get the same profits from the labour of slave–gangs as used to be obtained from that of generals.’ (Pliny, Natural History, XVIII. iv, translated by H. Rackham in Loeb Classical Library (1950), v.203. Columella, De Re Rustica, i (preface), 11–12, translated by H. B. Ash in Loeb Classical Library (1941), i.9–11.)
[25 ]‘All the discourses of Socrates are masterly, noble, new, and inquisitive; but that they are all true it may probably be too much to say. For now with respect to the number just spoken of, it must be acknowledged that he would want the country of Babylonia for them, or some one like it, of an immeasurable extent, to support five thousand idle persons, besides a much greater number of women and children.’ (Aristotle, Politics, 1265a, translated by William Ellis in Everyman edn. (1912), 38–9.)
[26 ]LJ (B) 134, ed. Cannan 96, comments: ‘It is to be observed that slavery takes place in all societies at their beginning, and proceeds from that tyranic disposition which may almost be said to be natural to mankind.’ In LJ (A) i.54 Smith refers to the tyranny of the feudal government and the inclination which men have to extort all they can from their inferiors. In a similar vein he refers to man’s love of domination and authority in discussing slavery in LJ (A) iii.114 and again at 130. Mandeville also refers to ‘the love of Dominion and that usurping Temper all Mankind are born with’ (The Fable of the Bees, pt. i.319, ed. Kaye, i.281).
[27 ]In ED 5.6 Smith argued that the colonies dealing in sugar and tobacco could only afford slave labour because of the ‘exhorbitancy of their profites’ arising from the monopoly of the two trades. He added that: ‘the planters in the more northern colonies, cultivating chiefly wheat and Indian corn, by which they can expect no such exhorbitant returns, find it not for their interest to employ many slaves, and yet Pennsilvania, the Jerseys and some of the Provinces of New England are much richer and more populous than Virginia, notwithstanding that tobacco is, by its ordinary high price a more profitable cultivation.’ The high profits of sugar cultivation are also mentioned in LJ (B) 291, ed. Cannan 225; See below, IV.vii.b.54, regarding the use of slave labour in the colonies.
[28 ]In commenting on the use of slaves in modern times John Millar also referred to Russia, Poland, Hungary, etc., together with the American colonies. He went on to note that: ‘The Quakers of Pennsylvania, are the first body of men in those countries, who have discovered any scruples upon that account, and who seem to have thought that the abolition of this practice is a duty they owe to religion and humanity.’ (The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1771), VI.iii, ed. W. C. Lehmann (Cambridge 1960), 311.)
[29 ]See above, I.xi.b.32.
[30 ]LJ (A) ii.26, states that ‘The lands in Italy were . . . cultivated either by servi, slaves which were the property of the landlord, or by coloni, which were in much the same condition as the holders by steel–bow.’ The metayer system is discussed in ED 5.7. In LJ (B) 292, ed. Cannan 226, the French system is described as ‘steel–bow’.
[31 ]Smith examines the causes of change in the form of leases in III.iv.
[32 ]LJ (A) iii.127–8 comments that ‘we are not to imagine the temper of the Christian religion is necessarily contrary to slavery, . . . There are . . . many Christian countries where slavery is tollerated at this time.’ See above, III.ii.8. In LJ (B) 141–2, ed. Cannan 101–2, it was suggested that ‘Another cause of the abolition of slavery was the influence of the clergy, but by no means the spirit of Christianity, for our planters are all Christians’. Smith here cites Pope Innocent III, rather than Alexander III, as having given support to the emancipation of slaves.
[33 ]It is argued in LJ (A) iii.118–19 that the emancipation of slaves reflected the political interest of both King and Clergy, both of whom wished to reduce the power of the great barons. The clergy ‘therefore promoted greatly the emancipation of villains, and discouraged as much as lay in their power the authority of the great men over them. The king’s interest tended also to promote the same thing . . . The king’s courts, on this account, were very favourable to all claims of the villains, and on every occasion endeavoured to lessen the authority of the landlord over them.’ Smith added at iii.121–2 that the power of the Church, taken in conjunction with that of the King, helped to set the slaves at liberty, while commenting that ‘it was absolutely necessary’ that the authority of both should be great. Where this condition was satisfied, he argued, slavery had been successfully eliminated—for example, in Scotland, England, France, and Spain. Where it was not, as in Poland, Germany, Bohemia, and Russia, slavery continued to survive (see above, III.iii.8). With regard to Russia Smith remarked that: ‘tho the Tsars of Muscovy have very great power, yet slavery is still in use, as the authority of the Greek Church tho’ very considerable, has never been nearly so great as that of the Romish Church was in the other countries of Europe; as we see from the accounts of that country even before the time of Peter the Great.’ (LJ (A) iii.122.) Smith comments on the political problems presented by a powerful Church in this period at V.i.g.24.
[34 ]Tithes are stated to be inimical to improvement at V.ii.d.3. The disincentive effects here described are also cited as an objection to a variable land tax at V.ii.c.18; see also V.ii.d.2.
[35 ]This figure is also cited in ED 5.7, LJ (A) ii.25. Quesnay remarks: ‘Les terres sont communément cultivées par des fermiers avec des chevaux, ou par des métayers avec des bœufs.’ Quesnay calculated that the lands of France were cultivated by these two methods in the ratio of 6 to 30. (Œuvres Economiques et Philosophiques, ed. A. Oncken (Paris, 1888), 160 and 171.) See also Encyclopédie, vi.527f. Turgot describes the metayer system in France in section XXV of the Reflections before going on to consider what Smith later describes as ‘farmers properly so called’. Turgot added that: ‘In Picardy, Normandy, the environs of Paris, and in the majority of the Provinces of the North of France, the land is cultivated by farmers. In the Provinces of the South they are cultivated by Metayers; therefore the Provinces of the North of France are incomparably more wealthy and better cultivated than those of the South.’ See also LXIV.
[36 ]Steelbow tenants are discussed in ED 5.7 and LJ (B) 140, 174, 292, ed. Cannan 100–1, 129, 226 where it is stated that they still exist in Scotland. In LJ (A) ii.25 this form of let is described as ‘one of the worst that have ever been in use’ and in LJ (A) iii.123 the method is said to be ‘the worst of any by free tenants . . . yet greatly preferable to that by slaves’.
[37 ]‘A lease is a covenant real, that binds the possession of lands into whose hands soever afterwards they come, if the lands be not evicted by a superior title; but the termor has not the freehold in him, but holds possession, as bailiff of the freeholder, nomine alieno, by virtue of the obligation of the covenant.’ (G. Gilbert, A Treatise of Tenures (London, 1757), 34.)
[38 ]‘These estates [let for years] were originally granted to mere farmers or husbandmen, who every year rendered some equivalent in money, provisions, or other rent, to the lessors or landlords; but, in order to encourage them to manure and cultivate the ground, they had a permanent interest granted them, not determinable at the will of the lord. And yet their possession was esteemed of so little consequence, that they were rather considered as the bailiffs or servants of the lord, who were to receive and account for the profits at a settled price, than as having any property of their own.’ (W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford, 1765–9), ii.141–2.)
[39 ]Cf. LJ (A) iii.124–5: ‘When these farmers by steel–bow had by hard labour and great parsimony got together in 10 or 20 years as much as would enable them to stock a farm, they would then make an offer to their master that they should stock the farm themselves and maintain this stock, and instead of his having the uncertain produce of the harvest, which might vary with the season, he should have a yearly gratuity, on condition that he should not be removed at pleasure, but should hold his farm for a term of years. This proposall would not only be agreable to the farmer but also to the landlord.’ The term ‘farmers properly so called’ is used in ED 5.8. In LJ (B) 292, ed. Cannan 226, they are simply described as ‘tenants, such as we have at present’.
[40 ]LJ (A) i.167 comments: ‘Farms let out for long leases . . . are those which tend most to the improvement of the country. Short ones, as leases at pleasure, can never induce the tenant to improve, as what he lays out will not be on his own account, but on an other’s.’
[41 ]For a modern interpretation see G. E. Mingay, English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1963), 167–71.
[42 ]This writ is also mentioned at V.i.b.21 and discussed in ED 5.8, LJ (B) 293, ed. Cannan 227.
[43 ]Smith makes a similar point in LJ (B) 294, ed. Cannan 227–8. In ED 5.8 he refers to ‘the advantage which agriculture derives in England from the law which gives certain lease holders a right of voting for Members of Parliament, which thereby establishes a mutual dependance between the landlord and the tenant, and makes the former, if he has any regard to his interest in the county, very cautious of attempting to raise his rents, or of demanding any other oppressive exactions of the latter.’
[44 ]Smith comments on the security of the English yeomanry at III.iv.20.
[45 ]Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, ii.35 (1449).
[46 ]10 George III, c.51 (1770). The longer leases were granted on condition that the tenant effected improvements.
[47 ]Though only freeholders could vote in Scotland, a landowner could use his estate for electoral purposes by means of trust dispositions. Scottish politics were notoriously corrupt in the eighteenth century, perhaps no more so than in the general election of 1768. C. E. Adam (ed.), View of the Political State of Scotland in 1788 (Edinburgh, 1887). See also below, III.iv.20.
[48 ]See below, IV.ix.38.
[49 ]20 George II, c.50 (1746).
[50 ]See below, V.i.d.19.
[51 ]Most of the provisions for the maintenance of roads in Scotland, including ‘statute labour’ were reiterated by 5 George I, c.30 (1718). Statute labour was commuted for a money payment and the turnpike acts enabled additional funds to be obtained through tolls. The first Scottish turnpike act was for the county of Edinburgh in 1713, but improvements were significant only in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.
[52 ]See below, V.ii.g.6 and V.ii.k.20.
[53 ]Cf. LJ (B) 294, ed. Cannan 227: ‘Another embarrassment was that the feudal lords sometimes allowed the king to levy subsidies from their tenants, which greatly discouraged their industry.’ ED 5.8 also refers to the ‘arbitrary and exorbitant tallages’ to which tenants were liable.
[54 ]The taille is described more extensively below, V.ii.g.5 f.
[55 ]‘Subsidies and fifteenths are frequently mentioned by historians; but neither the amount of these taxes, nor the method of imposing them have been well explained. It appears, that the fifteenths formerly corresponded to the name, and were that proportionable part of the moveables. But a valuation being made, during the reign of Edward III that valuation was always adhered to, and each town payed unalterably a particular sum, which they themselves assessed upon the inhabitants. The same tax in corporate towns was called a tenth; probably, because there it was, at first, a tenth of the moveables. The whole amount of a tenth and fifteenth thro’ the kingdom, or a fifteenth, as it is often more concisely called, was about 29,000 pound.’ (Hume, History of England (1778), vi.174.) See also R. Brady, An Historical Treatise of Cities and Burghs or Boroughs (London, 1711), 39.
[56 ]See below, IV.vii.b.2 where Smith comments on the absence of rent payments in the American colonies.
[57 ]A similar point is made in LJ (B) 291, ed. Cannan 226.
[58 ]After discussing the agriculture of Holland and Berne, Harte continues: ‘That republics are better calculated than monarchies, for the advancement of agriculture, is partly true; for most republics (from natural reasons, rather than any strange concurrence of circumstances) are generally situated in a neglected barren soil: And there it is that art and industry make the most shining improvements in husbandry. Add to this, that the common–wealth we are now speaking of, and others of Switzerland in a lesser proportion, are living proofs, that there is, in such sorts of government, something analagous to the advancement of agriculture. The inhabitants are free from ambition (at least for a considerable time after the first establishment of their community;) Liberty gives them scope to exercise their industry, and equality excites emulation: For suddenly acquired fortunes out–strip, over–shade, and starve the lesser ones; whilst luxury keeps always in proportion to the inequality of fortunes—Besides, small shares of property are better distinguished, secured, and bounded: And, at the same time, more capable of admitting a correct and accurate husbandry.’ (Essays on Husbandry (London, 1764), 79.)
[59 ]The prohibition on the export of corn in ancient times is mentioned in ED 5.10 and in LJ (B) 296–7, ed. Cannan 229.
[60 ]See IV.v.b.10, 26 and generally IV.v.b.
[61 ]See above, I.xi.b.12. The distribution of foreign corn is also mentioned at V.iii.61.