Adam Smith quotes on serfdom, government of merchants, New World gold, large families, religion

Oct 2012
I recently read an essay on Adam Smith that referred to his positions on various questions, without giving specific citations, which I would like to check. Could someone help me find:

1. He describes medieval serfdom as “a form of slavery."

2. “the worst kind of government is one of merchants.”

3. Why gold from Americas retarded/destroyed industrial development of Portugal and Spain. Spain and Portugal seem to have gone backward [since discovery of American mines]. Spain very poor beginning of 16c.

4. Large families, large numbers of children in N. America are source not of poverty, but of wealth and prosperity. Wages higher.

5. On usefulness of religion for ruling class. Very clinical look at role of religion.

Thank you.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
Adam Smith is often misquoted (not saying he was here), misunderstood or falsely represented in models of free market capitalism. Regulation is often cited as inherently bad for free markets and anticapitalist. "Anti-capitalist" translates to "socialism" in misleading campaign propaganda. Every capitalist wants to eliminate competition. Smith said competition is essential to free markets. In healthy markets it occurs naturally but if it doesn't, regulation must be applied to prevent abuse by monopolies.

Adam Smith on markets, competition and violations of natural liberty


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
1. "If 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 ancient state of Europe, the occupiers of land were all tenants at will. They were all or almost all slaves; but their slavery was of a milder kind than that known among the ancient 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. 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, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and other parts of Germany. It is only in the western and south-western provinces of Europe that it has gradually been abolished altogether."
Bk III ch 2


3. "It is rather for the manufactured than for the rude produce of Europe that the colony trade opens a new market. Agriculture is the proper business of all new colonies; a business which the cheapness of land renders more advantageous than any other. They abound, therefore, in the rude produce of land, and instead of importing it from other countries, they have generally a large surplus to export. In new colonies, agriculture either draws hands from all other employments, or keeps them from going to any other employment. There are few hands to spare for the necessary, and none for the ornamental manufactures. The greater part of the manufactures of both kinds they find it cheaper to purchase of other countries than to make for themselves. It is chiefly by encouraging the manufactures of Europe that the colony trade indirectly encourages its agriculture. The manufactures of Europe, to whom that trade gives employment, constitute a new market for the produce of the land; and the most advantageous of all markets, the home market for the corn and cattle, for the bread and butcher’s meat of Europe, is thus greatly extended by means of the trade to America.
But that the monopoly of the trade of populous and thriving colonies is not alone sufficient to establish, or even to maintain manufactures in any country, the examples of Spain and Portugal sufficiently demonstrate. Spain and Portugal were manufacturing countries before they had any considerable colonies. Since they had the richest and most fertile in the world, they have both ceased to be so.
In Spain and Portugal the bad effects of the monopoly, aggravated by other causes, have perhaps nearly overbalanced the natural good effects of the colony trade. These causes seem to be other monopolies of different kinds; the degradation of the value of gold and silver below what it is in most other countries; the exclusion from foreign markets by improper taxes upon exportation, and the narrowing of the home market, by still more improper taxes upon the transportation of goods from one part of the country to another; but above all, that irregular and partial administration of justice, which often protects the rich and powerful debtor from the pursuit of his injured creditor, and which makes the industrious part of the nation afraid to prepare goods for the consumption of those haughty and great men to whom they dare not refuse to sell upon credit, and from they are altogether uncertain of repayment.
In England, on the contrary, the natural good effects of the colony trade, assisted by other causes, have in a great measure conquered the bad effects of the monopoly. These causes seem to be: the general liberty of trade, which, notwithstanding some restraints, is at least equal, perhaps superior, to what it is in any other country; the liberty of exporting, duty free, almost all sorts of goods which are the produce of domestic industry to almost any foreign country..."
Bk IV ch 7

4. "Every colonist gets more land than he can possibly cultivate. He has no rent, and scarce any taxes to pay. No landlord shares with him in its produce, and the share of the sovereign is commonly but a trifle. He has every motive to render as great as possible a produce, which is thus to be almost entirely his own. But his land is commonly so extensive that, with all his own industry, and with all the industry of other people whom he can get to employ, he can seldom make it produce the tenth part of what it is capable of producing. He is eager, therefore, to collect labourers from all quarters, and to reward them with the most liberal wages. But those liberal wages, joined to the plenty and cheapness of land, soon make those labourers leave him, in order to become landlords themselves, and to reward, with equal liberality, other labourers, who soon leave them for the same reason that they left their first master. The liberal reward of labour encourages marriage. The children, during the tender years of infancy, are well fed and properly taken care of, and when they are grown up, the value of their labour greatly overpays their maintenance. When arrived at maturity, the high price of labour, and the low price of land, enable them to establish themselves in the same manner as their fathers did before them."
Bk IV ch 7 part II


An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - Econlib
Oct 2012
Thank you; this is very helpful. Could I bother you for a couple more?

6. “All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else” seems to always have been the rule of the masters of mankind.
7. Richer cults have more problems keeping clergy pious. Poorer ones, as in Scotland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, do better.