Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re

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Author: Adam Smith

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ADAM SMITH, The Wealth of Nations, Bk. I, chap. x, pt. 2. World History

73.

Adam Smith on the Guilds of His Day

In Sheffield no master cutler can have more than one apprentice at a time by a by-law of the corporation. In Norfolk and Norwich no master weaver can have more than two apprentices under pain of forfeiting five pounds a month to the king. No master hatter can have more than two apprentices anywhere in England or in the English plantations, under pain of forfeiting five pounds a month, half to the king and half to him who shall sue in any court of record. Both these regulations, though they have been Confirmed by a public law of the kingdom, are evidently dictated by the same corporation spirit which enacted the by-law of Sheffield. The silk weavers in London had scarce been incorporated a year when they enacted a by-law restraining any master from having more than two apprentices at a time. It required a particular act of Parliament to rescind this by-law. . . .

The Statute of Apprenticeship

By the 5th of Elizabeth, commonly called the Statute of Apprenticeship, it was enacted that no persons should for the future exercise any trade, craft, or mystery at the time exercised in England, unless he had previously served to it an apprenticeship of seven years at least; and what before had been the by-law of many particular corporations became in England the general public law of all the trades carried on in market towns. For, though the words of the statute are very general and plainly seem to include the whole kingdom, by interpretation its operation has been limited to market towns, it having been held that in country villages a person may exercise several different trades, though he has not served a seven years’ apprenticeship to each, they being necessary for the conveniency of the inhabitants, and the number of people frequently not being sufficient to supply each with a particular set of hands.

Trades which had sprung up since Elizabeth’s time not included in the apprentice system

By a strict interpretation of the words, too, the operation of this statute has been limited to those trades which were established in England before the 5th of Elizabeth and has never been extended to such as have been introduced since that time. This limitation has given occasion to several distinctions which, considered as rules of police, appear as foolish as can well be imagined. It has been adjudged, for example, that a coach maker can neither himself make nor employ journeymen to make his coach wheels, but must buy them of a master wheelwright, this latter trade having been exercised in England before the 5th of Elizabeth. But a wheelwright, though he has never served an apprenticeship to a coach maker, may either make them himself or employ journeymen to make coaches, the trade of a coach maker not being within the statute because not exercised in England at the time when it was made. The manufactures of Manchester, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton are, many of them, upon this account not within the statute, not having been exercised in England before the 5th of Elizabeth.

Situation in France

In France the duration of apprenticeships is different in different towns and in different trades. In Paris five years is the term required in a great number; but before any person can be qualified to exercise the trade as a master he must in many of them serve five years more as a journeyman. During this latter term he is called the companion of his master and the term itself is called his companionship. . . .

Adam Smith’s criticism of the guild system

The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman and of those who might be disposed to employ him. As it hinders the one from working at what he thinks proper, so it hinders the others from employing whom they think proper. To judge whether he is fit to be employed may surely be trusted to the discretion of the employers whose interest it so much concerns. The affected anxiety of the lawgiver lest they should employ an improper person is evidently as impertinent as it is oppressive.

Long apprenticeship unnecessary

Long apprenticeships are altogether unnecessary. The arts which are much superior to common trades, such as those of making clocks and watches, contain no such mystery as to require a long course of instruction. The first invention of such beautiful machines, indeed, and even that of some of the instruments employed in making them, have been the work of deep thought and long time, and may justly be considered as among the happiest efforts of human ingenuity. But when both have been fairly invented and are well understood, to explain to any young man in the completest manner how to apply the instruments and how to construct the machines cannot well require more than the lessons of a few weeks—perhaps those of a few days might be sufficient. In the common mechanic trade those of a few days might certainly be sufficient. The dexterity of hands indeed even in common trades cannot be acquired without much practice and experience. But a young man would practice with much more diligence and attention if from the beginning he wrought as a journeyman, being paid in proportion to the little work which he could execute and paying in his turn for the materials which he might sometimes spoil through awkwardness and inexperience. His education would generally in this way be more effectual and always less tedious and expensive.

Smith’s interest in low prices to the consumer

The master indeed would be a loser. He would lose all the wages of the apprentice which he now saves for seven years together. In the end perhaps the apprentice himself would be the loser. In a trade so easily learnt he would have more competitors and his wages when he came to be a complete workman would be much less than at present. The same increase in competition would reduce the profits of the masters as well as the wages of the workmen. The trades, the crafts, the mysteries would all be losers. But the public would be a gainer, the work of all artificers coming in this way much cheaper to the market.

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Chicago: Adam Smith, "Adam Smith on the Guilds of His Day," Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 142–145. Original Sources, accessed September 19, 2020, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=M2SGH1ACQUU3KKC.

MLA: Smith, Adam. "Adam Smith on the Guilds of His Day." Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 142–145. Original Sources. 19 Sep. 2020. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=M2SGH1ACQUU3KKC.

Harvard: Smith, A, 'Adam Smith on the Guilds of His Day' in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.142–145. Original Sources, retrieved 19 September 2020, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=M2SGH1ACQUU3KKC.