Chapter 3 of Part 1 Section 2

Master and Servant

by Adam Smith Icon

Master and servant is the third relation of a family.

The same principle which gave the husband authority over the wife, also gave the father authority over the son. The husband’s power was softened through his wife’s friends. She could complain to them. The father was softened by the same means.

But it was not so with the servants who had nobody to complain to. The master had the power of life and death over them. This is different from the ius vitae et necisover the wife and children, which was restricted to criminal cases.

The power over the servants was arbitrary. A slave could have no property because the master had the disposal of his liberty. Whatever he has or can acquire belongs to his master.

No contract of the slave could bind the master, unless the master implied a tacit consent. A slave can only acquire for his master. If I promised a slave £10, I am obliged to pay it to the master.

There are many other disadvantages which the ancient Greek, Roman, and our negro slaves were liable to, though they were less attended to.

They were hindered from marriage.

They may cohabit with a woman, but cannot marry because the union between two slaves subsists no longer than the master pleases.

If the female slave does not breed, he may give her to another or sell her.

Among our slaves in the West Indies, there is no such thing as a marriage. The female slaves are all prostitutes and they suffer no degradation by it.

A polytheist slave is not protected by religion. He has no God any more than liberty and property.

The polytheistic religion has many local deities. Every place has its own divinity. The slaves do not belong to the country. Therefore, its gods are not concerned with them. Besides, a heathen can never approach a deity empty handed. The slaves had nothing to offer. They could expect no favour from them.

Those slaves who were employed about the temples were the only ones to have the protection of the gods. The master prayed for them in the same manner that he prayed for his cattle.

Superstition soothes our natural feelings. It is proportional to=

  • the precariousness of a person’s life, liberty, or property and .
  • the person’s ignorance

A slave is addicted to superstition from these two causes. Gamesters and savages are remarkably superstitious. It would be a very great hardship to be deprived of it. Therefore, a monothesistic religion with one God who governed all things is naturally very acceptable to slaves.

Accordingly we find that the Jewish religion was well fitted for defending itself. But it is worst adapted to make converts because they could never be of Abraham’s stock. They could never be on a level with the Jews, but only proselytes of the gate. Despite these disadvantages, it made great progress among the Roman slaves.

Christianity had none of these disadvantages. When it was introduced, it rapidly progressed among the slaves.

We tend to imagine that slavery is quite eliminated because we know nothing of it in this part of the world. But even at present, it is almost universal. A small part of Western Europe is the only portion of the globe that is free from it. This is nothing compared to the vast continents where it still prevails.

How was it abolished here? Why has it continued and probably will continue elsewhere?

Slavery takes place in the beginning of all societies. It comes from that tyrannic disposition natural to mankind. When governments were established, their constitution declared that slavery should be continued.

A free government would never abolish slavery as it would hurt their interest. In a monarchy, there is a better chance for its abolition, because=

  • the lawgiver is one person, and
  • the law will not extend to him nor reduce his power, though it may reduce that of his vassals.

Slaves may be better treated in despotic governments than in a free government. In a free government, every law is made by their masters, who will never pass anything prejudicial to themselves.

A monarch is more ready to do things for slaves. Vedius Pollio was a slave who had accidentally broken a platter. He threw himself down before Augustus who was visiting. He implored his protection, that he might not be cut in pieces and thrown into the fish pond. Augustus was so shocked with this. He immediately freed all Pollio’s slaves. Pollio did not like this.

Monarchy had taken place in the reigns of Adrian and Antoninus. Several laws made in favour of slaves in those reigns, but none in the times of the Republic.

Slavery may be gradually softened under a monarch, but not entirely abolished because no single person can have so much authority to immediately remove the most considerable part of the people’s property. This would create a general insurrection.

In an opulent country, the slaves are always ill-treated because=

  • there are more slaves than free men
  • the most rigid discipline is needed to keep them in order.

If a free man were killed in a house, all the slaves were put to death. Several authors tell us that in Rome at night, only the cries of slaves were heard, being punished by their masters. Ovid tells us that the slave who kept the gate was chained to it. The slaves who manured the ground were chained together lest they should run away. When an old slave was incapable for work, he was turned out to die on an island, near the city, kept for that purpose.

The high number of slaves makes them cheap to punish

Slavery is more tolerable in a barbarous than in a civilized society. In an uncultivated country, people cannot keep many slaves because of their poverty. Their discipline will not be so rigid as when they are numerous.

In a barbarous country, the master labours himself as well as the slave. Therefore, they are more nearly on a level.

In the early periods of Rome, the slave worked with his master and ate with him. The only punishment from misbehaviour was the carrying a cross stick through the town or village.

In Jamaica and Barbadoes, slaves are numerous and objects of jealousy. Punishments there even for slight offences are very shocking. But in North America, slaves are treated with the greatest mildness and humanity.

Slavery is more severe in proportion to society’s culture. Freedom and opulence contribute to the misery of the slaves. The perfection of freedom is their greatest bondage.

They are the most numerous part of mankind. No human will wish for liberty in a country where slavery is established.

Slave labor is more expensive than non-slave labor

A free man who works for day’s wages will work harder than a slave relative to the expense in maintaining and raising him. In ancient Italy, an estate managed by slaves in the most fertile country, yielded to the master only 1/6 of the produce. Whereas a landlord even in our barren country receives 1/3 and the tenants live much better.

Slaves cultivate only for themselves. The surplus goes to the master. Therefore, they are careless about cultivating the ground to the best advantage.

A free man keeps as his own whatever is above his rent. Therefore, has a motive to industry.

Our colonies would be much better cultivated by free men. The state of colliers and salters in Britain proves that slavery is a disadvantage.

  • They have privileges which slaves do not.
  • Their property after maintenance is their own.
  • They cannot be sold but along with the work.
  • They enjoy marriage and religion.
  • But they do not have liberty altogether.

It would be advantageous to the master that they were free.

The common wages of=

  • a day labourer is between 6 to 8 pence
  • a collier is 30 pence.

If they were free, their prices would fall. At Newcastle, the wages do not exceed 10 pence or 12 pence. Yet colliers often leave our coal-works, where they have 30 pence a day. They run to Newcastle where they have liberty though less wages.

Slavery reduces the number of free men because every slave takes up the room of a free man.

The inequality of fortune initially seemed as a misfortune, and so laws were made against it. The necessary expense of one man is around £10 per annum. A landed gentleman who has £10,000 per annum can maintain 1,000 men. At first sight, we see him as a monster who eats up the food of so many. But on closer look, he is really useful. He eats or wears no more than the rest. £10 serves him too. His £10,000 maintains 1,000 people who are employed in refining his £10 by an infinity of ways so as to make it worth the whole.This gives room for all kinds of manufactures.

When slaves are employed to sift this £10 out of the £10,000, one must be a tailor, another a weaver, a third a smith. Thus, each takes up a free man’s place.

The abolition of slavery through tenant agriculture

The slaves in Great Britain and the neighbouring countries were called adscripti glebae, those who cultivated the ground.

  • They could only be sold along with the land.
  • They only had their maintenance for their labour.

The ground was badly cultivated. To remedy this disadvantage, tenants by steelbow were introduced. They had no stock themselves. The landlord gave them cattle and the tools for ploughing which they returned at the end of the lease. At harvest, the crop was equally divided between the landlord and tenant.

This was the first species of free tenants, who were plainly emancipated villains. After a long time, the tenants picked up so much. It enabled them to make a bargain with the landlord to give him a certain sum for a lease of so many years.

Whatever the ground should produce they would take their venture. This is plainly an advantage to the landlord.

The ground every year is better cultivated at no expense to him. Half of the product was better to the tenants than any sum they would give.

By the feudal law, the lord had an absolute sway over his vassals.

  • In peacetime, he was the administrator of justice.
  • In wartime, they were obliged to fight for him.

When government became better established, the sovereign did all he could to lessen this influence. On some occasions this=

  • was dangerous to himself
  • hindered people from applying to him for justice.

Therefore, the ancient villains were tenants-at-will. They were obliged to perform certain duties to their master. They were entirely at his disposal. A law was made removing all their burdens except that of being tenants at will.

Finally, their privilege was extended and they became copyholders.

The abolition of slavery through the Church

Another cause of the abolition of slavery was the clergy’s influence. It was not caused by the spirit of Christianity, for our planters are all Christians.

Whatever reduced the power of the nobles over their inferiors increased the power of the Church. The clergy were generally more favoured by the common people than the nobility. They would do everything to have their privileges extended, especially the ones beneficial to the people.

Accordingly, Pope Innocent 3rd encouraged all landlords to emancipate their slaves. Thus, the clergy’s influence combined with that of the king and hastened the abolition of slavery in Western Europe.

In countries where neither the king nor the church were very powerful, slavery still prevails.

The sovereign could never have great authority. In Bohemia, Hungary, and those countries where the sovereign is elective, and consequently never could , Servitude still remains where the church never had any great influence. Because the court is not powerful enough to emancipate the nobility’s slaves.

On the topic of family members, I will only discuss:

  • how slaves are acquired
  • the state of domestic servants in our own country
  • the particular state of families