ACLAIMing a Great Method for Primary Sources

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations:


Author: Adam Smith (1723-1790)

  • British philosopher and key member of the Scottish Enlightenment period; the “father of modern economics”; lots of higher education at the University of Glasgow and Oxford (although he preferred to study on his own when at Oxford).
  • Born into a relatively well-off family; father worked for the government; Smith was able to attend a relatively prestigious school.
  • Close relationship with David Hume, a fellow Scottish intellectual
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) made Adam Smith well known in his area
    • Gets him a tutoring job with a young Duke
  • Tutoring job enabled Smith to travel and meet various intellectual greats in the areas he traveled to
    • One of which was Turgot!
    • Tutor job ended in 1766, and Smith returned home soon after



  • Industrial revolution in Britain – technology is moving quite fast
  • Published three months after Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet
  • Pre-French Revolution → prior to the large class struggle and upheaval → would not have impacted his writing


Language: Smith wrote in an educated manner, meant to be understood by those with an educated background. Long paragraphs make it harder to read, and as such, it is quite dense.


Audience: Smith presumably was writing for those that could understand him, thus, the educated people of Britain. Economically, this would likely have included the middle class, the bourgeoisie, and the upper class.


Intent: Intrigued by the latest developments in Britain, in his writing, Smith appears to be making comments and theories regarding the economic state of Britain. In some cases, he was trying to explain a recent economic history of Britain, and how it could be a model for future use and growth of the nation.


Message: In short, Smith advocated the division of labor, and credited it to the increase in the skill of the workforce, the increased efficiency of keeping key information about working between generations of people, and the innovations and inventions in technology. He believed that if the nation continued along these trends, then the nation’s economy would continue to grow.



Essay on Population


Author: Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

  • English cleric and scholar
  • Born into a relatively affluent family
  • Moved quickly through his higher education, doing well at Cambridge and winning lots of awards and contests
  • His most notable work is the “Essay on Population,” as it is now known as
    • Consistently made updated versions of the essay, between 1798 and 1826, to ensure current examples and to combat critiques



  • The essay originally was not published under his own name
  • The Industrial Revolution continued to persist in Britain
  • There is a large amount of economic and population growth due to increased technological efficiency
  • This is written after Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but is more specifically a response to William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice


Language: The language of the essay is very straightforward and easy to read. The essay is structured in a simplistic manner, making it easier to follow than Smith.


Audience: Malthus was likely writing for every literate person, so that his warning may spread. However, it was likely more specifically directed towards those with control over population and territorial expansion.


Intent: Malthus’s intent was to respond to a rival intellectual’s theories about population and resources. It, in many ways, is a warning to present and future society about perceived limitless expansion.


Message: Malthus argued that population growth was very likely to continue due to natural conditions and desires that promote population growth. However, Malthus argues that population and economic growth cannot be unchecked and limitless, because of the scarcity of resources. If population numbers continue to rise, it will increase the risk of famine and disease.



5 thoughts on “ACLAIMing a Great Method for Primary Sources

  1. You provide very detailed and well spaced out descriptions using the ACLAIM method to further understanding of both documents. Both of The Wealth of Nations and Essay on Population showed the intellectuals of England during the late 1700’s the real problems of England as a whole, including the economy and population. No matter how well economically or demographically your nation is doing, it is impossible for society to be perfect. Although both documents demonstrate different points, they both encompass demographic and economic ideas that provided great knowledge to the people of England in the late 1700’s. These documents go into great depth in their analysis of the Industrial Revolution and the technological efficiency that it brought about. Both writers also helped guide the future for the nation of Britain and showed the path that the people must follow for survival (demographically) and prosperity (economically) during and after the Industrial Revolution.

  2. @pastoree

    I agree with you completely that they are send different messages. Malthus, to a large extent, depicts a cautionary tale if a society were to completely follow Smith’s ideology.

  3. In reading your biography on Adam Smith, I really enjoyed learning more information about him and what he was all about. With the great background information that you presented in regards to Adam Smith, I am trying to see if any of that played a role in his reasoning to support the idea of division of labor. One aspect of his biography that seems intriguing is that because he was a tutor, he was able to travel and experience numerous places. Due to his ability to experience numerous places, one can make the assumption that he saw both successful and unsuccessful industries throughout his travels. Furthermore, it is possible that while noticing these successful industries, he observed that the they incorporated this idea of division of labor. Due to their successes, he felt compelled enough to write about the importance of this system. While I do not know this to be true, I feel as though this could be the case for he seems very intent on promoting the idea of labor divide.

  4. Excellent use of the ACLAIM Method! Your research into the background of Adam Smith definitely helps one understand why he spoke in the manner he did in the passage. I wouldn’t exactly say that he was bashing on farmers, but it was clear that his upbringing may have colored his words. He states, essentially, that farmers cannot benefit from this new division of labor because of the nature of their work, and thus, the cost of farmed goods does not change much from nation to nation. I am not sure how true that statement was, but regardless, he seems to push the issue to the side.

  5. Great detailed analysis with the ACLAIM method! What I found to be the most interesting about Malthus’s essay was how it seems to be reflecting several of the roots of Social Darwinism (though this theory wouldn’t officially come about until the 1860s). The context would make sense as it is the onset of the Industrial Revolution and huge urban growth is happening. Malthus discusses the distressed condition of the poor, and also mentions the perpetual cycle distress in their lives. Although he is not discussing this is a condescending way and he is mainly referencing the rural poor, there is a distinct connection between what checks the population, human nature, and the condition of poverty.

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