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.