Front Page Titles (by Subject) : Benevolus: Poverty - American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 2
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: Benevolus: Poverty - Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 2 
American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 2.
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This selection appeared in the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina) on December 8, 1789. It is couched in a flowery, labored style often used in newspaper pieces, but a careful reading shows that under the quasi-metaphors there is a serious discussion on the effects of poverty. It is easy to imagine a debate between this author and the author of the piece on ambition—from the same paper—set in the 1980’s. The style of expression would change, but the liberal and conservative viewpoints of 1789 would be the same today on these issues.
Poverty is so prevalent an evil among the human race, that it may be said, few or none at one period or other of their lives, escape to the grave without (either directly in their own proper persons, or indirectly through the collateral medium of their connexions) being made sensible of its direful effects. Yes, gentlemen, poverty is a never failing source of misery and woe! a perrenial spring of sorrow and wretchedness! a prolific mother whose ever-teeming womb is incessantly pregnant with hunger, nakedness, disease, and in a word, with every species of human misery! Woe then to him on whom she siezes with her baleful talons! for poverty is more dreadful in its ravages and effects than Smyrnia plague—since during its influence, the suffering patients may be said to be buried alive! I say buried alive; being deserted, abandoned, and forgot of all the world; and thus in a manner, become non entities on earth! Friendship and poverty are incompatible, and therefore poverty has no friend! Pity indeed, sometimes yields a momentary relief to distress; but this delicate lady, Pity, alas! is of so frail a texture and frame of constitution, that of all beings she is the most short lived and transitory! The good doctor Goldsmith of philanthropic memory, humourously defines pity thus—a species of satire by the bye, extremely apposite to my present purpose. “Pity, says that benevolent character, is at best but a short lived passion, and seldom affords distress more than a transitory assistance, with some (and I may add, the greater sum of mankind) it scarce lasts from the first impulse till the hand can be put into the pocket; with others (a very small number) it may continue for twice that space; and on some extraordinary sensibility I have seen it operate for half an hour together. But still, last as it may, it generally produces but beggarly effects; and where, from this motive we give five farthings, from others we give five pounds. Whatever be our first feelings, (continues this ingenious observer of the human passions and propensities) from the first impulse of distress, when the same distress solicits a second time, we then feel with diminished sensibility; and like the repetition of an echo, every stroke becomes more and more faint, till at last our sensations lose all mixture of sorrow, and degenerate into downright contempt.” I shall not apologize for the length of this quotation, which I consider thus pertinently interwoven with my coarser stuff, as a precious jewel set in an ordinary collar; and therefore must stamp merit on this my feeble essay to be serviceably to my fellow creature, which, without such an ornament, would have but little value of its own to recommend it to public attention. But to return—Contempt did I say? Yes, poverty outdoes even familarity in giving birth to this vile fruit; a bantling that upon all occasions sticks so close to its unhappy parent, that nothing less powerful than the omnipotent influence of gold can ever charm it from her side.
Whatever may have been his birth, his talents, his merits, his accomplishments in life, a man of broken fortune will necessarily find himself indiscriminately involved among the common class of wretch, without any other difference or exception [NA] what must aggravate his case and heighten the pungency of his sufferings, from the uncommon delicacy of his feelings. Poverty (which is an unpardonable kind of crime) strips such a man for ever of every pretence to favor, protection, and esteem, and makes him an object of obloquy and severe animadversion to the uncharitable and conscious part of mankind! Even in this region of more than common felicity—in this land of freedom and plenty; nay in this our rich and populous city may be found at this hour, (a circumstance sure, that must deeply affect and interest every feeling bosom of our fellow citizens, and pall the relish and enjoyment of those pleasures which the benignity of our more indulgent stars has put into our possession) numbers of such as I have been describing, (and whose various situations and conditions, though nevertheless uniformly miserable, all description) pining in the last stages of human woe! Let us for a moment turn our minds eye (it is our duty—it is our interest as men and christians to [do] it) towards the widow and the fatherless—let us take a survey of the state of many a poor, unprovided family, struggling with adversity, and trying to stem the tide of misfortune—let us contemplate (it is an attention worthy of our nature) the undescribably melancholy state of those, at this (to them) severe and inclement season of the year; among whom are many old, decrepid, and utterly helpless individuals. Let us consider how deplorable a case it is to be in a little cabin or hovel, open to the wind and weather on all sides, without fuel, without food, without raiment, without furniture, and in a word sans everything! Aye, without any thing, save their efforts, amidst their calamities, to support themselves by resignation and fortitude; and to conceal their hard lot from the public eyes! How many such are now, while we are perusing this paper, realizing my assertion, by bravely drying up their involuntary tears, and suppressing their bosum heaving sighs! Methinks I see this moment (alas it is no uncommon sight) methinks I see the obdurate constable, the minion of justice; but never the messenger of mercy, in the execution of his office; and committing utter ravage and devastation in many parts at once this opulent town—yes, this is no imaginary spectacle, or creature of the fancy, for the thing really and substantially exists! Already lies before my view the little all, the last resource of an unfortunate family, (who knew better days, and certainly deserve a better fate) tumbled out of doors upon the pavement, and going to be sold off, probably for a debt of fifty shillings, what cost as many pounds! What, the myrmidons have spared nothing, I see—nothing has been saved from unhallowed fangs! Let me see—two old chairs, a broken pot, an old matress, one door rug, the poor man’s mechanic tools, which brought his family a morsel of bread—the poor woman’s little holiday thing—all gone! Nothing saved! Now flow ye tears, my eyes open your briny juices, or my distended heart must burst!—Well, this won’t do, I’ll go and comfort them a little—where are they? alas! they are gone too! O, what will become of them? I must and I will find them out. I am interested in their welfare; for I too am a man. This day will I abstain from my wonted luxuries and delicacies, that these my fellow creatures, my brethren, may feed upon my self-denial; that they too may eat and bless our common God!
O, would to the almighty, our common benefactor and father, and who is no respector of persons, we were all like dutiful children and loving brethren, more sedulously attentive to the duties and command of charity than we are! However, good christian readers let us one and all, who can, always and at this season of the year more especially, step forward to the relief of the poor; a small matter from time to time will do, much is not necessary. For this truly pious and good purpose let subscriptions be set on foot, charity sermons preached—societies instituted, and private donations be dispensed, that so a fund may be accumulated; and in order that the proper objects may be known and discovered, the different wards of the city should make true returns of their respective poor; at the same time specifying particulars for the regulation of the Christian Charitable Board. This is undoubtedly the only plan adequate to the occasion and competent to the exigency in question. Partial and precarious eleemosynary donations, amounting to no more than a temporary trivial relief. We may very conveniently relieve the poor without any sensible injury to our own affairs, be our circumstances ever so moderate; for Charity does not require that we should go beyond what we can afford; but then she requires and even commands what we can afford; as being in fact, none of our property; but bona fide belongs to the poor. ’Tis therefore our indispensable duty (and for which before the throne of God we are accountable) not to withhold it from them, as in that case, such a derelection would be the most execrable, reprehensible of all frauds; and God forbid, that any who rejoices in being a christian, should be guilty of it! There is no man but may make room (if I may so express myself) for his charity and benevolence to operate, if he will, for that end, curtail his sumptuary expences; and this may be done a thousand different ways—among the most feasible, as well as laudable of these, are retrenching the idle and ostentatious luxury of our pampering tables; we may change our rich and costly wines sometimes for cheaper, as well as more wholesome beverage; we may on some particular days dine upon plain beef, rather than vension or mutton; and not unfrequently in order to accomplish this heavenly design, we may forbear the company of a half-friend; or ask a cruel acquaintance who drops in, to stay for dinner. Tho’ much more might have been urged upon this affecting subject, yet, considering the limits of your valuable paper, and the variety of important matters which uniformly crowd in upon the City Gazette, I shall conclude this address, which I think as applicable to every great town throughout the united states, as to our own capitals; and hope and wish accordingly, its influence and effects will pervade the union! For charity should know no bounds, but those of discretion and prudence; and no limits but the ends of the world.