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[BOOK THIRD.]: [OF THE POOR—THEIR MAINTENANCE.] - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 2 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. II. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1856).
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[OF THE POOR—THEIR MAINTENANCE.]
(Interpolation from Notes.)—Having been employed, for some time past, in tracing the sources of national opulence, our attention is naturally directed, in the next place, to that unfortunate class of men, who, in consequence either of the imperfections of our social institutions, or of the evils necessarily connected with the present constitution of humanity, are left dependent on the bounty of their fellow-citizens. The subject is sufficiently interesting in itself, considered in relation merely to the order of men who are its immediate objects; but it will be found, on examination, to be still more interesting when considered in connexion with the general system of Political Economy. In treating of this subject, I shall begin first with a short historical sketch of the origin and progress of the Poor-laws in both parts of the island, and shall afterwards proceed to some inquiries and speculations of a more general nature.
[HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE POOR-LAWS.]
OF THE ENGLISH POOR-LAWS.]
From the review which I am now to offer, it will appear with what extreme difficulty this branch of legislation is accompanied, and how frequently the best intended, and, apparently, most wisely-concerted schemes have been found to aggravate the evils which they were meant to remedy. Such a review, while it serves to animate our wishes for the improvement of what is defective or erroneous in the established system, will be no less useful in moderating our confidence in the most plausible plans that may be proposed with that view. For the same reason, I shall not be very forward in suggesting any ideas of my own on this subject. I shall aim rather at giving a useful direction to your future inquiries, contenting myself at present, with remarking, in general, the striking illustration which this subject affords of the danger of multiplying unnecessarily the objects of law, by attempting to secure artificially, by the wisdom of man, those beneficent ends which are sufficiently provided for by the wisdom of nature.
But it is not to those alone who study Political Economy, with a view to the improvement of the theory of legislation, that this is an interesting subject of speculation. Every individual in a private capacity, is daily induced by the impulse of compassion to administer assistance to the indigent, and needs some general principles to guide his benevolence, without which he may be in danger of counteracting the purposes which he wishes to serve. I have no doubt that the want of these prevents many from doing the good, which they would be both willing and able to do, if they had some fixed and acknowledged rule of conduct. Nor is this at all surprising; for there is certainly none of the private offices of duty in which men have been more misled from the general advantage of society, by false and partial views, than in the administration of individual charity. To the justness of this remark, every country of Europe bears witness, in the numberless establishments founded in the dark ages, by the pious charity of individuals. In the present times, however, the charity both of individuals and of the State ought to be regulated by views of general and permanent interest, not by any view of partial or temporary advantage.
I had formerly occasion [supra, Vol. I. p. 113] to take notice of the servile condition of the lower orders of men all over Europe, for a long time after the settlement of the barbarous nations in the different Roman provinces; and more particularly, I observed, that during the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, slaves seem everywhere to have formed the most numerous rank in the community. While this continued to be the case, that order of men which is called the begging poor, could not have an existence. The obligation to serve another for life, implies a reciprocal obligation on the master to supply his slave with the necessaries of life; and a regard to his own interest will usually secure the fulfilment of this obligation, though in times of general scarcity it is possible that the labouring classes may be exposed to severe hardships. It is hardly necessary for me to remark here, that this consideration does not lead to any conclusion favourable to the institution of slavery, which opposes a great and almost insurmountable barrier to the opulence and population of a country. The number of individuals to whom it secures the bare necessaries of life, bears no proportion to those who, under a more liberal system of policy, would have enjoyed many of its comforts and accommodations. Where all men have the prospect of bettering their condition, we may expect to find some unfortunate adventurers; and although it will always be the object of a wise Legislature to diminish the number of these, yet the existence of indigence and of those other calamities which are its usual concomitants, may be regarded as a decisive proof that the labouring orders have already emancipated themselves from the tyranny of their domestic masters, and that they have entered on that career which is gradually to raise them to a more elevated rank.
This reflection, while it furnishes a satisfactory answer to those arguments in favour of the African slave trade, which are founded on a comparison between the situation of the begging poor in Great Britain, and that of the negroes in our West India colonies, may serve to reconcile us to those partial evils which appear to be the inseparable attendants of national opulence; not that I would willingly grant in its fullest extent the truth of the remark on which these observations proceed.
It does not belong to the present subject to trace the various steps by which the practice of villanage gradually wore out in England. One circumstance, unquestionably, which contributed very powerfully to the rise of the lower orders, was the endeavours of the different sovereigns from Henry II., to counterbalance the overgrown weight of the feudal aristocracy, by encouraging the manumission of bondsmen, and taking the towns under their protection. This policy was pursued with great steadiness by Edward III. during his long and vigorous reign; nor was it abandoned under the feeble administration of his successor, Richard II. It seems, indeed, to have been in the course of this last reign that the most general emancipation of bondsmen took place.
This sudden emancipation of the lower orders, produced the consequences which might have been expected. Restored all at once to their natural rights, without being sufficiently prepared for liberty, they felt an impatience of all legal restraint. Nor was it in the power of any laws, however rigorously executed, to correct these disorders, at a period when the arts and manufactures furnished employment to so very small a proportion of the people. These consequences were felt even during the reign of Edward III., and still more under the weak administration of his successor, in whose time, we find in the records of Parliament, numberless complaints of the vagrants, rogues, and deserters of their service, who were wandering over the country doing mischief, &c. In 1376, the year before Edward’s death, the Commons made a great complaint, that masters were obliged to give their servants great wages, in order to prevent them from running away; that many of them who left their service became sturdy beggars, who infested the kingdom, &c.; to remedy which evils, they proposed “That no relief should be given to those who are able to work, within boroughs or in the country; that vagrant beggars, and staff-strikers, should be imprisoned till they consent to return home to work; and that whoever harboured any runaway servant in his service, should be liable to a penalty of £10.”* It does not appear that the King assented to this proposal; but, as Sir Frederic Morton Eden observes, it seems to have been the groundwork of a subsequent statute, and shows the early opinion of Parliament on the subject of mendicity. It is in this statute that beggars are first mentioned; and from the language used, they appear chiefly to have lived in towns and burghs, where the principal part of the national wealth was concentrated. Of the progress which these evils rapidly made, some idea may be formed from a statute passed at the commencement of the subsequent reign, (1st Richard II.) By this Act, the excesses of the villains were repressed by severe punishments, their farther emancipation checked, and every method employed by the great barons to prevent others from becoming free; insomuch, that in the fifteenth year of Richard II., they endeavoured to obtain a law, that no villain should be allowed to send his son to school; a memorable instance of that short-sighted policy, not without its influence, alas, in our own times, which attempts to preserve the order of society by withholding from the people those means of intellectual improvement which alone lay a sure foundation for good morals, and peaceable subordination to authority.
It was during this reign that the Legislature found itself first called upon, not only to provide for the punishment of vagrants, but also for the relief of the aged and impotent. In earlier times, it may be presumed, that the villain, when unable to work, was maintained by his lord, as the pauper now is by his parish; and as the number then engaged in manufactures was comparatively small, there is great reason to believe that the indigent workmen were supported from the funds of the corporation or society to which they belonged. By the statute 1388, among a variety of other regulations, it is enacted, “That impotent beggars should continue in the cities or villages where they lived at the time of the passing of the Act; and if the inhabitants of those places were neither able nor willing to maintain them, they were to be taken to other towns within the hundred, or to the place of their birth, where they were to continue for life.”* From the language of this statute, Sir Frederic Eden argues, “I should infer that the district where impotent beggars were directed to reside, was bound to maintain them; and that the justices of peace, who had a considerable latitude of discretionary power, in some cases regulated both the place of their abode, and the amount of the alms they were to receive.”*
These details may appear minute and tedious, but they form a very important part of this historical sketch, as they show that the great outlines of a scheme for the compulsory maintenance of the poor, which is commonly believed to have originated in consequence of the Protestant Reformation, had been conceived as early as the reign of Richard II. The Act, too, was confirmed in the reign of Henry IV.
During the subsequent reigns, various regulations were enacted, by the Legislature, by which the harsh provisions of former statutes against vagrants were somewhat moderated; and at last, in the reign of Henry VIII., they received the sanction of an express statute. The Protestant Reformation, with some other events immediately connected with it, in particular the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII., had a powerful influence on the condition of the lower orders in general, and tended greatly to increase the number of the begging poor. Not to mention the multitudes whose subsistence depended on the alms distributed at the gates of the religious houses, and who, in consequence of their suppression, were thrown at once on the bounty of their fellow-citizens, 50,000 monks were compelled to have recourse to the active exertions of industry, and reduced to the same state of dependence and indigence. The first effects, too, of this violent and arbitrary measure on the general industry of the country, must have been far from favourable. Instead of the gentle dominion of the abbots who, with all their vices, seem to have been kind and indulgent landlords, and who, in consequence of the great hospitality which they exercised at home, consumed the greater part of the produce of the land on the spot, the people found themselves exposed to the extortions of new masters, who spent their revenues in the capital, and to the still more intolerable rapacity of their stewards. “Old Henry Jenkins lamented, with reason, that the days were over in which he used to be invited to the Lord Abbot’s chamber, to feast on quarters of a yard of roast beef, and wassel in a black jack: he was probably not the only sufferer.”* And though it certainly was not desirable that the great luxury of the monks should have been perpetual, yet it cannot be doubted that the violence with which the remedy was applied, must have disordered, for a considerable time, the general police of the country. A prohibition against admitting novices in future, would have been an equally effectual preventive, and would have saved that injustice and cruelty with which the measure was actually carried into execution.
When I mention the Protestant Reformation, and the sudden suppression of the monasteries, as one cause of the increase of the begging poor, I would not be understood to admit with some advocates of the Roman Catholic faith, that during the Popish times beggary was attended with no inconveniences to the community in general, the burden falling exclusively on the religious houses. Abundant evidence of the contrary is afforded by the facts already stated. The following document, however, is so curious, that I shall make no apology for subjoining it as an additional confirmation of the same thing, more especially as it will serve to illustrate the unreasonableness of certain other popular clamours which have been renewed in our own times. It is an extract from Lewis’s History of the several Translations of the Holy Bible, [1731,] and evinces completely the disorders which existed in England, in consequence of the prevalence of beggary, even when the Popish institutions subsisted in all their vigour. The passage, at the same time, it sufficiently appears, is exaggerated in some of its statements, as well as unfounded in some of its inferences, being the composition of a warm advocate for the Reformed faith, at a period when the minds of men were too much heated to judge, or even to observe, with coolness.
“Before I proceed to give an account of the next edition of the English Bible, it may not, perhaps, be wholly unacceptable to the reader, to observe to him an historical passage in the Preface of Coverdale’s to the Bible just now spoken of, relating to the increase of the poor here in England; and that the rather, because of the pompous boasts made by the Romanists of their charity, and the hard reflections made on us by them for the want of it, as if the great number of beggars were owing to the Reformation, and particularly to the dissolution of the religious houses, as the monasteries were falsely called, at whose gates a professed Protestant tells us, all the poor of the nation were supported. But now Coverdale here appeals to the senses of his reader, and bids him lift up his eyes and see how great a multitude of poor people runne thorowe every towne: and this, too, at a time when these religious houses were at the very height of their prosperity. Sir Thomas More speaks of people’s going about sick of the French pox and begging with them, though he adds, ‘that thirty years ago there were five against one that begged with them now.’ In his Utopia he proposed, ‘That the beggars should, by a law made on purpose, be all placed in the convents of the Benedictines, since it was owing in a great measure to the avarice of these wealthy abbeys, who laid down their arable lands to pasture, that the number of beggars was so much increased.’ ”*
That I may not lose myself in a field of such immense extent as this, I shall pass over the various attempts of the Legislature to secure a maintenance to the impotent, and employment to the idle part of the community, during the reigns of Edward VI. and of Philip and Mary, and shall proceed at once to the Act for the relief of the poor, passed in the year 1601, in the forty-third year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign; which, having concentrated all the former laws relative to this subject, has remained the foundation-stone of our present establishment.
The most important provisions of this Act were copied verbatim from an Act passed a few years before, by which four overseers were directed in each parish, to take measures for setting poor children and persons, in want of employment, to work, and for raising a stock of materials for that purpose, &c.
As the distresses of the poor, in consequence of the scarcities which prevailed towards the conclusion of the last and beginning of the present century, have engaged a more than ordinary degree of attention in our times, particularly among speculative men, it may not be altogether useless for me to remark here the extreme danger of being hurried, by the pressure of accidental or temporary evils, into measures which may entail permanent and incorrigible mischiefs on the community. The consequences of the Act 1601 in England, during the last two centuries, have been long and deeply deplored; and they are now so interwoven with the general system of English prosperity, that it is hardly possible to conceive how they can be effectually remedied. And yet there are, I think, strong reasons for believing that this fatal Act arose entirely from the severe hardships under which the poor had laboured for some years previous to its date. An uninterrupted course of scanty seasons and unfavourable crops closed the sixteenth, as it has since done the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and an examination of the state of the country at the end of the first of these periods, may not be uninstructive to many persons even in the present times.
“In 1587, wheat rose to £3, 4s. the quarter; in 1594, it was £2, 16s.; and in 1595, £2, 13s. the quarter.—Blomefield, in his History of Norfolk, informs us, that the scarcity of Norwich in the year 1595, was so great, that the magistrates were obliged to send for a large quantity of rye from Denmark; but the winds hindering its coming, the project was of no service till late in the year. When it arrived, it was sold to the poor at the reduced price of 4s. the bushel. This charitable act cost the corporation above £200. I subjoin Blomefield’s account of the prices of several other articles of diet at Norwich this year, as it corroborates the assertions of other historians respecting the dearth of this period: wheat was £2 the quarter; rye, £1, 10s.; barley, £1; oatmeal, £2; beef, 3s. the stone; the best sheep, 14s. a piece; a lamb, 5s.; a calf, £1; a fat capon, 3s. 4d.; a pigeon, 3d.; a rabbit, 8d.; and cheese, 4d. the pound. Blomefield adds, that in the beginning of 1596 prices fell; ‘but by reason of a wet May, they rose again to such large prices that it was a very hard year with the poor, and so continued to the next harvest, when, by God’s mercy, things fell, on account of their plenty, to their usual prices.’ ”*
In 1601, when the Act in question was passed, the crop was plentiful, and the seasons continuing favourable for a series of years, the situation of the poor became comparatively easy, and the Legislature exulted in the happy consequences of its own foresight. It appears, however, from D’Ewes’s Journal that there were a few members who had the sagacity to perceive, that the only permanent foundation for plenty was to be laid in a prosperous agriculture. In the debate on the propriety of continuing the Statute of tillage, a Mr. Johnson made a speech, the substance of which is thus reported by D’Ewes:—“In the time of dearth, when we made this Statute, it was not considered that the hand of God was upon us; and now corn is cheap; if too cheap, the husbandman is undone, whom we must provide for, for he is the staple man of the kingdom.”† Another speaker who rose above the prejudices of his age, was Sir Walter Raleigh, who, in the course of the same debate, recommended as the most effectual plan for securing the permanent prosperity of the nation, to set tillage at liberty.
With respect to the comparative number of the receivers and payers of parochial contributions, immediately after the establishment of the poor’s-rates, it is impossible for us, at this distance of time, to form any accurate estimate. But it seems highly probable, as Sir Frederic Eden observes,‡ that the number of poor receiving or wanting parish relief, at the close of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century, bore a less proportion to the other classes of the nation than the number of those in similar circumstances does at present. About the year 1590, the city of London is said to have contained 160,000 inhabitants. In the year 1595, a year of great scarcity, a survey was made, by direction of the Lord Mayor, of the number of poor householders, who were found to amount to 4132. But it is not mentioned whether the individuals in each family were included in this enumeration, or what class of persons was understood to fall under the denomination of householders. Making, however, a very full allowance for these omissions, we shall be justified in supposing, that the increase of the inhabitants of the metropolis has by no means kept pace with the increase of the poor. The legal assessments and voluntary contributions now raised in London for relief of the poor, together with the expense of the many beneficent establishments and public charities which it contains, are estimated by Mr. Colquhoun, who published in the year 1797, at £850,000 per annum.* And the same author asserts, in another part of his work, “that upwards of 20,000 individuals rise every morning in London, without knowing how, or by what means, they are to be supported during the day, or where, in many instances, they are to lodge on the succeeding night.”†
If we examine the condition of many of our country towns, even of those which are considered as the most advanced in opulence and industry, we shall find the proportion of the poor far exceeding anything noticed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Of the amount of the rate annually levied during her reign, and during that of her successor, James I., history is silent. But we know that after the passing of this Act, the situation of the poor is represented as extremely deplorable. The assessments are said to have been so low, that many perished for want. During the reign of Charles I., the Legislature were too much occupied in discussing questions of a political and constitutional nature, to attend to the internal police of the country: accordingly, little information is known with regard to the state of the poor, till the accession of Charles II. “Of the thriving condition of England during the short period of the Commonwealth,” says Sir Frederic Morton Eden, “we have the concurrent testimony of several contemporary authors. The great increase of trade, high price of wool, and advance of rents about the year 1652, are indubitable proofs that industry and its attendant comforts had not deserted the land.”*
In the year 1662, the important Statute which is the foundation of the present law of settlements, was enacted not only for the purpose of determining who were to be considered as the poor of each parish, but to prevent labourers in general, even before they became actually chargeable from wandering from the usual place of their abode, lest particular parishes, which, from their situation, held out inviting prospects to the industrious, should, in the end, be overburdened with their poor. Previous to the passing of this Act, the poor were at liberty to seek employment wherever it could be had; and none were obliged to reside in the place of their settlement, this place of settlement being fixed by an abode for three years. But by the 13th and 14th of Charles II., it was enacted, that the residence in a parish necessary in order to receive a settlement should be reduced to forty days; and that within that time it should be lawful for any two justices of the peace, upon complaint made by the church-wardens and overseers of the poor, to remove any new comer to the parish where he was last legally settled, either as a native, householder, sojourner, apprentice, or servant, for the space of forty days at the least.”†
I have mentioned this Act thus particularly, because, according to Sir Frederic Eden, the single clause now quoted from this short Act, has occasioned more doubts and difficulty in Westminster Hall, and he adds, has been more profitable to the lawyers, than any other part of English jurisprudence.‡ It has been justly remarked of it, that it is deficient with regard to the subjects of foreign nations. Scotch and Irish labourers, for instance, if they do not fall under the class of vagrants, could not be removed under its provisions, because they never could become chargeable. However, as they might and still may continue undisturbed, without the entanglement of a certificate; and if they cannot secure a claim for themselves, as they yet can establish one for their children, servants, and apprentices, they were, in this respect, placed in a better situation than the natives.—This glaring defect in the Act, rendering strangers the only persons capable of residing in any part of England which they chose, has at length happily been corrected; and English labourers are now, by the 35th George III., authorized to remain in any place till they become actually chargeable. Some inconveniences are stated as consequences of this Statute, equitable and liberal as it appears, in a Pamphlet by Mr. Bates Dudley, published in the year 1802.*
The obstruction which this law of settlement opposes to the free circulation of common labour, has been justly called by Mr. Smith, “the greatest of all the disorders in the police of England.” Of the rise, progress, and state of the evil at the time when he wrote, a succinct account will be found in his Wealth of Nations.†
According to Mr. Smith, the very unequal price of labour which we frequently find in England in places at no great distance from one another, is probably owing to the obstruction which the law of settlements gives to a poor man, who would carry his industry from one parish to another without a certificate.”‡ And to the same purpose, Lord Kames, in his Sketches of the History of Man, observes, that while in Scotland the price of labour is generally the same in the different shires and parishes, “it varies in every parish of England. A labourer who has gained a settlement in a parish, on which he depends for bread when he inclines to be idle, dares not remove to another parish where wages are higher, fearing to be out of a settlement altogether.”§ The assertions of these two very respectable writers concerning the uniformity in the rate of wages over Scotland, compared with the state of England in the same respect, are controverted by Mr. Howlett, in his Examination of Mr. Pitt’s Speech on the Poor-laws, [1796;] and Sir Frederic Eden has given it as his opinion, that Mr. Howlett’s censures are justified by an appeal to facts. “I am persuaded,” says Mr. Howlett, “that had the Doctor lived to have read Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, he would perhaps have been inclined to some slight alteration of sentiment. He would have discovered that the price of labour is as various in the northern part of Great Britain as in the southern, and the slightest view of our towns of Leeds, Liverpool, and innumerable others, might have convinced him that the circulation of labour is as free, and the scarcity of hands in one place as amply supplied by their superabundance in another, on the south side of the Tweed as on the north.”* And to the same purpose, Sir Frederic Eden asserts, in terms still stronger, that “neither of these writers seems to be warranted by fact in their supposition, that the price of labour, in their own country, is far more equal than it is in England; and that the inequality here is principally occasioned by the obstruction which the law of settlements gives to a poor man, who would carry his industry from one parish to another without a certificate.”†
I cannot help thinking, that both of these gentlemen have gone too far in their censure on our Scottish politicians. Without entering into any particular discussion of facts, we have decisive evidence, I think, against these conclusions. It seems to be one of the most incontrovertible positions which can be imagined, that the law of settlements, though not the only cause of the inequality which prevails in England, must increase that inequality; and that when it is once established, it must oppose an almost insurmountable barrier to the operation of those natural causes which tend gradually to bring down the rate of wages to a level. On the other hand, it is most undoubtedly true, that in Scotland the uniformity of wages is not so complete as we might expect from a theoretical view of the subject; and it must, perhaps, be granted, that the language employed by Lord Kames is too general and unqualified. But this only amounts to a proof of what Mr. Smith says in another part of his work, that “after all that has been said of the levity and inconstancy of human nature, it appears evidently from experience, that a man is, of all sorts of luggage, the most difficult to be transported. If the labouring poor, therefore, can maintain their families in those parts of the kingdom where the price of labour is lowest, they must be in affluence where it is highest.”* At the time when Mr. Smith wrote, tenpence was the current price of a day’s labour in Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, and at a few miles distance eightpence, which he considers as the common price of labour in the greater part of the low country of Scotland, where it varies a good deal less than in England. “Such a difference of prices, which it seems is not always sufficient to transport a man from one parish to another, would necessarily occasion so great a transportation of the most bulky commodities, not only from one parish to another, but from one end of the kingdom, almost from one end of the world to the other, as would soon reduce them more nearly to a level.”† But the influence of these local attachments is common to both parts of the island, and cannot possibly produce so great an effect when it operates alone, as when other causes concur of a still more uncontrollable and universal efficacy.
I shall only add farther on this subject at present, that the inequalities in the wages of agricultural labourers are increased, in both parts of the island, by a circumstance which I had occasion to illustrate in a former part of the course.‡ I mean the slow circulation of agricultural knowledge, arising from the peculiarly obstinate prejudices of this order of men, in consequence of which, striking inequalities in the state of improvement may be remarked by the most careless observer, even in contiguous districts. Hence corresponding inequalities in the skill and industry of agricultural labourers in the same neighbourhood, and an effectual check to the operation of those causes which seem to promise, in theory, a speedy reduction of wages to one general level.
Whatever opinion, however, may be entertained on this subject, every person must assent to the strong terms in which Mr. Smith has reprobated the law now under consideration. “To remove a man, who has committed no misdemeanour, from the parish where he chooses to reside, is an evident violation of natural liberty and justice. . . . There is scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age, I will venture to say, who has not, in some part of his life, felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.”* I find, indeed, that this fact is controverted by Mr. Howlett, who contends, in his Examination of Mr. Pitt’s Speech, that the law of settlements has no effect in this way at all. But in this particular, Mr. Smith’s statement is supported by the testimony of so many respectable writers, that it is impossible to call its accuracy in question. Sir William Young, who is extremely well informed on such subjects, asserts positively, that the prosecutions occurring on this law are frequent.†
Some of these remarks may appear, at first view, to be foreign to the subject which introduced them. As, however, the political disorder to which they relate has been the necessary consequence of the compulsory maintenance of the poor, and can only be effectually removed by an alteration of that principle, they will not, I hope, be considered as forming a useless or improper digression.
In the period immediately subsequent to this regulation, few alterations were made on the existing laws with regard to the poor. The war which engaged the attention of the nation during the first eight years of King William’s reign, the formidable preparations made by France to invade England, and the actual invasion of Ireland, together with the encouragement given to both by the dark and dangerous intrigues of a powerful body of domestic malcontents, were very unfavourable to the removal of those abuses which had been accumulated by the neglect and misfortunes of half a century. About this time, indeed, some speculative men distinguished themselves by their attempts to draw the attention of the public to this important subject, among others, the celebrated Mr. Locke, who was then one of the Commissioners of the Board of Trade. A reference had been made to the Board of Trade in the year 1696, to consider of the proper methods to be adopted for employing the poor; and it was in consequence of this reference that he drew up his Report [1697,] respecting their relief and maintenance, which was shortly after delivered to the King. The observations of this eminent philosopher and politician respecting the effects of the Poor-laws, deserve attention from all who wish to examine with accuracy the progress of English legislation in this department, more particularly as many of his suggestions appear to have formed the basis of a plan which, a few years ago, was under discussion, for amending the regulations of our parochial assessments. It is probable that a law framed upon his plan would have taken immediate effect, as the state of the poor had been recommended to the consideration of Parliament in the King’s Speech, the very year after the delivery of the Report, had not the public mind been too much agitated by the altercations which, about that time, took place between King William and his Parliament, and which increased in violence during the latter part of his reign.
In the reign of Queen Anne, few Acts were passed relative to the poor. But some important and original ideas were started on the subject by Daniel Defoe, in his excellent address to Parliament, entitled, Giving Alms no Charity, (1705.)
The reign of King George I. is equally barren of materials for our purpose. One Act, however, was passed during that reign, which deserves to be mentioned; 9th Geo. I. Among other improvements of the existing laws, this Act provides that the church-wardens and overseers of the poor of any parish, with the consent of the majority of the parishioners, publicly given, may purchase or hire any house or houses in the parish or place, and contract for the lodging, employing, and keeping of poor persons. Soon after the passing of this Act, many parishes availed themselves of the powers conferred by it; and in a publication which appeared in the year 1725,* it is said that this method of maintaining the poor met with approbation and success throughout the kingdom. The same work was republished in 1732, with considerable additions, and in its enlarged state affords much curious information respecting workhouses. In consequence of the indefatigable zeal of the planners of this institution, the poor-rates are understood to have been considerably reduced in many instances. But from comparing the present state of those parishes in which workhouses were established with their condition seventy years ago, it would seem that the expectations of the nation, that great effects would have followed from the institution, have not been realized. From the view given in Sir Frederic Eden’s Treatise, of the state of those parishes which had erected workhouses, it appears that the poor had advanced very rapidly notwithstanding the aid of workhouses, perhaps as rapidly as in other parishes where they were supported by occasional assessments.†
The way in which these workhouses, as at first established, effected a reduction in the poor-rates, was by deterring the poor from making application for relief, by the terror of being sent to a workhouse. Accordingly, Mr. Townshend, in his excellent Dissertation on the Poor-laws, [1787,] says, that “the terror of being sent to a workhouse acts like an abolition of the poor’s-tax on all who dread the loss of liberty. It is in effect a virtual repeal, as far as it extends, of those laws which should long since have given place to better regulations. But, unfortunately, the most worthy objects suffer most by this repeal, and the advantage to the public is little more than negative. The quiet and the cleanly dread the noise and nastiness, even more than the confinement of a workhouse. They pant for the pure and wholesome air, which they can never hope to breathe where numbers are confined within narrow limits, and sigh for that serenity and peace which they must despair to find where the most profligate of the human species are met together. By the fear of being sentenced to such society, many who deserve a better fate struggle with poverty till they sink under the burthen of their misery.”*
During the reign of George II. various attempts were made, both in and out of Parliament, to procure a radical alteration in the system of parochial administration, established by the 43d of Elizabeth. About the year 1753, in particular, this subject seems to have excited a very general attention, which, however, produced no material alteration on that branch of legislation to which it related. It is a curious circumstance, that in the very same year, the same branch of police was under discussion among the French politicians; and most of these warmly recommended to their countrymen the English system of parochial assessments, at the very time when long experience of the inconveniences attending that system was producing a multitude of English pamphlets in praise of the French hospitals.
Under the reign of our present Sovereign very few alterations have taken place, except with respect to removal; the vexatious consequences of which will, in some measure, it is to be hoped, be remedied by the Act of 1795, for preventing the removal of persons who are not actually chargeable. Several local acts, however, have been passed of great importance to the places to which they relate; and, indeed, there are some of these which may, without impropriety, be considered as general, rather than as local, regulations. Those, for instance, which relate to the improvement and correction of the Poor-laws within the city of London, may very properly be viewed in this light, as that is a district which contains a population equal to one-tenth of the whole inhabitants of the kingdom.
The historical deduction now given, for the details of which I must acknowledge myself to be much indebted to the labours of Sir Frederic Eden, is sufficient, without any commentary, to convey an idea of the imperfections of English legislation in this important article of Political Economy; and the rapid progress which the evil is daily making, seems to require the application of some immediate remedy.
Towards the close of the seventeenth century, the amount of the rates exceeded £840,000 a year. This, at least, is the calculation of a writer, who, in 1673, published a work under the title of The Grand Concern of England explained, and which, I believe, is the earliest publication in which any attempt is made to compute the extent of this burden. “This,” he adds, “is employed only to maintain idle persons; doth great hurt rather than good; makes a world of poor more than otherwise there would be; prevents industry and laboriousness, men and women growing so idle and proud that they will not work, that lie upon the parish wherein they dwell for maintenance, applying themselves to nothing but begging or pilfering, and breeding up their children accordingly; never putting them upon anything that may render them useful in their generations, or beneficial either to themselves or the kingdom.”* In 1783, 1784, and 1785, the money raised by assessments in England and Wales amounted, taking a medium of these years, to £2,167,749, sterling, according to the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, founded on returns made by the overseers for the poor, in obedience to an Act passed in the year 1786. Sir Frederic Eden, whose work was published in the year 1797, states their amount at this time to be £3,000,000, sterling,† and adds, “that they had doubled their amount in the course of the twenty years preceding.”‡ From the very accurate returns laid before Parliament, it appears, that exclusively of all collateral expenses, (for the militia, &c.,) raised at the same time with the assessments for relief of the poor, there had been raised, in the year ending Easter 1803, for the maintenance and relief of the poor, £4,257,000, being almost double the sum raised for the same purpose on an average of the years 1783, 1784, and 1785, and very nearly triple the sum raised in the year 1776. From the same returns it appears, that on the population of England and Wales, exclusive of the army and navy, amounting to 8,070,000 souls, not less than 1,234,080 are partakers of parochial relief; that is, nearly one-seventh of the whole population are indebted to the rest, in whole or in part, for their support, and by far the larger part of these are wholly subsisted without any exertion of their own. The amount of this rate, too, great as it is, gives but an inadequate idea of the extent of this branch of expenditure in England. In an account published at Edinburgh of the management of the poor in Hamburgh, the author, Mr. Voght, who had access to the best information during his tour through England, states the sum expended on workhouses at upwards of £1,000,000, sterling, on a low estimate. And if we take into account the vast sums distributed annually in voluntary charity, the whole sum of British charities cannot well be estimated lower than at £5,000,000 a year. According to a very well-informed and accurate writer, Lord Sheffield, the sum expended on the relief of the poor is equal to one-half of the rental of England at this time.
This increase of the poor’s-rates is the more astonishing, when we reflect on the progress which has been made within the last few years by Benefit Clubs or Friendly Societies, one of the happiest institutions, undoubtedly, ever introduced into this country. We are assured by Sir Frederic Eden, after all his extensive inquiries on this subject, “that he has not found any parish burdened with the maintenance of any one member of a friendly society, nor the instances numerous of the families of members becoming burdensome.”* The economy of which this institution has been productive to the nation, is incalculably great. Abstracting altogether from the various salutary ends to which they are plainly conducive, it is sufficient to remark the industry, frugality, and independent spirit which it is the tendency of friendly societies to extend among the people. But of these different effects of this institution, I shall have occasion to speak more particularly afterwards. At present, I shall only remark, that if with all the savings which have thus been occasioned by benefit clubs, and if, notwithstanding the uniform success with which they have been attended, wherever they have been carried into execution, the poor’s-rates have doubled their former amount within the last twenty years, it only proves that the malignity of this political disorder is incomparably greater than, on a superficial view, we might be led to expect. I presume, that no person will go so perversely wrong, as to impute this increase to the institution of friendly societies, which are manifestly of the most salutary tendency. Notwithstanding, however, the vast and acknowledged mischiefs connected with the English system of Poor-laws, so deeply does the evil appear now to be rooted not only in the political condition of the country, but in the habits of thinking among the people of England, that not longer ago than the commencement of the present century, the following most extraordinary assertion was publicly maintained:—“The poor have as good a right to their portion of my estate, as I have to my own,” &c.
The facts which have been already stated, together with the incidental remarks interspersed, seem abundantly to authorize doubts, whether, on the whole, it would not have been better if no national provision for the poor had been thought of by the English Legislature; and if the care of this unfortunate class of men had been left entirely to the voluntary charity of their fellow-citizens. That this was the opinion of Montesquieu, may be inferred from the following clause, where, speaking of Hospitals, he remarks, that “occasional provisions for the poor are better than perpetual foundations. The evil is temporary; the remedy must, therefore, be of the same nature, and applicable to the particular circumstances.”* The same sentiment, too, was long ago expressed still more explicitly by an eminent writer of our own country, Mr. Henry Fielding, whose opinion on the subject is of peculiar weight, from his long and intimate acquaintance with the manners and habits of the lower orders of this country. “To say the truth, as this law hath been perverted in the execution, it were, perhaps, to be wished it had never been made. Not because it is not our duty to relieve real objects of distress, but because it is so much the duty of every man; and I may add, so much the inclination of most Englishmen, that it might have been safely left to private charity.”*
Among our later politicians, this conclusion has been very generally adopted; and it must be granted, that a strong argument in its favour, arises from a consideration of the motives which are the great springs of human industry. What would become of the business of human life, if the passions of hope and fear were extinguished; and, in the case of the lower orders, by what can their exertions be excited, but by that which ministers to the necessities of their present condition? The influence of honour and ambition, the passions which actuate the higher orders, is scarcely felt among them; nor is there anything to excite them to uniform exertion, but the necessity of providing for the passing day, and the prospect of securing some store for the helplessness of old age. To strengthen the influence of these motives, is one of the most important ends at which a legislator can aim; and where his institutions, unfortunately, have an opposite tendency, it is vain to hope to remove, by means of any corrective police, that idleness, vice, and misery, of which he himself is the author. On this subject, a variety of excellent and striking observations have been lately made by Mr. Malthus, in the new edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population. The result of these observations is, that if the Poor-laws of England had never existed, “though there might have been a few more instances of very severe distress, the aggregate mass of happiness would have been much greater.”† For the reasonings by which he supports this conclusion, I refer to his very valuable work.
It is, however, a very different question, whether, supposing no legal provision had been made for the poor, it would have been expedient to establish one; and whether, circumstanced as England actually is, it would be wise to abolish that part of her policy, by a direct repeal of the existing Laws? According to Sir Frederic Eden, “no temperate political speculatist of the present day has ventured to recommend the wholly lopping off this vast member of our system of jurisprudence. Among the various opinions as to the mode of relieving the wants of the distressed classes of the community, and of correcting the abuses which have insensibly crept into the administration of the Poor-laws, it seems to be very generally agreed, that a modification only of those laws, and not a total repeal of them, can be attempted.”*
To these observations, I shall take the liberty of adding, that there are many cases in which laws that are strictly conformable to the great principles of justice and expediency, and which, undoubtedly, would form a part of a perfect system of legislation, would be attended with dangerous consequences, if connected with institutions which were not of a congenial spirit and tendency. Supposing, for example, that all the other principles of Political Economy, with regard to the freedom of trade, &c., were established and acted upon, there cannot be a doubt, that anything approaching to a compulsory maintenance of the poor, would be a glaring absurdity. But it is not equally clear whether a deviation in one instance from what is politically right, may not require other deviations of a similar nature. Into this discussion, however, I cannot now enter.
These considerations, obvious and just as they undoubtedly are, do not furnish any argument in favour of a compulsory maintenance of the poor, as a wise political institution. On the contrary, they take for granted, that it is an evil when considered abstractly. But they seem to render it somewhat doubtful, whether, with the different reforms required in that department, it might not be necessary to combine others relating to very different articles of Political Economy. Without, however, making any immediate or violent alteration on the general outline of the existing Poor-laws, there are some principles on which it is supposed by the more temperate reformers, that the Legislature might safely proceed, in checking the farther progress of the evil. Such is the measure proposed by Sir Frederic Eden, for limiting the assessments of the poor to the average of a certain number of years; permitting a new average to be afterwards made at the end of certain stated periods. “There would thus,” in the apprehension of this very respectable writer, “be room for future economy, though not for future extravagance.”* This proposal of a limited assessment has been repeatedly sanctioned by the opinions both of statesmen and of speculative politicians of no inconsiderable note; by Mr. Gilbert, for instance, who for so many years distinguished himself as a useful and active member of the Lower House, on all questions connected with the internal improvement of the country; and by Sir William Pulteney, whose indefatigable industry and zeal in promoting every measure which might be productive of general utility, are universally known in both parts of the United Kingdom; and it has, for many years, found a zealous advocate in Mr. Arthur Young, to whom, indeed, the first idea of the plan is ascribed by Mr. Whitbread in his late Speech on the Poor-laws.†
Simple and safe, however, as this measure may, at first view, appear to be, it has been warmly opposed by different writers: by Mr. Howlett, in particular, in a work published by him in the year 1788, entitled, The Insufficiency of the Causes to which the Increase of the Poor has been commonly ascribed. Among the different objections urged by this last writer against a limited assessment, the most plausible is founded on the fatal consequences which might result to the impotent poor, from the scarcity of an inclement winter, when the assessment would be found inadequate to their wants. This objection has been lately pushed farther, and urged with still greater ability, by Mr. Malthus, in the Appendix to the last edition of his Essay. “Under such a law,” he observes, “if the distresses of the poor were to be aggravated tenfold, either by the increase of numbers or the recurrence of a scarcity, the same sum would be invariably appropriated to their relief. If the Statute which gives the poor a right to support, were to remain unexpunged, we should add to the cruelty of starving them, the extreme injustice of still professing to relieve them. If this Statute were expunged or altered, we should virtually deny the right of the poor to support, and only retain the absurdity of saying, that they had a right to a certain sum.”* The same view of the subject has been adopted by Mr. Whitbread, in his Speech on the Poor-laws, where he concludes a very able argument in support of Mr. Malthus, by expressing his own conviction, that “if an allowance is to be made to the poor, it ought to be co-extensive with the necessities to which it is to apply.”†
On a question of this sort, relating to which my own means of information are so scanty, compared with those of Mr. Howlett, Mr. Whitbread, and Mr. Malthus, I certainly am not entitled to deliver any opinion. But I may be allowed, without the imputation of undue presumption, to observe, that the objection which they have stated against the expediency of a limited assessment, is, in some measure, inconsistent, as it seems to take for granted the very principle uniformly denied by those who support the scheme of a compulsory maintenance of the poor. The principle I allude to is, that the voluntary chairty of individuals is not a sufficient resource for the poor in times of scarcity. But against this assumption, a variety of strong facts may be urged. Vast as our legal establishment is, and abundant as the means it affords of accomplishing its objects undoubtedly are, much still is entrusted by law to the unconstrained charity of individuals. Nor does it appear from experience, that the more opulent classes fail in discharging this duty, notwithstanding the effect which the legal provisions produce both in damping the spirit, and in exhausting the means of their beneficence. And it may, perhaps, be doubted, whether the cases in which their charity has been blameably deficient, be so numerous as those in which it has exceeded what is politically expedient.
Although, however, the plan of a limited assessment seems to me to deserve a still more ample discussion before it is finally rejected, I must acknowledge, that I am much less sanguine in my hopes of its practicability, after the decided tone in which it has been reprobated by these three individuals, all of whom are so intimately acquainted with the local details, and with the established prejudices of the English nation. Nor must I omit the dexterity with which Mr. Malthus has quoted Mr. Young against himself, on this very question; an inconsistency, which I am the more disposed to take notice of, as it tends to justify a censure which I passed, in a former part of this course, on the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies which abound in the words of this industrious and public-spirited writer:—“The National Assembly of France, though they disapproved of the English Poor-laws, still adopted their principle, and declared, that the poor had a right to pecuniary assistance; that the Assembly ought to consider such a provision as one of its first and most sacred duties; and that with this view, an expense ought to be incurred of fifty millions a year. Mr. Young justly observes, that he does not comprehend how it is possible to regard the expenditure of fifty millions a year as a sacred duty, and not extend that fifty to one hundred, if necessity should demand it; the one hundred to two hundred, the two hundred to three hundred, and so on in the same miserable progression which has taken place in England.”* It is unnecessary for me to remark, that this is precisely the argument employed by Mr. Malthus against Mr. Young’s own plan of a limited assessment, with this important difference, however, (I must in justice to Mr. Young observe,) that the National Assembly of France had sanctioned, by a legislative act, those very dangerous prejudices which previously had no existence there.
Another plan for a gradual abolition of the Poor-laws has been proposed by Mr. Malthus. The leading idea of this plan is, that “no child born of any marriage taking place after the expiration of a year from the date of the proposed law, and no illegitimate child born within two years, should be entitled to parish assistance.”* To this proposal, Mr. Whitbread has objected in very strong and pointed terms in his Speech on the Poor-laws, and has even gone so far as to say, that it would necessarily be repealed within two years of its establishment.† For my own part, I must confess, that the considerations stated by Mr. Whitbread in support of his opinion, do not carry conviction to my mind. Of the difficulties to be expected in carrying the plan into execution, I am perfectly aware; but if these are not altogether insurmountable, we ought to weigh carefully in the other scale of the balance the magnitude of the evil which it is its object to remedy. The plan has, at least, the merit of conformity to general principles, inasmuch as it involves a disavowal of the whole system of compulsory maintenance, while, at the same time, it avoids all rejection of those claims which individuals might be expected to allege, if any privileges were withdrawn from them by law, which they had, from infancy, been taught to regard as their right.
Before leaving the subject of the English Poor-laws, it is proper for me to observe, that the general principle of compulsory maintenance upon which they are founded, strongly as the preceding facts and reasonings appear to conclude against it, is by no means abandoned as either unjust or inexpedient by all our speculative politicians, even in the present times. The ingenious author of an Essay on the Right of Property in Land, which was published a few years ago, extols them as the most generous and reputable branch of our internal legislation; and Mr. Howlett has pronounced the general system on this subject to be “a venerable pile, raised by the hands of skilful architects, and to stand a distinguished monument of the wisdom and humanity of the British nation. Like every other edifice,” he continues, “it is liable, indeed, to the injuries of time and seasons, and must want occasional repairs and occasional improvements; but if pulled entirely down, we might stand a chance of either being buried in its ruins, or, at best, of never raising anything in its stead of equal grandeur, utility, or beauty.”* The same opinion he has since maintained in the Examination of Mr. Pitt’s Speech in the year 1796:—“To me this system appears a most judicious union of wisdom and humanity. This is the true spirit of our Poor-laws.”†
The increase of the poor, which is commonly ascribed to our injudicious system of Poor-laws, and their defective execution, is chiefly owing, in the opinion of Mr. Howlett, to a greater advance in the price of provisions than in the price of labour. His remarks on the point are extremely interesting and valuable. But admitting them to be perfectly just, all that they prove is, that the increase of the poor in England is not to be ascribed solely either to the existing Laws, or to their injudicious execution; and that other powerful causes co-operate in aggravating the evil. That the increase of mendicity arises, partly from some general causes affecting other countries of Europe, as well as England, may be inferred from some facts collected by Mr. Howlett, with respect to the multiplication of the poor in Scotland and in France. His information concerning the latter kingdom, particularly, is curious, and it seems to have been communicated to him by a very intelligent and authentic writer. “I can venture to assert, with the utmost confidence,” says Mr. Howlett’s correspondent in a letter dated in 1788, “that the poor of France, within a very few years, have been extremely multiplied; that, notwithstanding the public contributions for their maintenance are much more abundant than ever, they are still in a very deplorable situation, and that the capital is by no means the only city in which are at once presented to the view, the astonishing contrast between the most extravagant luxury on the one hand, and the most shocking distress on the other. Orleans being situate between the richest and the poorest provinces, may be considered as a kind of standard or medium by which to judge of the kingdom at large; the total population of this city is 50,000 persons, of whom one-third receive charitable assistance from their superiors.” All measures, both severe and mild, have been tried to reduce the number of poor in this town. The amount of the several contributions for their relief, the same correspondent states, “at about 360,000 livres, or £19,000 a year. But notwithstanding these, and similar exertions of benevolence in every part of the kingdom, no season of uncommon severity arrives, but vast numbers of entire families, especially in the country, perish for want, are strictly and literally starved and frozen to death.”*
An examination of the causes of this multiplication of the poor in countries where no legal provisions are made for them, could not fail to lead to important conclusions. But although it might shew, that the mischiefs of the English Poor-laws have been somewhat exaggerated, it would never tend to a vindication of the general principle on which they are founded. With respect to the facts on which so much stress is laid by Mr. Howlett, as establishing the disproportion between the rate of wages and the price of provisions, I do not mean to enter at present into any discussion. I shall only remark, that the rate of wages cannot be expected to fluctuate, nor is it expedient that it should fluctuate, with the occasional variations in the money price of corn. I have already had occasion to shew that the price of wages has a natural tendency to adjust itself to the average money price of the necessaries of life. That this natural tendency is beneficial, on the whole, to all the parties concerned, may be easily demonstrated. Nor does it seem possible for the law to interfere for regulating it on any other principle, without aggravating the evil. Supposing that the price of labour were regulated, as has been proposed by some speculative men, and men mentioned in our National Assembly, by the price of corn, what would be the consequence in a year of scarcity? Manifestly this: that as the most numerous class of consumers would be enabled to purchase the same quantity as in a year of plenty, the same consumption would take place in the one case as in the other, and the necessity of that economy would be superseded, which can alone prevent a dearth from ending in a famine.
I would not be understood, by these remarks, to give any opinion on the question, Whether the real reward of labour has been increasing or declining, within the last fifty years? Mr. Howlett’s opinion on this question has been already stated. The contrary is strongly maintained by Sir Frederic Eden, who published in the year 1797; and by Mr. Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, published about twenty years before. Mr. Burke, too, in a paper written in November 1795, asserts confidently, that “even under all the hardships of the last year, the labouring people did, either out of their direct gains, or from charity, in fact, fare better than they did, in seasons of common plenty, fifty or sixty years ago; or even at the period of my English observation.”* The question, in truth, resolves ultimately into a still more general one, with respect to the progressive or declining state of the funds destined for the employment and maintenance of labour; a question, undoubtedly, of the most interesting nature, but which, in whatever way it may be decided, does not appear to have any immediate connexion with the discussion concerning the expediency of a legal provision for the poor, or of a legal limitation of the rate of wages. For even on the supposition that the circumstances of the country were in this respect declining, the evil, obviously, is not of a kind which admits of a legislative correction, in any other way than by supplying what is defective, or amending what is erroneous in the general system of Political Economy.
So much with respect to the legal establishment for the provision of the poor as it exists in England, and the various subordinate articles which seem to be more particularly connected with that branch of police. On the various plans which have been proposed for the gradual amendment and reformation of the English system, I do not presume to offer any opinion; nor, indeed, am I qualified to do so, without having had an opportunity of ascertaining, by personal observation, a great variety of facts about which I find the most contradictory statements in the works of authors who are all equally entitled to credit for their talents, their characters, and their means of information. One good consequence which is, at least, to be expected from the succession of bad years which lately took place, is, that the mass of important information which these were the occasion of bringing before the public, is likely to invite speculative men to attend to the reformation of this branch of police, at a time when the general principles of Political Economy are unquestionably much better understood than at any former period when it was an object of legislative attention. The labours of Sir Frederic Eden in this department are entitled to peculiar praise. They do great honour to his persevering industry as a collector of facts, and to his enlightened zeal as a good citizen; and whoever undertakes the subject after him, will find the consideration of it much facilitated, by the extent and accuracy of his researches. It is to be regretted, that he had not bestowed a little more time in condensing and arranging his materials; as his valuable work, certainly, is not likely, in its present form, to attract the attention of an ordinary reader. In justice to this author, however, I must observe, that this very defect seems to have been owing, in a great measure, to a motive which reflects greater honour on him than the attainment of literary fame; an anxiety, while Mr. Pitt’s Poor Bill was under the examination of Parliament, to contribute whatever information he was possessed of that might have the most remote tendency to enlighten and direct its proceedings. For the inelegances of style which the work contains, no better apology can be offered than in his own words: in quoting which, I cannot help remarking, how completely they prove with what facility he might have added the graces of composition, if he had aimed merely at the fame of an eloquent writer. “I have endeavoured to be plain, simple, and perspicuous, but have never wasted that time in polishing a sentence which I thought I could better employ in ascertaining a fact; and even in matters of fact thus brought forward, there will, I more than doubt, be too often found something to object to as inaccurate.”* In compiling the foregoing historical sketch, I have availed myself very largely of the assistance which this writer’s work afforded me, confining myself, however, to the most prominent facts, and distinguishing them, as much as possible, from details of inferior importance. The view which I have exhibited, with all its imperfections, will, I hope, be sufficient to convey a general idea of the present system of Poor-laws in England, and of the most interesting discussions to which it has given rise.
OF THE SCOTTISH POOR-LAWS.
I now proceed to a short statement of the Laws relative to the same subject, in our own part of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Laws with regard to the poor, merit our attention not merely on account of their more immediate reference to the concerns of our own country, but as affording an experimental proof of the good or bad effects resulting from a system which is strikingly contrasted with that of the English legislators. Of the contrast which this part of our Scottish policy exhibits to the corresponding regulations of the English code, particular notice was taken at an early period, by a very eminent man, who had enjoyed the best opportunities of observing the consequences of both. I allude to Bishop Burnet, who, in the Conclusion of his History of his Own Times, published in the year 1708, expresses himself thus:—“It may be thought a strange notion from a Bishop, to wish that the Act for charging every parish to maintain their own poor, were well reviewed, if not quite taken away; this seems to encourage idle and lazy people in their sloth, when they know they must be maintained; I know no other place in the world where such a law was ever made. Scotland is much the poorest part of the island, yet the poor there are maintained by the voluntary charities of the people. Holland is the most perfect pattern for putting charity in a good method; the poor work as much as they can; they are humble and industrious; they never ask any charity, and yet they are well relieved. When the poor see that their supply must, in a great measure, depend on their behaviour and on their industry, as far as it can go, it will both make them better in themselves, and move others to supply them more liberally; and when men’s offerings are free, (and yet are called for, every time they go to church or to sacrament,) this will oblige those who distribute them, to be exact and impartial in it, since their ill conduct might make the givers trust them with their charity no more, but distribute it themselves.”*
From the particulars which I am now to state, it will appear that Bishop Burnet had confined his attention solely to the established practice of the two different parts of the island, in their management of the poor, without taking into consideration the existing Statutes on the subject in the Scottish code, which he probably regarded as a dead letter. At the same time, it is somewhat curious, when we consider how conversant this writer was with the jurisprudence of both parts of the island, that he should have regarded the law of compulsory maintenance as altogether peculiar to the English code. This circumstance, however, does not in the least detract from the value of this very weighty testimony with regard to the opposite effects of compulsory assessments and voluntary charity.
The earliest Statute to be found in the Scottish Acts relative to this subject, was passed in the reign of James I., in the year 1424. During the minority of this Prince, it is well known that Scotland was in the most unsettled state, great numbers who had no lawful occupation subsisting entirely by rapine and plunder. The King, on his return from captivity in England, where he had enjoyed the advantage of a good education, and had witnessed the happy effects of a regular and vigilant government, turned his thoughts to the improvement of the situation of his own kingdom; and as an indispensable preliminary to his other measures, began by improving its internal police, as this seemed most likely to be effectual in protecting his peaceable and industrious subjects against the violence and rapine which were then so prevalent in every part of the kingdom. In his First Parliament, it is statuted, that “na companies passe in the countrie, to lye upon onie the Kingis lieges: or thig; or sojourne horse, outher on kirk-men, or husbands of the land;” and that “gif onie complaint be maid of sik trespassoures to the schireffe of the land; that he arreist sik folk, and challenge them, and tax the Kingis skaith upon them: and gif they be convict of sik trespasse, that they be punished, and find burrowes till assyeth (that is, to satisfy or recompense) the King and the partie complainand.”* In the same Parliament, it is ordained, that “na thiggeres be thoiled to beg, nouther to burgh nor land-wart, betwixt fourteen and threescore ten zeires, bot they be secure be the councelles of the tounes, or of the lande, that they may not winne their living uther waies.”† In James III.’s Parliament, (1425,) it is ordained, that “the scheriffe sall gar arreist idle men, and gar keepe them in fastenesse quhill it be knawin quhairupon they live. And that the countrie sall be unskaithed of them: thereupon the schireffe sall receive gude and sicker burrowes. After the quhilk burrowes founden, the scheriffe sall assigne fourtie daies to sik idle men to get them maisters, or to fasten them to lawfull craftes. And they fourties daies beand gane, gif they be founden mair idle, the schireffe sall arreist them againe, and sende them to the Kingis prison, to abide and be punished at the Kingis will.”‡
In stating these particulars, it may be thought that I enter more into detail than is necessary or proper in this place, and that the minute provisions made for the police of a barbarous country in the fifteenth century, might safely be omitted in a political speculation, which is meant to have reference to our own times. But although I am ready to acknowledge the truth of this observation, I cannot prevail on myself to omit the opportunity which the present subject affords me, of quoting a few clauses from our old Statutes, which are valuable, as throwing light on the progress of order and civilisation in Scotland. Nor will they be found altogether foreign to the principal object of our inquiry, inasmuch as they strongly illustrate the impotency of legislative interference in curing, by the mere regulations of police, disorders which originate in the general condition and habits of the country.
I have already taken notice of the rigour of some laws of James I. against beggars. In the sixth Parliament of his successor, a law still more severe than any hitherto mentioned, was passed against the same description of offenders. It is probable that the disorders which these laws were meant to remedy, had, during the King’s minority, become more prevalent. By this Act “it is ordained, for the away-putting of sornares, over-lyars, and maisterful beggars, with horse, houndes, and uther gudes, that all officiares, baith schireffes, baronnes, aldermen, baillies, as well within the burgh, as outwith, take an inquisition at ilk courte that they hald of the foresaid things: and gif ony sik be founden, that their horse, houndes, or uther gudes be escheit to the King, and their person put in the Kingis waird, quhill the King have said his will to them. And alswa that the said scheriffes, &c., inquire at ilk courte, gif there be onie that makis them fuiles, and are bairdes, or uthers sik like rinnares about. And gif onie sik be founden, that they be put in the Kingis waird, or in his irones, for their tresspasses, als lang as they have ony gudes of their awin to live upon, that their eares be nailed to the trone, or till ane uther tree, and their eare cutted off; and banished the countrie. And gif thereafter they be founden againe, that they be hanged.”* Various other laws, breathing the same spirit, were enacted during the reigns of James II., James III., and James IV. In an Act passed in the fifth Parliament of James V., (1535,) after ordaining the strict execution of the Statute of James I., it is added, that no beggars should “be thoiled to beg in ane parochin, that are borne in ane uther; and that the headesmen of ilk parochin make takinnes and give to the beggars thereof, and that they be susteined within the bounds of that parochin, and that nane uthers be served with almous within the bounds of that parochin, bot they that bearis that takinne allanerlie.”*
On an examination of the laws which were passed previous to this period, it will be found evident, from their general scope, that they were framed chiefly with the view of repressing the banditti and vagrants who had disturbed the public peace. It is probable, that the impotent poor were comparatively inconsiderable in number, or that they were easily supported by voluntary alms. In all the subsequent Acts, the laws respecting vagrants, and the idle and impotent poor, are included in one Statute; their principal object being, avowedly, to compel the idle to industry, and to provide for the indigent. In consequence of the advanced state of the country, it would appear that the banditti who had formerly been so numerous, had become less formidable; while, on the other hand, the failure of their former resources, added to the commercial progress of the country, tended at once to multiply the objects of real charity, and to impose on the Legislature the necessity of opening new sources of bounty in their favour. At the era of the Reformation, it appears that some of the leaders in that memorable cause had struggled at first to obtain, under the new system, the establishment of a plan for the support of the poor, to supply the place of those aids which they had enjoyed formerly; and in the proposal which was made to the first General Assembly, in the year 1516, it was suggested, that a fund for the support of the poor, as well as for the establishment of schools, and the endowment of the reformed clergy, should be assigned out of the old revenues of the Church. But the nobles, who had got possession of the Church’s patrimony, rejected the proposal, as John Knox informs us, as altogether visionary. The grievance, however, at length became so serious, and was so severely felt by all orders of the community, that it was necessary for the Legislature to attempt a remedy. Accordingly in the year 1579, a Statute was passed, which is the groundwork of all the subsequent enactments on this head, and which is so full, minute, and systematic, that it is justly said to constitute, with the exception of a few subsequent amendments, our code of Poor-laws. Of the history of this important Act, which does not seem to have been much attended to either by our Scottish or English antiquaries, I shall have occasion afterwards to take notice. In this Act, passed in the sixth Parliament of King James VI., it is ordained, “that the Provestes and Baillies of ilk burgh and towne, and the Justice constitute be the King’s Commission in every parochin to landwart, sall, betwixt and the first day of Januar nixt-to-cum, take inquisition of all aged pure, impotent, and decayed persones, borne within that parochin; or quhilkes war dwelling, and had their maist commoun resorte in the saide parochin, the last seven zeires by past, quhilkes of necessitie mon live bee almes: and upon the saide inquisition, sall make ane register buike, conteining their names, and surnames, to remain with the Provestes, and Baillies, or with the Justice.” And to enable them to make such a register, the poor are commanded, “under the paine to be punished as vagabondes,” to repair to the parish in which they were born, or had resided for seven years. After having thus ascertained the number and necessities of the poor, the Magistrates are commanded “to taxe and stent the haill inhabitants within the parochin, according to the estimation of their substance, without exception of persones, to sik oulkie charge and contribution, as sall be thocht expedient and sufficient to susteine the saidis pure peopil, and the names of the inhabitants stented, togidder with their taxation, to bee likewise registrate.” Collectors and overseers are likewise to be appointed to superintend the collection and distribution of the tax, and the register is ordained to be made anew every year.*
From the very exact coincidence between the provisions of this Statute, and those of the 43d of Elizabeth, Sir Frederic Eden concludes, that the latter was framed on the model of the former. His words are these:—“Although Scotland is now exempted from the heavy burthen of a Poor’s-rate, it is remarkable that a compulsory provision for the poor was established by law, in the former kingdom, two-and-twenty years before the passing of the 43d of Elizabeth. In the sixth Parliament of James VI., held at Edinburgh in 1579, an Act was passed ‘for punishment of strang and idle beggars, and reliefe of the pure and impotent;’ in which every branch of the poor system,—the punishment of vagabonds, of runaway servants;—the mode of passing soldiers and seamen to their parishes;—the regulation of hospitals for aged and impotent persons;—the settlements of the poor;—their maintenance by the parish;—the appointment of overseers and collectors;—the manner of treating those who refuse to work;—and of putting out poor children apprentices, are more fully detailed than in any English Act of Parliament. . . . I have very little doubt but that many of the provisions of English Parliaments, in the reign of Elizabeth, respecting the poor, were framed in conformity with the policy of their northern neighbours.”* In opposition to this statement with respect to the Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1579, it has been observed to me by my friend, Mr. Francis Horner, that this Act is a literal transcript of a Statute passed seven years before by the Parliament of England, (14th Elizabeth, cap. 20,) which, having been superseded by the subsequent enactments, is not printed in the modern editions of the Statutes at large, but may be found in the older collections. All its provisions, both for the relief of the poor and the repression of vagrants, are exactly the same; and even the turn of expression is scarcely varied. It would appear, therefore, that this Act of the 14th of Elizabeth, has been altogether overlooked by Sir Frederic, when he hazarded the conjecture stated above.
The fifteenth Parliament of James VI., (1597,) ratifies the former Act, with this addition, “that starke beggars, and their bairnes, be employed in commoun warkes.”† The twenty-eighth Parliament of the same King, (1617,) ordains, that “Forasmuch as there hath been divers worthy laws and statutes made by his Majesty, and his Highness’ predecessors, for restraining of idle and masterful beggars; and notwithstanding thereof, the number of the saids beggars hath daily increased more and more: and his Majesty and estates, considering that the cause of the multiplying of the saids beggars hath, and doth, proceed from this ground, that no order hath been taken, in bygone time, with the poor children and orphans, born of poor indigent parents, who being tollerated or neglected, at their first entry to begging, doth contract such a custome and habite, that hardly they can be drawn thereafter to any other calling. . . . Therefore his Majesty, with advice and consent of the estates, doth, in most earnest manner, recommend to all his Highness’ loving subjects, requesting them, as they tender the good and honour of the realme, to receive within their houses and family, and to take upon their care, intertainment, and education, some of the saids poor and indigent children, one or moe, every person according to his power and faculty, . . . . to be educate and brought up by them, either in their houses, or to be put by them to such crafts, callings, and vocations, either within the country, or without the same, as they please.”* These two Statutes fix a memorable era in the history of this branch of Scottish jurisprudence, a commencement having been then given to those important functions in the superintendence and management of the poor, which the kirk-sessions, or parochial consistories, have since exercised in a manner so creditable to themselves, and so beneficial to their country.
The sixteenth Act of the third Session of the first Parliament of King Charles II., ratifies all former Acts concerning vagabonds and poor, and farther ordains, “that it shall be leisum to all persons or societies, who have or shall set up any manufactories within this kingdom, to seize upon and apprehend the persons of any vagabonds, who shall be found begging, and who, being masterless and out of service, have not wherewith to maintain themselves by their own means and work, and to imploy them for their service as they shall see fit, the same being done with the advice of the respective magistrates of the place where they shall be seized upon,” &c.† This is a most important enactment, as we shall afterwards see, and that to which must chiefly be ascribed the advantage which Scotland possesses over the sister kingdom in this branch of her policy.
“The last Statute which in Scotland was enacted concerning the poor, bears date the 1st September 1698; and it ratifies and approves all former Acts of Parliament for repressing of beggars, and maintaining and employing the poor.”* The era at which it passed is memorable in the annals of Scotland, a severe dearth having continued from 1692 to 1699, the memory of which was preserved among the common people, within the period of my own recollection, by the name of “the seven ill years.”
Notwithstanding, however, the existence of this unrepealed Law, the fact is, that the greater part of the enactments and statutes which it sanctions, have silently fallen into desuetude, in consequence partly of their total inapplicability to the actual circumstances of the country, and partly of the manifold contradictions which they contain, and of their palpable inconsistency with each other. That the poor, however, in Scotland, do possess a legal claim to relief, is a principle placed beyond all doubt by repeated decisions of our Supreme Court. By a finding of 6th June 1744, it was decreed on a question between two parishes in Berwickshire, that residence for three years in a parish, gives the pauper a right to relief. In the case of the parish of Humbie, (13th February 1757,) with regard to the joint administration of the poor funds by the heritors or tenants, the whole system of the Scottish Poor-laws was investigated very minutely; and not only the decree, but all the arguments employed on this occasion, proceed on the supposition, that the Act 1579, with its subsequent amendments, is fully in force. Since the last scarcity, a new case, from the same parish of Dunse, has been determined by the Court of Session. The question on which it turned was this: whether, under the Scottish Poor-laws, those persons are entitled to relief, who, without any personal infirmity, are rendered unable by the high price of provisions to maintain themselves, and whether assessments are legal in times of dearth. The Court decided, 17th January 1804, that such relief and assessment are legal.
I thought it in some measure necessary to enter into these details, as Sir Frederic Eden, whose authority in those parts of English police, which relate to this matter, is generally allowed to be very safe, has been so far misled by an article in the Encyclopœdia Britannica, as to assert, that there is no law in force in Scotland on the subject of a compulsory assessment for the poor;* a mistake into which, I must, at the same time, allow that it was not unnatural for a stranger to fall, after the very loose and incorrect language which has been employed on the subject by several of our Scottish clergymen, in their Statistical Reports. With respect to the fact, there is some irregularity in different parts of Scotland, by which it is not surprising that a stranger should be perplexed in this matter. In some parishes, assessments have been made for forty years past, while in others, which still are a majority of the whole, the collections at the church-doors, the small fines levied by the kirk-sessions for petty immoralities, and the interest of the small sums accumulated or bequeathed to the poor, have rendered legal assessments superfluous. In those parishes where assessments are made, the usual plan is thus described by Dr. Sommerville, in his Statistical Account of the Parish of Jedburgh.
“The minister intimates from the pulpit, that on such a day a meeting of the heritors and elders is to be held, for the purpose of making a provision for the poor for the ensuing quarter. These meetings generally take place near the terms of Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, and Martinmas. Upon the day of meeting the elders elect a preses, after which the minutes of the former sederunt, and the roll of the poor, are read by the clerk. Forming a calculation from the number already standing upon the roll, and the applications made to them, the heritors assess themselves in a certain sum to be collected from them severally, according to the proportion of their valued rents. The proprietor pays one-half of the assessment, and the tenant the other. Though the tenants are not mentioned in the summons, yet such of them as choose to attend are made welcome, and their advice and information listened to by the meeting. The sum assessed is raised by the heritors and kirksession together, in such proportions as seem adequate to the necessities of the poor. Such persons as are reduced to the necessity of applying to the heritors for charity, from any accidental transient cause, such as disease or misfortune, receive what is called an interim supply, i.e., a certain sum for that quarter only. The aged and infirm, and such as are likely to continue under the same necessity of depending upon public charity, are taken upon the poor’s-roll at a certain weekly allowance. The persons taken upon the roll are obliged to subscribe a bond or deed of conveyance, making over and bequeathing all their effects to the heritors; and though the heritors seldom exact their effects, yet the subscription of the bond serves as a check to prevent persons, who may be possessed of concealed property, from alienating the public charity. The sum assessed is levied by a collector, appointed by the heritors, and distributed by him to the persons admitted upon the roll, according to the proportions allotted to them.”*
For the information of those who are little acquainted with the institutions and phraseology peculiar to Scotland, it is necessary to add that the kirk-session, by which the greater part of the poor are relieved, is somewhat similar to an English vestry; that is, when regularly constituted, it must always consist of the minister, elders, session-clerk, and kirk-treasurer. The salaries which are allowed to the session-clerk and kirk-treasurer, who is usually the schoolmaster of the parish, seldom, if ever, exceed £2 sterling; and with this trifling exception, the whole business of the collection, superintendence, and distribution of the poor’s funds, is managed without a farthing of expense. No similar instance, I believe, of frugality and disinterested zeal in the administration of so extensive a charity, can be produced in any country of Europe.
From what has been now stated concerning the poor-rates in those parts of the country where they have been introduced, it is evident that many of the objections which are commonly urged against that tax as levied in England, do not apply to it when subjected to such checks and modifications as have hitherto restrained its abuse in this country. The chief and most essential of these, undoubtedly, arises from the manner in which the tax is imposed on this side of the Tweed, that being done by the persons who are to pay it; whereas in England it is trusted to the discretion of a few obscure individuals on whom the burden does not fall, and whose responsibility is not great. Accordingly, some very candid and intelligent writers, who acknowledge the intolerable burden which it has brought on the other part of the island, have expressed strongly their approbation of the general principle on which the tax proceeds, and their conviction of the expediency of extending the practice over Scotland, on a plan which has been so successfully exemplified in a variety of different instances. Nay, even Lord Kames himself, who has pushed the argument against compulsory maintenance to its utmost possible extent, has been almost led to admit an exception in favour of Scotland.*
With respect to the moral effects which have been experienced from poor-rates in Scotland, the following statement is given by a very candid and very competent judge, who has long had an opportunity of witnessing their practical tendency in that part of the country where he resides, Dr. Charters of Wilton. “It is alleged,” says he, “that poor-rates weaken parental and filial affection. Let the fact be fairly inquired into, and it will be found, that many children labour hard to prevent their parents from receiving an aliment; and that children in good circumstances who suffer their parents to receive it are infamous:—a proof that the case is rare. During twenty-two years’ ministry, in a pretty numerous parish, where the poor are maintained by taxation, I have known only one instance of children refusing to assist their parents; they forfeited the esteem of their neighbours, and banished themselves to America.”* In another passage, the same writer expresses himself thus:—“The desire of laying up is so strong, that the poor-rate has not yet, and probably never will, extinguish it. A spirit of independence pervades the people; they feel the humiliation of receiving alms; they discern the difference betwixt having of their own, and trusting to what is given.”†
Notwithstanding, however, these very strong statements, which cannot fail to have great weight with all who know the worth and talents of the author, I cannot help (probably from the circumstance of having lived chiefly in those parts of the country where poor-rates are unknown) feeling a decided partiality, more especially in a moral view, in favour of the old practice of supporting the poor by voluntary contributions, wherever imperious circumstances do not render this impracticable. Where the case is otherwise, the question no longer admits of discussion, and a compulsory law is the only expedient which can supply an effectual remedy. In favour of the moral effects of our good old practice, I shall only observe farther, that where a tax is imposed for relief of the poor, and where, of course, the only aid received by them is extorted from the rich without their consent, it is impossible for the objects of this compulsory beneficence to feel themselves indebted for that which is given without charity, or to consider it in the same light with that which is bestowed from generous motives. As soon as it is thought that the assistance given them is their right, the relief conceded is considered as only what is due, and the least hardship to which they may be exposed is viewed as injustice.
Independently, therefore, of all other considerations, there is intrinsically a material difference between the moral effects of voluntary contributions, and those that may be expected to result from legal assessments, however wisely regulated, and however ably and honourably administered. It ought to be carefully considered by the advocates of a compulsory assessment, whether the evils complained of in England have not been the natural and necessary, though, perhaps, slow consequences of the legal provision. While such checks, indeed, exist, as those in Scotland, it is difficult to conceive how any very gross abuses can take place in country parishes. But in great towns, the experiment is infinitely more hazardous. It does not seem to be possible, indeed, to contrive any system, which is not likely, sooner or later, to degenerate into such a state as that which we find prevalent in England. Even in country parishes, the result of past experience furnishes but too much ground for serious alarm. It is asserted by Mr. Findlater, in his very judicious and able Survey of the County of Peebles, that where poor-rates have been regularly established in Scotland, the poor have been continually on the increase.* Of this assertion, he has produced some proofs well entitled to the consideration of those who take an interest in the decision of this question, as a matter of local expediency, (for, in truth, it is nothing more,) in those parts of the country with which they may be connected.
[SUBSIDIARY MEASURES FOR THE RELIEF OF THE POOR.]
To the historical sketch which has already been given concerning the Poor-laws in both parts of the United Kingdom, I think it may be useful for me to add a few remarks on certain Subsidiary Measures, for the attainment of the same ends, which have either been sanctioned by the authority of the Legislature, or have been carried into execution by the act of private individuals.
OF CHARITY WORKHOUSES.]
Among these measures, one of the most plausible is that of Charity Workhouses, a plan proposed more than a century ago by Sir Matthew Hale, and warmly defended by many respectable writers of a later date. The scheme proposed is, in general, this:—That after a list has been taken of all the poor in any one populous parish, or in two or more smaller parishes, a house should be built for their accommodation; that materials for work of various kinds should be provided for them; that this house should be under the direction of a few respectable individuals, who should appoint one or more superintendents to regulate and inspect the management, &c. It cannot be denied that this plan promises, in theory, some very important advantages. In the first place, It leaves no opportunities for common beggary. The loathsome objects which fill our streets will be taken care of: the lame, diseased, and aged will be provided for. Secondly, It leaves no excuse for idleness: work will be given to all who are willing to labour. And in the third place, this appears to be the most frugal and profitable plan: a number of persons living together, will be more easily provided for, and their united work will be more productive, than when they live in separate houses.
It is not surprising that this plan, so plausible in itself, and so warmly recommended by many writers, should have met with considerable success; and that in the course of the last century, it should have been actually carried into execution in many great towns in England and Scotland. But its effects are now ascertained by experience, and it may be shown, from undoubted evidence, that Charity workhouses, in general, have been so far from answering the many excellent purposes which were expected to arise from them; that, in fact, they have proved the worst of all the methods that could have been devised for remedying the evil in question. Poor-houses, during the first years of their institution, may have proved useful, an effect which may have been partly owing to the greater zeal of the managers during the first enthusiasm of their beneficent exertions, but chiefly because the poor were then unwilling to be admitted into them. As long as this continues to be the case, the terror of being sent to a workhouse diminishes the burden of the poor-tax, in proportion to the number of indigent persons who dread poverty less than the loss of character. It is, in fact, a virtual repeal, as far as it extends, of those laws which should have, long since, given way to better regulations. But, unfortunately, it is the most worthy objects who suffer most from this institution, the effect of which is, to hinder those from receiving support who dread the confinement, or the noise and nastiness, even more than the confinement, of workhouses, and consider the security which they afford against the evils of want, as dearly purchased by the sacrifice of that serenity and peace, which can scarcely be expected to exist where an indiscriminate mixture of individuals of all different habits and tempers are collected together. The dread of involving themselves in this misery, can hardly fail to keep many poor struggling with poverty, till they sink entirely under its pressure. A most affecting statement of this nature has been given by Mr. Morton Pitt, in his Address to the Landed Interest on the Deficiency of Habitations and Fuel for the use of the Poor, published a few years ago, [1798.]
Nor are these institutions attended with the advantages which they promise in point of economy. Even in parochial workhouses, and in those which are under the best regulations, the poor do so little work, that the produce of their labour almost escapes notice, while they are maintained at a most enormous expense. Instead of doing more work under one roof, and being fed more cheaply than when dispersed in their several cottages, the reverse appears clearly to be the fact. And, indeed, this is no more than might have been expected from a candid examination of the general principles of human nature. It is not reasonable, surely, to suppose, that men deprived of their liberty will work with the same cheerful activity for others, as they would do for themselves, and be contented with the same hard and homely fare which they would eat with thankfulness at home. It is hope which must sweeten all our labours; nor will any abundance of the means of subsistence relieve us from that despondency at our state, which must necessarily ensue, where we have no object of pursuit, and no room for fears and doubts. It is chiefly owing to this very circumstance, that the services of slaves are so much more expensive than those of freemen.
In Mr. Morton Pitt’s Address, some observations are introduced on the comparative expense of maintaining the poor, in their own houses and in workhouses. They are quoted from a letter to the author by Mr. Davies, of L . . . ,* whose extensive and practical acquaintance with subjects of this nature seems to be universally acknowledged. The result, we are told, of his elaborate and minute inquiry, was, that every individual in a workhouse cost the parish a considerably greater sum weekly, than when supported out of the house during the same period. The cause of this inequality he attributes chiefly to the difference in their food. . . .
Against County Workhouses the objections are much stronger; the buildings, furniture, salaries, everything in short being there on a large and expensive scale, without its being possible to preserve, for any length of time, a system of economy. At first, indeed, there may be a great exertion; but the novelty being over, few will be found public-spirited enough to continue their attendance and attention to a business in which they are so little interested, and from which they are continually diverted by more important engagements, and more agreeable pursuits. In the meantime, while the expenses of these institutions are so enormous, the objects whose relief they are intended to accomplish, are wretched, still more even than in parochial workhouses, where they are not condemned to the same state of banishment from their friends and relatives. If such institutions are attended with any benefit at all, it can only be the negative one, of operating as a partial repeal of laws, which make still greater depredations on the public resources.
All the foregoing observations, it must be remembered, apply chiefly to County Workhouses, and must not be extended, without many limitations, to similar establishments in large and populous cities; in which, probably, there are always a great variety of individuals who could not be disposed of in any other way so properly. This distinction between Town and Country Workhouses is strongly stated in a letter, formerly adduced from Mr. Davies, [p. 302.] . . . In these remarks, there is undoubtedly much truth and good sense. But they ought not to have been extended beyond the cases which Mr. Davies describes,—those of destitute orphans, and of those friendless and helpless persons mentioned by him; and in general, it may be safely affirmed, that wherever the poor can be provided for by a weekly supply of money or food, in their own houses, this method is, in many respects, preferable to the other.
To those who may turn their attention practically to the state of the poor, more particularly in great towns, some important hints may be suggested by a perusal of Voght’s Account of the Management of the Poor in Hamburgh, published at Edinburgh in the year 1795. An abstract of the account, drawn up by the Bishop of Durham, will be found in the Seventh Report of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor. The success which has attended the efforts of the original projectors of this plan, has far exceeded their most sanguine expectations. The institution was formed in the year 1788, at which time, out of 100,000 inhabitants of Hamburgh, there were about 7000 distressed persons, in want of regular relief, besides an average of 2500 persons in the hospitals. Since that period, scarce a beggar has been seen in Hamburgh, and the decrease of sickness and mortality has been rapidly progressive. The average mortality was, at first, in the proportion of one to ten; in 1789, it was greatly reduced; and it has since gradually diminished to less than one to twenty. The average of all the expenses attending the employment of the poor, for three years ending 1st December 1796, including loss on the sale of manufactured goods, was annually £611.
In reviewing the origin and progress of the institution at Hamburgh, the Bishop of Durham has very justly remarked the benefits it has derived from the division of attention, the advantages of which he compares to those resulting from the division of labour in manufactures. “The division of labour has not produced more extraordinary effects in a well-conducted manufactory, than the division of attention in a well-arranged institution. The giving to every acting member his peculiar and appropriate duty, not interfered in by any other person, as has been done with great effect at Hamburgh, is of the utmost importance in every establishment. Those who have attended much to the conduct of charities, must have had frequent occasion to regret, that, even among the best intentioned men, more time and more power is often wasted in the counteraction and controversion of petty and trivial measures, than in the furtherance of the real objects of the institution. This is the friction, the impediment of action, the obstruction to progress, which it is most essential to prevent; and it is in this respect, that the benevolent and enlightened founders of the institution at Hamburgh have been peculiarly judicious and successful.”*
After all, it is impossible not to feel some apprehensions about the permanent stability of an institution which requires the active and gratuitous co-operation of so many individuals. The steadiness with which it has hitherto been conducted, does infinite credit to those concerned in its management, and may probably continue unabated while the enthusiasm of the original projectors remains to animate their exertions. But the most public-spirited and benevolent men are not always the most active and persevering, and it thus often happens that the management of institutions for the poor, of whatever nature, after the first efforts of zeal are passed, fall into the hands of persons indifferent to their interests, and unfit to carry them on. It might be advisable, therefore, if any similar establishment is formed elsewhere, that the most essential parts of its execution should be committed to men, who are paid for their labour, and at such a rate as to render the employment an object to persons placed in the more respectable conditions of life.
The publicity and regularity of the accompts, seem also to have contributed much to the success of the undertaking at Hamburgh. And, indeed, where precautions of this sort are overlooked in any charitable establishment, it cannot but, sooner or later, subside into a mere job.
It gives me much satisfaction to learn, by a letter which I received about three years ago, that this very interesting establishment continues still to prosper.
The same general views which suggested the plan now under consideration, prompted the execution of a similar establishment, by Count Rumford, at Munich. The success of this undertaking has been singularly great. But it is unnecessary for me to enter into any details with respect to it, not only because the plan is very generally known, but because a great deal seems to have depended on the particular nature of the government by which it has been so effectually protected and encouraged.
OF BENEFIT CLUBS, OR FRIENDLY SOCIETIES.]
In this review of the attempts which have been made for the relief of the lower orders, I must not omit to mention one, which originated first among themselves, and which promises more real and lasting advantages than all the others put together; I allude to the institutions commonly known by the name of Benefit Clubs, or Friendly Societies. The general object of these institutions is, to secure to the industrious from the surplus, or a part of the surplus, of their earnings, an equivalent resource during their incapacity to labour. This idea, although I have not the least doubt that, in this country, it was the genuine offspring of English good sense and sagacity, was not altogether unthought of by the ancients. Causaubon produces ample evidence to shew, that there were, among the Athenians, and also in the other states of Greece, associations where each member deposited every month, in the common chest, a certain sum, for aiding such of their associates as met with any misfortune. Gronovius, too, seems to prove that the same plan was followed in Rome. The truth is, that the general idea of such establishments, however happy in itself, and important in its consequences, is not of so difficult a nature but that it may be expected to present itself to mankind in every civilized society, where they happen to be pressed by the same evils. From a Memoir by M. Dupont de Nemours, it appears that various establishments of this kind had sprung up spontaneously in differents parts of France among the lower orders.
Since the commencement of the last century, such institutions have extended themselves to most parts of Great Britain. Sir Frederic Eden mentions some in the north of England that had existed for a hundred years, and their utility is now so completely established by experience, that the most enlightened friends of the poor in the southern parts of the island, seem, almost unanimously, to consider them as the happiest of all the expedients which have yet been devised for bettering the condition and morals of the lower orders. It appears, also, from the Statistical Accounts of our clergy, that similar establishments are multiplying fast in Scotland, and that they have been found of great service in preventing labourers and working manufacturers from becoming burdensome.
An Act passed in 1793, for the encouragement of Friendly Societies, removed many difficulties to which they had formerly been subject. By this Act it is declared, that such societies are lawful, and it is required that their Rules shall be confirmed by the Quarter Sessions. The advantages conferred by the Act on such societies as have their rules confirmed, are many and important.
Prior to this Act, it is said to have happened frequently, that the majority of an occasional meeting, which, by the rules of the society, was competent to make laws, expelled all the absent members, though superior to themselves in number, while the persons thus injured were left without the means of redress. A very extraordinary instance of this is stated to have happened lately, in the case of a society whose rules had not been confirmed:—“In the neighbourhood of Ealing, a majority, composed of the young men of a friendly society, agreed to dissolve the society, and divide the stock, and thereby, at once, defrauded all the old members of that provision for age and infirmity, which had been the object of many years’ contribution. A new society was immediately formed of the young persons, and all the old members were left to the parish.”* This very extraordinary fact is stated on the authority of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, and may be found in the Notes and Observations attached to their First Report.
Another essential advantage conferred on such of these institutions as have their rules confirmed by the Justices, was the privilege of their members to carry on their occupations in the most convenient places, without being subject to be removed to the parish of their legal settlement; an encouragement, however, which is in a great measure done away by the late Act preventing the removal of all persons till they become actually chargeable. A very respectable writer, accordingly, Mr. Rowland Burdon, has suffered his zeal for Friendly Societies to carry him so far as to censure this Act for granting an extension of the advantages formerly enjoyed by the members of such societies alone. “The locomotive faculty derived from the certificates of Friendly Societies, is a very obvious advantage, and I was sorry to be obliged to give way to the authority of the Legislature, in the adoption of a general principle of this nature with respect to the poor, by the passing of an Act for the preventing vexatious removals, which has taken away, or at least diminished much, this inducement for entering into Friendly Societies.”*
The beneficial tendency of these institutions is strongly and very judiciously stated in the paper from which the foregoing observation is quoted:—“The great desideratum, with respect to the maintenance of the poor, has always appeared to me to be the encouragement of habits of economy, and of a system of periodical subscription towards their own subsistence. Where men derive support in sickness and old age from their individual efforts, in conjunction with those of their neighbours, they pass through the various periods of trial without that degradation which attends parochial relief; being necessarily amenable to each other for a certain degree of forethought and good conduct, they learn insensibly to be regular in their attention to the earnings of their business, and by acquiring a permanent connexion with their neighbours, they become incapable of those acts of vagrancy which are so wasteful of that main source of national wealth, the labour of the lower orders of the people.”† These remarks are extracted from a short Memoir, published in the First Report of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor. The paper itself is worthy of a perusal, as it contains some interesting details concerning a Friendly Society at Castle Eden, in the county of Durham, on a scale adapted for general use; and exemplifies, strongly, not only how much the poor may be led to do for themselves, but to what a degree of kindness and good fellowship they may be habituated in the management of their common concerns. “I have learnt with pleasure that, in more instances than one, they have collected little sums among themselves to present to their sick and necessitous neighbours, over and above the allowance from the funds of the society, which, as far as I know, is an effect of philanthropy derived from the institution.”*
Numberless other testimonies in favour of these establishments might be produced from other writers who have turned their attention lately to the state of the poor; and it is by such statements, founded on actual experience, and not by speculative reasonings, that our judgment may be safely guided in disquisitions of this nature. In truth, amidst the most striking discordancy of opinion on almost every other point relating to the maintenance of the poor, I do not recollect a single individual of note who has not acknowledged the beneficial effects of friendly societies, as far as their information has extended.
Impressed strongly with these considerations, Mr. Acland, who published in the year 1786 A Scheme for enabling the Poor to provide for themselves, proposed that a general fund should be established on principles in many respects similar to those which had suggested the institutions now under consideration. This plan is said to have received the approbation of Dr. Price. It has been strongly, though somewhat captiously, opposed by Mr. Howlett;† and is objected to for reasons not so questionable, by Sir Frederic Eden. Among these, there are two entitled to peculiar weight; in the first place, that it would operate, in many respects, like a poor-rate; and secondly, that as the members would be governed by laws not made by themselves, it would want that recommendation from which friendly societies chiefly derive their popularity and usefulness.*
Among our later writers, some have proposed to extend more widely the beneficial effects of such institutions, by the encouragement of premiums; and others, to render them universal, by employing compulsory regulations to obtain subscriptions from labourers of every kind. But both measures are deprecated with great warmth by all those who have combined with their theoretical views, a proper attention to the feelings and prejudices of the lower orders of the state; the former, as it would create a new branch of public expenditure, the extent of which cannot possibly be foreseen, and the utility of which is far from being certain; and the latter, as it would, in all probability, counteract the ends in view, by converting into a tax an article of economy, which derives its whole value, and its most important moral effects, from the circumstance of its being voluntary. It is extremely remarkable, that the people seem to have felt peculiar jealousy at every legislative interference with this favourite institution; insomuch, that Sir Frederic Eden has expressed his conviction, that if Parliament attempts any farther interference, the spirit of the plan will be greatly damped, if not entirely repressed. Even the Acts already passed, he says, though they have been wisely framed, and do really confer a great benefit, have created much alarm, and have occasioned the dissolution of many societies.†
The only inconvenience which has ever been objected to these institutions is, that they encourage convivial meetings, and thereby occasion a waste to the labourer’s family of the fruits of his industry. But it is no solid argument against their general utility, that they are attended with those partial evils which are inseparable from all the devices of human policy. Their aim is not perfection, but improvement; and it is a sufficient proof of their excellence, as Sir Frederic Eden very liberally remarks, “that they have been found congenial to the social habitudes and prejudices of the labourer; and that, if they cannot correct the inclination (which is too often caused by hard labour) for conviviality and dissipation, they at least convert a vicious propensity into a useful instrument of economy and industry, and secure to their members (what can seldom be purchased at too dear a rate) subsistence during sickness, and independence in old age.”*
It is proper for me to add, after expressing myself so strongly in favour of these institutions, that I do not think they accomplish so completely all that might be attempted for the advantage of the lower orders, as to supersede the utility of farther arrangements for the attainment of the same end. Many individuals in the humbler walks of life, at least in ordinary times, can afford a still larger deduction from their expenditure than their monthly contingent requires; and it might be of infinite consequence to the industry, comforts, and morals of themselves, and of their families, if proper measures could be devised to encourage them to habits of economy, and to enable them to lend out at interest their petty gains. The losses which persons of this description, ignorant of the world, frequently suffer from ill-placed confidence, conspire with the temptations of the present moment, to divert them from habits of saving; and it would be a subject well worthy of the consideration of those who unite a spirit of humanity, and a practical acquaintance with business, to devise some plan for diminishing the risk of such loans, and for removing the other obstacles which stand in the way of so desirable an improvement.
The remarks which have been just made, appear to me to furnish the true explanation of a paradox, which has been very often insisted on from motives extremely reprehensible, by various writers, that the liberal reward of labour encourages idleness. A variety of French writers have concurred in this opinion, and Mr. Arthur Young, in several of his works, pretends that the truth of the observation is amply confirmed by his own extensive observation. Dr. Franklin, too, whose works are in general animated by a spirit of genuine humanity, has given it the sanction of his authority. “The common people,” he observes, “do not work for pleasure generally, but from necessity. Cheapness of provisions makes them idle; less work is then done, it is then more in demand proportionally, and of course the price rises. Dearness of provisions obliges the manufacturer to work more days and more hours, thus more work is done than equals the usual demand; of course it becomes cheaper, and the manufactures in consequence.”*
To this doctrine, so discouraging to the most numerous and the most essential of all the classes of society, Mr. Smith has opposed some very ingenious reasonings, endeavouring to prove, in his Wealth of Nations,† that more work is done in cheap years, than in those of greater scarcity. But although I am no less unwilling than Mr. Smith to shew any favour to the views of those who support this proposition, I must own, that his reasoning on this point does not seem to me to be quite satisfactory; nor do I think it necessary for the accomplishment of the benevolent purpose in view, to lay so much stress on the fact on which the doctrine is founded. Granting this fact in all its extent, what does it prove but the necessity of removing those circumstances in the condition of the people, which have produced in their case an effect so contrary to the general analogy of human affairs? Among these circumstances, none has operated more powerfully than the difficulty which the inferior ranks experience, in disposing safely and profitably of the surplus of their earnings. Hence an improvidence of the future, and a habit of considering wages in the light of a daily subsistence, sometimes more and sometimes less abundant, but always destined for present consumption. The natural and necessary consequence is, that when the labour of two days is sufficient for the support of three, instead of accumulating their gains with a steady perseverance, they attempt to economize proportionally their own industry, and poverty and wretchedness are handed down from generation to generation. If an easy and unexceptionable mode of disposing prudently of that proportion of their gains, which they could spare, were devised, that desire of bettering their condition, which never fails to operate where it has a field, would soon produce diligence and alacrity among the poor, and the humble occupation of industry and labour would be enlivened and cheered by hope and by ambition. With the view of assisting, and without the most distant idea of interfering with this arrangement, Mr. Malthus proposed, some years ago, the establishment of country banks; and more lately, Mr. Whitbread suggested the establishment of a great national institution of the nature of a bank, for the easy and advantageous employment of the savings of the poor.* On the merit of neither of these two plans am I prepared to give any opinion. [Our Savings Banks have originated from the same principle.]
ON THE DISTRESSES OF THE POOR, IN SO FAR AS THEY PROCEED FROM THEIR OWN EVIL HABITS.]
Having treated, at some length, of the state of the poor, and of the spirit of that branch of our police by which their condition is more immediately affected, I think it necessary to add, before concluding the subject, that in years of moderate plenty, a very great part of the distress occasioned to the lower orders in this island, must be ascribed to their own perverse habits, which are likely long to remain the subject of our unavailing complaints. It is remarked by the late Dr. Currie of Liverpool, in his Medical Reports, “that the want of a diet sufficiently nutritious is, undoubtedly, one of the causes which promote the typhus and other diseases among our poor.” The miserable effects produced by the unfortunate appetite for intoxicating liquors, so prevalent among the lower orders, have been often discussed, and very generally lamented. Indeed, I know only of one writer of note, who has ventured to dissent from the prevailing opinion on this subject; and I scarcely apprehend, that his reasonings, confidently as they are stated, and great as the weight is which they derive from the imposing authority of so illustrious a name, will require a serious examination. I allude to a panegyric on the happy effects of dram-drinking, which occurs in a Posthumous Essay of Mr. Burke, lately published by his executors.
“The alembic, in my mind, has furnished the world a far greater benefit and blessing, than if the opus maximum had been really found by chemistry, and, like Midas, we could turn everything into gold.
“Undoubtedly there may be a dangerous abuse in the excess of spirits; and, at one time, I am ready to believe the abuse was great. When spirits are cheap, the business of drunkenness is achieved with little time or labour, but that evil I consider to be wholly done away. Observation for the last forty years, and very particularly for the last thirty,* has furnished me with ten instances of drunkenness from other causes for one from this. Ardent spirit is a great medicine, often to remove distempers—much more frequently to prevent them, or to chase them away in their beginnings. It is not nutritive in any great degree. But if not food, it greatly alleviates the want of it. It invigorates the stomach for the digestion of poor meagre diet, not easily alliable to the human constitution. Wine the poor cannot touch. Beer, as applied to many occasions, (as among seamen and fishermen for instance,) will by no means do the business. Let me add, what wits inspired with champagne and claret will turn into ridicule—it is a medicine for the mind.† Under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our mortal condition, men have at all times, and in all countries, called in some physical aid to their moral consolations,—wine, beer, opium, brandy, or tobacco.”‡
The only reply I shall make to this passage is, by quoting one or two paragraphs from An Account of the Colony in New South Wales, published, a few years ago, by Colonel Collins, who held, for a considerable number of years, the office of Judge Advocate in that settlement. The book, notwithstanding the extreme prolixity of its details, is interesting and instructive, in many respects, to all who turn their attention to that branch of police which relates to the morals of the lower classes of society; and on no account more than by the numerous and melancholy illustrations which are there produced, of the moral effects which have attended the invention of the alembic. Of its medical effects, I do not presume to give any opinion. “At Sydney and Paramatta, a license was given for the sale of porter; but, under the cover of this, spirits found their way among the people, and much intoxication was the consequence. Several of the settlers, breaking out from the restraint to which they had been subject, conducted themselves with the greatest impropriety, beating their wives, destroying their stock, trampling on and injuring their crops in the ground, and destroying each other’s property. . . . The indulgence which was intended by the Governor for their benefit, was most shamefully abused; and what he suffered them to purchase with a view to their future comfort, was retailed among themselves at a scandalous profit, several of the settlers’ houses being at this time literally nothing else but porter-houses, where rioting and drunkenness prevailed as long as the means remained.”* . . .
“The American spirit had by some means or other found its way among the convicts; and a discreet use of it being wholly out of the question with those people, intoxication was become common among them. The free use of spirits had been hitherto most rigidly prohibited in the colony; that is to say, it was absolutely forbidden to the convicts. It might therefore have been expected, that when that restraint was in ever so small a degree removed, they would break out into acts of disorder and contempt of former prohibitions. It was therefore indispensable to the preservation of peace and good order in the settlement, to prevent, if possible, the existence of so great an evil as drunkenness, which, if suffered, would have been the parent of every irregularity. The fondness expressed by these people for even this pernicious American spirit, was incredible; they hesitated not to go any length to procure it, and preferred receiving liquor for labour, to every other article of provisions or clothing that could be offered them.”*
After these details, which no one will be disposed to suspect of exaggeration, who has turned his thoughts to the habits of the same description of men in our own country, it cannot fail to appear a little surprising, that in the discussion which lately took place on the policy of opening the distilleries,—a measure which was adopted on the first prospect of returning plenty, so little stress was laid, by either party, on the moral effects which it was likely to produce; the argument on both sides hinging on economical and financial considerations. And here, I must be allowed to say, that, in my opinion, the reasonings of those who contended for the policy of the measure, are far more consistent and conclusive than those of their adversaries. On the one hand, it was argued, that the alarming scarcity with which we had been afflicted, and the acknowledged deficiency in the supply of bread corn in this country, concluded strongly against such a waste of the public produce. On the other hand, it was asked with much truth, what means are so permanently effectual for accomplishing the extension and improvement of tillage, as to enlarge the market for the produce of the soil, the effects of which, in the instance of exported corn, had been found so beneficial. This argument would, indeed, justify a prohibition of importation from abroad; and, accordingly, such a prohibition has been frequently recommended. A similar one existed under the old Government of France, and, I think, is still enforced. If the advocates of this last proposition were wrong in carrying their general parallel too far, without a due regard to those collateral combinations of circumstances by which all general maxims in Political Economy are limited, and more particularly in overlooking the morals of the people, as a thing in which the Legislature had no interest or concern, their doctrine is, at least, more consistent with itself than that of the manufacturing towns, which, in order to increase the supply of grain, would prevent the profits of the farmer from rising to their natural level.
In what has been now hinted, I have taken for granted, that the cheapness of spirituous liquors encourages drunkenness among the people; a fact of the truth of which no one can have the smallest doubt, who has attended to the melancholy experiments which Scotland has afforded on this point during the last twenty years. There is, indeed, a passage in Mr. Smith’s Wealth of Nations which seems to favour a different opinion, and of which I think it proper to take notice, on account of that weight which is justly attached to the name of the author. I shall quote the passage in Mr. Smith’s own words:—“It deserves to be remarked, that if we consult experience, the cheapness of wine seems to be a cause, not of drunkenness, but of sobriety. The inhabitants of the wine countries are in general the soberest people in Europe; witness the Spaniards, the Italians, and the inhabitants of the southern provinces of France. People are seldom guilty of excess in what is their daily fare. Nobody affects the character of liberality and good fellowship, by being profuse of a liquor which is as cheap as small beer.”* As Mr. Smith has confined himself in this remark to wine and ale, it is unnecessary for me to inquire how far his reasonings are justified by experience. I shall therefore only observe, that whether right or wrong in their application to these liquors, they certainly do not hold with respect to the materials of dram-drinking, which, I have not the smallest doubt, would be consumed with the greatest eagerness, if they filled the channels of our rivers. The principle which leads to this species of gratification is, in truth, essentially different from that spirit of conviviality, and that imitation of the pleasures of their superiors, which lead to the other excesses of the inferior ranks, being precisely of the same kind with that appetite for stupifying drugs, which prevails very generally among men who wish to escape from their own thoughts.
I am even somewhat doubtful if Mr. Smith has not gone too far in asserting, that “were the duties upon foreign wines, and the excises upon malt, beer, and ale, to be taken away all at once, it might occasion in Great Britain a pretty general and temporary drunkenness among the middling and inferior ranks of people, which would probably be soon followed by a permanent and almost universal sobriety.”* Some instances of extraordinary, and indeed almost incredible excess in the use of malt liquors among the lower classes in England, may be found in Marshall’s Rural Economy of the Midland Counties; and, I suspect, may be referred to nearly the same causes which operate powerfully against the habits and morals of our own populace, wherever the means of intoxication are placed within their reach.
I alluded formerly to the mischiefs which have been occasioned by the peculiar manner in which the duties on spirituous liquors are levied in this northern part of the island, [Vol. I. pp. 320, 321;] I mean the fatal principle, established in the year 1786, of collecting the duties on spirits in Scotland, by a license duty on the contents of the still, instead of a specific duty on every gallon of liquor produced. The obvious effect of this measure was, to prompt the distiller to work against time in the production of spirits, and to stimulate his ingenuity in distilling the greatest possible quantity within the year. And as this quantity was, by the law, to be consumed within Scotland, the country became, as it were, deluged with whisky. The reduction of price occasioned by the competition which thus took place, while it disappointed the distillers, poisoned the habits and morals of one-half of the people. The only advantage to which it gave rise was to the revenue; and it was the boast of the authors of this plan, that Government never drew anything worth the trouble of collecting from the Scotch distilleries before this new system was adopted.
It is not, perhaps, easy to imagine any one instance in which it is in the power of the Legislature to produce so great and so immediate an effect on the morals of the people, as by taxing the materials of dram-drinking, in such a way, as to place them beyond the reach of the common people. As this vicious habit does not necessarily involve any violation of the rights of others, it is not directly punishable by law. But it is the parent, among the lower orders, not only of the greater part of their distresses, but of the largest proportion of those crimes which, in many instances, bring them to an untimely end; and the means of prevention, which are in the power of the Legislature, are gentle, humane, and entirely effectual.
As to the argument used by Mr. Burke in favour of spirituous liqours, that “they are a medicine of the mind,” &c., [see p. 314,] I am far from being disposed to affirm that it is altogether groundless; and I should willingly have subscribed to his opinion, as a proof, not only of the humanity, but of the sound judgment of the author, if, without apologizing for the excesses of dram-drinking, he had confined himself to a defence of the moderate use of what are commonly called malt liquors; a beverage at once exhilarating and nutritious, and by no means liable to the same abuses with the other. Such a beverage ought to be afforded to the people at as moderate a price as possible; whereas it is the tendency of the policy now pursued in this part of the island, to depress the breweries, while it encourages the distillation of spirituous liquors.
Having alluded, in the conclusion of my last lecture, to some pernicious habits which are prevalent among the lower orders in this country, I think it proper for me to take notice, in justice to their character, of a very able argument in their defence, more particularly in defence of the English labourers and husbandmen, which was published a few years ago, by [the Rev.] Mr. [David] Davies, [Rector of Berkham, Berks.]
“Time was when small beer was reckoned one of the necessaries of life, even in poor families; and it seems to have been designed by Providence for the common drink of the people of this country, being deemed a preservative against some of its worst diseases. Were the poor able to afford themselves this wholesome beverage, it would well enough compensate for the scarcity of milk. But, on account of the dearness of malt, which is, most unfortunately for them, a principal subject of taxation, small beer has been, these many years, far beyond their ability to use in common.
“Under these hard circumstances, the dearness of malt and the difficulty of procuring milk, the only thing remaining for them to moisten their bread with, was tea. This was their last resource. Tea (with bread) furnishes one meal for a whole family every day, at no greater expense than about one shilling a week at an average. If anybody will point out an article that is cheaper and better, I will venture to answer for the poor in general, that they will be thankful for the discovery. . . .
“Still you exclaim, Tea is a luxury. If you mean fine hyson tea, sweetened with refined sugar, and softened with cream, I readily admit it to be so. But this is not the tea of the poor. Spring water, just coloured with a few leaves of the lowest-priced tea, and sweetened with the brownest sugar, is the luxury for which you reproach them. To this they have recourse from mere necessity; and were they now to be deprived of this, they would immediately be reduced to bread and water. Tea-drinking is not the cause, but the consequence, of the distresses of the poor.”*
In the passage now quoted from Mr. Davies, there is a proposition which is certainly stated in terms too unqualified, that the habit in question is not the cause, but the consequence of their distresses. In Scotland, for instance, it cannot be denied, that this wasteful practice, now so general among the lower classes, in a large proportion of cases, is the effect of an absurd imitation of the habits of their superiors. At the same time, that Mr. Davies’s remark has some foundation in truth, I am inclined to believe, from this circumstance, that in other instances where the distresses of the poor have been great, they have been led to betake themselves to similar resources.
I cannot take leave of this article without noticing again the humane and useful exertions of some late writers, in attempting to improve the domestic economy of the labouring poor, by pointing out the best means of reducing their expenses, without diminishing their comforts, by suggesting cheap and agreeable substitutes for their ordinary diet, which in times of scarcity and distress the labourer may be enabled to command, and by introducing such mechanical contrivances as may render their cottages more wholesome and comfortable. In times of general abundance, as I formerly remarked, habits of parsimony and minute attention to economy, could not be expected to continue; nor is it desirable, while our agricultural resources are still so immense, that they should become universal and permanent. But in such seasons of scarcity as we have lately experienced, [1799-1800,] and indeed, till effectual means are taken to render the national supply adequate to the national demand, and to absorb in the various practices of lucrative industry, that mass of idle consumers who are at present a burden on the other orders of the community, these economical arrangements cannot fail to be of extensive and essential benefit. The effects of order and frugality in increasing the resources of particular families, whose incomes are not more ample than those of their neighbours, are everywhere conspicuous, and would necessarily be exhibited on a much larger scale, if the economy from which they arise were conducted, systematically, on more scientific principles. It is observed, with great truth, by a writer in the Annals of Agriculture, “that the difference in comforts of the same families, at the same expense, well or ill conducted, is greater often than that of different families at different expenses. There is more difference, comparatively, in the mode of living from economy, than from income: the deficiency in income may possibly be made up by increase of work or wages; but the want of economy is irremediable, and the least income in question with it, will do more than the greatest without it. No master can, in the first place, afford wages; next, no overseer can make allowance; lastly, no magistrate can order relief enough, on any calculation but that of their being severally well managed. If the poor do not prudently serve themselves, none can effectually assist them; if they are not their own friends, none can sufficiently befriend them; the idle in procuring, or the wasteful in using, the means of subsistence, have neither merit in themselves to deserve, nor have others power to grant them, that supply which is alone due, and can be alone afforded, to the honest, industrious, and prudent. It highly then interests all conversant with the poor, who ought to be literally all, and it is hoped are most, to consult and co-operate with them in the practice of economy; it is far more useful to teach them to spend less, or to save a little, than to give them much more.”*
On these subjects, however, I must not now enlarge any farther. If your time had permitted, I could have wished to have added to the foregoing details some of the most important results that may be gathered from the scattered and fugitive publications of the day, particularly from the Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition and increasing the Comforts of the Poor; aiming to compress them into as small a compass as might be consistent with perspicuity, and to present them in something approaching to a systematical form. The undertaking, I am well aware from what I have already experienced, would have been irksome to myself, in comparison of the easier task of general speculation. But in inquiries of this sort, where so much depends on an experimental acquaintance with local circumstances and prejudices, it is, perhaps, chiefly by such attempts to compress into a convenient shape the great variety of particulars which are scattered in detached publications, that those who contemplate human affairs in the closet, have it in their power to facilitate the future progress of useful knowledge.
One inference to which we are unavoidably led by the enlightened researches hitherto mentioned, it may not be useless or disagreeable to state, that although little is to be expected from any legislative modifications or corrections of the established system, yet much may be effected by the active humanity of individuals. Much has, in truth, been thus effected already; and the zeal of some particular societies in circulating the knowledge of such examples, gives us ground to hope, that much more may yet be accomplished. The paper of Lord Winchilsea,* for instance, and some others of a similar tendency, illustrate strikingly the happy effects which the possession of property, however trifling, has on the character and habits of the lower orders. The advantages resulting from this circumstance, are to be estimated not merely by the pecuniary profit to which it leads, but by the spirit of industry and economy which it inspires, and by the scope which it affords to what has been well called the master-spring of our nature, the desire implanted in the human breast of bettering our condition. Whatever circumstance stimulates an individual to look forward to a distant futurity, cultivates his habits of self-command, and advances him in the scale of moral beings; removing him from the condition of those savages, who hunt or fish when they are hungry, and eat and sleep till they hunt or fish again. Such, in truth, must necessarily be the condition of the lower classes in any civilized nation, unless the Legislature interposes in their favour. And, accordingly, wherever they can speedily convert the product of their labour into food, they seldom exert it till food is wanted. I have been told by a gentleman, who has for many years paid much attention to subjects of this kind, that in some places where nails are manufactured, it is a common practice for the shops which sell bread and other necessaries, to take nails in exchange for them, and that to such an abject state are many of the families of nailers reduced, (all of whom, including the wife and children, make nails,) that at breakfast they dispose of them for food, and have another stock ready for the provision for dinner. The most effectual antidote against these habits of improvidence, so natural to uncultivated minds, is to awaken those hopes of progressive advancement to a condition comparatively better, which the possession of property can alone inspire. On this principle, a few individuals of rank and fortune in England seem to have proceeded with extraordinary success for a considerable number of years past; and, if a similar spirit were to animate more generally the public at large; if parish aid were more systematically directed to encourage industry of every kind, and to relieve the wants of the poor, instead of driving them into Workhouses; if workhouses were inhabited only by those who cannot, from their situation, obtain any better residence; and if Friendly Societies were to be established and encouraged wherever they are wanted:—the consequences would be incalculably great to the morals and industry of the people, and to the security of the kingdom; and a gradual remedy might, perhaps, be found for that intolerable burden, both on the landed and commercial interests of this country, which, in the words of Dr. Warburton, has arisen from “the beneficent but ill-judged plan of providing for the poor by law.”
In the observations on this branch of Political Economy, I have confined myself to the view of the remedies or palliatives which have been proposed against the existing evils, declining any speculation about the primary causes in which they have originated. An investigation of these, and of the means of removing them, would open a field still more interesting, and a field where the co-operation of the Legislature would be essentially requisite. In truth, it is chiefly in this last view that the state of the poor falls under the province of the Political Economist, as those measures which have for their object barely to alleviate or relieve the distress, and to obviate the disorders which threaten society, ought rather to be regarded as expedients of police, than as legislative provisions. Some knowledge of general principles is, at the same time, undoubtedly necessary for rendering any measures of police effectual for the attainment of these objects, and for preventing misguided individuals from purchasing a temporary benefit, at the expense of advantages that are solid and permanent. Of this kind are all the establishments, which, by tending to damp the spirit of industry, must, of consequence, have the effect of invigorating the political malady which it is their object to cure. The relief, on the other hand, which is held forth to the poor through the medium of their own exertions, tends at once to allay the distress of the present moment, and to destroy the latent seeds of radical disease.
With the details which I have already presented, I have occasionally interwoven such practical inquiries as seemed to arise most naturally from the subject. But a wide field of discussion still remains, in inquiring what are the causes of that beggary, poverty, and profligacy which prevail over Europe, and how far these evils may admit of a legislative remedy? These questions will be found to involve, in fact, all the most interesting inquiries of Political Economy; in particular, those regarding Agriculture and Manufactures,—the Freedom of trade and of industry,—and that connexion which subsists between the prosperity of commercial nations, and the general tranquillity of the world. On these questions, however, I cannot now enter. But some of the most important results may be anticipated from what has been stated in the former parts of this course. The truth is, that all which I have offered on the subjects of Population, National Wealth, and the Maintenance of the Poor, in these lectures, form but so many fragments of one general argument concerning the system of Policy which is best adapted to the present circumstances of Europe, and more particularly to the circumstances of our own island; but of which I must content myself, in so short a course as the present, with merely hinting at the outline, without making any attempt to fill up the details. If the principles, however, which I have had occasion to state, be duly considered, there can be little doubt about the conclusions to which they necessarily lead.
The maintenance of the poor is intimately connected with another very important subject, the means of effecting, where it is possible, a reformation in the manners of those persons who have rendered themselves obnoxious to the laws of their country. The attempts which have been made in modern times to accomplish this object, by means of penitentiary houses and solitary confinement, do honour to the enlightened benevolence of the present age, and may, probably, be found susceptible of many improvements, fitting them for accomplishing, still more effectually, the laudable and important purposes for which they are destined. On this subject, much information is to be found in the scattered suggestions of different writers of the present age; nor does the field of speculation seem to be by any means exhausted, when the subject is considered in its relation to the general principles of Morals, or to the particular purposes of Political Economy. The facts and observations collected on this subject by Mr. Howard and others, are more particularly deserving of attention. And some very ingenious and original hints on this subject are to be found in the Panopticon of Mr. Bentham. I shall not, however, at present enter into any discussion of this branch of inquiry, as I am anxious, before closing these lectures, to make a few observations on the Education of the people.
[* ] [Eden’s State of the Poor, 1797, Book I. chap. i.; Vol. I. p. 42, seq.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 44.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 61.]
[* ] [Ibid. Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 97.]
[* ] [Chap. ii. pp. 100-102, third edition.]
[* ] [Eden’s State of the Poor, Book I. chap. ii. Vol. I. p. 134.]
[† ] [Journal, p. 674.]
[‡ ] [State of the Poor, Book I. chap. ii. Vol. I. p. 133.]
[* ] [Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, Chap. xiii. p. 358, seventh edition.]
[† ] [Ibid. Chap. xi. p. 313, seventh edition.]
[* ] [State of the Poor, Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 171.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 175.]
[‡ ] [Ibid. p. 176.]
[* ] [Observations on the Present State and Defects of the Poor-Laws.]
[† ] [Book I. chap. x.; Vol. I. pp. 212-222, tenth edition.]
[‡ ] [Ibid. p. 218.]
[§ ] [Book II. Sketch x.; Vol. II. p. 40; edit. 1774.]
[* ] [Examination of Mr. Pitt’s Speech, &c., Sect. I. pp. 15, 16.]
[† ] [State of the Poor, Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 181.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. viii.; Vol. I. p. 113, tenth edition.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[‡ ] [Supra, Political Economy, Vol. I.; (Works, Vol. VIII.) p. 181.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. x.; Vol. I. pp. 219, 220, tenth edition.]
[† ] [See Eden’s State of the Poor, Book I. chap. iii.; Vol. I. p. 397.]
[* ] [An Account of several Workhouses, &c.]
[† ] [State of the Poor, Book I. chap. iii.; Vol. I. p. 270.]
[* ] [Sect. xiii. p. 80, seq., edit. 1817.]
[* ] [Quoted in Eden’s State of the Poor, Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 188.]
[† ] [Ibid. Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 131.]
[‡ ] [Ibid. Pref. p. xxv.]
[* ] [Ibid. Pref. p. xxv.]
[* ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. XXIII. chap. xxix. Part II. p. 107.]
[* ] [Inquiry into the Causes of the Increase of Robbers, &c., Sect. iv.; Works, Vol. IV. p. 554.]
[† ] [Book III. chap. vi.; Vol. II. p. 177, edit. 1806.]
[* ] [State of the Poor, Book II. chap. i.; Vol. I. p. 470.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 484.]
[† ] [P. 12.]
[* ] [Vol. II. p. 529, third edition.]
[† ] [P. 15.]
[* ] [Essay on Population—Appendix, Vol. II. p. 529, third edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 396.]
[† ] [P. 16.]
[* ] [The Insufficiency of the Causes to which the Increase of our Poor and of the Poor’s-rates have been commonly ascribed, &c., 1788, Part III. sect. iii. p. 118.]
[† ] [Sect. I. p. 5.]
[* ] [Insufficiency of the Causes, &c., Part I. sect. i. pp. 16-18.]
[* ] [Thoughts and Details on Scarcity; Works, Vol. VII. p. 379, edit. 1808.]
[* ] [State of the Poor, Preface, p. xxix.]
[* ] [Vol. II. p. 659, orig. edit.]
[* ] [Eden’s State of the Poor, Appendix x.; Vol. III. p. cclxxviii.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. cclxxix.]
[‡ ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. cclxxx.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. cclxxxi.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. cclxxxiv., seq.]
[* ] [Ibid. Book I. chap. ii.; Vol. I. p. 131, note.]
[† ] [Ibid. Appendix X.; Vol. I. p. cclxxxvii.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. cclxxxviii.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. cclxxxix.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. ccxciii.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. ccxciv.]
[* ] [Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. I. pp. 12, 13.]
[* ] [Sketches of the History of Man, Book II. sketch x.; Vol. II. p. 58, orig. edit. 1774.]
[* ] [Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. XV. pp. 641, 642.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 642.]
[* ] [Chap. XV. sect. vii. p. 226.]
[* ] [As the Editor has been unable to procure Mr. M. Pitt’s Address, he can neither supply this name, nor give any quotations from the pamphlet.]
[* ] [Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, No. XL.; Vol. II. p. 41, third edition.]
[* ] [Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, No. I.; Vol. I. pp. 10, 11, footnote, third edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 10.]
[† ] [Ibid. pp. 10, 11.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 9.]
[† ] [Insufficiency of the Causes to which the Increase of our Poor have been ascribed, &c., Part III. sect. iii. p. 109, seq.]
[* ] [State of the Poor, Book II. chap. iii.; Vol. I. p. 603, seq.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 631.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 632.]
[* ] [Political Fragments, Sect. iii.; Works, Vol. II. p. 415, edit. 1806.]
[† ] [Book I. chap. viii.; Vol. I. p. 131, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Speech on the Poor-Laws, delivered in the House of Commons, February 19, 1807, p. 42.]
[* ] [This Paper was written in 1795.]
[† ] [The celebrated book, Medicina Mentis of Tschirnhausen, is here referred to.]
[‡ ] [Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, Works, Vol. VII. pp. 413, 414, edition 1808.]
[* ] [Chap. xviii. Vol. I. pp. 240, 241. London, 1798.]
[* ] [Ibid. chap. xx. Vol. I. p. 260.]
[* ] [Book IV. chap. iii.; Vol. II. p. 242, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. pp. 242, 243.]
[* ] [Case of Labourers in Husbandry, Stated and Considered, 1795, Part I. sect. iv. pp. 38, 39.]
[* ] [A. Young’s Annals, &c., Vol. XXV. pp. 359, 361.]
[* ] [Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, No. XVII.; Vol. I. p. 93, seq., third edition.]