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so rapidly and divided their lands into such small portions that the utmost labour they can bestow upon them will not procure themselves a sufficiency to support life. These last will say,
We want,” and those who have been more careful respecting their families, those who possess the means of a comfortable -subsistence, will, or ought, to reply, “ Your want is the neces. sary consequence of the conduct of your forefathers, and, however painful it may be not to do so, if we relieve you we shall soon reduce ourselves to the same state that you are in." The want; unrelieved, would produce disease and death, which would remove the redundancy, and the survivors having had such experience of the ill effects of intemperate breeding would most probably imitate the conduct of their more cautious neighbours. On the contrary, suppose our system in full force, compelling those who have, to supply those who have not, and all would soon be reduced to one state ; all would want, and nothing but the concomitant evils of want could place any of them within the reach of the meaos to support life. Why the Puor Laws have not had this effect in this country 1 sball show in the next section. The above is a pretty correct picture of the state of every community at some period or other of its existence; and I think it bears me out in saying that it is not an act of charity to promise or endeavour to support a redundant population when its effect must be to increase the evil, and that to attempt to compel any one to do so is a gross act of injustice, as it deprives him of the advantages of his own and others previous good conduct.
We often hear men prating about an equal division of land, on the supposition that every man has an equal claim to it. If a number of men were to go out from this or any other country to take possession of an uninhabited island, this claim would be just; but in an old established community it is not so. Let us follow up the progress of our supposed community, and we shall find that it leads to the same state of things, the same monopoly of the good things in the hands of a few persons, as at present exists. When some of the estates became so divided that one portion would not produce the means of subsistence, it is a natural consequence that some will sell their shares, to those who can supply their immediate wants. Now those shares can only be purchased by those who have before more than a sufficiency for their own cultivation. The men who thus sell their birthright have no more claim on the land; they have their labour to offer and nothing more, and if they can sell this sufficiently high they have the means of subsistence. This labour will not sell except it will produce more than what it costs · those who buy it do so to gain something, to ease themselves of some portion of their usual labour, or to obtain more of the comforts of life, Here commences the distinctions in society, of master and ser
vant, of rich and poor; and while population keeps a-bead of the demand for labour, this distinction will still go on increasing. Some may ask, But have not the children of these men a right to a portion of the land they are born upon? I answer most certainly not. They have only a claim on their fathers' possessions, and these were previously sold. The father gives his son life, -and, if he can, strength to labour, and he has nothing more to give, they nothing more which they can justly claim. Where then is the labourer's right to support when he cannot obtain it by the sweat of his brow? Where is the foundation of the doctrine that no one ought to want?
2. The Poor Laws were intended to prevent want, to provide for distress whenever it was to be found. Had the founders of these laws understood the principle of population it is not probable that they would have undertaken what they did; they would have acted so much in opposition to the happiness of mankind when there was no immediate good result to be obtained by it ; but supposing them ignorant, which they certainly were, of this great regulating law, they may be considered as having been actuated by the most charitable views and good intentions toward their fellow-men. It is my present purpose to show that they attempted what could not be performed, at least, what their system of laws could not perform. - In the first place I will state a few particulars respecting the establishment of Poor Laws. Before these laws were made, distress could only find relief in private charities ; but this fund was not so insignificant as may now be supposed, for besides what came immediately from the purses of the charitable living, many charitable endowments had been made by deceased persons; and moreover the income of the clergy, which had principally arisen from the gifts. of religious and charitable persons, was partly applied to relieve the wants of the poor. According to Blackstone,
at the first establishment of parochial clergy, the tithes of the parish were distributed in a fourfold division ; one for the use of the bishop, another for maintaining the fabric of the church, a third for the poor, and a fourth to provide for the incumbent; and when the sees of the bishops became otherwise amply endowed, they were probibited from demanding their usual share, and the division was in three parts only.” But it does not appear that the clergy made it a rule to give a third, fourth, or any exact skare; they discriminately relieved the wants of their parishioners, and kept the rest for themselves, and to beautify their churches, When Henry the Eighth effected the “ Glorious Revolution,” this portion of the poor's fund was taken away from them, and the consequences soon appeared: the number of the poor increased; but to prevent so many from begging, the Justices of the Peace were empowered to prevept all such persons as appeared capable of earning a livelihood from begging, and to
grant a-licence to beg to all such as had no resource but charity to obtain subsistence. Laws were also made to punish what they denominated vagabonds, --some of them, doubtless, fellows who would rather beg than work, but many of them persons who could not obtain employment,-for the first offence by whipping and the loss of: a part of one ear, and if afterwards taken wandering in idleness to be adjudged and executed as felon. From Henry to Elizabeth but little was done by way of legislation to affect the labouring class : some very severe punishments threatened for idleness, but they do not appear to have been put in force. Shortly after Elizabeth came to the throne, the state of the poor was more attended to, and many statutes respecting them were enacted; and in the forty-third of her reign was passed the famous Act which laid the foundation of our present system of Poor Laws, entitled “An Act for the Relief of the Poor. This Act made the support of the poor compulsory; and the term poor now included, not, as heretofore, only the old, blind, and impotent, but all those who were in want, all who could not find an employment nor otherwise earn a subsistence. The absurdity of attempting to make all men industrious by penal laws, seems by this new Act to have been discovered; for the persons who by some of the previous Acts' were liable to whipping, were now to be provided for; work was to be procured for all those who were out of employment, and for which they were to receive a sufficient remuneration to place them above want. But this was no more than stepping from one absurdity to anotber, as I trust by and bye to make evident.
The principle of population teaches us that mankind has a greater tendency to increase than capital, which is the means of their support; and it teaches us also that if the number of births be not restricted, the excess of population above capital will be carried off by want, and its concomitants, disease and death. Now the Poor Laws say that this shall not be the case, that those who want shall be supported. Let úg suppose that there are eleven millions of persons in one community, and that the capital of the same country can only give employment to ten millions. It is evident that one million person's will be paupers, and that many who find employment will be paid but barely sufficient to support existence. But this million must be supported. Whence comes the support? From the capital, the already inadequate capital of the country. The immediate result must be an increase of paupers. Suppose a manufacturer has just sufficient capital to give employment to one hundred persons; tben suppose him compelled to support a share of the excess of population. I scarcely need state the deduction to be drawo : it is so clearly evident that he must discharge some of his hundred labourers, must add to the number to be relieved. Ź " But the paupers,” say some, I may be put to work and then
the capital will not be lost.” This is a fallacy. The poor carnot be put to work without capital to work upon. Suppose ten manufacturers each having capital sufficient to employ one hun. dred labourers ; and that under the system of Poor Laws it falls to their share to relieve one hundred paupers. We have already seen what would be the effect of immediete relief; let us now see what would be the effect of finding employment. Each master would be taxed in a sum sufficient to support ten paupers ; but this would reduce his capital and incapacitate him to employ more than ninety labourers. Thus there would be still a hundred paupers as before ; and it is but fair to suppose that the portion of capital under the direction of the overseers would not be as productive as when applied by the real owners; and thus an actual loss would be sustained in the attempt to find cmployment for the redundant population. My supposed case embraces but a small number of persons, but the same causes would produce the same effects on any community, no matter what its numerical extent.
Thus far I have been showing, theoretically, that the Poor Laws could not accomplish the object for which they were designed : I will now give a practical illustration to the same effect. In the year 1776 the gross assessments uuder the Poor Laws amounted to £1,529,780. In 1786 to £2,184,904. The average annual expenditure for the poor for ten years prior to 1801 was £3,861,010. The gross assessment for 1802 was £4,952,421. Average expenditure of the years 1812, 1813, and 1814, £5,147,000." I have no account of the assessments under the Poor Laws prior to 1776, but the above statement shows us their tendency to a rapid increase, and it is fair to suppose that they continued to increase from their first establishment. This fact is certain—the poor rates are now enormous, and yet the poor in great distress; and hence we can deduce, that although people may pay heavy taxes to support the poor, that they cannot thereby raise the condition of the great mass of the people, nor prevent want from continually assailing them.
The following statement of the number of deaths compared with the price of corn in seven manufacturing districts of Eng: land, will show that want sometimes visits our cottages, and what is its effect on the population :
Wheat per quarter.
Here is a difference of mortality of one in five, evidently caused
want; and this happens in England, a country of which it is
often said that not one of its inhabitants need suffer from a want of the means of subsistence!
Let it be granted that an excess of population, or, which is the same thing under another view, a deficiency of employment for all those who have to obtain a livelihood by labour, is the cause of want among the people, and it will be easy to show that the Poor Laws must extend the evil they were designed to check.
These laws, in the first place, encourage early marriages among the poorest sort of labourers. Men who are as low in the scale of existence as they can possibly be, cannot be supposed to possess much of that moral restraint which prevents others in better circumstances from marrying till they can support a 'family; but it is reasonable to suppose that a large portion even of such as these would possess caution and restraint sufficient, if there were no poor laws to promise a support for whatever number of children they may happen to produce. It is a well known fact that marriages are more frequent and early among agricultural and such other labourers as are badly remunerated, than among those who obtain a comfortable subsistence. It is easily accounted for : the latter do not look to the Poor Laws, they calculate only on : the produce of their own labour, and do not marry without an apparent prospect of being able to support a family; but the former think nothing of their own capability, they look to the parish fund for relief when needed, and marry without a thought of the extra misery they are bringing upon themselves, or of the crime of producing a number of beings to add to the misery of mankind. There are exceptions, there are some among the higher order of labourers who have no caution, and some among the lower who will forego every sensual gratification rather than
produce beings to be as miserable as themselves; still the rule holds good, and shows the mischievous operation of the system we are examining.
These laws also encourage idleness and improvidence. An industrious and provident labourer may put by a sufficiency of bis earnings to make himself a member of a Benefit Society, and thus ensure the means of subsistence in sickness or old age ; but the poor laws promise the same to the idle and improvident, Where, then, is the inducement to be industrious and saving? It is no wonder that economy is banished from our cottages since its usefulness is no longer visible. It does not, I imagine, require an argument to prove that idleness and improvidence must increase the evil which the Poor Laws were designed to check,
From all these showings of the evil tendency of the Poor Laws, it may appear that more marked effects ought to have transpired, seeing that they have been in operation between two and three hundred years. The fact is, that they never were, because they never could be, carried into full operation; and it is from this cause that they have lived so long, for had all been done which