Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land/Appendix


The following observations on the situation of the poor, on mendicity, and on poor-laws, by C. D. Colden, Esq., formerly Mayor of the city of New York, who had the best opportunity of judging on those important points, are so pertinent and so conclusive in favour of the doctrines advocated in this pamphlet, that I earnestly recommend them to the consideration of the public.

"A sentiment is very prevalent, that our various charitable societies and our public establishment for the poor have a pernicious tendency. We are called upon to look at England, and to observe how she is burdened with paupers, and oppressed by her poor rates. It is supposed that the increase of paupers among us is owing to our following her example; and that we are precipitating ourselves into the same embarrassments.

"I think there is as little justice as humanity, in censuring our charitable establishments. I do not believe they augment the number of the poor. Paupers come here to avail themselves of the benevolence of our citizens; but if these charities did not exist, the metropolis would still be the natural resort in the winter, of all the destitute who could reach it. Instead of relieving them through the instrumentality of societies, we should meet them in the street, and could not resist their appeals to our individual charity.

"I have read much of what has been written respecting the establishment of poor-houses, and have paid attention to various plans which have been proposed for dispensing with them; but I never yet met with the suggestion of any plan which appeared to me to be practicable, or which I thought would be endured in this country.

"In our own alms-house there were, when I last visited it, about 1600 paupers. I had often heard it said that many found shelter there who did not require or deserve an asylum of that description. I endeavoured to satisfy myself how far this suggestion was founded in fact. After having seen every individual under the poor-house roof, and conversed with a great proportion of them, I left the establishment with a conviction that many were there as paupers who could with any humanity be turned out. We have been frequently told that the poor and indigent should be left to rely on the charity of individuals. Let us suppose that the 1600 unfortunate people I have mentioned, were cast out, and told they must beg. I fear death would as often relieve them from misery, as charity. But suppose it were otherwise: would we, in this community, endure the sight of the aged, the infirm, and the cripple, asking alms of every passenger? Would we endure to see our fellow-creatures perishing in the streets? Such objects are presented in many of the cities of Europe. In Naples, they are every-day occurrences. It is not uncommon to see a human being dying on the steps of a palace. Here, I am certain, such scenes would not be tolerated, though the expense of our public charities should be tenfold. But if we have not these establishments, how are the poor to obtain relief, but by becoming mendicants? and when their physical powers are prostrated by age, sickness, or accident, what shall be done with them? Humanity forbids us to answer—let them linger and die like beasts upon our pavements. An asylum must be provided for them; and our charitable institutions are no more than a compliance with this moral obligation. If there be abuses, correct them; but do not let the abuses, if they exist, or pecuniary considerations, so far harden our hearts, or blind our judgments, as to induce us to abandon the poor to the precariousness of the individual charity they may chance to meet.

"As to the example of England, which we are called upon to regard with so much terror, I think it yet remains to be proved, that the multiplication of her paupers, or the pressure of her poor-laws on her wealthy citizens, are justly to be imputed to either her public or private charities. We are told that the facility with which alms may be obtained, sinks the independent spirit of the needy, and paralyzes a disposition to struggle for their own support. I do not believe the pride of man is so easily overcome, or that a mere invitation to dependence, is sufficient to induce him to accept it. We know that in England, the reduction of great naval and military establishments, * * * * and the astonishing operations of her labour-saving machines, have left millions of her citizens unemployed.

"There are so many to labour, and so little labour to be done, that many must be idle; or, if employed, it is for wages that will not enable them to provide the necessaries of life. If the manufacturer does not afford his workmen sufficient to support himself and his family, the deficiency must be, and is in England, drawn from the abundance of the wealthy. It is in this way that one class of the population in England becomes necessarily dependent on the other.

"The rich are not only obliged to maintain the helpless, but their wealth must contribute to the support of their unemployed or pinched manufacturers. If the master manufacturer cannot afford to pay, or does not pay his workman but half what is necessary for his subsistencc, the other half must be paid by poor rates, and the rich are in truth merely paying to support the manufactories, or for the labour from which the manufacturer derives his profits. Suppose there are five millions in England who cannot find employment; or that if they do, their wages will not purchase half what is necessary to sustain life; they must be maintained, in whole or in part, by the public. Can it be right to charge this necessity to their charitable institutions? Suppose these were abolished; how would the condition of the one class or the other, of the poor or the rich, be meliorated?

"The labourer could no more command work than he can now, and the rich would have to support him; if not by legal contributions, he would be compelled to do it by that force which no human laws are sufficient to restrain, when its exertions are the only means of preservation. It does, therefore, appear to me unreasonable and unfounded, to impute the increase of paupers in England, and the consequent augmentation of her poor-rates, to the superabundance of her charity.

"Our situation is not, and cannot be for ages, similar to that of England. While we have so many millions of acres of uncultivated land, it is impossible that any portion of our population should want employment.

"It is true, that just now, [1819] our cities are overwhelmed with deluded and destitute foreigners;, but this is an evil which will in a little while cure itself, and the recurrence of which we must prevent by appropriate laws. But do not let us, from the vain dread of the evils of which England so loudly complains, discourage charitable institutions, which, when duly regulated, are the highest ornaments of civilization.

"There is one marked difference between our situation and that of England, which, I think, deserves to be noticed. The evils of want and poverty extend themselves to every part of her dominions. Indeed it is her land-holders and farmers, who most loudly complain of the oppression of her poor laws.

"With us, the cause of complaint is entirely confined to our maritime cities. I do not believe there is a town in the state, in which the poor-rates amount to a mill, or a thousandth part upon the dollar. This seems to me to show that the pauperism of our cities, is owing to adventitious circumstances; and that we have no reason to dread that we are extending charity to the poor, which will bring upon us the calamities so much deplored in England.

"We must always be content to bear with our due proportion of poor, as we must to share all other evils incident to humanity. But in estimating what proportion we are to expect, and in comparing our own condition in this respect, with that of other countries, I think we ought not to forget, that while there are some circumstances peculiar to us which are favourable, there are others calculated to produce pauperism. Among these I would enumerate the following:

"The common drink of the poorer classes of our people is ardent spirits; and I cannot but think it unfortunate that this is so cheap, that a man can purchase as much as will make him drunk, for no more would pay for a pot of porter in England.

"We have no standing army, or navy, that take off so many thousand idlers in other countries. We have, to be sure, both an army and a navy; but they are on so small a scale, that their effects on society in this respect, are not felt. We have no transportation laws for crimes."