Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land/Essay 10


It is to be observed, that a cause has been steadily and powerfully operating to increase the poor rates, wholly independent of the multifarious abuses above specified. I mean the rapid and oppressive reduction of wages, consequent on the wonderful improvements in machinery. Manual labour succumbs in the conflict with steam and water power: and as three-fourths of mankind depend on the labour of their hands for a support; and further, as at the best of times there is always a superabundance of labour in the market, every thing that supersedes the demand for that labour must increase competition; lower wages; produce distress; and, to the same extent, increase the poor rates.

Mr. Brougham has published an elaborate work on the advantages of the improvement of machinery.[1] But unhappily for his argument, he introduces in the very first page a powerful fact which fully proves that the advantages, admitting them to the full extent that he contends for, are accompanied by a mass of suffering that fully counterbalances all the good with which they are pregnant. He states that a certain Jos. Foster, a working weaver of Glasgow, being examined on the subject of wages, in 1827, by a committee of the British House of Commons, declared:

"That he and many others, who had formed themselves into a society, were in great distress; that numbers of them worked at the hand-loom from eighteen to nineteen hours a day; that their earnings, at the utmost, did not amount to more than seven shillings a week; and that sometimes they were as low as four shillings. That twenty years before that time, they could readily earn a pound a week by the same industry: and that as power-loom weaving had increased, the distress of the hand-weavers had also increased in the same proportion."

Here is an overwhelming fact on this subject, which must puzzle the Malthuses, the Seniors, the Editors of the Edinburgh Review, and all those who so loudly declaim against poor rates.

A large body of men, earning, as Foster says, twenty shillings a week in 1807, and gradually reduced to seven, six, or four shillings, in 20 years, might in the early period have been not only able to support themselves comfortably, but to save, in a few years, money enough to commence business on a small scale: whereas in process of time they would be reduced, step by step, to absolute pauperism, unable to support their families, and obliged to rely on eleemosynary aid, public or private. And let it be observed, that this is not a solitary case. The reduction has extended, in a greater or less degree, to almost every branch into which machinery has been introduced.[2]

"The hand-loom weavers arc very numerous [in Burnley.] They weave coarse calicoes, and are not able to earn more than five shillings per week."—Report of Commissioners on the Poor-laws, p. 368.

"The wages of the manufacturing people were necessarily so low that from the most laborious exertions they could hardly procure a subsistence; between six and seven shillings being the extreme weekly earnings of an industrious man; and he must work fourteen hours a day to get that sum. Mr. May, a master manufacturer, stated that he had known the time when a stockinger could earn one pound sterling per week."—Idem, p. 185.

"The price of wheat, according to the account kept at Eton College, during the first mentioned years, (1767, 1768, 1770,) was 51s. a quarter; and during 1810, 1811, its price was 110s., being a rise of 115 per cent: and Mr. Young estimates that butchers' meat had in the same period risen 146, butter 140, and cheese 153 per cent: being on an average, a rise of 138½ per cent: so that wages, as compared with these articles, had declined in the interval considerably more than one third, or 38½ per cent. And if the increased cost of tea, sugar, beer, leather, &c., besides the house-duty and window-tax, had been taken into account, the diminished power of the labourer over the necessaries and comforts of life, would have appeared still greater."—E. R. vol. xxxiii. p. 173.

"How then can we be surprised at the excess of poverty and misery which has been experienced since the peace?"—Ibid.

"The poor rates have existed more than two centuries, and they incontestibly prove the condition of the day labourer to be worse at present than at any former time during that period. This, too, should be remembered, that the condition of the middle ranks has been materially improved meanwhile: their comforts, their luxuries, their importance have been augmented ten-fold: their intellectual enjoyments have been enlarged and multiplied; the situation of the poor would be relatively worse, if they had only remained stationary, without receiving a proportional increase of comforts: but this has not been the case,— it is absolutely worse. The same quantity of labour will no longer procure the same quantity of the necessaries of life."—Q. R. vol. xv. p. 195.

"In many parishes of Kent, Suffolk, Bedford, Essex, Norfolk, &c. wages were in 1824 as low as 6d. a day, or 3s. a week: in others they amounted to 4s. and 5s.: in others again to 6s., and in some they rose as high as 9s., which was the maximum."—Ibid.

"Mr. Mahony asserts, as the result of an extensive experience in the south and west of Ireland, that the receipts of a day labourer throughout the year average but 5d. per diem. The payment for a day's work is generally from 8d. to 10d., but deducting Sundays, saints' days, bad weather, and occasional loss of time, the receipts average but half that sum."—Q. R. vol. xliv. 542.

"In the year 1786 the wages for spinning No. 100 cotton yarn was 10s. per pound; in 1790 they were reduced to 4s.; and in a few years fell to 8d.:" that is to say, one fifteenth of the wages in 1786.—Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. xxiv. p. 397.

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It would appear that the facts above adduced are abundantly sufficient to put down for ever the chief ground on which the opposition to the poor-laws rests; that is, their assumed inevitable tendency to a ruinous and oppressive increase of poor rates. But unfortunately theorists blindly shut their eyes to opposing facts, and view with microscopic eye all those that appear to lend sanction to

their theories. The facts here stated are clear, decisive, and irrefragable; and it is astonishing how those enlightened men, who have so long and so zealously trumpeted forth the supposed unavoidable evils of this system, should be so blind to their force as not to seek some other cause to account for its oppressive results.

It is believed that the poor are supported in Scotland by voluntary subscriptions, and that assessments for the support of the poor, and mendicity, are unknown. Both assertions appear to be egregiously erroneous, as may be seen by the annexed extracts. But even were they literally correct, it does not thence follow that the same reasoning would apply in England. The Scotch are a peculiar people. They are brought up with more advantages than most other people in Europe; their education is better attended to; their habits are more orderly. But with all these advantages, which are immensely valuable, they are obliged to have recourse to assessments for the support of the poor; and are moreover plagued with the heavy curse of mendicity.

"If the case of the poor in Scotland and Ireland be produced as a proof, that leaving them to private charity would have a better effect than the rates of England, the answer is obvious—that in Scotland they are not left to private charity in their principal cities, but are admitted to a provision out of the funds of the general session of those cities."—Ruggles's History of the Poor, vol. ii. p. 78.

"Notwithstanding all the eulogiums which have been passed on the manner in which the poor of Scotland are maintained, we find, that even at this moment, vagrant mendicity is nearly universal in that country. Scotland possesses a series of very severe laws for the suppression of vagrancy; and resolutions have been recently entered into, by more than one county, to carry their provisions into effect."—Q. R. vol. xxxviii. p. 74.

"But these resolutions have hitherto proved unavailing, in consequence of the extreme humanity of parishioners, who cannot resist listening to the plea of apparent distress, and bestowing alms. It is indeed computed that the stranger poor carry away, in the shape of alms, from the parish, more in value each year than would support comfortably the whole poor on the parish-roll: and a general belief prevails, that the practice is attended with many most hurtful effects, both to the best interests of the public, and to the morals of the mendicant. They (i.e. the Committee of the Assembly) consider begging as a violation of the whole provision, purposes, and spirit of our poor-laws; as a heavy loss to the community, of productive labour, from the wandering and idle habits of beggary; as encouraging the vices of those who are professionally pilfering vagrants; and as habituating, generally, the pauper to duplicity, falsehood, improvidence, and dissipation."—Minutes and Report of the Committee of the General Assembly, 1818, p. 14.

But even if sufficient sums could be raised by voluntary contributions, there would be strong objections to this mode, as the burden would fall very unequally.

"By statutory provision the burden is equally laid upon persons of property, according to "their ability; while in voluntary contributions, the richest are not always found the most charitable."—Q. R. vol. xxviii. p. 354.

Philadelphia, July 16, 1833.

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  1. "The notion, that it can be nationally profitable to save the employment of labour by improvements in machinery, when those whose labour is thus supplanted, must be supported in idleness, at the public expense, is as irrational as it would be for the owner of a pair of carriage-horses, who is obliged by law, or the will under which he inherits, to keep them on good provender in his stable, to attempt to save money by setting up a steam coach."—Q. R. vol. xliii. p. 257.
  2. The effect of machinery to increase the poor rates is obvious from the following tables, by which it appears that the latter have increased, pari passu, with the increase of the former.
    The spinning Jenny was invented by Hargreaves, in 1767
    Arkwright's machine, worked by horse power, was invented in 1769
    put in motion by water, in 1771
    The mule Jenny, worked by hand, was invented by Crompton in 1775
    Wm. Kelly applied machinery to it in 1792

    It is obvious that the war of machinery upon manual labour was not confined to the cotton and woolen branches, although more severely felt in these than in others. It went on in every other branch to which machinery was applicable.

    Years. Poor taxes. Population. Poor rates
    £ per head.
    1673 840,000* 3s. 4d.
    1750 700,000† 6,467,000‡ 2s. 2d.
    1770 1,306,000† 7,428,000‡ 3s. 5d.
    1780 1,774,000† 7,953,000† 4s. 4d.
    1790 2,569,009† 8,675,000† 5s. 11d.
    1800 3,861,000† 9,168,000‡ 8s. 5d.
    1810 5,407,000† 10,502,500‡ 10s. 3d.
    1820 6,680,000† 11,977,663‡ 11s.
    * F. M. Eden's State of the Poor, vol. i. p. 189.
    Lowe on the Present State of England, pp. 185, 186
    Statistical Tables, page 3.