Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land/Essay 9


Is it wonderful that pauperism, profligacy, and other evils, together with poor rates, have rapidly increased under such a hideous system of mismanagement! And is it not unaccountable that such an enlightened nation as England should have for nearly forty years submitted to it without serious and decisive efforts to free themselves from it, before it had arisen to its present alarming and oppressive height?

It remains to ascertain whether or not the evils are remediless, and if not, what are the remedies? Fortunately, on this important point we are not left to mere speculation or theory. The experiment has been tried in several parishes in England, and found completely successful: and it is unnecessary to observe, that a remedy found effectual in one disorder, bids fair to be equally so in all disorders of an exactly similar type. The remedy is an asylum, where labour will be found for the able-bodied, and support refused but in return for labour. This has in many parishes diminished the applications for relief, and the poor rates 20, 30, 40, and in some, 60 per cent.

The principal means of effecting the reformation has been the abolition of the interference of the magistrates, who, strange to say, in almost every instance when the paupers appealed from the overseers, decided in favour of the appellants, although in most instances wholly unacquainted with the merits or demerits of the case, which the overseers had properly investigated. This shocking procedure was so uniform, that the overseers found themselves generally forced to comply with the demands of the paupers, often obstreperously and impudently preferred. Select vestries with final jurisdiction have been appointed in many of the parishes, and have in every instance produced the most salutary reformation.

"Some time ago, for instance, we had a lot of granite broken: there were not above 20 per cent. of the men who began the work, who remained to work at all; there where not above 2 per cent. who remained the whole of the time during which the work lasted!!"—Report of Commissioners on Poor-laws, p. 209.

"In June, 1821, a select vestry was formed: and although they had to clear off a debt of £300, they speedily effected a great reduction of the rates. The cases were all investigated respectively, and the relief adjusted by judgment of the vestry. The expenditure, which, according to the parliamentary returns, was £720 in 1819-20, was reduced to £347 in 1822-23, and to £216 in 1828-29."—Idem, p. 369.

"In Swallowfield, where it was partially effected, the rates were reduced from 9s. and 10s. in the pound to 5s. 8d., and during the last year to 3s. 8d. in the pound."—Idem, p. 337.

"The able-bodied applicants for parochial relief increased in such numbers, that it has recently been found necessary to recur to the use of the stone-yard to stem the influx: 900 of the applicants for relief were set to work; only 85 have continued at work!!!"—Idem, p. 210.

"He cited the cases of nine families who had applied for relief, but had refused it when they were told they would be removed" [to the workhouse.] 'Six of these families,' he said, 'had not only been saved from pauperism, but they were now in a better situation than he had ever before known them to be in."—Idem, p. 208.

"The interference of the magistrates is unknown. The present acting guardian took on himself the management in 1815. In four years he reduced the expenditure £2,600; and though the population has nearly doubled since that period, the rates have never exceeded what they were after that reduction."—Idem, p. 106.

"The parish officers of St. James's, Westminster, state, that 'on one occasion, in the month of November last, upwards of 50 paupers were offered admission into the workhouse, in lieu of giving them out-door relief; and that of that number only four accepted the offer;' and that 'since then, the same system has been pursued in a number of instances, and attended with a similar result.'"—Idem, p. 214.

"All the lazy, profligate, and disorderly part of the community, necessarily entertain the greatest possible disinclination to the hard labour and severe discipline enforced in every well-conducted workhouse."—E. R. vol. xlvii. p. 308.

"The real use of a workhouse, is to be an asylum for the able-bodied poor; for the maimed and impotent poor may, speaking generally, be more advantageously provided for elsewhere; but it ought to be such an asylum as will not be resorted to, except by those who have no other resource, and who are wholly without the means of supporting themselves."—Ibid.

"From the year 1821 to 1826, the average assessment was £3500 per annum; from 1826 to 1831, the average has been £1800. The population in 1821 was 5317; in 1831 it had increased to 6341; thus exhibiting decreasing rates with an increasing population."—Commissioners' Report, p. 189.

"Previous to the establishment of this house, the average rates of the parish of Shardlow were £570; since that period they have been reduced full one third. In the year ending 1832 they were £344. 2s. The population in 1811 was 750; in 1831, 1091."—Idem, p. 193.

"Have you refused applicants relief unless they went into the house?—Yes; and a large portion decline going into it, and we get rid of them."—Idem, p. 205.

"The old system attracted vagabonds to the parish who have now left us, and kept many in idleness, which led to pilfering. Some of these people I now see at work in the parish. The change, I am sure, has benefited the people themselves, for they would commonly spend two or three hours to get a sixpence in charity, rather than give an hour's labour to obtain the same sixpence."—Idem, p. 268.

"What number of undeserving cases did you get rid of, in consequence of this alteration and of your investigations? About 150 as an immediate consequence of this alteration; but, all together, including the clearing of the workhouse (with which the magistrates had nothing to do), we got rid of about 500 in the course of two years."—Ibid.

"Very great numbers of lazy people, rather than submit to the confinement and labour of the workhouse, are content to throw off the mask, and maintain themselves by their own industry. And this was so remarkable here, at Maidstone, that when our workhouse was finished, and public notice given that all who came to demand their weekly pay should be immediately sent thither, little more than half the poor upon the list came to the overseers to receive their allowance."—Idem, p. 328.

"About ten or eleven years since, the officers of the town of Maidstone were induced, from the great cost of the poor (which had increased, I think, to 7s. or 8s. per week each), to set on foot some inquiries. The result was, that the officers reduced the diet: and after enforcing the alteration for about two months, they contracted with a person to keep the poor for about 3s. 3d. per head. They have continued the contracting system ever since."—Idem, p. 329.

"In the instances of individuals, as well as in several whole parishes, wherever the influence of the present system has been removed, the rise of the condition of the people has been proportionate to the removal of that influence, or their previous depression. In Cookham, where the change was most extensive, the parochial expenditure was reduced from £3133 to £1155, and the general condition of the labouring classes improved."—Idem, p. 337.

Appeal to the wealthy of the land - custom rule.jpg

Have I not produced a superabundance of proofs, that for 190 years the operation of the poor-laws in England was beneficent and salutary; that the most enormous abuses have prevailed in their administration for nearly 40 years; that those abuses satisfactorily account for a large and oppressive increase of the poor rates; and that a universal rule to afford no relief to able-bodied men but for labour performed, the more severe the better, would apply a remedy to the great mass of the abuses? When men who do not employ labourers, are obliged to pay a portion of the earnings of those employed by their neighbours—when thieves and robbers are supported at the public expense—when prostitutes with illegitimate children receive larger allowance from the overseers of the poor than honest widows with their legitimate offspring—when able-bodied men, refusing to work, are supported with weekly stipends, equal to the wages of honest industry, can we he surprised at the enormous increase of the poor rates? Can any thing be more unfair or illogical than to charge these hideous abuses of the laws to the laws themselves? And is it not certain, that the introduction into every parish in the kingdom of such reforms as have taken place in Maidstone, Cookham, &c. &c., (whereby the rates were reduced 30, 40, and in some cases 60 per cent., although the population had increased, and the condition of the poorer classes was improved,) would produce a great reduction of the rates, and a melioration of the state of society throughout the kingdom?

Philadelphia, July 13, 1833.