Page:Appeal to the wealthy of the land.djvu/16

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ently remunerated, that no industry, no economy, no providence, in times when the parties are fully employed, will enable them to save wherewith to support themselves and families in times of stagnation, and during severe seasons; and that of course they must rely, on those occasions, upon the overseers of the poor, or benevolent societies, or charitable individuals, or on such extraordinary aid, as, to the honour of our citizens, the late (1830) distressing scenes called forth. If I succeed in deeply imprinting this important truth on the public mind, so that it may produce the proper effect, by removing the injurious prejudices that prevail on the conduct and character of the labouring poor, on the effects of benevolent societies, and on the claims of those societies for extensive support, I shall regard myself as signally fortunate.

There is one idea on the subject of benevolent societies which deserves serious consideration, and appeals not merely to our charity and beneficence, but to our selfishness. It often happens that individuals who have for a long time struggled with distress and difficulties, and with a laudable spirit of pride and self-respect, which cannot be too carefully cherished, shrunk from the degradation of a dependence on the guardians of the poor, are on the point of giving way in a time of severe pressure, but, being then temporarily relieved by a benevolent society, are rescued from this painful necessity. Whereas they might otherwise sink into permanent paupers, and ultimately cost the public ten times as much as the amount which rescued them from this degradation.

Let it not be for a moment supposed, that I carry my defence of the poor to such an extravagant and ill-judged length, as to contend that all their distresses and sufferings arise from inadequate wages, or that they are all faultless: far from it. I know there are among them, as among all other classes, worthless persons—and some supremely worthless. Among the heavy sins of this class are intemperance, and desertion by some of them, of their wives and children, or, what is at least as bad, living in a state of idleness on the earnings of their wives. Indeed, so far as regards their ill-fated partners, the latter course is the worse. In the one case, the husband only withdraws his aid: in the other, he not only commits that offence, but adds to the burdens of his wife.

As regards the sexes, there are, among the poor, twice as many worthless males as females—idle, dissipated, and intemperate. The females are, with few exceptions, orderly, regular, and industrious, and husband their slender means with exemplary economy—an economy without which they would frequently undergo intense suffering from hunger.

But while I freely admit that there are among the poor many worthless, I am fully satisfied, from the most attentive examination of the subject, that the worthless of both sexes bear but a very small proportion to those who are industrious and meritorious. Unfortunately, the worthless occupy a more prominent space in the public eye, and with many are unceasing objects of animadversion and reprobation; their numbers and their follies and vices are magnified: whereas the industrious and meritorious are, I repeat, generally in the background, out of view.[1]

  1. Extract from a Report of the Managers of the Female Hospitable Society.

    "The Managers of the Female Hospitable Society state, that in their opinion, a very large proportion of the distress among the industrious poor originates in the low prices of women's wages, and the uncertainty of constant employment.

    "This society has never been able to give work to one fourth of those who apply, even in the most flourishing state of its funds: now not more than one in ten receives any!

    "MARY A. SNYDER, Governess F. H. Society.

    "MARGARET SILVER, Secretary."