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among the causes of pauperism; it is the ground on which farmers have endeavoured to throw the burden of the poor-rate, on the capitalist and manufacturer, by keeping the rate of wages as low as they can, and by making up the means of subsistence out of the poor-rate.
Another motive to that ill-judged practice originated in the conviction, that a man's labor is of equal value, whether he be single or married, whether he has not any child or has several children to maintain. To raise the wages of the married man with a large family, is in effect to raise the wages of the man who is either single or who has a small family. And every one conversant with the affairs of agriculture, must be aware that the price of labor presses more severely on the farmer, than on the manufacturer. The manufacturer can regulate the price of his manufacture by the price of labor, since he has a more extended market and fewer competitors. This power does not fall within the compass of the farmer. Another mischief following from this system is, that the best laborers only will be employed, when labor will not, on a general scale of prices, afford a profit; or, as between two men of equal skill, the single man, or a man with a small family will be discarded, in order to afford the means of subsistence to the family of greater extent, and who, without this preference, would become a burden on the poor-rate.
Another and still greater evil of this state of things is, that labor does by competition fall into a scale of price below its real value, and there is a more general, instead of a more partial and limited state of pauperism. Though all are subsisted, all are needy; they are in rags, instead of being decently clothed; from the absence of plenty or sufficient nourishment, even the real value of their labor is deteriorated in a ratio with the price. No prudent man ever suffers his beasts of labor, or, on the same principle, his laborers, to get into a weak condition. Why in harvest are the laborers fed in the most liberal manner; their strength cherished, their spirits exhilarated? The reason is obvious; it is to enable them to perform labor corresponding with the advance of the prices they obtain at this season, when labor is in full demand, and dispatch is found to be of the first importance in point of economy as well as of security against the change of weather. In the district in which the value of labor is thus reduced, (and there are many,) the use of manufactures and of taxable articles is diminished. Even the price of corn and other farm produce is reduced below its real value, and below the relative prices of the kingdom; and in the end, the farmers and their landlords become the victims of their own system. By reducing the value of labor, they reduce the price of their own commodities. No system, in a country like England, with her present state of taxation, is so mischievous or so
ruinous as that of low prices; prices which diminish the ratio of circulation, and increase the relative proportion, and-consequently the burden and grievance of taxation.
At this crisis also, when there is an attempt to exalt the human mind and to enlighten it by education; to inform it by study and the inculcation of the knowledge of the Scriptures; it is of more than ordinary importance to provide for the employment of industry. What condition can be more wretched than knowledge united with pauperism; a sense of the dignity of the human mind and of human nature, with a feeling of degradation at being a burden on the industry, and often on the very subsistence of others placed only one step beyond pauperism, and ready to fall into that most wretched condition? Nor will the mind readily or easily emancipate itself from the thraldom of vice, or of habits of idleness, while the individual is involved in the wretchedness of poverty.
Enrich the mass of people by increasing the value of their exertions, by giving them employment, by bringing labor into demand, and treating the laborer as worthy of his hire; giving to his labor a marketable value, aud to him the independence of choosing his employer; and you will soon elevate the mind into independence and a sense of importance; you will render the possession of comforts, a good name, a character for industry and for integrity, of high value to the possessor.
Any plan which shall aim at a great change in the morals and habits of the laboring classes of the community, must effect the measure by gradual cleans, and not a sudden transition; by system, and not by severity; by kindness and advice, and not by coercion or force.
It would be absurd to annihilate or to reduce the poor-rate without a previous plan which should give scope to industry, and of consequence in the present state of the country, create subjects for employment. On the other hand, to reduce the poor-rate gradually, is both an object to those who pay it, and a duty to those who are improperly dependent on it. The rising generation must be taught the wholesome, and to them the useful lesson, that man was born to live by the sweat of his brow, by the labor of his hands, or the energies of his mind; and that it is against the first law of nature that the idle. should be maintained by the industrious, or consume, or even diminish the bread designed by charity for, those who are deprived of the means of earning it. Charity has its bounds; limits which cannot be transgressed without passing from virtue into vice giving an encouragement to idleness. The convicted felon, who at the gallows bit off the ear of his mother, as the author of his misfortunes, the accessary to his guilt, in having failed in her duty, by indulging him in idleness, instead of having excited him to industrious habits, will De beroa 120* 919 D DP ̧.*
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be justified in the opinion of those who think every crime should be punished in the person with whom it originates. It is the punishment, the example, not the executioner, which in this instance receives approbation.
That the poor-rate should be diminished as far as it is practicable, consistently with the duties of humanity, is agreed by all wise and good men. None besides the sick and those who, from infirmity, accident, or disease, are incapable of labor, ought to be pensioners on this fund; a fund which, in reference to a very large proportion of it, is drawn from those who, if justice were administered, would have a greater claim to be relieved out of the fund, than to be contributors towards it.
Let any one read the proceedings before the committees of the two houses of parliament in the last sessions, and he will not feel any doubt on this point; and every man who opens his eyes to the condition of his neighbors, will see with what difficulty, and with what embarrassment, and sometimes indeed under the very coercion of distress, the rates are levied; and how often the contributor towards the rate is rendered, by the severity of this burden, a pensioner on the rate itself.
The evil has increased to an alarming height. The extent has awakened parliament, and enlightened men. Many persons are humanely employing their talents to alleviate the evil, and to discover a remedy. Parliament will in all probability exercise its functions and its wisdom on the subject in the ensuing sessions. The remedy ought to be radical. It should be bold and energetic, simple yet firm. Humanity in the result, rather than the semblance of humanity, should be the basis of the measure: palliatives should be avoided. Temporary measures are, in most acts of legislation, the foundation of a new system of evil; they foster the disease, instead of curing it: aiming at the ease of the patient, they suffer the disease to overpower, and finally destroy him. The system of the poor-rate has been one of expedients. Attempt after attempt has failed of success; the rate has increased, is increasing, and, to our disgrace, for want of courage and firmness, the number of those who have suffered the extremity of distress, and have fallen a sacrifice to the want of sustenance, has been as great, in the midst of abundance, and plenty, as might reasonably be expected in a time of dearth and famine. A part of the evil has, no doubt, been induced by the change from war to peace. This state of things ought not to exist in an enlightened and wealthy country. Wisdom should fore-" see and provide for this change. Means cannot be adopted too early for arresting an evil which, it is boldly asserted, may be safely and effectually prevented.
Provide the funds for the employment of actual and existing industry, and the great source of pauperism, all that portion of it which is
disgraceful to society, will vanish. Withdraw only to a new source of employment, that amount of labor which is equal to the industry of the discharged soldiers and sailors, (computed at 100,000 men, or in value 2,500,000l. a year,) and labor will soon be in full demand. In the employment of this fund there may be niore or less wisdom according to the hands into which its administration shall fall. Make the fund useful to those who contribute towards it, and you convert the evil into a blessing; the burden into a benefit; the expenditure into a profit. A gradual diminution of the poor-rate would of itself be a great boon to the land proprietors, who in part pay the rates in a diminished rental; to the government, in an increased resource for future taxation, in the renovated energies and industry of the people. A race of paupers, instead of contributing towards taxation, diminish the meaus, by increasing the number of those who are unable to pay taxes, or to consume to the extent, or in the degree which supplies to the treasury a just proportion of revenue; since all taxes, unless they are levied directly on property, making the government tenants in common with the proprietor, or a new species of tithe-gatherer, must fall on consumption, so as to be borne by the poor laborer, as well as the wealthy proprietor, merchant, or manufacturer. Does not the laborer pay taxes in the price of his cottage, and of his meat, his ale, his soap, his candles, his salt, and his clothing; in some articles directly: in others indirectly, and not in a diminished ratio on that account? Nor is it an evil, or of any consequence to him, that he so contributes, provided he be enabled to earn wages which shall give him the comforts of his station, a just supply of food and of clothing; also habits of industry, for his industry is his only property; an independent spirit, the birth-right of every Englishman; and contentment; for these are blessings for which no other considerations can be a just compensation.
To find the funds for employment of industry, is the supposed difficulty. Individual capital may effect much; but cannot accomplish the object, until trade and agriculture, and commerce, shall be in full activity.
The surplus of one class of population cannot be fed or maintained by any other. Public charities and subscriptions will be like a drop of water in the ocean, in this demand for employment. Was one million of money ever produced by public subscription to any work of charity, or even of liberality? Certainly not; and one million of money, if subscribed, would require a like subscription every four months for some years!! What then can be done? where are resources to be found? are the questions naturally demanded? Shall parliament, and ought parliament, to supply the money? The answer is obvious; parliament ought to supply the money, if all other resources should fail. It is far better, more consistent with
sound and enlightened policy, to supply the means of maintaining an industrious population, than a standing army!! The money would be better employed in giving the amount to the same number of men, or the same identical men in useful and public undertakings, than to men who are soldiers merely in name. The great public works of the Romans were in all probability performed by the Roman soldiers when they were not engaged in the active services of war. But the employment of soldiers, as soldiers, even in public works, would be a death-blow to the constitution of this country; a standing army of the very worst description. But it is not necessary to resort to parliament to find means for the employment of the poor. An ample fund is ready for the purpose, even without the aid of those various charities which are shamefully misapplied, and might be usefully appropriated to this great work of charity. This fund for employment, is the poor-rate itself!! "The poor-rate!" some will exclaim. "It is already too much burthened: it is the evil of which complaint is made. To increase the poor-rate is to add to the evil, not to alleviate it; still less to remedy it!"
First impressions are often erroneous. In common with others laboring in the same vineyard, the object of the writer of these observations is to diminish the poor-rate gradually, and, in the progress, to make that rate the means of exciting and employing industry, and to keep pauperism within the bounds of true charity; to leave none but the objects of the statute of Elizabeth a burthen on the poor-rate; to make all others who resort to that fund laborers for the public, and by their services to earn for the public the value of the money which the public shall expend on their labor.
Another and not the least important part of the plan, is to bring the idle, or those who look to the poor-rate as their property, into a condition to choose employment, rather than have it prescribed to them; to bargain for their labor, rather than to be dependent, and to have the price of their labor (since labor will be necessary). fixed by others. It is hoped and believed that the system would, at a period not far distant, leave the poor-rate without any other pensioners or claimants on the fund, than those who of necessity are proper objects of charity, and must be a burden on some fund; and none can perhaps be found more just than the poor-rate, after some modifications which should bring contributions from those who have the ability to assist in this work of charity. Whoever offers any plan for the alteration of a system, is in justice to the public bound to give a general outline of that plan, so far as to prove that the plan is feasible; that it is practicable; and that it is not exposed to the danger of inovation, and of becoming an evil greater than that which it proposes to remedy. '!