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ART. I.-Letters to the Right Honourable Lord John Russell, on the Expediency of Enlarging the Irish Poor-Law, to the full extent of the Poor-Law of England. By G. POULETT SCROPE, Esq. M.P. 8vo. London: 1846.
TH HE people of Ireland and of Great Britain are among the most dissimilar Nations in Europe. They differ in race, in religion, in civilisation, and in wealth. To extend similar laws and institutions to countries not merely widely different but strongly contrasted, is to act in violation of all sound legislation and wise government. Yet such is the course we have pursued in Ireland-such the system by which she has been governed. We have transplanted into that country the laws and institutions in use amongst ourselves, without duly inquiring as to their fitness and adaptation to the condition of her peopleas if whatever suits us must suit them. We have neither prepared the soil, nor considered whether the climate would ripen the fruits which, in our blind and selfish calculations, we vainly expected to gather.
It is no doubt true, that when neighbouring countries, originally distinct states, become subject to the same Sovereign, the laws and institutions of each will influence those of the others; and if one member of the United Empire far exceeds the rest in
VOL. LXXXIV. NO. CLXX.
wealth and population, its example will, in many respects, be irresistible. But though, in this way, the Imperial Legislation for Ireland must always be somewhat warped by the necessity of considering what exists in England, we hope that we shall no longer see in it the prevalence of blind imitation. We hope that no more laws will be transferred to Ireland merely because they exist in England. We hope that the English institutions which Ireland has as yet escaped, will not be forced upon her by a mere spirit of system. Above all, we earnestly hope that England will not impose upon her institutions, of which the utility is questionable-which produce perhaps a balance of good, against which is to be set a great, though perhaps an inferior, amount of evil-unless we are convinced, that it is not merely possible, or even probable, but certain, that the same scale will preponderate in Ireland. And we not only hope, but trust, that, when such a question arises, the opinions and the wishes of the Irish People will have their weight; that we shall not abuse the omnipotence which the Union gave to the British portion of the Imperial Parliament, by setting at nought, on an Irish question, the decision of the Irish members; by treating them as if they were ignorant of their own country, and we understood it, by acting, in short, as if our superiority in strength implied superiority of knowledge, not only as to our own affairs, but as to theirs.
Those who have watched the tendency of English opinions in Irish matters must know, that we are not here supposing an imaginary case. Among the English laws from which Ireland as yet is in a great measure free, there is one of which both the good and the evil are enormous. Such are its powers of mischief, that it threatened, not twelve years ago, to destroy the industry of the most laborious, the wealth of the richest, and the morality of the most civilized nation in Europe. Our readers are of course aware, that we allude to the ENGLISH POOR-LAW. In a former Article,* we traced the History of this institution. We showed that its origin was an attempt to restore or preserve the expiring system of prædial slavery. From the Statute of Labourers passed in the year 1349, down to the thirty-ninth of Elizabeth, passed in 1597, the Legislature strove, by restrictions more vexatious than those of any continental police, and by punishments more savage than those of Russia-by chaining, whipping, branding, mutilation, and death-to prevent the labouring population from changing their employers, or leaving their parishes; and to force them to
* No. CXLIX of this Journal, for October 1841.
do the work and accept the wages which the Justices (that is to say, their employers, the landlords) should fix. To be a person able to work, not having a lord or master'that is to say, to be an able-bodied person out of work, or to be a loiterer' that is to say, a person searching for employment out of his parish, was a crime for which a man or a woman was to be whipped, on the first offence; sold as a slave, to be fed on bread and water, and refuse meat, and caused to work by beating, chaining, or otherwise,' for the second; and hanged for the third.
Of course, persons thus confined to their parishes must be supported there. The earlier statutes assumed, that the ablebodied slave would be made to earn his maintenance, and the impotent receive alms, But, in the sixteenth century, the prac tice of almsgiving was checked,-by the suppression of Convents, the diminished influence of the Clergy, and the prevalence of a religion which does not, like the Roman Catholic, treat blind indiscriminate charity as a virtue. And the increase of manufactures and of agricultural improvement, required the employer of labour to possess capital. The labouring classes were in a worse condition than that of ordinary slavery. If they left their parishes, they were whipped, branded, and chained. If they stayed there, no fund was set apart for their maintenance. To provide such a fund was the principal object of the legislation of Henry the VIII., Edward, Philip, and Mary and Elizabeth The 27th Henry VIII. enacted, that it should consist of voluntary alms, to be collected and applied by the churchwardens, and two others of every parish. The 1st Edward VI. cap. 3. associated with them the curate. The 5 and 6 Edward VI. cap. 2, followed by the 2 and 3 Philip and Mary, cap. 5, invoked the aid of the Bishop. All these attempts seem to have failed; and the consequences of so brutal an oppression are strikingly shown in the preamble of the 14 Eliz. cap. 5, which recites, That all parts of this realm of England and Wales be presently ' with rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, exceedingly pestered; by means whereof daily happeneth in the said realm horrible murders, thefts, and other great outrages; these rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, being persons who ventured to seek abroad the maintenance which was not afforded to them at home. Elizabeth was not to be trifled with. After enacting that rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, shall, for the first offence, be grievously whipped and burnt with a hot iron of the compass of an inch; for the second, be deemed felons; and for the third, suffer death; the statute orders the justices of the peace by their good discretion, to tax and assess all the inhabitants of their • divisions at such weekly charge as shall be sufficient to main
tain the impotent, and "settle to work the rogues and vaga'bonds," and, to commit those who refuse payment to gaol, un'til they be contented with the orders of the justices, and perform the same.' The principal difference between this act, and the celebrated Forty-Third of Elizabeth is, that by the latter the duty of assessing, collecting, and applying the parochial fund, is transferred from the Justices to the Churchwardens, and two or more householders to be appointed by them-the modern overseers. The purposes to which that fund was to be applied remained unchanged; they were the necessary relief of the lame, im'potent, old, and blind poor, not able to work; and the setting 'to work all persons having no means,' (a word then signifying property,) and using no ordinary or daily trade of life to get their living by.'
We shall not fatigue our readers by enumerating the steps, some of them actual enactments, and others administrative abuses, by which the simple and comparatively safe provisions of this act -the Forty-Third of Elizabeth-were perverted and extended; until at length, in the pauperized portions of England, the overseer was the distributor of employment, and the justice the regulator of wages. We ought not indeed to use the word wages, for in the proper sense of that word there were none. Wages imply a contract; they imply an exchange of values, in which a given amount of labour is purchased by an equivalent in money. When a man was paid by the overseer eight shillings for standing six days in the pound-when he was put up to auction and received threepence a-day from his employer, and one shilling and ninepence a-day from his parish, when he was billeted on a farmer, who was required to pay him two shillings and sixpence a-week if single, four shillings if married without children, and eighteenpence more ahead if he had children-these payments were not wages. Such, however, in the beginning of 1834, was the condition of the labouring population in many thousand English parishes! Such was the regimen which was to train them to the industry, the providence, and the honesty on which the prosperity of a country depends.
Is a law, of which such were the practical effects, a law which can safely or justly be transferred to Ireland?
We shall be told, perhaps, that we are fighting with shadows, and combating dangers of our own creation: that no one proposes any thing so monstrous, as the inflicting on any other portion of the Empire the English Poor- Law, as it existed before the Poor-Law Amendment Act. We hope that this is true. But, when we see that many of those who demand an Irish Poor-Law, demand also the repeal of the Poor-Law Amendment Act; or, what
is the same thing, the abolition of the Commission which alone gives it life, we cannot but suspect that, whether they know it or not, this monstrous proposal is the real measure for which they are clamorous. Mr Scrope, however, whose Letters to Lord John Russell we have taken as the text of this article, has endeavoured to exempt himself from this reproach. He demands for Ireland the Elizabethan poor-law. But the Elizabethan poor-law extended its charity only to the lame, impotent, old, and blind.' As regards the able-bodied, it was not a law of charity or of economy, but of Police. It required that persons having no property and using no trade should be set to work. We have already shown that under the previous acts such persons were criminals-liable to punishments more cruel than any which the existing law can bear to inflict. The able-bodied, industrious labourer, the man who has an ordinary or daily trade of life, but loses his employer or finds the produce of his hands or of his fields unequal to his support,-is not within the 43d of Elizabeth; he cannot under that statute be relieved as impotent, or set to work as a rogue. He was left by the act to voluntary charity, which was soon largely assisted by permanent funds provided by the donations or testaments of individuals. Most of the charities established generally for the poor' of a given parish, were created in the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth century; that is, while the provisions of the 43d of Elizabeth were substantially enforced. Of course, persons who could be relieved under the act were not to participate in them; for that would have been a mere diminution of rates—a charity not to the poor but to the rich. They were intended for a class who, as Lord Hale remarks, are excluded from the Act-the industrious poor whose wages are insufficient.
Now, these are the persons for whose supposed benefit Mr Scrope wishes to legislate. It is an abuse of words, thereforeit is an attempt to seduce the judgment by using one term to express ideas essentially distinct-to call his scheme the Elizabethan poor-law. The only known example of his plan was Paraguay, under the Jesuits. Under that government, the country was divided into districts, or, as we call them, parishes, each under the superintendence of its priest. The priest, or rather the officers whom he appointed, assigned to every inhabitant his task, and distributed among them according to their numbers, the whole produce of the land. As the ordinary motives to exertion were wanting, as no one could increase his share by industry, or diminish it by inactivity; idleness and indolence were made crimes, and punished by imprisonment or stripes. The system, like all systems of the kind, became a mitigated slavery; and this we