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guard against this oscillation? and when the demand for labour is less than the number of labourers, and consequently many are reduced to indigence for the want of labour,-to pursue Mr. Malthus's own metaphor,-what machinery can correct this oscillation, but the fly or regulating wheel of a provision from the State, either national or local? Mr. Malthus in the Introduction to his Treatise on Political Economy observes, that it bears a nearer relation to the science of politics and morals than to that of mathematics. No rules can be therefore laid down by legislation, which can prevent the evils of the oscillations which reduce the labourer to severe distress; and therefore the legislative provision for his relief appears to be of paramount necessity in civilized states. I consider the person who applies to the parish, in consequence of want of labour, in the character of an indigent person, and that it is in that character alone that the law directs him to be supported. I make this observation, because many Magistrates consider they have a right to order the parish to which the applicant belongs to find him labour; and orders have been framed to this ef fect, founded on the following clause in the 43d Elizabeth, c. 2, which directs that "the churchwardens and overseers of the poor shall take order from time to time for setting to work the
children of all such whose parents shall not, by the said churchwardens and overseers, or the greater part of them, be thought able to keep and maintain their children: and also for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and use (using) no ordinary and daily trade of life to get their living by."
Now, as the assumption in this case is, that the indigent person who has the full possession of health and strength, applies for relief only under the impossibility of procuring employ, it is absurd to expect that the parish which has no capital, and no available means of giving him employment, should do that which the capitalists, who employ labour, cannot do; and therefore I consider it as expedient, that the Legislature should declare such orders invalid; and that, in such cases, the order should specify the cause only, and that the application of the relief,whether by employment or in any other mode, should be at the discretion of the select vestry. With respect to those parishes where the Select Vestry Act has not been adopted, the law might remain as it now is; for where the principal inhabitants choose to neglect their duty and their interest, the discretion may be as well left with the magistrates as with the overseers.
The distinction between the able-bodied man
willing to work and unable to procure it, and the able-bodied man unwilling to work although able to procure it, will be much more accurately made by those who are in the constant habit of conversing with and superintending them. In my frequent attendances in select vestries I have never seen any want of this discrimination. Without denying that the oscillation of labour may throw upon the public fund many persons who have the inclination as well as the ability to labour, I believe that it will be found, that the generality of those who apply, are such as have forfeited their character by their misconduct or their profligacy, or, to say the least, such as through their improvidence and thoughtless prodigality have wasted those earnings which, acquired in the summer, would, with common prudence, have maintained them during the winter. There is in England so great a quantity of convertible capital, that as soon as labour is cheap, it is called into action much sooner than in those countries which entirely depend on agriculture, and where the agriculturists can lay by no capital. The repeal of this clause would tend to remove some of the most specious objections which have been urged against the poor-laws. He who, with the use of his limbs and in full health, is compelled to resort to the parish, not for employ, but for relief, reduces himself lower in the scale of society; and
I am not prepared to say, with those who with Mr. Malthus declaim against the poor-laws, that the dread of falling lower in the scale of society is extinguished.
The natural principle of looking forward, and exerting ourselves to better our condition, is one interwoven with the frame and condition of our being; "stronger indeed in some than in others; but constant in its habitual influence upon all; and forms one of those great practical conclusions in morals, approved," as Dugald Stewart justly observes," by the experience of men in all ages of the world, and of which, if we wish for any additional confirmation, we have only to retire within our own bosoms, or to open our eyes upon that which is passing around us*." This principle of our common nature may be extended by moral culture and improved education, and on these means I place the greatest reliance; and if I do not insist more on them, it is not because I am less sensible of their importance, but because they are not strictly within the line of my general argument.
The following observations might, perhaps, be considered too minute in a work which is intended to embrace a general view of indigence in civil society, if arrangement and method did not facilitate business; and if the details of the prac*Hist. Philosophy, vol. ii. c. 4. s. 5.
tical part of a system, new in its operation in this country, did not compose an important part of its efficient administration.
Yearly, after the select vestry has been elected, it is expedient to divide the members into classes, (four, for instance, if the number be twenty,) of five in each class; and so contrived, that in each class, if the parish be extensive, there shall be one person from each part, district, or tything. To each of these classes regular days of attendance should be appointed; and each member of the class should be expected to attend, or find a substitute, under penalty of a small fine, on the day fixed for the attendance of his class: thus the necessary attendance of no individual can exceed seven or eight times in the year, although his voluntary attendance may be as often as he pleases, and the attendance of a quorum is thus insured. It is best to debit the overseers with the amount of the rates, and they will discharge themselves by their payments, and the sums they are unable to collect. Should the overseers, or the assistant overseer, pay the poor every fortnight, the day before the select vestry meet, and according to a list given out and ordered by the select vestry, the accounts may be settled and passed at every one of their meetings.
The following classification or order of payment, combined with a general alphabetical table,