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tivity in its proper sphere, arrests and mortifies the powers of the citizen, rendering him not more miserable in himself than useless to the community; which, for its own sake, must free the captive from the chain which binds him, in order to regain his services. So that, in truth, when it is said, as it is most truly said, that the evil of poverty is a public good, the proposition is to be admitted under a particular interpretation : the danger of poverty threatening the individual is the good : poverty in act (if I may borrow an expression from the schools) is to the community as well as to the sufferer an evil ; and since, in the formal nature of the thing, it is an evil from which the individual cannot be extricated by any efforts of his own, policy, no less than humanity, enjoins that the community relieve him.
Nor will the argument from political experience fail, if in some instances of poverty the evil to the public must remain when the individual is relieved. This is, indeed, the case when the calamity arises from causes which go beyond the obstruction of the political activity of the citizen to the extinction of the natural powers of the animal ; as when the limbs are lost or rendered useless by disease, or when the bodily strength or the mental faculties are exhausted by old age. To deny relief in such instances, upon a pretence that the political reason for it vanishes because the public can receive no immediate benefit from the alleviation of the evil, would be to act in contradiction to the very first principles, or, rather, to the first idea, of all civil association; which is that of a union of the powers of the many to supply the wants and help the infirmities of the solitary animal.
Thus it appears, that the providential appointment of poverty as a means of public good brings an obligation upon men in civil society to exert themselves for the effectual relief of those on whom the mischief falls.
I would now observe, that sacred as this obligation is, it is rather a duty which all individuals owe to the public than what the public owes to its members. I mean to say, that the most natural and the best method of relief is by voluntary contribution. It may be proper that the law should do something for the protection of the necessitous. The law should be careful not to do too much : its provisions should be such as may save poverty from neglect, and yet leave the danger of poverty indiscriminately impendent over every individual in every station, that the community may receive the full benefit of the universal dread of that contingency. Whether this joint end, of removing the evil of actual poverty from private life without losing the public advantage of the danger, may be attained by any laws which give the poor a claim to a maintenance to be levied upon certain districts in proportion to the wants of the poor which each shall at any time contain, when the effect of all such laws must be to change the dread of want in the lowest orders of the people into an expectation of a competency, or of something which idleness will prefer to a competency, — is a question which it is not my province to discuss. The fact I may take leave to mention, — that the burden of the imposition in this country is grown, as all know, to an enormous size : the benefit to the industrious poor, I fear, is less than the vast sum annually levied on the nation ought to procure for them ; and the pernicious effect on the manners of the lowest rank of people is notorious.
In another place the question might deserve a serious investigation, how far the manner of our legal provision for the poor may or may not operate to increase the frequency of criminal executions?
Meanwhile, it is my duty to inculcate, that neither the heavy burden nor any ill effects of the legal provision for the poor may release the citizen from the duty of voluntary benefaction ; except, indeed, so far as what the law takes from him diminishes his means of spontaneous liberality. What the laws claim from him for public purposes he is, indeed, not to consider as his own : what remains after the public claims are satisfied is his property; out of which he is no less obliged to contribute what he can to the relief of poverty than if no part of what is taken out of his nominal property by the law were applied to charitable purposes. For the fact is, that after the law hath done its utmost, that most interesting species of distress which should be the especial object of discretionary bounty goes unrelieved. The utmost that the law can do is confined to the poverty of the lowest rank of the people: their old age or their debility it may furnish with the shelter of a homely lodging, with the warmth of coarse but clean apparel, and with the nourishment of wholesome food : their orphans it should cherish, till they grow up to a sufficiency of strength for the business of husbandry, or of the lowest and most laborious trades. But to the poverty of the middle and superior orders, the bounty of the law, after its utmost exactions, can administer no ade
Thanks be to God, that heavy as our public burdens are, of which the legal provision for the among the greatest, they seem to be no check upon
the charitable spirit of this country; in which free bounty is still dispensed with a wide and open hand. Witness the many large and noble edifices, the pride and ornament of this metropolis, many raised, all enriched, by voluntary contribution and private legacy, for the supply of every want, the mitigation of every disaster, with which frail mortality is visited, in every stage and state of life, from helpless infancy to withered age : witness the numerous charitable associations in all parts of the country, among all descriptions of the people: witness the frequent and ample contributions to every instance of private distress, once publicly made known : witness the pious associations for the support of distant missions, and the promotion of Christian knowledge : witness this annual celebrity, the prosperity of this charitable institution, and the numbers now assembled here. For I trust it is less the
purpose of our present meeting to feast the ravished ear with the enchanting sounds of holy harmony (which afford, indeed, the purest of the pleasures of the senses,) than to taste those nobler ecstasies of energising love, of which flesh and blood, the animal part of us, can no more partake than it can inherit heaven. They are proper to the intellect of man, as an image of the Deity ; they are the certain symptoms of the Christian's communion with his God, and an earnest of his future transformation into the perfect likeness of his Lord.
Although every species of distress, not excepting that which may have taken rise in the follies and the vices of the sufferer, is an object of the Christian's pity, (for the love of Christ, who died for his enemies, is our example, and the beneficence of our heavenly Father, who is kind to the evil and the unthankful, is the model of our charity,) yet our joy in doing good must then be the most complete, when innocence is united with distress in the objects of our bounty, when the distress is out of the reach of any other help, and when, in the exercise of the general duty, we fulfil the special injunctions of our Lord. In the distress which our present charity immediately regards, we find these circumstances united. The widow and the orphan are our objects: their claim to misery is in the common right of human nature ; it stands not on the ground of guilt and ill-desert : and for those widows and those orphans, in particular, whose cause we plead, should we be questioned by what means their condition hath been brought thus low, we will confidently answer, By no sins of their husbands or their parents more than of their
It is peculiar to the situation of a clergyman, that while he is ranked (as the interests of religion require that he should be ranked) with the higher orders of the people, and is forbidden by the ecclesiastical law, under the severest penalties, to engage in any mercenary business, which might interfere with the duties of his sacred calling, and derogate in the eyes of the multitude from the dignity of his character, — his profession, in whatever rank he may be placed in it, the least of any of the liberal professions furnishes the means of making a provision for a family. It may be added with great truth, that what means the profession furnishes, the cleric who is the most intent upon its proper duties, the most addicted to a life of study and devotion, is the least qualified to improve. Hence it will oftener happen to the families of clergymen than of any other set of men, and it will happen, perhaps, oftenest to the families of