Page images
PDF
EPUB

population than they are usually stated to be in argument, and in the remarks on the population schedules : because it must be recollected, that although in Scotland there is no Poor Rate, the ratio of increase since 1811 is nearly sixteen per cent upon the resident population ; while in England it is no more than eighteen per cent, as computed on the resident population of both countries ;-a small difference, and such as probably would be expected had Poor Rates equally or at all existed in both countries.”—Extract from the House of Commons Reporton the Population, 29th August, 1822.

“ Almost every proposal (says Dr. Burn *), which hath been made for the reformation of the Poor Laws, hath been tried in former ages, and found ineffectual.” This idea would have been better expressed, if he had used the word abolition instead of reformation ; as, from the tenor of his work, I think this was his meaning. I will add, that as yet no better plan in lieu of them has been proposed ; and that every one hitherto suggested for their final abolition is reducible to an absurdity.

“ It has been proposed to fix the whole sum to be raised at its present rate, or any other that might be determined upon; and to make a law, that on no account this sum should be exceeded.” “In the former editions of his work, Mr. Malthus condemns this plan, as unjust: in his late editions he partly withdraws his dissent, though he retracts none of his objections."_“ It is however evident,” adds Mr. Courtenay, that his consent is the result of despair : having long ago in vain proposed remedies much more just, and founded on sounder principles, his deep sense of the increasing evils of the system, and the deference (which he always shows) to the opinions of others, inclinė him to the adoption of any plan for getting rid of it*.'

* History of the Poor Laws, p. 106.

With respect to the plan itself, I refer my readers to Mr. Courtenay's pamphlet as to the consequences which would follow from the adop tion of it; and I have little doubt that they will come to the same conclusion as he does, that it is neither necessary nor just.

As to the plan proposed by Mr. Malthus, and which he himself seems (as above stated) to give up in despair, namely, “That, after a short notice, no parochial assistance should at any time, or under

any circumstances, be afforded to the offspring of any marriages thereafter to be contracted, or to illegitimates thereafter born;" it is commended by Mr. Courtenay, as more just and equitable than the former plan of the pecuniary maximum ; * proceeding upon the conviction, that the poor (indigent) have no right to relief, it finally and completely repeals the poor laws.” If the theory I have been labouring to establish be just, the soundness of the principle on which this plan is founded may be doubted; and Mr. Courtenay himself comes to the conclusion, that it is not expedient*.

* Treatise on the Poor Laws; by T. P. Courtenay, Esq. M.P. p. 21, 23, 26.

Mr. Sumner has drawn a legitimate inference from the principle of population, in its consequences militating directly against the plan proposed by Mr. Malthus for the abolition of the Poor Laws, which proceeds upon the supposition, that indigence is the effect of guilt. Mr. Sumner first states, “ that, with regard to the more crowded commercial countries of Europe, the most advanced we know in point of absolute civilization, we have only to look round us in order to be satisfied whether the people do not increase up to the means of support; i. e. whether those who have no other maintenance than the daily wages of their labour, do not increase till that labour earns barely sufficient to support their families." 66 The result of such observation cannot fail to be, that, in every department of national industry, there are more claimants for employ than employers ; that the demand is for labour rather than for labourers ; that there are somewhat more manufacturers, more artificers,

* Courtenay, p. 31, 33, 56.

ܪ

nance.

more agriculturists, than can be usefully, or profitably, under the existing circumstances, kept in activity by the funds destined for their mainte

And as labour is the only claim to support which the lowest classes can urge, to be without employ is to be without support; and to multiply beyond the demand for labour, is to multiply beyond the available supply of subsistence:” and after propounding the undeniable truth, “that there will always be in every inhabited country as many persons existing as it will support at all, and always more than it can support well,” he infers from it, first, the division of property, and then the division of ranks*.” And surely the continuance of the same principle must, as a necessary consequence, produce indigence without attaching guilt to the indigent; and it appears to follow, that indigence without guilt, necessarily arising from the division of property, has that right to relief which it is the object of the whole of the present Essay to prove.

Another argument in favour of the theory is deduced from authority, but it is authority of the highest nature.

Sir Frederick Edent, Mr. Duncan*, Mr. Courtenay *, Mr. Davisont, and Mr. Bodkin*, writers who have taken the latest and most comprehensive view of the subject, may be said to defend the principle, and argue only for a modification of the Poor Laws. The framers of the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons seem to have admitted into that report opinions varying from each other, perhaps from a wish to express the sentiments of all its members ; but the legislative enactments which they introduced into the Act passed under their sanction, tend only to produce a more efficient administration. For the last three years since the passing of this Act, the writer of this Essay has taken an active part in the administration of the poor laws, under the powers granted by it, in an extensive agricultural parish. The result of his experience will be detailed in the next chapter. But before entering upon it, there may be applied to this momentous question one more test, -that of civilization ; by which word is understood the general diffusion of the greatest national opulence and private comfort.

* Sumner's Records of the Creation. vol. ii. p. 127. + History of the Poor, vol. i. p. 413.

# Collections relative to the Systematic Relief of the Poor : 1815. p. 177.

Aurengzebe,” says Montesquieu, “when he was asked why he did not erect charitable esta

* Treatise. p. 161.
+ Considerations on the Poor Laws. p. 123, 124.

# Brief Observations on the Bill, &c. By W. H. Bodkin, Esq. page 4.

« PreviousContinue »