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servile war, with law on the wrong side ; and yet being as it were pre-ordained to take place by a venerated law of our ancestors, it throws the invidious task of innovation on those who endeavour to maintain the existence of property, and the present order of things dependent upon it.
If we wished to make a foreigner understand in what manner momentous questions of interual policy are treated by the British legislature, the sagacity with which they are viewed in all their bear. ings, the diligence with which informatiou is collected, and the discretion with which it is investigated and applied, we might refer to the Report of July last upon the Poor Laws. In attempting to lend our aid (however feeble) in support of what has been there so admirably begun, we shall endeavour to display the progress of the evil, in its pecuniary and moral effects; to notice the various expedients which have successively been proposed and practised in vain; and, lastly, to suggest such means as may tend to resist further encroach ments upon property, and perhaps repel those which otherwise must ere long undermine the very structure of human society, in the very heart of the British empire.
It has been reasonably questioned whether the origin of the poor laws may be dated precisely from the reformation of religion in England; but it is certain that about the time of that great event they began to assume consistency by repeated enactments of the legislature, and at the close of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the celebrated statute was passed by which the property of the rich became eventually the property of such of the poor as would not, or could not, earn their own livelihood. How far this law was carried into effect during the first century of its existence, we have no data on which to calculate : first of all
, no doubt, in the richest part of the kingdom, in and near the metropolis; and when, in the reign of Charles Il. and in that of King William, the increase of the poor was noticed with some alarm, the evil could scarcely have extended into the northern counties, nor into Wales. Exaggeration indeed was not deficient in swelling the supposed amount of the poor rates; and a document preserved by Dr. Davenant, said to have been collected with great labour and expense by Mr. Arthur Moore, a very knowing person,'* actually specifies the exact amount of rates in every county, producing a total of 665,5621. or about a third part of the amount of the land tax which pressed so heavily on the landed interest during the wars against Louis XIV. How little Mr. Arthur Moore merited the epithet bestowed on him by Dr. Davenant, may be learned from the returns lately discovered by the Speaker,t from which it appears that many of the counties, in the
* Eden's State of the Poor, vol. i. p. 230. † They were found in a closet, adjoining the Ingrossing-office.
middle of the last century, raised a less sum than what was thus attributed to them seventy years before.
The Committee of last year on the Poor Laws justly lamented the want of any authentic accouuts of the expenditure on the poor during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and a greater instance of the fallibility of unfounded calculation can scarcely be found than in that pamphleteer, who, in the year* 1752, thought fit to affirm that the whole sum laid.out on the poor in South Britain amounted at a medium to near three millions yearly, according to the account given in to Parliament in 1751.' This statement was sufficiently disproved when, in 1776, the expenditure on the poor was ascertained to be about a million and a half; but the enormity of the error was unknown till the actual result of the returns of 1748, 1749, and 1750, appeared in the recent Poor Law Report, and the average sum at that time applicable to the maintenance of the poor was thereby proved to be no more than 690,000l., the whole amount of parochial assessments then being 730,0001. per an
The present state of knowledge as to the amount of the poor-rates at various periods appears to be as follows. In the middle of the last century, about 690,0001. per annum was applied to the relief of the poor; twenty-six years afterwards in 1776) the sum of 1,531,000l.; eight years afterwards (on an average of 1783, 1784, and 1783) the sum of 2,004,0001.; nineteen years afterwards (in 1803) the sum of 4,268,0001.; and the average expenditure on the poor in the years 1813, 1814, and 1815, was 6,130,0001.f The
* Eden's State of the Poor, vol. i.
314. + The five several returns mentioned in the text refer to the poor-rate year from Easter to Easter, and after correction, so as to make each of them represent 365 days, they may be used in the construction of four series of mean proportionals for estimating the amount of expenditure on the poor in the intermediate years.
The returns so corrected, and the corresponding prices of wheat averaged upon the half-yearly prices of—(1) the Easter commencing each poor-rate year; (2) the Michael. mas in il; and (3) the Easter at its termination, will stand thus:
Expenditure on Corresponding average price Year.
of the eight-gallon bushel. 1748
• 12 : 8 1815 The amount of expenditure in the decennary years from 1750 to 1810 inclusive;
expenditure in 1816 and 1817, although its amount is unknown, has certainly far exceeded any former example.
According to this statement, the expenditure for the maintenance of the poor has increased ninefold since the middle of the last century; but this apparent rate of increase camnot fairly be taken as a ground of argument: the relief given to the poor in money must always be considered with reference to the price of provisions at the time, and as the average price of wheat has increased pretty reguTarly from four shillings to twelve shillings per bushel during the period in question, and the rental of land accordingly, the burthen of the poor bas not really increased more than three-fold, which indeed is sufficiently alarming; the more so as the cessation of the war, and the depression of credit in the years 1816 and 1817, carried the poor-rates to an amount which cannot be conjectured at much less than two millions per annum beyond the average of the three preceding years.
But heavily as the country suffered in those years, it is satisfactory to consider that such a combination of unfavourable circuma stances is not likely to recur. The tremendous shock inflicted by the first operation of the Insolvency Act, aggravated by the new practice of fictitious bankruptcies, had prevented or baffled a great proportion of commercial enterprize; the country banks were compelled to withhold their advances; and the purposes of faction being admirably served by exaggerating the evil, all speculation was paralyzed, till the resources of our national wealth accumulated to an overflow, and gave the lie to ill-omened declaimers by sinking the interest of money about two per cent. with unexampled rapidity. Thus have we suffered from imaginary poverty, and are now at a loss to find employment for our money, which, had it been equally disbursed, might have kept the body politic in a healthy state throughout the whole season of this unnatural depression. How often are we
calculated lierefron, together with the price of wheat, (averaged on the decennary year, and the nine half yearly prices before and after it will stand thus :
Price of the eight Amount of expenditure calYear. Amount.
culated by one series. £ d.
£. 1750 . 713,000
716,000 1760 965,000
4 : 10 i
1,001,000 1770 1,306,000
1,397,000 1780 1,774,000
1,951,000 1790 2,567,000
6 : 4
2,723,000 1800 3,861,000
3,801,000 1810 5,407,000
5,305,000 The last of these columns is inserted for the purpose of exhibiting what must have been inferred had no actual return intervened from 1750 to 1815, and does not differ very materially from the first column, which is more accurately interred by takiug into account all the several returns. The increment of the poor's rate from 1730 to 1815 has been about one thirtieth part anuually,
10 : 19:
made to feel that the mis-information of modern times is more injurious to society than the non-information of our forefathers !-error being in most cases worse than ignorance. But great and lasting good will be produced out of this transitory evil, if the alarm excited by the amountof the poor-rate in these two excessive years shall rouse the legislature to a spirit equal to the occasion, so that they may meet and subdue a danger, which, unless it be met and subdued, threatens at no very distant time to destroy agriculture, and by inevitable consequences to annihilate all the institutions of hunian policy and human civilization. Moss may gather upon the trunk and branches of a fruit tree while it is in full bearing; but the tree must perish unless this destructive vegetation be cleared away. The probable amount beyond which the assessments cannot be augmented is thus become matter of consideration; and the Committee on the poor laws, who have omitted nothing of general import in their admirable Report, speak thus of that extreme limit which must precede the great catastrophe :
Whatever indeed that may be, it appears certain that the landowners and the farmers would cease to have an adequate interest in continuing the cultivation of the land, long before the gross amount of the present rental could be transferred to the poor-rate; for it is obvious, that a number of charges must be provided for out of the gross rental of land, without an adequate provision for which the land cannot be occupied; the general expenses of management, the construction and repairs of buildings, drains, and other expensive works, to which the tenant's capital cannot reach, constitute the principal part of these charges, and the portion of the gross rent which is applied to these purposes, can never be applied to the augmentation of the poor-rate.
* Even if it can be thought possible that any landlord could suffer his land to be occupied and cultivated, or that he would continue to give to it the general superintendance of an owner, when the whole of the vett rental was transferred to the poor, it is perfectly clear that no tenant could hold a farm upon the condition of maintaining all the poor who might under
circumstances want relief; it would be as much impossible for a tenant to do so as to undertake to pay any rent which the wants of his landlord might induce him to desire, which condition could never be complied with. The apprehension, however, of being placed in such a situation as this, could not fail to deter persons from holding land long before they paid to the poor-rate as much as they would otherwise pay in rent; and as under these circumstances, the land-owner would still remain entitled to the soil, the paupers could not enter and cultivate for themselves; nor could it be occupied for any beneficial purpose, as whatever stock might be found on the land would be liable to distress for poor-rate.'-p. 9.
Our approach to this state of things may be estimated by assuming the assessable rental at* fifty millions, and the heaviest burthen of poor rates and other rates yet known at ten millions. This is usually called four shillings in the pound; but in truth it is not to that extent: the accurate phrase being on the pound, and the difference of fact very great when the poor-rates shall approach their extreme limit. For it sounds like an impossibility to say that the poor-rates are thirty or forty shillings in the pound, and is commonly thought to be explained by remembering that an ancient rental is usually assumed as the basis of the assessment; although unfortunately it is but too true that in some parishes the rates are really above twenty shillings on the pound, though not in it. For the rent decreases as the rates increase, and the true state of the case is to be found by adding together the rental and poor’s-rate; when it becomes evident that twenty shillings on the pound is but half the actual rental, as forty shillings on the pound would be but twothirds, and even sixty shillings on the pound represents no more than three-fourths of it.
* The total rental of real property is upwards of 52,000,0001. but many deductions are to be allowed for, as not assessable to the poor's raic under any contingency.
Of all the counties Sussex is most burthened with poor-rates, having been rated at 7s. 8d. on the pound in 1813: this county is also known to pay more in tythes than any other, (Hampshire excepted,) that being a charge of 3s. 8d. on the rental of the land (in Hampshire the charge is Ss. 10d.) Thus the agriculture of Sussex, and no county is more entirely agricultural, has probably been burthened with about 13s. 4d. on the pound (or two-fifths of the rental) in the years 1816 and 1817. True it is that in this county the custom of paying wages partly out of the poor’s-rate prevails to a great extent, as may be perceived from the remarkable variation of rate in 1813 and 1815; that of the latter year being no higher than 6s. on the pound. Berkshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire, neighbouring counties, and also agricultural, afford the same symptom of this injudicious practice. The pressure of late years has spread the evil considerably; and Essex, Suffolk* and Norfolk now have reason to complain of its effects. Meantime, in the northern counties of Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Cheshire, and the two non-manufacturing Ridings of Yorkshire, as well as in Lincolnshire, the expense of the poor in 1813, as compared to 1815, scarcely varies at all.
The mismanagement of the poor, or rather of the labouring classes in the southern counties, may be said to exaggerate the amount of
poor rates unfairly; but if a million a year were deducted in allowance for this practice, the sum remaining payable is sufficiently alarming. Nor is this the only cause of alarm : for the moral evil, superinduced by the operation of the poor laws, is such, that when its extent and variety are contemplated, the wonder is that all good principle is not obliterated. Already there is scarcely * See the Suffolk Petition.--pp. 166, 167. Poor Laws Report.