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the blame which have been lavished on it. So far from having been prompted by benevolence, it was a necessary link in one of the heaviest chains in which a people calling thmselves free have been bound. It was part of a scheme, prosecuted for centuries, in defiance of reason, justice, and humanity, to reduce the labouring classes to serfs ; to imprison them in their parishes, and to dictate to them their employments and their wages.”
“The industrious labourer was not within the spirit or the words of the act. This was indeed the complaint of Lord Hale. "The plaster,' says his Lordship, 'is not so large as the sore. There are many poor, who are able to work, if they had it, and had it at reasonable wages, whereby they might support themselves and their families. These are not within the provisions of the law.” The reader is prepared, after glancing at the flagrant injustice of such legislation, for that true but caustic remark of Dr. Burn, in his history of the Poor Laws, where he says of these barbarous enactments, “ They make this part of English history look like the history of savages in America-almost all the severities have been practised except scalping."
The 8th and 9th William III. cap. 30, which recites that “poor persons are for the most part confined to live in their own parishes, and not permitted to inhabit elsewhere, though their labour is wanted in many other places,”—kept
these laws against their removal in force until 1795, when a law was passed, which enacted, that no poor person should be removed from a parish into which he had gone, “until he became chargeable to his parish,” and then he must go. The scenes of barbarous cruelty witnessed under this system have been forcibly described by Dr. Southey,—see Espriella's Letters.
Says Mr. Simon, in his Journal of a Tour in Great Britain, (1815.) 5 The poor are repulsed from one place to another, like infected persons. They are sent back from one end of the kingdom to the other, as criminals formerly in France, de brigade en brigade. You meet on the high roads, I will not say often, but too often, an old man on foot with his little bundle, a helpless widow, pregnant perhaps, and two or three barefooted children following her, become paupers in a place where they had not yet acquired a legal right to assistance, and sent away on that account to their original place of settlement in the meantime, by the overseers of parishes on their way." (Vol. i. p. 224.)
In the House of Commons, March 25th, 1819, Mr. Sturges Bourne, in proposing his bill to regulate the settlement of the poor, spoke with great indignation of “the notorious practice of sending back old paupers to their original parish after they had spent their youth and labor elsewhere, tearing them from their friends and neighbors." He dwelt with deep feeling on the extreme hardship
of paupers who, having resided many years, and formed connexions, were sent home to their parishes, and separated from all friends and consolations, to die in a remote poor-house." Let it not be thought that only a few persons could have suffered from this system, and therefore I magnify its evils, for in the year 1803 the number of persons thus removed was no less than one hundred and ninety-four thousand. I select the year 1803, because it is the only year I am able to ascertain the number removed. I have seen it stated that the average number of removals was not much short of this for many years !
It will readily be seen by the reader, that these oppressive enactments for ages recognized no distinction between innocent and culpable vagrants. " Innocent and culpable vagrants,” says Colquhoun,“ are confounded together; and the virtuous and the vicious mendicant are subject to the same punishment." They not only made poverty a crime, whose dreadful penalty was exile from home and friends; but these Poor Laws rendered poverty the necessary and unavoidable lot of the working classes, for they limited their wages to the lowest possible rates, and punished the benefactor who gave them more.
Our next inquiry refers to the GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE POOR Houses to which generations of the poor were driven.
Colquhoun says—“In many places they will be found to be the abodes of misery, which defy all comparison in human wretchedness.” More than one Parliamentary Report has styled them, “hot-beds of vice and wretchedness.” When the able Report of the Poor Law Commissioners was laid before Parliament, in 1817, Brougham fearlessly declared, that "it unfolded a state of society extraordinary and deplorable, beyond the utmost stretch of the imagination, in a country which laid any claim to civilization !". It is unnecessary to multiply extracts. No person who has any reputation as an author to lose, will deny that the picture I have drawn of the Poor Laws, and their oppressive tendency, is not only true, but that facts could be accumulated, almost without number, proving that a state of things existed worse by far than almost any other ever known in the civilized world. It should not be forgotten too, that the design of these laws, for more than 400 years, was to perpetuate the existence of a slave class in the country, by excluding them from every avenue to wealth, education, and honor. They impoverished the mass of the people by making them work for a bare subsistence; treated their poverty, which had been created by the laws, as a crime ; and then scourged the poor victims of tyranny to the disgusting and loathsome home of the pauper, to end an existence filled with suffering and covered with gloom.
The whole system of legislation in England
has always been fatal to the morals and the happiness of the lower classes. The poor man loses his self-respect, and all motives to exertion, when the reward of industry is taken away; when, by a false and unnatural order of things, his condition in life is rendered no better by industry, effort, and morality, than by indolence and crime. He ceases to preser virtue, unless it rewards its possessor, for he knows as well as the priest who fattens on the fruits of his toil, that virtue would be no better than vice, if it did not secure the happiness of its followers. Under the paralysing effects of unjust laws, multitudes, who have toiled on in want, have at last lost all motive to effort, and fallen upon the parishes for support, where, although their privations were increased, they were saved the trouble of providing for themselves. Here the last salutary influence was withdrawn; what little selfrespect may have lurked in his bosom, leaves the Pauper as he steps on the threshold of the workhouse; and in that gloomy confinement, shut out from the glorious objects of creation, his soul, into which the spirit of aspiration and greatness had been once breathed by the eternal Father, is smothered and debased; its existence is almost blotted out; and when it leaves its abused and lacerated house of mortality, the world does not feel the departure, for it has met with no loss. His death is unfelt, unless it may be some brother of misfortune there has had his heart drawn out as to an only friend, and even he is glad when his