Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
814 of 1105



PAUPERISM. It is not to be supposed that the essence of pauperism is anything else in America than it is now in Europe, or than it was in the states of antiquity. But, just as the conditions of poverty among the Romans, the Greeks, and the Hebrews, were widely different from those of England and France in the eighteenth century, so now the conditions of poverty in a new and advancing industrial republic like the United States, must be very unlike those which have prevailed among the Latin, the Sclavonic, the Teutonic or the Celtic races of Europe; settled as they are under ancient and fixed institutions, where the distinctions of wealth and poverty are comparatively immutable. Where class distinctions have hardened into caste, pauperism must be a different thing from that degree of poverty which prevails among a people of permanent equality, or of ever-changing inequality. The modern city and the manufacturing towns are strong examples of this fluctuating inequality, where the working man of to-day may be the industrial chieftain ten years hence; and where vast fortunes, swiftly accumulated, are suddenly dispersed and scattered throughout a multitude. On the other hand, the villages and rural districts of America, and of some European countries, offer examples of permanent equality, which, of all conditions, is least favorable to pauperism.


—M. Baudrillart, in an article published in Block's Dictionnaire de la Politique, asserts that it is less than a century since the sphinx of pauperism began to put her destructive questions to the industrial nations of Europe. But this "riddle of the painful earth" is no modern one, though its form may have changed with the last century. The agglomeration of poverty in great manufacturing centres, like Manchester, Lyons, and the vast capital cities of London, Paris, Vienna, etc., undoubtedly accentuates and renders more perceptible the pauperism of the last half century. But is it not also true, as M. Baudrillart says, that great cities have always been sad nurseries of poverty? In Rome, from the earliest period of its urban greatness until it had been twice sacked by the barbarians in the time of St. Augustine, a period of at least five centuries, the relief of the poor was one of the chief functions of the state, and a very embarrassing one. The "corn laws" of Caius Gracchus (B. C. 128) were poor-laws; but the distribution of food under this questionable legislation was not wholly gratuitous, until Clodius the demagogue made it so, in the time of Cæsar's Gallic war. Returning from his victory over Pompey, Cæsar found 820,000 persons (the chronicles say) receiving this kind of out-door relief, in and about Rome; more than a fifth part of the whole population, if the figures were reasonably exact. He reduced them to 150,000, which was still, perhaps, one in eight of the population. The civil wars that brought Augustus to the throne raised this number to 300,000, which Augustus, in turn, reduced to 200,000; but when he gave his subjects an extraordinary donative, says Merivale, "the numbers who partook of his bounty swelled again to 320,000." (History of the Romans under the Empire, chap. xxxiv.) This careful English author supposes that the 200,000 occasional paupers mentioned by Augustus represented the whole poorer sort of citizens; while the 320,000 included those below the senatorial and equestrian rank. In any case, these enormous figures, though swollen by duplications, like the pauper statistics of modern times, show what a cancer pauperism had become in imperial Rome, which devoted a large share of its annual budget to the various methods of relief. Under the Antonines, when philanthropy and population had both increased, the number on the poor-rates of Rome is stated at 500,000. No modern city, except possibly Paris in the famine years of the revolution, or during the siege of 1871, could show so large a proportion of paupers to population. For this the simple reason seems to have been, that the familiar saying of Franklin, "If every man and woman would work four hours each day in something useful, that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life," was far less descriptive of ancient Rome than of great cities in recent times.


—In this view, and looking back over 2,000 years, it can hardly be said, as M. Baudrillart maintains, that "the concentration of pauperism has increased with the progress of industry," except in the restricted sense that the concentration of inhabitants, which industrial progress has produced, is necessarily accompanied by a like concentration of poverty. Indeed, the same writer goes on to say that this very progress of industry has lessened the sufferings of the poor, and increased the number of those who live in comfort. This is certainly the general result, though the crowding of artisans and operatives into manufacturing centres does often produce the sanitary, moral and economic evils which we all recognize from M. Baudrillart's description. In too many cities of manufacturing industry, rents rise and wages fall; the dark and narrow street, the promiscuous lodging house, the damp cellar, become the abode of laborious poverty, as well as of lurking crime; the father of a family drinks, the wife deserts the cheerless home, the son becomes a "loafer," and the daughter a prostitute. This happens often in France, Belgium and England, and is not unknown in America; to which the operatives throng by thousands from those very cities of Europe in which the evils mentioned are most rife. It must not be forgotten, however, that the sharper contrast which cities afford of the extremes of wealth and poverty, and the attractive force exercised by accumulated wealth in drawing together a corresponding accumulation of poverty, account in part for the startling picture of misery and degradation which manufacturing towns so often furnish. The same crime and misery scattered through a thousand rural neighborhoods would affect the public sensibility less than when it is found concentrated in Birmingham, Mulhausen or the manufacturing regions along the Rhine and its tributaries.


—It is further to be noted that, while the ancient cities were capitals of conquest and of commerce, the modern capitals are much more centres of manufacture and of public resort. The present age is migratory, both for the rich and the poor, and even the classes between travel for business or pleasure much more than the rich formerly could. Rome is no longer the seat of empire, but a caravansary for virtuosos and tourists; Paris is the home of pleasure, but also, and still more, the workshop of useful industry; so, too, each in its degree, are Vienna and New York. Migration, on the large scale in which it now takes place in central and western Europe and in America, is both a source of pauperism and a check upon its growth. It is to the immigrants and their children that we look for most of the public poverty that is now seen in the United States; yet the emigration of these very persons, or their fathers, from Europe, has checked the growth of pauperism in the countries they came from. With these preliminary remarks we may come at once to the subject in hand.


—In a restricted sense, pauperism is that degree of poverty for which public relief is provided; in a broader definition, it is that condition of body, or temper of mind, in large numbers of people, which makes them easy applicants for public or private relief. In the former sense, the word is a mere definition; in the latter, it points to a distinct and formidable social evil, always to be deplored though not to be wholly avoided. In neither sense is it new to the world's history, in the earlier chapters of which we find traces that pauperism was known and felt as an evil. But as a recognized and preventable evil, as a social solecism and a public nuisance, it has never attracted so much attention as now, in all parts of the world. In early times slavery replaced pauperism, and prevented its lesser mischiefs from receiving due notice; in the Christian dispensation, until recently, the relief of the poor has been viewed as a religious duty, and these mischiefs of pauperism have sometimes been fostered in the name of religion. For a century past, the saying of Burke, that "the age of sophisters and economists has come," is certainly true as applied to this subject. The religious motive for dispensing charity has been kept in the background, while its economical demerits have been increasingly insisted on. Were human nature other than it is, the religious and philanthropic side of charity might be expected to vanish from consideration, while logic and utility should rule. But the social and spiritual affections of mankind are such that pity will always give are charity begins, even for objects unworthy, and charity will keep on giving until good sense says "You are creating the evil you mean to cure." It has been a view of this consequence of public charity that, in recent times, has led to so many efforts for the prevention of pauperism, and so much censure on the practice of alms-giving, even for needful relief. Dr. Lieber, writing more than fifty years ago, when the founders of the English school of political economy were still living, and more influential than they are ever likely to be again, said: "In England, where wages are low, compared with the expense of living, an ordinary laborer often can not save anything against the time of decrepitude or sickness; and the children of suffering parents must suffer with them. By what means shall their present distress be relieved? The economists of the new school" (this was in 1831), "namely, that of Mr. Malthus, Mr. Ricardo, Mr. M'Culloch, and others, say that they are to be abandoned to starvation. But, says Lieber, "a doctrine so abhorrent to our nature is only a hideous theory, which can not enter into the law or habits of any people, until human nature shall be sunk into brutal hardheartedness. The dictates of religion, conscience and compassion enjoin upon us to give relief." Here is the whole question stated; and its solution must depend upon the wisdom and the daily details of administering those measures by which relief is now given, and in the future is anticipated or prevented.


—Among the latter measures M. Baudrillart, with excellent sense, but perhaps in a manner too vague and general, specifies primary and professional instruction, combined with moral education; a better system of housing the poor, too often crowded into unwholesome lodgings, so that better sanitary conditions may permit a better moral atmosphere; the dispersing of manufactories throughout rural districts; and finally, the general progress of civilization and industry, so that increased productive power may enlarge production. In solving the problem of pauperism, he says: "To increase production is the first step; to assist equitable and humane distribution of the products, is the second, which would be useless without the first; for nothing else could insure that, where there is but little, each person should be above want." Another French writer, M. Baron, who in 1881 took the Pereira prize for an elaborate work on French pauperism, entitled Le Paupérisme, Ses Causes et ses Remèdès, par A. Baron (Sandoz & Thuillier, Editeurs, Paris, 1882), goes into minute details concerning these general preventives of pauperism, laying stress particularly on the means of inducing the work people of his country to deposit in savings banks, insure their lives, and by other approved economical precautions, raise themselves above the dangerous level of their present poverty, from which it is but a step, in illness, old age or vice, to the abyss of pauperism. No recent work has treated more fully or ably of these subjects, and there is a degree of practical wisdom (not always found in economical writers) in almost all M. Baron's observations. I may except some petulant remarks which he makes concerning the "People's Banks" of the late Herr Schulze-Delitzsch, a German economist, whose services have been perhaps overrated, but who does not deserve all the scorn which M. Baron pours out upon him.


—M. Baron's book is clear in its definitions, and recent in its statistics, and I shall make much use of it in what follows concerning European pauperism. His definition of pauperism in the individual (which the French call misère—a word carefully to be distinguished from our English word "misery," by which it is often translated) is striking, and may be quoted. He says: "Poverty, then, is not pauperism; the former is relative, the latter absolute. At Rome, when everybody was poor, there were no paupers; it was the growing luxury of some which disclosed the poverty of others. But pauperism (misère) is the minus side of material existence, the foot of the human ladder (le fond de l'objection humaine); the pauper is confronted by this dilemma, to eat the bread of another or to die. A sad choice! either beggary or robbery or death; the degradation of alms, the dishonor of a thief, or death by starvation."


—This may describe pauperism in Europe, but with us no such fatal alternative is ordinarily presented. There have been deaths from starvation in America, but they were generally suicides, or the result of mental decay; there have been many thefts for which poverty was the excuse, and there has been much beggary in some of our great cities, but neither starvation, mendicancy nor theft have naturally occurred in our new country because of extreme poverty.


—The principles of prevention systematically developed by recent authors on the subject may be found concisely stated in Defoe, Adam Smith, and other early writers. That great pupil of Adam Smith, the younger Pitt, in a speech to the house of commons in February, 1796, while discussing a new poor law, said: "These great points of granting relief according to the number of children, preventing removals at the caprice of the parish officer, and making them subscribe to friendly societies, would tend in a very great degree to remove every ground of complaint. * * All this, however, I will confess is not enough, if we do not engraft upon the law resolutions to discourage relief where it is not wanted. * * The extension of schools of industry is also an object of material importance. The suggestion of these schools was originally drawn from Lord Hale and Mr. Locke, and upon such authority I have no hesitation in recommending the plan to the encouragement of the legislature. * * Such a plan would convert the relief granted to the poor into an encouragement for industry, instead of being, as it is by the present poor laws, a premium for idleness and a school for sloth. There are also a number of subordinate circumstances to which it is necessary to attend. The law which prohibits giving relief where any visible property remains, should be abolished. That degrading condition should be withdrawn. No temporary occasion should force a British subject to part with the last shilling of his little capital, and to descend to a state of wretchedness from which he could never recover, merely that he might be entitled to a casual supply." These remarks are all wise, and most of them are practical; but the new poor law proposed by Pitt in 1796 (which may be found printed at length in a valuable but little known work, Sir F. M. Eden's "State of the Poor," London, 1797), was burlesqued by Bentham, and did not find acceptance with parliament. In supporting it Pitt said he conceived, that, to promote the free circulation of labor, and remove the obstacles by which industry is prohibited from availing itself of its own resources, would go far to diminish the necessity of relief from the poor rates. He also recommended that "an annual report should be made to parliament, which should take on itself the duty of tracing the effects of its own system from year to year, till it should be fully matured; that, in short, there should be a yearly poor-law budget, by which the legislature would show that they had a watchful eye upon the interests of the poorest and most neglected part of the community." This suggestion has since been adopted, not only in England, but in many other countries, and in the separate states of our own country, as I shall show presently.


—Of the English poor laws in general, Mr. Senior once said that they had their origin, during the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., "in an attempt substantially to restore the expiring system of slavery." This is a remark profoundly true; and it may further be said that the subsequent legislation, even down to a very recent period, in England, was quite as much in the line of preserving class distinctions as of alleviating the distress of the poor. In this respect the pauper system of England—indeed, of all Europe—and that of the United States, differ radically. Certain unavoidable distinctions do appear in our legislation, notably those arising from immigration in the north, and from the difference of race in the southern states; but the general spirit of the American poor laws has been friendly to the advancement of the poor man. In England and France, on the contrary, the effort for centuries was to keep the poor man "in his place," that is, to keep him still poor, and use him as a prop for the comfort and luxury of the privileged classes above him. An English pamphleteer, of no great fame, but of much good sense (Charles Lamport), made these remarks in 1870 concerning the traditional treatment of the English poor, under the laws of his country: "The poor-law theory is, that all occupiers of houses and lands shall contribute to a general fund, localized for better administration, to make provision against the wants and claims of the destitute. Its practice is, that no destitute person, however meritorious, can benefit by this organization without having to pass under something very like the old Roman yoke. On the one side of the Caudine forks, a man stands erect, self-respecting and respected, and with name unstained; on the other side he crouches, a changed and degraded being. He has become a social pariah, hopes destroyed, spirit crushed, reputation gone. Society, before it yields what it dare not refuse, so embitters the morsel by contempt that neither giver nor receiver is blessed in the act. The terms 'pauper,' 'parish,' 'poor relief,' all savor of social reproach. The poor are taught that it is virtuous to shrink from everything appertaining to the whole system. A beggar, even, will unblushingly ask for alms 'to keep himself off the parish'! On the other hand, the rich avoid the whole system as something tainted by social leprosy, and equally shrink from all but enforced contact. From father to son, through many a generation, the unconscious legacy of contempt and hard dealing has descended to us. Nothing testifies so clearly to the prevalent feeling of the upper classes as the persistent rigor of all legislation affecting the poor for 800 years. From Saxon serfdom down to modern pauperism the old key-note of contempt and isolation vibrates unchanged."


—Of late years the harshness of the English system has been softened considerably. Mr. Goschen, when president of the old poor-law board in 1870, said: "It can not be denied that the more humane views which have prevailed during the last few years, as to the treatment of the sick poor, have added most materially to poor-law expenditures. Workhouses, originally designed mainly as a test for the able bodied, have, especially in the large towns, been of necessity gradually transferred into infirmaries for the sick; and the higher standard for hospital accommodations has had a material effect upon the expenditures." The process here mentioned by Mr. Goschen has been going on rapidly in Great Britain and Ireland, and, indeed, in almost every European country, since 1870. In America the same thing has happened, and even to a greater extent. Whatever success has followed the attempts to regulate pauperism, either in America or Europe, has been gained by reversing the English practice of suspicion, contempt and abasement; by classifying the poor according to their real character and needs, and treating the money for their relief as an insurance fund, to which they or their representatives had contributed their full share. The poor rate is, properly, an insurance premium; the poor-law system of any country should be what Mr. Lamport desires to make that of England, a "National Friendly Society." That the plague of pauperism has never spread widely in America is due mainly to our institutions, and the opportunity which is offered to the poor man; that it has been controlled and diminished, where a dense population and the varied competitions of industry had given it a foothold, must be ascribed, in part at least, to measures such as Mr. Pitt recommended, enforced in a country where external circumstances have made it easier than it ever has been in England. It was certainly one of the strangest vagaries of the reasoning faculty which led Englishmen, in the early half of the present century, to deny that public charity was a duty, or even an admissible interference with individual duties and the laws of political economy; yet so common was this view, fifty years ago, that Edward Livingston, in the introduction to his "Penal Code for Louisiana," felt called upon to stop and refute it. He pointed out, what everybody admits in practice, that every community owes a social duty to the individuals that compose it, and is bound to guarantee them their lives and property, that the obligation to protect life is greater than any other, since all the rest depends upon it; and that the prevention of death by poverty is as much a public duty as the repression of murder is. From this impregnable position he proceeded to develop his own ingenious and mainly correct system of the administration of public charity.


—Josiah Quincy, of Massachusetts, a contemporary of Edward Livingston, gave his attention even more directly to the question of pauperism. In a report to the Massachusetts legislature, in 1821, he recommended "placing the whole subject of the poor in the commonwealth under the regular and annual superintendence of the legislature," thus anticipating, by more than forty years, the course that has since been adopted by all the larger and more important states in the Union, and is likely to become the universal American policy. The creation of boards of charities in Massachusetts in 1863, in New York and Ohio in 1868, in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Rhode Island in 1869, and in Wisconsin and other states in more recent years is the modern interpretation of the recommendation made by Mr. Quincy to the Massachusetts legislature. The establishment of these boards has resulted in a much fuller knowledge of pauperism in America than could before be obtained. Co-operating with thousands of local officers, and with the general tendency of American ideas and institutions, they have labored to reduce pauperism to its lowest terms, to ameliorate the condition of all the dependent and defective classes, and to prevent the formation or continuance of that permanent case of the poor which is the curse of European civilizations. The experience of Massachusetts and of other states shows that this is possible to a great extent. In the midst of the activities, generous or base, and the distracting turmoil of American life, it is cheering to find that we are really making progress in this direction; that we have not only abolished slavery and the political distinctions founded thereon, but are steadily advancing toward emancipation from the most hideous forms and consequences of the pauperism that everywhere replaces slavery when first abolished. The so-called "feudalism of capital"—a vague phrase, which yet has a recognized shade of meaning—does something to perpetuate pauperism, but the material advantages which organized capital gives to the poor, are working, on the whole, against the increase of paupers. This is seen even in English manufacturing towns, and still more in those of America.


—Historically speaking, there is a certain connection, though not a very close one, between the American poor laws and the evil with which they deal, and the poor laws of England and pauperism there. Mention has been made of the earliest legislation of England, but the progressive steps of the system now existing there may be more definitely noted. It is less than three centuries since the law of England distinctly made provision for the support of the poor at the public charge. By an act of parliament in 1572 the office of overseer of the poor was established, and by the act of 1601 (43 Elizabeth) a general plan of relief for the poor was adopted and enforced throughout England. But there were laws and customs bearing more or less directly on the condition of the poor, and dating back, according to Sir George Nicholls, to the time of Athelstan, nearly a thousand years ago. It is worth noticing that most of these ancient laws are penal in their character rather than charitable, being aimed at the evils of idleness and vagrancy, and therefore particularly numerous, when, from any great social change, like the emancipation of the serfs in the time of Richard II., or the breaking up of the monasteries under Henry VIII., the tendency to vagrancy had grown stronger. Thus, the insurrection of Wat Tyler in 1381 (which was a servile war, and, like most servile wars, was occasioned by a partial emancipation of the serfs), was followed in 1388 by that off-cited statute, 12 Richard II., which is sometimes called the origin of the poor laws of England and America. Again, the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536-9 was both preceded and followed by cruel statutes against vagrancy. The statute 22 Henry VIII., cap. 12, in 1531, punished vagabonds with the lash, till they were "bloody by reason of such whipping"; and the still more cruel statute. Edward VI., cap. 3, punished them by branding and by selling into slavery. But these laws were found too extreme, and therefore ineffectual to repress beggary, and they were followed, even during Edward's brief reign, by a more humane law, which provided for the choice of collectors of alms in every parish, whose business it should be on Sundays to "gently ask and demand of every man and woman what they of their charity will give weekly toward the relief of the poor," and to "justly gather and truly distribute the same charitable alms weekly to the said poor and impotent persons." We should prefer to consider this merciful statute, rather than the barbarous enactments of an earlier day, as the origin of our American poor laws. It was continued by special acts in the reigns of Mary, of Philip and Mary, and of Elizabeth. The latter, in the fifth year of her reign (1562), decreed a compulsory tax, "if any person of his froward or willful mind shall obstinately refuse to give weekly to the relief of the poor according to his ability." After a course of gentle exhortations by the parson, the church-wardens, the bishop and the trial justices of his neighborhood, the affair ended in a commitment to jail, if "the said obstinate person" should resist all these blandishments. This is the first instance of a compulsory poor rate; and it was followed, ten years later, by an act authorizing justices, among other things, to appoint overseers of the poor, "and if a person so appointed shall refuse to act, he shall forfeit ten shillings." This stand-and-deliver kind of benevolence was carried out more completely toward beggars, whose offense was made a felony, and was visited with whippings, diversified with branding, confiscation and hanging. Sir George Nicholls observes, with simplicity, that "the act is framed with great care, and comprises all the chief points of poor-law legislation suited to the period;" adding, that these points are set forth with a clearness "which leaves no room for doubt as to the intentions of the legislature in any case." Certainly; the provisions against vagrancy were likely to carry conviction to the wayfaring man; and a person locked up in jail till he should show mercy to the poor would soon learn how sacredly charity was regarded in England.


—The act of 1601, better known as 43 Elizabeth, is the actual foundation of the English poor laws, and of those in force in the United States. It provides for the employment, either voluntary or compulsory, of poor children and able-bodied adults, and "for the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old and blind, and such other among them being poor and notable to work." To support the expense of this, a tax was laid on every inhabitant and owner in every parish in England. About sixty years after the death of Elizabeth, when the public relief of the poor had been developed into a system, another important law was passed. This was the settlement act of 1662, giving the power of compulsory removal, from any parish, of poor persons not legally settled therein, and in a certain general way defining what constitutes a pauper settlement. On these two pillars—the 43 Elizabeth and the 14 Charles II.—rests the subsequent legislation on these subjects in England and the United States. But so materially has the course of legislation been modified in America by the great difference existing between our circumstances and those of the mother country, that it is impossible to draw a close parallel between our poor laws and those of England, either in their aim, their details or their results. These laws in England were made necessary by the presence of a great and persistent class of poor persons, many of whom were also vicious characters, needing all the restraints of the law. Hence the severity of the early statutes against vagrants, laws which were at first the germ of the whole poor law system, and have made no inconsiderable part of it. But in America no such pauper class existed at the outset, and our arrangements for relieving the poor have been such as to prevent the creation of such a class. It was, in fact, to make room for the poor cottagers of England, as well as to seek freedom for their religion, that John Winthrop and his followers colonized New England. In a paper written before he set sail for Boston in 1629, Winthrop said: "This land [of England] grows weary of her inhabitants, so as man, who is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile and base than the earth we tread upon, and of less price among us than a horse or sheep. Many of our people perish for want of sustenance and employment; many others live miserably, and not to the honour of so bountiful a housekeeper as the Lord of heaven and earth is, through the scarcity of the fruits of the earth. All our towns complain of the burden of poor people, and strive by all means to rid any such as they have, and to keep off such as would come to them. I must tell you that our dear mother finds her family so overcharged as she hath been forced to deny harbor to her own children; witness the statutes against cottages and inmates. And thus it is come to pass that children, servants and neighbors, especially if they be poor, are counted the greatest burthen, which, if things were right, would be the chiefest earthly blessings." To make things "right" in this respect, America was colonized, and for 150 years there was little pauperism in these colonies. But the French war of 1754-63, the revolutionary war, and the disturbed state of Europe from 1788 to 1820, led to a considerable development of pauperism in the new republic of Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Since 1820, though the number of our poor has greatly increased, the proportion of paupers to population has not, on the whole, been greater than it was from 1783 to 1820, if we may trust the meagre statistics available for the earlier period. Of late years there has been much complaint that "the rich were growing richer, and the poor poorer," and, relatively speaking, this is true, as it generally is in civilized communities. But, as compared with the standard of riches and poverty a hundred years ago, in America, and from that time to 1825, the American poor man has been growing generally richer in a remarkable degree. Before 1825, great fortunes were very rare among our people; while the mass of the farmers, mechanics and laborers, north, south, east and west, were pinched and straitened to a degree that would now excite universal discontent, should those good old times return. Whoever has read the biography of Abraham Lincoln, or has learned the habits of life among the country people of Ohio, Pennsylvania or New England, eighty or ninety years ago, will understand what is meant by the common level of poverty among them. Their firewood was cheap, and their liquor was abundant; but their dwellings, their food, their garments, their means of education, travel and amusement, were very inferior to those which the same class of persons now enjoy; and in proportion to the population, pauperism was as common, if not quite so obvious, from 1778 to 1818, or it has ever been since. The researches of Quincy and others in Massachusetts indicate this; and where there has been of late years any relative increase of pauperism, it has been almost wholly in the persons of foreign parentage. That there has been an absolute decrease of native pauperism may be seen by the experience of my own town, which is not unlike that of most country villages in New England. In 1833 Concord, in Massachusetts, had about 2,000 inhabitants, of whom not more than fifty were foreigners. In 1883 it has more than 3,300 free inhabitants (besides 650 prisoners), of whom not less than 900 are either foreign-born or of foreign parentage, chiefly Irish. The number of paupers in Concord was actually greater in 1833 than it is now, when the population has gained 65 per cent.; yet more than half the present pauperism is among that class which has come into the town in the last fifty years; so that the 1,950 native-born inhabitants in 1833 must have furnished twice as many paupers as do the 2,400 native-born in 1883. In fact, two-thirds of the abundant pauperism of Massachusetts, is found among the immigrants of the last thirty years, and their descendants.


—The census tables of 1880 do not show this great excess of paupers of foreign parentage in Massachusetts, nor perhaps in any State; because these tables do not, in fact, give even an approximation to the truth concerning American pauperism. In Massachusetts, for example, the census gives the inmates of almshouses, June 1, 1880, as 4,469, and the out-door paupers as only 954; whereas, by authentic official returns, July 1, 1880, there were not less than 12,000 out-door paupers receiving aid on that day. The average number of the out-door poor in Massachusetts is never less than three times the number in poorhouses; and has sometimes, within the past ten years, risen to be more than five times as many. The census of 1880, therefore, in leaving out of view more than nine-tenths of the out-door poor, in Massachusetts and other States, vitiates its own value for any statistical purpose. Indeed, Mr. Wines says in the preface to his meagre table (Compendium of the Tenth Census, p. 1666), "It is almost, if not quite, impossible to obtain the statistics of pauperism. The in-door poor can be found and counted with comparative ease; but how are we to know when we have succeeded in finding the out-door poor? All that has been attempted in the present census, therefore, has been to give as accurate an account as possible of the almshouse population." And this he states in his table (p. 1675) as 67,067; the whole population of the country being then 50,155,783. If we could assume this proportion of almshouse or workhouse population to the whole people, as the true test of comparative pauperism, then Ireland in 1880, with 5,327,100 inhabitants, and an average of 54,946 in workhouses, would have eight times as much pauperism as the United States; while England, which in 1880, with a population of 25,323,000, had 180,817 in-door paupers, would have nearly six times as much pauperism as the United States. In fact, no combination of figures, in the present state of human knowledge, can show with much exactness what is the relative prevalence of pauperism in countries differing widely in accumulated wealth, in natural plenty or want, in commercial facilities and in political institutions; but if we are to compare the declared paupers of one country with those of another, or of one American state with another, the best standard is not the relative number of either the in-door or the out-door poor, but rather the proportion which the aggregate of both classes bears to the whole population.


—Now, the state of Massachusetts in 1880, with a population of 1,783,085, or about one-third that of Ireland, had an average of about 25,000 paupers of both classes; while Ireland had about 114,000 paupers of both classes; so that pauperism in Ireland, thus shown, was less than twice as common as in Massachusetts. In England, with a population of 25,323,000 in 1880, there were 808,030 paupers of both classes; so that pauperism in England would seem to be, to that in Ireland, as 46½ is to 31; and, to pauperism in Massachusetts, as 71 is to 31, or more than twice as common. Yet this comparison is found to be unjust; from the fact that the pauperism of England and Ireland is evidently more habitual and permanent than that of Massachusetts. So that the corrected comparison would perhaps make English pauperism six times as frequent and chronic, and Irish pauperism five times as frequent and chronic, as pauperism in Massachusetts is, although the density of population in that New England state is now about 220 to the square mile, while in England it is 436, and in Ireland 163 to the square mile. If a dense population and devotion to manufactures are, by themselves, favorable to pauperism, therefore, Ireland ought to have fewer paupers than Massachusetts, in proportion to her people.


—In truth, the political institutions of a country, the distribution of its land and its movable property, and the inbred spirit of the people, have more to do with the prevalence of pauperism than the growth of manufactures, or the method of administering relief. French pauperism (though by no means so much less than the English plague of that sort, as is commonly thought) is now less constant and pinching than it was before the revolution; because the land of France is more equally divided, and the political institutions are less favorable to caste and privilege than they were. For a like reason Swiss pauperism has never been so enormous as that of France or England; though the general atmosphere of an old civilization, like that of all Europe, is more likely to breed paupers than is the unbreathed air of a new country like the United States.


—If I were to estimate the number of paupers in our whole country, I should not set it at more than 300,000 persons at any one time, and perhaps 1,000,000 different persons during the year, who, in our population of some 55,000,000, are forced to eat the bread of others, as M. Baron says. This would be less than a fiftieth part of our people, while in Ireland the corresponding proportion would be at least a tenth, and in England not much less than a tenth. In France the proportion of the population of 36,000,000 who at some time in the year have received public aid, is perhaps between one-fifteenth and one-twentieth. The mere count of numbers and ratios, however, as I have observed, does not show the true relation, in this respect, between one country and another. A land of high civilization will generally appear to have more paupers than a country like Russia or the states of South America, where the general lack of civilization among the multitude obliterates to a great extent the line between paupers and the respectable poor. It is strictly true that the American pauper who retains his mental faculties, and many of those who do not, are better situated, in almost every respect, than the peasants of Russia, or the semi-barbarous freemen of Mexico, Peru and Brazil. The population of the Tewksbury almshouse, which has of late been industriously held up to public pity as unfortunate beyond any community in the civilized world, is, in truth, so far as wasting disease, decaying age and mental disease will permit, more comfortable than two-thirds of the self-supporting inhabitants of Ireland, and in a better material condition than a large part of the colored, or even the white, people of our southern states. And it must not be forgotten that for a great proportion of our American paupers—who are, more than in most countries, the persons wholly incapacitated, from age and bodily or mental infirmity—the same causes that have made them dependent have deadened their susceptibility to the degradation which pauperism imposes on its victims. "To eat the bread of another or to die," is not a sentence deeply felt by the congenital idiot, the demented lunatic, or the incurable invalid, who compose so large a quota of the inmates of American poorhouses. This is a fact often lost sight of by writers on the subject, who have not much practical acquaintance with the poor.


—The real stress of pauperism is in the burdens and penalties it lays on whole classes of industrious people, not so much by the tax which public relief imposes, as by the disqualification and moral discouragement it makes inevitable. "The destruction of the poor is their poverty." M. Baron shows in a striking manner, by an ingenious calculation, how unavoidably myriads of the French artisans and laborers must leave their families, or see themselves each year in the slough of pauperism. He says, with an eloquence that rises less from the language than from the pathetic fact signalized, "Sickness, casualty, old age and death are to us but phrases; but the proletary is stung to the heart by fear of them; if he escapes some, he can not avoid the others; and each one of them strikes for him incessantly the fatal hour of pauperism. Death, in particular, leaves behind it numberless deprivations, of which a simple computation will give us a glimpse. France had in 1876, 36,905,788 people; the number of the married of both sexes being 15,156,170. It is below the truth to estimate half this number as owners, occupants, employers of labor, or persons engaged in trade or the liberal professions; leaving in the second half, operatives, day laborers, artisans, small employers, and domestics, who certainly in the aggregate number more than the first half. This last enumeration, then, contains at least 7,500,000 married people. The general mortality of France ranges from 23.40 in a thousand to 23.16; but for married people it is fair to take the lower average mortality computed by the friendly societies, 15.20. Consequently, each year removes from this aggregate of 7,500,000 not less than 114,000 fathers or mothers. Let us reckon up, then, all the miseries that in a single year accumulate in these poor households, and see whether it is not strictly true to say, with the English economists, 'Death is the mother of pauperism' (mors miseriœ mater)."


—Nevertheless, as M. Baron points out, these inevitable causes of pauperism, sickness, accidents, old age and death, may be alleviated in some measure by life insurance, by deposits in savings banks, by membership in friendly societies, and by other methods of providing for the future, which are so common in America, and as yet so rare among the workingmen of Europe. He devotes half his book to a consideration of these economic safeguards against pauperism; and it is in this direction, also, that the governments of Europe, as well as philanthropic individuals, are moving at present. The renowned statesman of Prussia, Prince Bismarck, having raised his country into an empire, and secured the military preponderance of Germany in Europe by his favorite prescription of "blood and iron," long continued, is now seeking to guard the poor subjects of the German empire from pauperism by a series of compulsory and co-operative economies, for which his administrative subordinates are framing laws. These governmental measures for making the German workingman frugal and sober under legal penalty, and for compelling capital to take its share in accumulating insurance funds against pauperism, are not, as I write, fully matured; but we shall soon see what shape they will take, and how effective they are likely to be. The English, who do nothing of this sort by legal compulsion, except the exaction and administration of the poor rates, but whose aim is to encourage saving among the poor, are doing much in that direction, by their postoffice savings banks, and by the stimulation of all sorts of mutual aid societies and other forms of co-operation. A Hampshire clergyman, Rev. W. L. Blackley, has recently published a paper in the "Nineteenth Century," wherein he proposes that a large proportion of the poor rates and of pauperism be avoided by a legal obligation that every youth shall, from eighteen to twenty-one, or thereabouts, pay to the government (say through the postoffice savings bank department) the sum of £15 once for all, or 2s. per week for three years, and then be poor rate free for life. This would, on the average, fully suffice to allow a repayment, in the form of 8s. per week during sickness, at any period, and a pension of 4s. per week during the remainder of life after attaining the age of seventy, according to the calculations of Mr. Blackley; who shows that, under the present system of poor rates, the law actually compels the provident and industrious to pay a great deal more than £15 each, in a lifetime, for the lazy and the vicious. In order to prevent imposture and false claims of sickness, he would have applications for repayment, under his plan, left in each case to a local jury of persons interested in preventing imposture; as, for instance, either to a specially appointed committee of rate payers, or to the existing boards of guardians, with the aid of local medical men, who now administer the legal relief under the poor laws. There is practical good sense in these suggestions.


—Of the two modes of public aid which the English designate as in-door and out-door relief, the latter is every-where and always the more common; for there never can be almshouses, workhouses, hospitals, etc., enough to receive all the poor at any season, or half of them in seasons of special destitution. M. Baron, contrary to most English and some American authorities, favors out-door relief, or what the French more properly call "aid to the family," securs à domicile, rather than the strict application of the "workhouse test," or the multiplication of hospitals and infirmaries. I have long held the same opinion, and for the same reasons, mainly, which this French writer now advances. Out-door relief is often abused, and these abuses are most to be guarded against in democratic countries; but it is when well administered, as it easily may be, not only more humane and effective, but less costly, than in-door relief, which involves the building and keeping up of great establishments. Both methods are indispensable, and each serves to correct the abuses of the other.


—The cost of pauperism to the public treasury varies greatly in different countries. In Great Britain and Ireland the annual cost of the public poor is nearly $50,000,000 for 35,000,000 of people—say $1.50 per capita for the whole population. In France the cost does not exceed $1 per capita, and in Germany is even less. In New England and New York the annual cost is nearly $1 per capita; in the more southern and western states it ranges from seventy-five cents down to twenty-five cents, or even less, per capita. I should estimate the average per capita cost for the United States at fifty cents or less, that is, from $20,000,000 to $25,000,000 in a year for the whole country. Even in European nations this cost is not a great burden when compared with the yearly army and navy estimates; and it can hardly be said that, in America, the pecuniary burden of pauperism is seriously felt. Its social and moral evils are grievous, however; and richly will he deserve of mankind who shall show us how to check them.


814 of 1105

Return to top