Charles Richmond Henderson.

Introduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment online

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eligible than that of the poorest class of those who contribute to
his support."

This statement is sound so far as it goes; but the independent
laborer has little to hope from a theory which is purely negative,
and creates an inequality by merely lowering the level of pauper
subsistence without positively helping the laborer who is willing
to work to gain a position worthy of a human being. This
defect has been in part supplied by legislation favorable to the
improvement of the lot of the wage-working multitude; and the
process is still going forward.

5. Principal Provisions. ■ — The law provides for the definition
of the claims of recipients, those who may receive public aid.
The law of settlement determines the rights of resident depend-

Directive Aims of Philanthropy. 47

ents. They often prescribe the conditions under which non-
residents may be aided in case of need.

The law provides for the supply of means of relief, as by tax
levy, collection of licenses, and control of extraordinary income,
as from fines or legacies. The main source of income for the
purpose is taxation.

The law provides for and regulates the official agencies of
relief, as county or town officers; and the treatment of particular
classes of dependents.

The law defines the responsible political unit, as state, county,
or town, and the duty of each in relation to special classes of

As we come to deal with particular institutions the legal pro-
visions specially applicable will be discussed; but the student is
advised to make a careful analysis of the provisions of the poor
law of his own state, relating to all the subjects considered in
this Part.



Before legal relief can be distributed it must be provided for
in the public treasury. Hence the budget is of primary impor-
tance. The economists treat this subject under the head of public
finance, since the burden must be borne by taxation. It is also
a form of distribution of the product of. social labor and capital,
and dependents share this product with capitalists, managers,
land owners, and wage-earners.

1. The Social Justification for this form of expenditure has
been stated in the reasons given for community aid to the indi-
gent citizen. The protection of society from the spread of a
moral disease is regarded as a proper function of government,
and the expense of such protection is a legitimate burden.

2. Sources of Funds. — In the United States the means of relief
are derived chiefly from a general fund raised by taxation, or by
a special poor rate. The earnings of institutions have some
importance. In the case of many rural county poorfarms, espe-
cially in the mild climate of the South, and where there are
some fairly strong paupers, the earnings nearly, or quite, pay the
current expenses, after the land and buildings are provided. It
is claimed that colonies of epileptics, and perhaps of the feeble-
minded, may be so managed as to meet current cost by earnings
and product.

3. The Adjustment of the Burden. — The underlying principle
regulative of this matter is: Responsibility should be brought
home as nearly as possible. Legislation usually recognizes this
principle. First of all, the dependent himself is placed under
powerful inducements to put forth his full power of self support,


The Public Budget and Poor Relief. 49

and relief is kept back if he refuses to work. The members of
a family are primarily held responsible for each other, so long as
they have ability to help ; and they have many motives of interest
and affection to perform this duty. If the family cannot carry
the burden, the law holds the local neighborhood bound. Since
each citizen may be supposed, normally, to contribute to the
wealth of a place by his labor, that place should care for him in
his distress. The neighbors of a man know him best, and can
detect deceit better than strangers; and in a small district citi-
zens are most watchful to prevent any policy of partiality or
extravagance on the part of the officials.

But there are limits to the power of a small district, and the
time comes when the need can be met only by cooperation of
the people of a large territory, as a county or state. It happens
that a community may be too small and poor to carry its load,
especially if there are many dependents calling for aid. The
township may require the help of the county, for example, when
an institution is to be erected.

Local authorities are often too parsimonious, or, with the best
intentions of benevolence, are wanting in knowledge and skill
Thus they may neglect to provide suitable medical care and
nursing for the sick, and suitable housing and watching for the

Of certain classes of dependents, the defectives, there are not
enough to justify the expense of a separate institution in each
township. The insane, blind, feeble-minded, epileptics, of the
whole state are, therefore, provided for in state institutions, the
locality sharing the burden in proportion to its wealth. A county
provides a poorhouse on this principle, and each commonwealth
has its own charitable establishments for particular classes.

4. Dangers of Inadequate State Provision. — Frequently the
legislature has established costly and splendid institutions for
certain classes of dependents, as the insane, and then neglected
to build enough edifices to accommodate all who require care.
The result has been that, while a few have enjoyed extravagant

50 Relief and Care of Dependents.

homes, many others, just as deserving, have been shut up in
miserable almshouses, or even jails. Thousands of applicants
are kept waiting because the institutions are already crowded,
and this results in great suffering.

5. The Care of Dependents without Settlement. — The law pro-
vides for the relief of all the indigent at the place where the
misfortune falls. Removal is not permitted, in case of illness
and feebleness, where the health or life of the person would be in
peril. This principle is now generally recognized, and some-
times explicitly stated in the law. Who, finally, will pay the cost
of such cases? This question meets different answers in different
communities. One method is, to permit the tov/n or county
where the person made appeal for aid to pay for strangers as well
as for residents, and this is more customary in the newer states.
In some states the local authorities are empowered to collect
from the town where the pauper has a residence. In case of
persons without local claims, the state assumes the expense and
pays the sum out of a common fund.

6. The Administration of Funds is in the hands of elected or
appointed boards or officers of state, county, township, or town,
according to the system in vogue. The board of trustees, com-
missioners, or directors usually appoint a clerk to keep accounts
of all receipts, orders, and expenditures. Township trustees
report to county authorities. Publication of accounts, without
the names of beneficiaries, is sometimes required. There is
great need for the control of forms and reports by a state board
of charities, and where such boards exist they inspect the books
and budgets of state institutions. The local accounts of relief
are frequently so mixed up with other matters, as roads and
schools, that expenditures for poor relief cannot be separated
and the amount of this burden made known.

7. Prospects of this Item in the Budget. — There is at present,
and will be for some time to come, a great increase of cost in
meeting the higher demands of scientific and humane penology
and relief. But as the agencies become more effective in limit-

The Public Budget and Poor Relief. 51

ing defect and crime, and especially as the material and moral
conditions of city life are improved, the cost will diminish.

Writers on finance have a right to a hearing on the best meth-
ods of economic administration of such funds; and from this
standpoint there is general agreement on the principle, else-
where advocated on grounds of advantage to the poor themselves,
that there should be as much local direction and management as
possible, but with such central state supervision and control as
will check dishonesty and promote intelligence in method.



1. Definition. — The phrase "outdoor legal relief" is here
used to signify the assistance given to dependent persons or
families in their own homes, out of means provided by taxation,
administered by public officials. There is also "outdoor private
relief," which is given by voluntary benevolent associations.
Medical aid is quite generally given in close connection with
other outdoor relief, but this will be specially considered under
the head of medical charity. In Massachusetts the term " out-
door relief " is applied to help given by the state to the poor who
have no local settlement; and these are frequently found in hos-
pitals and other institutions. In England the outdoor poor are
all those who are not in almshouses or workhouses, and may
include insane persons in asylums. Confusion will be avoided
by keeping these different uses of the phrase in mind in the read-
ing of the documents and discussions relating to this subject.

2. Statistics. — There is special necessity of calling atten-
tion to the very imperfect state of statistics of outdoor relief in
the United States.

There is no question about the value of enumerations, if they
could be obtained. We know social facts completely only when
we can measure them. In the case of outdoor relief the social
interest is vast and complex. We do not know whether pauper-
ism is increasing or decreasing, whether our methods are pro-
moting thrift or degrading the poor, whether our benevolence is
beneficent or maleficent. A future field of martyrdom is this
life-long pursuit of data for scientific conclusions. Nothing
requires more self-denial, more willingness to sink self out of


Outdoor Legal Relief. 53

sight, and cooperate with fellow-workers for a useful result, with-
out glory or brilliant attractions. It is so much easier, espe-
cially for persons of active and sympathetic natures, to paint in
golden rhetoric than to compare figures and tables and manipulate
schedules. Happily some good people are born mathematicians.

As the case stands at present, no help whatever can be derived
from the census reports of the federal government. The census
of 1880 did furnish a little fragmentary information, but the
tables were so misleading that in 1890 no attempt to present
statistics was made.

Our only reliable sources are the reports of those few states whose
boards gather up returns from county and town administrators.

The returns from local administrators ought to cover such
points as these : name, sex, religious confession, birthday, birth-
place, calling, family status (single, married, widow, legally
divorced, living apart, deserted), number of dependent persons
in the household, place of pauper settlement, date when the per-
son began to live there, aid given during the year (outdoor,
indoor, cash, or goods), causes of need, way of gaining settlement
(residence, marriage, descent).

The Charity Organization Societies are collecting information
on forms of schedules fairly uniform, which will be considered
later. In states where the township trustee is required to send
to the secretary of the state board, at regular intervals, a dupli-
cate of his record of each case, a broad and reliable basis is laid
for a complete census in the future.

The reasons for the imperfect condition of national statistics
lie in the defects of the original records. No schedules of indi-
vidual cases are made and sent to a central bureau for com-
pilation and comparison; and it is impossible to find paupers by
sending investigators from door to door to ask for the instances
of public relief. Even if we had all official records, there
would remain unknown the vast sum spent by associations and
individuals on private outdoor relief.

Estimates for the whole country based on figures from states

54 Relief and Care of Dependents.

which have statistics are unreliable guesses. The tables we pos-
sess have been made chiefly in the Northern states, where out-
door legal relief is much more common and heavy than it is in
the South. Even in the North it is not safe to make the ratio in
one district the basis for an estimate in others.

In spite of these imperfections the study of state reports will
reward the effort, and important lessons can be learned. When
the trustees of one township succeed in reducing the public bur-
den and restoring many paupers to honorable self support, their
success will appear in the figures of their reports, and will be
used to stimulate other officials to study and imitate their methods.
Legislators are guided in their duties by such exhibits, and public
judgments are made more definite and just. The example of one
state induces others to follow its wise course, and in years to
come we have reason to hope for reliable data.

3. Laws. — While each commonwealth has its own code,
there are certain general principles and tendencies which mark
the course of legislation. For example, the obligation of rela-
tives to support their own who fall into distress is generally
recognized. The parent must care for the minor child, and
mature children are obliged to assist indigent parents. Some-
times the family obligation extends to grandparents or grand-
children, to brothers and sisters. The amount of aid may be
fixed by law or left to the discretion of courts. The relieving
officer is required to enforce this obligation through the judicial
body. There are limitations in the application of this principle.
Relatives living in another state cannot be reached. Married
sisters are sometimes exempted. The obligation may cease in
case of vice, drunkenness, or other serious misconduct.

4. Territorial Systems. — The county is the responsible unit
in most parts of the Union. The town is the most common
unit in New England, the state having care of those who have no
local claims for assistance. In some states the township gives
outdoor relief and the county cares for those who require indoor
support. Occasionally the township system obtains in part of

Outdoor Legal Relief. 55

the state and the county system in other parts, with provision for
change from one method to the other by popular vote or by other
legal action. The municipality frequently has a system of relief
separate from that of the county in which it is situated.

Authority is vested in county or township officials, according
to the system adopted. The titles and duties of public almoners,
modes of election or appointment, vary greatly, and there is
nothing like uniformity.

5. Rules of Administration. — The principle that outdoor relief
shall be temporary and furnish only partial support is generally
implied if not expressed. The rate of relief is sometimes fixed
by law, but is usually left to the decision and judgment of the
local officer. Administrative rules are occasionally found in the
poor law, but ordinarily the details of application are governed
by the discretion of the officials. Recent legislation tends to
greater regulation, but rather through central supervision than
through petty rules.

There is a tendency to provide for soldiers and sailors, in
addition to federal pensions, by outdoor relief, rather than by
sending to the poorhouse. It is imagined that this will diminish
the humiliation of applicants of this class, but practically it
compels them to rank themselves with paupers.

Medical relief, the services of a physician and supply of
medicines, is closely connected with outdoor relief.

In general it may be said that the law is seriously at fault in
committing this serious and difficult business to men who serve
for short terms, and who are charged with many other duties,
and very frequently the almoner is not elected with any particu-
lar reference to this special function. In trying to do many
things one or all must suffer.

6. The Proposition to Abolish all Legal Outdoor Relief. — Both
in Europe and America there has long been a large party in favor
of placing this function entirely in the charge of individual and
other voluntary benevolence. Some of the objections to outdoor
legal relief are based on general principles, and bear against all

56 Relief and Care of Dependents.

kinds of state aid to dependents. These matters of ethical
theory, political principle, and governmental function have
already been considered.

Many advocates of voluntary charity, however, accept state aid
of some classes of the indigent, while they reject outdoor legal
relief on grounds of expediency. Public indoor relief may seem
to be wise, while outdoor relief by government may seem hurtful
to society. In this case the objection is not based on the broad
principle that state aid is wrong, but only that certain forms of
it are unwise. Thus it becomes simply a question of the best
method. Chalmers, for example, argued that there is no social
peril in establishing, at public cost, institutions for the blind, the
insane, the crippled, the sick, because men are not tempted to
qualify, by their own choice, for such aid. Few men will cut off
a leg in order to get into a poorhouse, or take the smallpox to
enjoy the gratuitous advantages of a pest-house. But candidacy
for sharing the fund given to families is furthered simply by
being negligent, lazy, drunken, vicious, and so incapable of sup-
porting wife and children. Hence the greater peril of offering
to aid all the indigent, while permitting them to enjoy freedom
and dispose of their time as they choose.

The friends of the purely voluntary system affirm that legal
relief in homes is unnecessary because private charity would
meet the needs of every case if it were known that taxation for
this purpose had ceased, and if those in distress could not look
for aid to a public treasury. It is affirmed that official relief is
costly, since those who administer it do not feel the sacrifice of
giving. It is easy to be liberal to the poor at public expense.
It is argued that official systems invite political corruption by
placing in the hands of politicians a fund for bribing hungry and
venal voters. The too common spectacle of carriages full of
half-demented paupers carried to the polls by the petty agents
of political parties is not edifying nor encouraging. The hand-
ling of the fund is a temptation, and the office of trustee is
sought for its financial and partisan advantages.

Outdoor Legal Relief. 57

The system tends to separate the poor from the successful, and
reduces the social bond to the single strand of state alms through
a hired agent. This relation is apt to become one of hardness,
suspicion, and distrust. The investigators make hasty and
inquisitorial visits to the homes of the indigent, and there is no
time, even if there is a desire, to cultivate friendly and helpful
relations. The cooperation of voluntary visitors in the United
States is not often encouraged, and may be resented as intrusion.
In such a situation the poor are cut off from real social sympathy
by the very institution erected by public charity. The system
tends to extinguish benevolence in the rich and gratitude in the
dependent. Those who cease to consider the poor cease to care
for them. Sympathy does not thrive without exercise on personal
objects, and charity becomes atrophied through disuse.

The system fosters communistic sentiments, and educates the
poor through habitual reception of help to regard the public fund
as the natural source of livelihood, when, through idleness or
vice, they want resources of their own. It thus tends to excite
hostility to government, for legal relief awakens hopes so vast
that no government can satisfy them.

It tends to lower wages, since the assisted pauper is enabled to
give his services at a lower rate than one who provides for his
family entirely by his own unassisted efforts. This is especially
true where outdoor relief is carelessly and lavishly given. It
demoralizes and pauperizes the poor, by educating them to
depend on the community rather than on their own energy, fore-
sight, and economy. The desire to obtain income without work
is contagious, and travels along streets by force of rumor and

Public agencies, as we know them, cannot individualize, and
one of the fundamental principles of relief is that each person
should be studied carefully and treated according to the peculi-
arities of his situation and character. This is manifestly impos-
sible when, as in most cities, a few salaried investigators, in the
hurry and press of winter distress, hasten from house to house,

5 8 Relief and Care of Dependents.

unable to give more than superficial attention to any one family.
This necessity of haste breeds a harsh, abrupt, and unsympathetic
manner; perhaps businesslike, but absolutely lacking in personal

There are peculiar perils in the county system, since it is
impossible to know the circumstances of families living in parts
of the region at a distance from the central town. Township
officials are much more apt to be acquainted with the conditions
and habits of beneficiaries.

The practice of disbursing relief by orders on stores for food
and other supplies is open to grave abuses, since the orders may
be exchanged for drink or luxuries, even while necessities are
procured by begging. The coal furnished by contractors is fre-
quently of inferior quality, and there is theft from both the
pauper and the public.

Urban outdoor relief, especially in the present state of munici-
pal government in America, is even more dangerous than rural
relief, owing to the inefficiency and corruption of officials under
the spoils system, to the extreme difficulty of investigation of
individual cases in crowded city quarters, and to the aggravation
of the tendency to pauperize entire districts by contagion of
example. Each family thinks itself just as much entitled to a
share of public funds as those who first receive aid.

7. Arguments in Favor of the System of Outdoor Legal Relief.
— The advocates of the historic English method employ the fol-
lowing arguments. The duty of caring for the poor of a com-
munity rests upon all, and its burden should be shared by all.
This is impossible under the purely voluntary system, where the
avaricious escape and the liberal are doubly burdened. Under
a system of taxation each citizen, except the dodgers of taxes,
contributes according to his wealth and ability. The agents of
the state, being clothed with legal authority, are in a better posi-
tion to prevent imposition and deception than private citizens.
It is said to be an advantage to include the charities of the people
in one harmonious and complete system, in order to secure effi-

Outdoor Legal Relief. 59

ciency and economy. The almshouse supplements the township
trustees, and these alternatives should be controlled by one set of
ofificers who are clothed with legal powers.

In times of great public misfortunes private charity fails to
supply adequate relief. The burden is too heavy to be borne by
those who offer aid voluntarily.

It is thought that vagrants cannot be managed by private agen-
cies, but must be under police supervision; and this cannot obey
the directions of private parties. Private charity is too fitful and
irresponsible for the steady and heavy drains made by the mass
of pauperism; hence public outdoor relief is necessary if the
state is to make reliable provision for its citizens. If it is said
that paupers should be offered the poorhouse in case of their
appeal to the public for aid, and that they dislike this mode of
relief, the reply would be, from the standpoint of those who
prefer legal methods, that it would be impossible to build enough
poorhouses to shelter all the poor, and that if enough of them
could be provided for winter they would be dead capital during
the rest of the year, since most dependents require only partial
support in the seasons of stress.

It is claimed that, in consequence of the failure of system in
voluntary charity, there would be a vast increase of indiscriminate
almsgiving and consequent vagrancy, since beggars would assert
that their necessities were not met. Outdoor relief enables the
members of a family to share in self support, whereas if they were
shut up in poorhouses they could not go about to seek employ-

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 5 of 35)