Joseph Lowe.

The present state of England in regard to agriculture, trade and finance; with a comparison of the prospects of England and France online

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What, it may be asked, have been the causes
of so material a difference in the management of
the poor in Scotland and in England ? The two
countries embracing the Reformation in the same
period, and falling under the sway of the same
sovereign soon after the enactment of the poor-
law of 1601, the jegulations were originally similar;
but in Scotland their execution was vested, not in
temporary officers, such as churchwardens and
overseers, but in the landholders, clergymen, and
elders or deacons, whose functions were })erma-
xient, and whose personal accpiaintance with the
poor enabled them to act with discrimination. The
good effects of tiiis plan, evinced as tlicy have been
by the practice of two centuries, induced the
Committee on the Poor Laws in 181 7, to recom-

o i

196 (^lif 1*001^ J-'d'i^' System ;

mend, that in England the overseer should be a
permanent officer with a salary, and should act, if
necessary, for several districts ; a practice that has
since been adopted with a beneficial result in a
number of the parishes and townships of England.

In France, before the Revolution, the poor were
supported, as in Spain, Italy, and other Catholic
countries, chiefly by the abbeys, priories, and other
beneficial establishments. These sources of income
being absorbed in the sweeping changes of the
Revolution, there took place in the Assemblee
Legislative y in 1791, a long discussion on the fittest
mode of providing for the poor : the result was a
decided determination to avoid the English plan,
but to provide at the public charge a fund of about
2,000,000/. a year, for the relief of the aged and
infirm throughout the whole of France. In the
disorders of succeeding years, great defalcations
took place in regard to this fund ; but in the reign
of Bonaparte there were imposed, or rather revived,
octrois^ or dues on wines, cider, spirits, and other
articles of consumption, paid on the introduction
of these articles into towns. The imposition of a
tax was in these davs a matter of far greater dif-
ficulty in France than in this country ; and the
revival of the octrois was for a time attempted
only as a fund for charitable purposes ; but when
the public became accustomed to this mode of con-
tribution, its rate was augmented, and the proceeds
rendered available to a variety of local purposes.

In addition to the aid arising to the poor from
these dues, collections are made in France by
subscription in the depth of winter, or on the
occurrence of extraordinary distress ; and, finally,
in a season of general hardship, such as the \nnter
that followed the bad harvest of ISlfi, occasional

its Origin and Progress. 197

issues are made from the public treasury, on the
appHcation of mayors or local magistrates. In
Paris there are a number of hospitals : in the large
provincial towns there are, in general, two ; one
for the sick, the other for the aged. These insti-
tutions, however, are managed with all the laxity
and want of method so common among our southern
neighbours: mendicity is unrestricted, and prevails
in many places to a reprehensible degree. In fact,
the dweUings of the lower orders throughout France
generally, whether in the country or in the suburbs
of a town, exhibit to an English eye a very bare
and denuded appearance. But to account for this
general aspect of poverty by the want of parochial
aid, would be as erroneous as to ascribe the comfort
of the lower orders in Holland, to the aid afforded
by charitable contributions. In that country, as in
England, the better lodging and better furniture
of the poor are the result of long-continued com-
mercial activity ; of that ample supply of work, of
those habits of care, cleanliness, and order, which,
in the course of time, it imparts to the agricultural
portion of the conununity.

Poor Rate considered as a Tad\ — Our next, and
equally interesting object of inquiry, regards the
contributors to the poor-rate, and the comparative
degree of pressure imposed on them at different
periods. And here our readers must be prepared
for our making a large deduction from the increase
of burden indicated by the mmierical returns of
poor-rate during the lat^ wars ; a deduction justi*
fied on two grounds, — the depreciation of the
money in which it was paid, and the increase in
the number of the contributors. In what manner,
it may be asked, do the latter receive an increase ?

o S


Poor Rale cwisidered as a Tax.

Of those who pay poor-rate it may be safely as-
sumed, that the augmentation, in point of number,
is on a par with the general augmentation of their
countrymen ; and we shall probably not err by
assuming, that our national resources increase in
proportion to oiu' numbers. This opinion, already
advanced in our pages, and about to be more fully
developed in the sequel, we shall for the present
consider as admitted, and extract from the work
of a diligent and benevolent enquirer into such
subjects, (Barton on the Labouring Classes, I8I7,)
a table in which these different considerations are
taken into account.

Table of the Annual Expenditure for the Poor, comfuted tukh
rejerence to the Price of' Corn, and the general Increase of our


Price of

Average of

on the Poor.

Forming a Charge per

Head on the whole

Population of the


From 1772 to 1776
1781 to 1785
1799 to 1803
1811 to 1815

s. d.

48 2

49 2
84 8
93 2


44 pints of wheat.
53 Do.
5U Do.
50* Do.

To judge from this sketch, the burden of the
poor-rate, estimated not by the price, but by the
quantity of subsistence, had actually begun to de-
cline before the close of the war ; but instead of
pressing any inference on this head, we point the
attention of our readers to tlie near approach to
uniformity in the real charge at the time of the
greatest apparent variation. This inference is
farther confirmed by the following extract from a

Poor Rate considered as a Tax.


pamphlet on Pauperism, by Mr. W. Clarkson, pub-
lished in 1815.


Population oi England
and Wales, about

Total of Rates,

including Highway,

Churcli, and


Nunaber of
Paupers relieTed.
















In the fifty years that elapsed between I764 and
1814, the increase ot" our population was as 7 to
11, and the rise in the price of provisions exceeded
the proportion of 7 to 13. Here, accordingly, the
two great causes of increase of poor-rate operated
in concurrence; and in 1814 it was incumbent on
us to be prepared, not only for an augmentation of
claimants in the proportion of 11 to 7> but for an
increase of expcnce in their maintenance, in that
of 13 to 7 ; the two together forming, when com-
pared to the return of 1764, a sum (^4 to 7) more
than triple the responsibility of that year. Is it
then matter of surprize, that 5,000,000/. should go
no further in its discharge in 1814, than 1,500,000/.
in the beginning of the reign of George III.

Wages paid by Poor Rate. — It is a great, tliough
very common error, to account poor-rate a hondjide
tax, an actual sacrifice to its apparent extent But
the leading rule of our system, particularly in the
west of England, is, to afford relief to tlie lower
orders on a conjunct calculation of the price of
bread, arid the number of children in a family. An

o 4

^00 Poor Halt considered as a Tad'.

allowance made on this plan represents less the de-
gree of distress prevalent in the country, than the
difference between the market price of provisions,
and the existing rate of wages ; a rate, perhaps,
transmitted with little variation from years of
greater cheapness. It is thus that our poor-law
system was rendered, during the late wars, an ex-
pedient for preventing a rise of ivages, as far at
least as regarded country labour, on the avowed
ground, that wages once raised cannot be reduced
without the greatest difficulty.

What, it may be asked, was the effect of the
war on the price of labour generally ? To increase
the demand, and to place a number of the lower
orders in towns, whether manufacturers or me-
chanics, in a better situation tlian before, notwith-
standing the rise in provisions. In no department
did it render the demand greater than in agricul-
ture, and in none did the wages of the labourer
experience a greater rise in Scotland ; but in Eng-
land, at least in most parts of England, from the
effects of an artificial system, the case was very
different. Wages were subjected to regulation ;
and their rise, though considerable, being inade-
quate to the rise of corn, the unavoidable result
w^as a great increase of poor-rate. It is only thus
that we find it possible to explain the remarkable
anomaly, that in a period when farming was flou-
rishing beyond example, the number of agricul-
tural paupers should increase in a proportion fully
equal to that of our trading and manufacturing
districts. This was exemplified in Bedfordshire
and Herefordshire, the two counties which em-
ploy the largest proportion of their inhabitants in

Poor Rale considered as a Tad\ 201

Extract from the Report on the Poor Laws, 1817, p. 8,


on Paupers in


Average expen-
diture of 1783,
84, 85,


In 1803.

In 1815.






There is thus no doubt, tliat a part of the poor-
rate ought to be deducted from our estimate of it as
a tax, and considered in the Hght of an equivalent
for wages. If it be asked, what proportion should
thus be deducted, we must answer, by admitting,
that the enquiry is complicated, involving a refer-
ence to the rate of wages in Scotland and the
counties in the north of England, where poor-rate
is comparatively light. The proportion, besides,
must differ materially under different circum-
stances, in consequence of the greater or less de-
mand for labour. In this uncertainty, and in the
absence of tlie necessary documents, we are con-
fined to a conjectural estimate ; but if a third of
our poor-rate is to be thus accounted for, we ex-
clude the idea of a tax or sacrifice to the extent
of nearly :2,000,0()0/. annually, during the last ten

Mode of Assessment. — Amidst the various sug-
gestions entertained during the agricultural di.s-
tress of LSlG) was that of rendering the burden of
poor-rate national, instead of parochial ; of paying
it out of a general, instead of a local fund. This
proposition is noticed here, merely to show its ab-
solute inexpediency. Under our ])resent system,
it could be accompanied by no adc(iuate checks, —
by no satisfactory rule lor restricting either the

202 Poor Rate considered as a Tax.

number or the allowance of the pensioners, fn
Scotland, in France, in short, in all countries with
which we are acquainted, the relief" of the poor is
defrayed by a local contribution. But whiJe we
determine to keep up the distinction of parishes
and townships, and to obhge each to provide for
its poor, there apj)ear to be strong reasons for a
change that would be perfectly compatible with
the maintenance of local distinction : we mean
new-modelling the assessment of property. At
present the whole falls on land and houses ; but
would not, we may ask, the income of the inhabi-
tants of the parish generally, returned on a plan
somewhat similar to that of the property tax, form
a much more equitable basis of repartition ; parti-
cularly since the landed interest appear to have
lost their principal stay — the counterpoise af-
forded by the corn laws.

The yearly rental of the land and houses of
England and Wales, on which poor-rate was
collected in 1803, was not (Clarkson on Pau-
perism) returned at more than £24',00O,00O

The latter years of the war exhibited both a large
increase of rental and a more correct return,
the amount assessed being (Report on the
Poor Laws, 1817) not less than 51,898,000

But increase of demand followed, or rather ac-
companied, increase of means : the rate, 3*. T^cf.
in the pound in 1803, was not below Si. 4rf. on
the far larger sum assessed in the years 1812,
1813, 1814-. At present, whatever be the offi-
cial allotment, the burden bears an equal pro-
portion to our resources, because, since the
fall of corn, the rental of land and houses in
England and Wales can hardly exceed . . . •i5,000,000

In 1805, the sum collected for the use of the
poor was below 4,000,000/. ; and if, in some years

Our Poor Law System^ S^c.


hence, it be reduced, as we anticipate, (see Appen-
dix to tlie chapter on Agriculture, p. [35]) to a sum
(4,. 500,000/.) not greatly exceeding that amount,
it would form a charge of from two shillings in
the pound on the actual rent of our land and
houses, (4,5,000,000/.) ; but, if levied on the in-
come of ' tlie parishioners generally, 4,500,000/.
would form a rate of less than one shilling in
the pound.

Did Increase qf Wages and Poor-rate counter-
balance the Enhancement of Provisions ? — It would,
we believe, be a mistake, to imagine that the in-
crease of wages and parochial aid dining the war,
counterbalanced to the country labourer the en-
hancement of produce, and had the effect of ren-
dering his situation more comfortable than in the
preceding period. A very different conclusion is
suggested by the following calculation made by
Mr. Barton, who, in his pamphlet on the '• State of
the Labouring Classes," pubhshed in I8I7, shows,
that whatever may have been the case in towns,
wages in the country, estimated by their power of
procuring subsistence, experienced a considerable
diminution in the sixty years between I76O and

Statement shoxving the Proportion of the Wages of the Country
Labourer to the Price qf Com.


Weekly Pny.

Wheat per , Wages in Pints
Quarter. of Wheat.

174-2 to 1752

1761 to 1770

1780 to 1790

1795 to 1799

1800 to 1808

s. d.


7 6



s. d.
42 6
51 2
70 8
86 8



Old- Poor Law Sj/slem ;

Happily the other articles of the expenditure of
the lower orders, in particular clothing, were en-
hanced in a far less degree than bread. Without
that advantage, their situation, favourable as was
the period to our agriculture, would have been
deteriorated, as will at once appear by a reference
(see Appendix) to the table of the constituents of
family expence in the middle and lower classes.
We there find, that while provisions of home growth
form hardly 30 per cent, of the disburse of the
middle classes, they amount to 50 per cent, of
the more rigorously calculated out-lay of the lower

A still more serious confirmation of the import-
ance of the price of corn to the poor, will be
found in another short extract from Mr. Barton's
tables. Inefficacy in point of relief has seldom
been urged against our poor-law system, but the
following return shows that it is far from being
completely successful in preventing an increase of
suffering, and even increase of mortality, among
the poor and their children, in times of scarcity.
The return comprises seven manufacturing dis-
tricts in England, distinct from each other.


Average Price of Wheat
per Quarter.



,v. d.

118 3
60 1
73 3

106 2



It was thus equally desirable, on grounds of lui-
manity and of policy, that the price of provisions
should experience a reduction. It was in 18^20

its Effect on the Condition oj'tlie Lower Orders. 205

that this took place on a large scale ; and the fall
of wages, though considerable, being still far from
proportioned to it, the condition of the lower
orders, at least of all who can find employment, has
experienced a favourable change, ^^'ere we in
possession of returns to a late date, Mr. Barton's
parallel of weekly pay and price of wheat, given in
our preceding page, might be continued to the
present year, and would exhibit an approximation
to the wages of the middle of last century ; in
some measure in the smallness of tlie money
amount, more in its efficiency in the purchase of

But without such a return, enough appears to
establish the important fact, that notwithstanding
the relief afforded by an increase of poor-rate, the
condition of the labouring classes experiences a
veiy unfavourable change on the enhancement of
corn ; while, in return, it is greatly to their advan-
tage, that the provisions sliould fall, and rates be
reduced. Need we then wonder, tliat in 1810 the
framers of the Bullion Ue})ort should have consi-
dered the situation of the country labourer dete-
riorated by a continuance of high j)rices, notwith-
standing the increase of parochial aid ; or, that
after 18^20, ministers shouhl have accounted the
})ul)hc tranquillity so firmly secured, as to admit of
a large reduction in our army.

Objections to our Poor Lan's. — We come next
to the objections urged against our ])()()r-laws, \ iz.
that tliey induce the labouring class to contract
premature marriages, depress their circumstances
by an undue increase of their numbers, and ac-
custom them to a state of humiliating dependance.
Admitting that these charges are considerably ex-

g06 Our Poor Law Sijtem ;

aggeratecl, (since the poor increase their numberR
ahnost as quickly in Scotland, wliere there is so
little ])arochiji] aid,) a sufficient ])roof()f the radical
defects or absurd misapplication of our system is
afforded by the fact, that aid, originally restricted
to the aged and infirm, should be extended to more
than a twelfth part of our })opulation ; for the per-
sons receiving parish relief in England and Wales,
amount, without reckoning children, to nearly a
million. But, unluckily, we cannot speak with ap-
probation of the course as yet pursued, in regard
to the poor in almost any other country. That
which is followed in Scotland is charged with a degree
of indifference to their sufferings in dear seasons;
a time when (Evidence of P. Milne, Esq. M. P.,
before the Poor Law Committee) necessity prompts
labourers to undertake taskwork at reduced rates,
and frequently to exceed their strength. A similar
feeling must have occurred to most of our country-
men who have lived in France, or other countries
of the Continent, and witnessed the habitual pri\a-
tions of even the sober and industrious, among
those of the lower orders who happen to have fa-
milies. Hence, a reluctance on the part of many
benevolent minds to relinquish our poor-law sys-
tem, defective as it is, or to forego the hope of
solving that most interesting problem, the means
of lessening to them the difficulty of rearing a

Reduction ofTcuces on the Necessaries of Life. —
To attain this humane object, the . better plan, we
believe, is to abandon our attachment to system,
and to relinquish, as soon as in our power, whatever
is artificial in our regulations. No contrivance, how-
ever ingenious, no combination, however plausible,

its Effect on the Condition of the Jjoxver Order's. 207

can be so advantageous as the plain rule of enabling
the poor to provide for themselves. Much has
been lately done to this effect, by the reduction of
the duties on salt and leather : let our grand object
be, the removal of the remaining obstacles, whether
existing in the shape of taxes on the necessaries of
life, or of restrictions on employment, such, for
example, as arise from our duties on coals carried
coastwise or by canal.

A tax on a necessary of life has, in regard to the
poor, the same operation as the enhancement of
corn : wages do not become proportionally aug-
mented, and a new pressure falls on those who are
least able to bear it. The great addition to the
tax on leather imposed in 1813, was, doubtless, for
a time, an absolute sacrifice on the part of the lower
orders. That they are indemnified, or partly in-
demnified, in the rate of wages, at times when their
services are in demand, we do not deny ; but the
equivalent is uncertain, the sacrifice immediate and

From this painful consideration, we turn to the
consolatory reflection, that *' any reduction of the
taxes on the necessaries of life, may, with con-
fidence, be considered the foreruinier of a reduc-
tion of poor-rate." The more the charges on the
necessaries of life, in this country, are approxi-
mated to those of the Continent, the more we
perform towards confirming the superiority of our
manufacturers ; resting the su})port of our lower
orders on the basis of the wide xvorldy instead of
Kngtand, and substituting for an eleemosynary
grant, the earnings of independent labour. Is it
necessary that we should specify the advantages
with which our countrymen enter on the field of
competition with their continental neighbours :-*

^208 Our I'oor Laxi' Si/slem ;

Tliey have tfi^ aid of" productive mines, of'extensive
water cominunication, of a minute subdivision of
labour, of habits formed during successive ages to
industrious pursuits. These grounds of superiority,
imperfectly perceived by P^ngUslimen who have
remained at home, are amply appreciated by all
who have witnessed tlie slow progress, the deficient
resources, the general backwardness of most coun-
tries on the Continent.

But while the benefit arising from this reduction
is admitted, the pi'acticability of carrying it to any
considerable extent may be questioned by those
who look to the magnitude of the wants of govern-
ment. These persons, however, would soon modify
their objections, and extend their hopes, were they
to give due attention to a few fundamental truths ;
such as, '* that the proceeds of a tax by no means
decrease in proportion to the reduction of its rate ;'*
and " that new and unforeseen resources are
opened by the extended activity consequent on
such reduction." Whenever circumstances shall
admit of giving a complete latitude to the course
we recommend, the public may safely take for
granted, that England will have, if not fewer pau-
pers, at least few^er real sufferers from po\erty
than any country in Europe.

Could this highly desirable result be attained,
our upper classes would find their duties towards
the poor greatly simplified. They would be justi-
fied in confining their interference and aid to
cases of urgency ; such as an inclement season, a
great and general transition like that from war to
peace, or from peace to war ; or, finally, to a time
when, as is at present the case of the lace-manu-
facturers on the Continent, a midtitude of persons,
habituated to work of a particular kind only, find

its Effect on the Condition of the Loiver Orders. ^201)

their earnings suddenly reduced by the introduc-
tion of machinery. Assistance tluis conferred
would be substantial charity ; exempt in its conse-
quences from the hazard and mischief attendant on
our poor-law system, and, on that account, doubly
gratifying to benevolent minds — to those who,
eager to bestow, are M'ithheld only by a doubt of
their donations producing a beneficial residt.




Few subjects in the range of political science have
given rise to more opposite theories than that of
Population. It is now fully a century and a half
since our venerable countryman, Judge Hale,
taking doubtless for granted, like a number of rea-
soners in a more advanced age, that the quantity
of food in a country is limited by physical causes,
declared gravely from the bench, that " the more
populous we are, the poorer we are.'* And the
present age has witnessed the promulgation of a
doctrine of kindred import, though somewhat
more elaborately expressed, viz. " that population
is imperatively limited by subsistence." This
opinion, proceeding from a writer of extensive re-
search and professorial rank, has been very gene-
rally received, not only in England, but in the
country of Dr. Smith ; a quarter where political
economy forming more particularly a study, a
rigid scrutiny of its merits might naturally have
been expected.

Of the various answers to Mr. Malthus, the
most substantial in argument, though far from the
most attractive in style, is the work entitled the
** Happiness of States," pubhshed in 1815, by

Online LibraryJoseph LoweThe present state of England in regard to agriculture, trade and finance; with a comparison of the prospects of England and France → online text (page 16 of 40)