« ForrigeFortsett »
tries have never, at any period, been so conducted as to relieve the poor of an equal population so adequately as the poor's law, with less encouragement of idleness or with better stimulus to industry.” Of course both the adequacy of the relief, and its effect upon the moral and political condition of the poor, must depend upon the sagacity, attention, and perseverance with which it is administered; and in these respects Holland perhaps stands first in economical prudence; Scotland first in moral precaution, and second in economical prudence; and England second in moral precaution, but clearly and decidedly the last in economical prudence.
The difference perhaps is upon the whole made up in England by the strong bond of union and reciprocal attention which exists between the higher and lower orders, much of which may possibly be traced to the long period during which the poor laws have been in operation amongst them; whereby a conviction has been worked among the higher ranks that, if the condition of the poor be neglected, the ultimate consequences must be an increase in the compulsory expenditure for their support. I trust that I shall stand excused for quoting, as the conclusion of this chapter, a passage formerly written by me upon the good effects which flow from such an intimate connexion of interests between the higher and the lower orders as is produced by our system of poor laws. “ It may be admitted as a general axiom in the politics of a free and extensive country, that when once a strong bond of reciprocal interest is established between the higher and lower orders of the community, the statesman's task is half performed to his hand; and that such a people,
by their native energy and internal resources, will not only preserve the integrity of their own empire, but must by the force of their institutions gradually triumph over their enemies. In Scotland, the feudal system prevented the introduction of a state of degeneracy símilar to that of Ireland ; and as poor laws have for a very long time subsisted in Scotland, poor's rates have been regularly called into operation in proportion as the feudal system has worn away, and commerce, manufactures,and tillage, have usurped the seats of baronial splendour, and encroached upon the idle hospitality of the lords of the waste. An institution which produces such phenomena in society must necessarily rest on grounds of deep moral and political expediency. It has been asserted by some, particularly by foreign writers, to be the millstone around the neck of England, which must at length engulf her in a sea of ruin; and we are willing to admit that it is, in the spirit of our other institutions, calculated for a state. of progressive prosperity ; but that it may accelerate our downfall, should the circumstances of the country begin to decline. But to compensate this evil we think it will appear that, under Providence, so long as the several ranks of the people are true to themselves and to each other, such a state of declension is not within the scope of probability: and we have yet to learn that a law or institution is objectionable, because it is inconsistent with a selfish neglect of duty in those for whose government it is intended.”
Brief Recapitulation of the preceding Chapters
CHARITY is confessedly a moral duty enjoined in the Holy Scriptures, and is therefore to be practised in conformity to the commands of God when they can be clearly discerned; and where they are silent, it is to be regulated by the best lights which can be acquired from considerations of moral expediency. Within those limits, I think it has appeared from the preceding chapters of this book, that no political mischief can arise from the most unbounded exercise of the virtue. Beyond those limits, donations in money, under the guise of charity, partake not of the nature of virtue but of thoughtless profusion, and tend more to encourage profligacy than to relieve distress.
That the due exercise of charity can produce no political evils connected with the principle of population has, I think, appeared from the consideration, that the virtue is never called into action so as materially to affect the numbers of mankind, until the natural rate of their increase becomes so slow by the progress of society, that the impulse given to it by charitable exertions is rather an advantage than otherwise to the state. That the sums bestowed in charity will be sufficient to supply all her legitimate demands, and also to satisfy the demands of the idle and profligate who would willingly subsist upon them without any exertion of industry, is more
than we are justified in inferring either from history or experience; although there are many countries where the last mentioned abuse of charity absorbs more money than its legitimate use, and there are few where the practice of the virtue is conducted in the most judicious and economical manner. The question is resolved therefore more into one of judgment in the mode of distribution, than of comparative expenditure. And the most liberal and enlightened exercise of charity, so far from forbidding, absolutely requires the adoption of every expedient for inculcating religious, moral, sober, and frugal habits among the lower orders; for encouraging them as far as possible to provide for themselves, and to rise independent of the aid either of the public or of individuals, to the utmost extent to which the state of society under which they are living will allow. But as their natural power of effecting these objects is altered by almost every step in the progress of society, it follows that assistance from the state and from philanthropic individuals must come in aid with increased activity as society advances, and the natural means of the poor themselves are diminished. Happily also it has appeared that both the means and the will for granting this aid increase in at least as great a proportion as they are wanted, in every
moral and well regulated community. In one parish of London there are more charitable institutions both public and private than in the whole Empire of China ; and the effects upon the people respectively may be contemplated in the first book of this treatise. Nothing then can well be more absurd than to sit down and murmur at the superior expenditure of charity in any particular country
over another, without taking into consideration the moral and political condition of each. Nor can it well be disputed that, where the moral and political condition of the people is in the most enviable state, as compared with others in the same stage of society, there the charitable institutions must be constructed upon the truest theory, and most effectually carried into practice. For these institutions have so direct a bearing upon the condition of the people, at least in the advanced stages of society, that it can scarcely be said by those who disapprove of their extent, that the people are happy and comfortable, not through the influence of those institutions, but in spite of them, and by the counteracting force of the other laws and customs by which the people are affected.
Upon the whole then, perhaps, we may conclude that politicians may safely discard their apprehensions that the practice of charity, as commanded by Scripture, or as it results from moral expediency, will ever be found in excess among any people; or that preserved within those limits it can ever be misapplied. And thus upon this great practical question, as well as upon all the rest which we have contemplated, the conviction accompanies us through all its bearings and ramifications, that Christian morality is the only solid foundation for the political welfare of the people.