§ Mr. Sadler
rose and said, that in addressing the House on a subject which he had at length obtained an opportunity of bringing under its consideration, he felt that it was little probable that he should be able to do anything like justice to its acknowledged importance;—a subject involving at once the highest principles and best feelings of humanity; one, not merely of a theoretical and abstract nature, but necessary, practical, and operative; not affecting a particular order or small part of the community merely, but bearing first on a numerous though unfortunate class of our fellow-beings, and through them upon the rest, however affluent and elevated; and lastly, Sir, a subject on which opinions the most various, and indeed opposite, are entertained, and each dictating a policy as essentially different—demands for its due and full consideration those qualifications in which (continued the hon. Member) I am as sensible as any one that hears me of my deficiency. Then, Sir, the circumstance of this House having so often entertained questions of the nature I have now the honour to submit to its attention, and to very little purpose; having passed, I think, hundreds of laws in reference to it, many of which, it is now confessed on all hands, were little reconcilable in their operation with their professed object—that of amending the condition of the poor, or the laws made in their behalf,—will render the House, I fear, little disposed to continued projects of a similar nature; while the fact of two or three committees now sitting, I believe, on matters bearing on the question to which I am about to address myself, may render my present course apparently the less necessary to be pursued. Sir, in approaching this subject, I feel forcibly these great discouragements; but I am still more deeply impressed with the duty I have ventured to undertake—that of attempting a general measure, the object of which will be, to better the condition of the 1295 labouring poor; to which ultimate and main design, the Resolution which I shall have the honour of submitting to the House on this occasion, important as I conceive it is in itself, is merely a preparatory step, but one which, I think, is essential to the success of the whole; and indeed to every proposition, of whatever kind, the object of which is of a similar nature. But to bespeak, as far as I am able, the favourable consideration of the House, I will venture to state, that neither the proposition which I shall have to submit this evening, nor the measure to which I wish it to be the precursor, are the consequence of recent convictions, or new lights upon the subject; or the result of some sudden and momentary impulse; much less are they suggested by personal motives or considerations—a course from which I should shrink with disgust: on the contrary, whether worthy of attention or otherwise, they are the result of attentive consideration, fortified by all the facts I have been able to accumulate, and by that experience which has been gained by personally engaging in the duties I wish to impose. The subject has long occupied my best attention, and is one to which I have rendered my recent pursuits subservient, and, however much I may fail in my attempt, I shall not incur the odium of having obtruded upon the House what I have not fully considered, and do not believe to be eminently beneficial and entirely practicable. Upon the general measure, however, which I hope to submit to this House, I will not now enter, though prepared so to do when the opportunity shall arrive, being thoroughly convinced that no proposition in behalf of the industrious classes of society, especially in England, can be of the least avail, till a legal provision for the poor of Ireland be first determined upon, and carried into effect. Till then we may appoint committees annually—may enlarge the scope of their inquiries—render their sittings perpetual—we may listen to and put into operation as many projects as we please; or, to exonerate from their duty private individuals, dip as deeply as we have already done into the public purse; but till this step, which justice, mercy, and policy itself equally demand, namely, the establishment of a Poor's-law for Ireland be taken, all these attempts will be in vain; the unrelieved misery will not merely afflict the country thus deserted and neglected, 1296 but it will reach England. The condition of the English peasant and artisan, already so much deteriorated, will be still further debased; and their condition will speedily be reduced to that of Irish labourers; and this once industrious, independent, and prosperous community will be degraded into a populace of paupers. Then, Sir, I fear it will be somewhat too late to deal with a question which ought to have been settled centuries ago, and which, if you mean to deal with it at all, admits of no further delay. The interests of the industrious classes of both islands demand that a legal provision should be enacted in behalf of the poor of Ireland, and that is the proposition which I intend submitting to the House on this occasion. Sir, the first argument which I shall advance in favour of that proposition is founded on the absolute necessity of such a provision, as it respects the labouring classes of England. Much has been said of late concerning the necessity of assimilating the institutions of the two islands as closely as possible; in this respect the necessity of so doing is abundantly apparent. The measure of the Union has not only identified the legislatures of the two islands, but has given far greater facilities to their mutual intercourse; and far more closely even than that great measure, has the invention and extensive adoption of steam navigation united them, and placed them, indeed, in point of practical effect, in closer contact than, for instance, are the great and populous northern counties, with this the metropolitan one—and has rendered the communication between them, as it respects the mass of the community, more easy, cheap, and rapid. The consequences are abundantly plain, and in the present state of things irremediable. The institution of the Poor-law of England encourages and increases the value of labour, as well as relieves distress; in Ireland, in consequence of the want of such a law, labour is discouraged and distress deserted. The result is inevitable—the influx of numbers from the latter country into the former, which nothing but a better system will ever prevent or abate. Other circumstances also combine to make this defect a still greater evil. If we consider the necessary consequences of absenteeism, and the great extent to which in that unhappy country it is carried; the exorbitant rents, and the ruinous and oppressive system of underletting, to which it gives 1297 rise; if to these evils are added their inevitable results, the clearing of farms, and driving forth the inhabitants at the pleasure of those who are thus invested virtually, though not ostensibly, with the power of life and death, and who are the means too frequently of occasioning the latter—a mass of misery presents itself in constant existence, which it is difficult to over-rate. Numerous little cultivators, who, notwithstanding the parsimony of living to which they submit, are barely enabled to sustain life, are deprived of their last shilling, and are sent forth at once, without the slightest provision, upon a country which yields them no employment, and affords them no relief. Where can they proceed? Many who can proceed so far, "beyond the western main" do so—many who cannot, move to this country, where they overstock the market of labour, and occasion, in no inconsiderable degree, that distress under which our industrious population now suffers. Such are the consequences, and they are undeniable. They would be the same were there in one half of this country a provision for the poor, and were the other half destitute of such a system. The indigent of the latter part would most certainly take refuge in the former, not perhaps for direct relief, but to share in the beneficial consequences which ensue wherever it is generally administered. The Irish do so—in increasing multitudes—nor do I blame them. I contemn those who refuse them in their own country that relief in their distresses which justice and humanity equally dictate, and which is rendered in every other civilized country upon earth. Thus it is, that the want of a national provision for the poor of Ireland operates as a grievous injury on those of England. The proprietors of the former island, being under no obligation to sustain the unemployed, the destitute, and distressed, send and drive them forth, when multitudes necessarily take refuge here. They come for employment and for bread. The market of labour is consequently overstocked, and its value greatly depressed, by the unnatural rivalry of those who are annually making this country their asylum. Thus is it, that in the field and in the factory, at the forge or at the loom—in every sphere of industry, the Englishman finds himself interfered with, his wages greatly reduced, and himself in many cases thrown out of employment. The poor creatures who take refuge here I 1298 do not blame. Absenteeism has deprived them of bread, and in its consequences driven them forth from their country: on the contrary, I would receive and relieve them, till a better system is established in their own country. In the mean time, however, I cannot refrain from reprobating in the strongest terms the conduct of those who cause these constant deportations. The interests of our own poor imperiously demand that those of Ireland should be sustained; and so great and growing is this evil become, that I think it will be found ere long that the rights of property, as well as those of poverty, will require the same remedy. I come, therefore, to the proposition which I shall this evening submit to the House, as preliminary to others of a more general character, which I hope to have the honour of proposing to it, namely, that there should be established in Ireland a legal provision for the destitute poor. In attempting to recommend to the attention of the House this proposition, it will be unnecessary to found my future argument on the claims that the industrious classes of this country have, that such a measure should be adopted; as it is in its nature one which, as applied to any country whatsoever, is recommended, and even demanded, by the plainest principles of justice, and by the soundest views of policy; and one which the peculiar condition of Ireland renders still more imperatively necessary. Sir, I approach the argument in favour of a Poor-law for Ireland, important as it is, with the greater confidence of success, from having observed that the ground of all those several propositions which have been successively submitted to this House, and some of them adopted, has been simply that of justice, alterations of the most momentous nature, with some of which I had the misfortune not to concur; others of a like kind which are still, it appears, contemplated; changes affecting, I may say revolutionizing, many institutions which had long been held sacred, whether meditated or made, have been all supported by the simple argument of justice. No matter how ancient was the principle to be attacked, no matter how deeply rooted the prejudices which were to be encountered, no matter how close so ever individual interests might appear to be concerned; all these, it was, and still is agreed, ought certainly to give way to the principles of human rights—to the un- 1299 doubted claims of justice. I hail these appeals, however I may differ sometimes as to their application: I hail them more especially as regards my present Motion, which is one, the justice of which is perhaps more apparent and demonstrable, however regarded, than any abstract legislative proposition ever entertained. And if to justice be added another plea, hardly less sacred, certainly not less touching, that of mercy, I cannot but think that it must be successful; that, it will prevail on this occasion. I entertain the strongest hopes; that it will be finally triumphant I am fully certain. A measure which is equally dictated by the principles of reason, and the feelings of humanity; by the institutions of civilization, and the rights and interests of society at large; which has been sanctioned by the highest authorities that have ever existed, and adopted by every civilised country upon earth, save this one island, which has therefore, though forming an integral part of the richest empire in the world, stood forth as one of the most striking examples of misery which the state of Europe presents, must assuredly be successful. Before touching, however, upon this right of poverty, it may be proper to define what is meant by it. It is not put forth as a right on the part of the poor, to share individually and personally in any part, however small, of the real property of the country; on the contrary, it is one urged in perfect consistency with the claims of wealth, however great, and however rigidly maintained; it simply implies, as I expound it, and shall urge it on this occasion, a real and indisputable right that, after the institutions of the country have sanctioned the monopoly of property, the poor shall have some reserved claims to the necessaries of life, and that these claims shall be legalised only in behalf of those of the labouring classes, who are smitten with sickness, and consequently incapable of labour, disabled by age or incurable disease, and can therefore labour no more; of that infancy which, left destitute and parentless, makes so touching a demand upon our care; that these should be relieved in some humble degree, so confined if you please, and limited, that the right thus recognised shall make little apparent inroad on the amount of that wealth which shall be called upon to administer to these necessities; but on the contrary, when duly 1300 understood, shall actually increase its advantages. Finally, that all relief should be administered in the form of remunerated labour, wherever the applicants are capable of it, to such who are willing and anxious to earn their humble pittance by the sweat of their brow. Such then are the narrow limitations of the right we assert in behalf of human indigence, that the frugal means of subsistence should be awarded to those in actual destitution and distress—the right, in short, of existence. It forms a distressing feature in some of the systems now put forth, that this right, which for a succession of centuries has never been denied, now begins to be disputed. It lies at the foundation, however, of my proposition, and as such I shall attempt to uphold it; not indeed by any abstract arguments of my own, but by the unanimous reasonings and declarations of the highest authorities that ever existed in the world, and expressed in their own language. In doing this I shall not allude to the institutions of the legislators of the free states of antiquity, those of Greece and Rome, all of which, it is well known, recognized the right of their citizens to legal relief, and in a way so highly eulogized by many of their philosophers, especially by Aristotle, as regarding the former: nor shall I draw an argument at present from the still more liberal and far more imperative and direct institutions of Moses in this respect. I shall not appeal to the authority of the primitive Church before it was established, nor to its laws when it became dominant, in favour of this right, stated and enforced as it was by all these, by every argument, drawn from every source, human or divine. I will rather show, from those who have studied in later times the rights of mankind, and to whose exposition of them we continue to defer; selecting, however, but a very few of these, but of such an order as numbers could add nothing to the weight and importance of their authority. First, Sir, I shall quote the celebrated Grotius, who has expressed himself as to this natural right in his great work most explicitly. "Let us see," says he, "whether men may not have a right to enjoy in common those things that are already become the property of other persons." This is putting the query in a strong point of view indeed; hence he adds that "the question will at first seem strange, since property seems to have 1301 swallowed up that right which one man may lay claim to in common with the rest." "But this," he says, "is a mistake; for we must examine into the designs and intentions of those who first introduced those particular properties, which we may imagine to be such as deviated the least from natural justice. For if even written laws are always to be explained in that sense which comes nearest to common equity, much more customs then, which are unconfined, and not at all chained down to the letter of the law. From whence it follows that in cases of absolute necessity, that former right of using things, as if they still remained in common, must revive and be in full force." He says, moreover, that "such a right is for the preservation of natural equity, against the rigour and severity of property and dominion." He adds, indeed, that some precautions are to be regarded, "lest this liberty should go too far," and points out the very provisions which our own Poor-laws prescribe. This profound authority goes on to say, that "this is a received opinion amongst all divines," and remarks that in the original form of government there are these exceptions and provisions. And he finally adds, what I am sure none will controvert, "if they who were first concerned in that division of things we now see, could be asked concerning this matter, they would answer the same as we assert." Puffendorf gives a somewhat different view of the subject, but expresses himself in still stronger terms, and more at large upon it. These are the opinions of Montesquieu, in his great, work, who thus expresses himself:—"The state owes to every citizen a certain subsistence." And whenever it happens that among the numerous persons engaged in different branches of trade some suffer—and he remarks upon the impossibility of a contrary supposition—he says, "that then the State ought to afford instant relief." I might quote many other writers, and indeed all the foreign jurists to the like purpose; but I shall waive any further appeal to them in favour of our own unrivalled authorities. And to whom shall we first refer on this important point? Who is it that, occupying the very foremost rank to-this hour amongst the profoundest reasoners, and the most unsullied patriots of this or any other nation, is the best entitled to be heard? The understanding of every one who hears me will instantly 1302 respond, Locke. This great master of human reason thus expresses himself:—"Reason tells us that all men have a right to their subsistence." "We know," he elsewhere says, "that God has not left one man so to the mercy of another that he may starve him if he please. God, the Lord and Father of all, has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion, but that he has given his brother a right to the surplus age of his goods, so that it cannot justly be denied him when his pressing wants call for it." This great man puts a case which the enemies of a legal provision for the poor urge will happen, but which I deny ever has, and I contend never will, namely when this right of poverty and distress presses hard upon, if not exhausts the property which has to support it—a circumstance which, I repeat, is wholly imaginary—"what," says Locke, "is to be clone in this case? I answer, the fundamental law of nature being that all, as much as may be, should be preserved, it follows, that he that hath, and to spare, must remit something of his full satisfaction, and give way to the pressing and preferable right of those who are in danger to perish without it." Such is the deliberate doctrine of this great authority, the literary father of the English liberty, who to an understanding unmatched in its capacity thus united a benevolence as warm and unbounded. Blackstone, in his province of commentator, which he filled so admirably, adverting to this right of the poor, and to the compulsory provision which it dictates, declares the principle of the Poor-law to be a provision dictated by the very principles of society. Lastly, let Paley speak as to this point; Paley one of the greatest ornaments of the last age, who was the subject the other night of the deserved eulogy of one of the most powerful minds of the present day—Paley says, the poor have a right to this provision, "a claim founded upon the law of nature;" this he dwells upon at much length, concluding thus—"When, therefore, the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of impotence or distress, it is maintained against and in opposition to the intention of those who made it, and to His, who is the supreme proprietor of everything, and who has filled the world with plenteousness for the sustentation and comfort of all he sends into it." Such are the opinions of 1303 Paley, and I might add to his those of the divines of this country; such as Tillotson, Sherlock, Butler, and multitudes of others, who took no superficial or fanatical views of the great doctrines of their religion, but saw them in the lights of philosophy and truth. I should, indeed, weary the attention of this House, while those of the lights of the law, such as Bacon, Sir Matthew Hale, and multitudes of others, are equally explicit as to the absolute right of the poor to legal and legislative relief. So much then for the right of the poor. Now if the right of the poor to relief in their distresses be thus fully recognized, to urge the fitness and expediency of its establishment would be to betray the argument instead of supporting it. I may, however, just remark, that the main question as to the policy of Poor-laws rests upon their effect upon population, and, singular enough to say, the two opposite notions on this important subject concur in this, the expediency of a provision for the poor. Those who imagine that such provision has a tendency to preserve and increase the numbers of the people, and who also believe, what the history of every country upon earth has hitherto proved, namely, that with every such increase the necessary comforts, and even superfluities of life, are more than proportionately augmented, and hence that growing numbers under judicious and good management, are only other terms for augmenting prosperity,—I say such are of course advocates for the preservation of the poor. On the other hand, those who have imbibed the unhappy and erroneous notion that there is that in the principle of human increase which has a constant tendency to excess, and consequent misery, have now, I believe, come to the almost unanimous opinion, that Poor-laws have in their operation a tendency to check, instead of unduly encouraging that increase. Whichever view of the subject therefore is taken, the expediency of a national provision for the poor is equally acknowledged. But it may be, and is contended by those who object to a legal provision, that an optional one would in all cases be preferable. But I totally deny this, and, amongst many others which I shall omit to enumerate, for these important reasons:—First, it would impose the duty of sustaining the poor upon the benevolent, not always the most numerous, and very rarely the most wealthy 1304 part of the community; imposing upon them, if the poor should be adequately relieved, an intolerable burthen, from which too many of those equally able to sustain their share of it would be wholly excused: then it would substitute, instead of a regular and certain, a casual and variable supply, and in many cases where relief is the most indispensable, and its administration required with the greatest promptitude, it might be deferred too late, or might be totally and fatally withheld. It would change a system which ought to be regularly operative and permanently organized, into one of chance and accident; or otherwise demand a complication of machinery which could never be generally obtained or be rendered permanent. Finally, it would change that provision which is now rendered so as to be least degrading to those who receive it—who, notwithstanding all the cruel assertions to the contrary, are not unfrequently some of the most deserving as well as the most distressed part of the community—for a system of degrading mendicancy, with all its appendages of fraud, imposture, servility, and falsehood, with which it is always accompanied. But, Sir, we have no authority for substituting in lieu of a perfect right an imperfect and uncertain obligation, however promising it may be;—the very attempt negatives that right, which, if it exists at all, is of the most sacred and indisputable character. And let me ask such as are for thus defrauding the poor of legal relief, at the same time that they acknowledge their right to it, how such an attempt is reconcileable with the simplest ideas of justice?—how they would act regarding their own claims, not more sacred, not more essential, than those of the poor, were similar propositions made to them? Let me ask, for instance, that sacred profession, some few of the members of which (and thank God they are but few), are adverse to the demands of the poor, whether they regard their vested rights and legal endowments in the same light: they are learned enough to know that the rights they are so anxious to surrender, as it regards the poor, were anciently and from the first identified with their own; and it is little in the proper spirit of their sacred calling, that knowing the immense spoliations to which the poor have been exposed, that the legal relief which it was then found necessary to enact in their behalf, they should recommend 1305 that also to be abrogated; and opinional, variable, and uncertain relief to be substituted. Let them ask themselves whether, as ministers or professors, they would prefer to depend on weekly and eleemosynary collections, or on those certain funds which the law has assured to them. If this question needs an answer, Burke has given it, but he has given it in behalf of the pauper as well as the priest—that it is not fitting that they should be left to the unsteady and precarious contribution of individuals; hence, he has answered for this country that it will never seek its resource from the confiscation of the rights of the church, or of the poor. In a word, if the poor have a right to relief, the attempt to substitute, instead of the perfect obligation it implies, an imperfect one, is a direct insult upon the plainest principles of justice. But there is a further view than is at first apparent in this proposed substitution of an optional for a legal relief of the poor, and it is this: the hope of getting rid of most of the charge this duty implies by degrees, and at length, perhaps, altogether. It is imagined, and indeed has been often said, that some attentions, cheap and simple presents of courtesy, kind words and affectionate language, would soothe the sorrows and sufferings of poverty, and at length charm it out of existence; if not, education would entirely cure the grievance, and be the annihilation of that condition. But this idea is as absurd as it is selfish: that the poor will never cease out of the land—the assertion of the most ancient and sacred of the legislators of antiquity, whose institutions, nevertheless, were more favourable to the relief of that condition than any ever established in the world—is true of every state of society, and will ever remain so. It is not possible to rid any country of what too many consider as its nuisance and disgrace, nor is it perhaps desirable, were it even possible. Not only does the condition in which poverty stands in relation to wealth call into existence the best feelings and noblest virtues of the human heart, whether of compassion on the one hand or of gratitude on the other; but, in a political point of view, poverty, or rather the fear of poverty, which could only be inspired by its actual existence, calls forth all that activity, and animates all those exertions by which, not only the independence of the individual is secured, but the public prosperity enlarged 1306 and perpetuated. Meantime the victims of misfortune, who lay claim to that humble pittance which the law awards, and which nature stands ready to bestow, have enough of sorrow and suffering in their cup of life to prevent them voluntarily sinking into that condition which some so falsely represent to be one, not only of idleness, but even of indulgence. Yes, Sir, the poverty we seek to relieve will never cease; poverty of too deep and distressing a character to be tickled into mirth and ecstasy by the ready but empty hand of wealth and affluence; it would neither satisfy our feelings nor the wants of those we wish to relieve, thus to carry about an "alms-basket of words" to serve our own selfish purposes, while we made pretence of assisting the poor who are not to be so deceived—the "be thou warmed and be thou clothed" scheme of recent economists. "The poor ye have always with you," says the author of our religion, and the duty of solacing and supporting them he has constituted one of the most important and onerous of all the duties his religion imposes. But the most numerous and honest of the objectors against a legal provision for the poor, disencumber themselves of these flimsy substitutes for that right, and unhesitatingly assert it as their opinion, that the poor ought to sustain themselves in their destitution and distress by saving sufficient for that purpose. But nothing can exceed the absurdity of such a proposal. It is not only absurd, it is impossible. Let us turn our attention for a moment on those who are the objects of relief. The desolate orphan, for instance—how is this forlorn being to provide itself with this necessary fund?—or even the man in the prime of life, just entered upon his active labours, who may be stricken suddenly by lingering disease, or deprived of his limbs by some of those accidents to which his employment too often exposes him?—how is he to amass this fund. Other cases, numerous as they are afflicting, might be presented; but I go at once to the more general ones; as it respects these, I totally deny the possibility of this funding system, even amongst those whose health and strength have been the least interrupted. Let those who have the face to propose this plan to save their own property, expound to us how the great bulk of the agricultural labourers or manufacturing operatives are to save. The question is, how they shall exist? 1307 and that, I fear, is becoming rather problematical to hundreds of thousands at this moment. But to what amount must they save to obviate the necessity of the poor's-rate? The actuary can soon answer this. One hundred and fifty millions in the savings banks would not suffice to meet the average individual demand. But this is not all, nor yet the principal part of the proposal. As none of the working classes can foresee on which of them those calamities which may need relief will fall, so each must save in order to meet this average demand; nor would even this suffice; each must save, so as to provide against not merely the average but the extreme cases of distress, in which many fold the ordinary relief is required; at least if this assistance, which would pauperise those who receive it, is it to be dispensed with. Why, Sir, a second national debt would not suffice for this notable scheme of destroying pauperism, by making the poor universal savers. All the circulating medium, about which so much has been said, paper or metallic, transferred at once to the pockets of the poor, would go but a little way to realize this absurd proposal. But supposing all these impossibilities fully surmounted; out of what part of their expenditure must the poor save at all? They must consume less food; especially of animal food, perhaps none; they must deny themselves the beverage which sustains and rewards their labour; they must go henceforth in rags; they must surrender those comforts and decencies which, in the times of their prosperity, render their cottages so unrivalled. Now, should they do this, is it not one of the plainest maxims in political economy, that the remuneration of labour bears a pretty exact proportion to the habitual wants and expenditure of those who render it: would not then their wages fall in the same rates, that their comforts had been sacrificed? The fact is, as Sir Wm. Petty observed long ago, nothing but necessity makes man labour at all, and the bulk of mankind will never labour beyond what is adequate to supply their habitual necessities. Besides, who does not see that if this saving were possible and universal, it would, in point of fact, be no saving at all; or at, least produce, the effect of none;—but our political economists argue from exceptions. But supposing, I repeat, that this universal saving were possible, and that there were no obstacles in the way of such a scheme, 1308 do those who propose it recollect that the mass of the community are at once not only the sole producers, but the principal consumers? What would then be the effect of this universal parsimony amongst the poor? You would get rid of some of your expense, but you would have nearly annihilated your income: you would have desolated your pastures, closed your manufactories, and what is worthy of consideration, emptied your Exchequer—in a word, you would become national bankrupts and you would have the consolation of richly deserving it by carrying into execution a proposition of such infinite folly and cruelty. But the truth is, that those who argue this question upon selfish, and therefore impolitic and unwise grounds, too often care but little what methods are adopted regarding the poor, so that they involve no expenses; in fine, they are well content to leave poverty to find its own level, to adopt the phraseology of the day, as applied to many other topics. We have only to see the consequences of this system. In Ireland it is so left; hence the potatoe system prevails, as it is significantly termed, because none other can; hence rags constitute the clothing of the bulk of the people; hence their cabins justify the appellation which Spenser so long ago applied to them 'sties,' destitute of all the decencies and comforts, and what would here be deemed the necessaries, of life. Hence, also, in Scotland, where the poor are only partially relieved, in conformity with this wretched and degrading system—there also similar distress prevails. As a most intelligent witness from that country deposed before a committee of the other House, "Where the poor-law is not introduced, there are a great many of the miseries which are found in Ireland." And as this system, if it can be called one, is recommended so strongly, and embraced so eagerly, by those who deem all that is expended on poverty a national loss, I shall just observe, as it regards Scotland, that the evils I have alluded to as being found where no legal provision for the poor prevails, are most conspicuous. An authority to whom the British Empire owes so much (Sir John Sinclair), describes the wretchedness to which the Scottish poor are doomed, affirming that the greater proportion of the labouring classes of the community hardly ever taste animal food. As to the wretchedness of their clothing, the discomfort and filth of their cottages 1309 (that filth which is always the concomitant of abject poverty, and that disgusting mendicancy which, as it is justly observed in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, "is the pest that has long annoyed and oppressed her," none who can have traversed that country, where the Poor-law is not administered, needs to be reminded. And this is the condition to which the Legislature of the United Kingdom is often most gravely and piously implored to reduce the labouring poor of England. But I must observe, in passing, that there is a Poor-law in Scotland, and of a nature very similar to that of this country. In the sixth Parliament of James 6th, Act 71, it was ordained that "the hale inhabitants within the parishes should be taxed and stinted for the needful sustentation of the poor and impotent, so that they may live unbeggared." I need not recite other unrepealed Acts; it is well known, and has been recently solemnly tried and adjudged in the courts of Scotland, that, as here, any individual in absolute want has a legal claim to relief; and that the refusal to yield it generally is the result of a combination, conspiracy it ought to be called, among the rich, to intercept the relief which God and the laws award to any object of distress among them. But, Sir, waiving further remarks on these culpable evasions of the existing laws, I shall return to the main argument—the right of the poor to relief. This right, so undeniably clear and obvious, reinforced by the best feelings of humanity, and sanctioned also by the soundest policy, has ever been recognized. The heathen legislators universally recognized it;—all the free states of antiquity provided for the constant support of their indigent citizens; those of Greece especially, and in a manner which Aristotle, in his Politics, eulogises most highly. The historian of Greece, our learned countryman, observes, that there was a Poor-law in Greece. In Rome we are well aware of the constant largesses bestowed on the poorer citizens. In her unfortunate rival a similar provision prevailed. Beyond all these, the more ancient institutions of the Jews, as established by the greatest legislator and philosopher of antiquity, to designate him by no sublimer appellation—I mean Moses—fully recognized the right of indigence to relief, and legally provided for it. His laws, which, as Montesquieu observes, we often regard now as merely moral precepts, though they had the utmost legal force, 1310 framed originally so as to protect and favour poverty more than any ever promulgated in the world, still prescribed a provision for that casual poverty which, notwithstanding all his benevolent provisions, he saw and declared would never cease out of the land, which, applied to this country at the present moment, would more than double the burthens imposed for the relief of the poor, grievously as we complain of them. Those who have the slightest doubt upon the subject will do well to consult the work of the learned Selden, or his ancient authority Ben Maimon, whose exposition of the laws of Moses in relation to the poor is still extant. I will just remark, that to this ample legal provision for the distressed, Moses enjoined also the exercise of voluntary charity, in terms the most express, and enforced by considerations the most touching and solemn. So much for the dogmas of those who unhesitatingly declare that a provision for the poor is inconsistent with the exercise of real and voluntary charity; an assertion which, as made in this country, at once the most heavily taxed on account of poverty, and still the most celebrated for its voluntary works of charily and mercy of any nation upon earth, is not a little surprising. Can there be a doubt whether Christianity weakened the obligation to make certain provision—that religion of which a writer, so eloquently alluded to the other evening, Bolingbroke, said, "that charity was its very brand!" Wherever that religion has spread, there have legal institutions in behalf of poverty prevailed. In some forms of that religion it nay even be doubted whether the provision has not been carried to a culpable excess, increasing, by actual and permanent temptations, that poverty it was intended only to relieve. We know how early a Poor-law was introduced amongst ourselves, and by the father of the Monarch, and the founder of our liberties. He ordained that the poor should be sustained by the parsons and inhabitants of the parishes, so that none die for want of sustenance. In all the Catholic countries of Europe we know the extent and splendor of the establishments for the poor. In the Protestant ones another system prevails, namely, a direct Poor-law. This is the case, for instance, in Switzerland, in Sweden, in Denmark, in Norway; even Iceland, poor as she is, is not too poor to have a law for the relief of the indigent. Holland, it needs not be 1311 said, has long had the same institution, and has long been a pattern to the world for the exemplary manner in which the poor are there sustained. In the Netherlands there is a similar law in full operation. In France, where the spoliation of the Revolution ruined so many of the rich, and reached the funds for poverty and distress, the public revenue is beginning to be disbursed for the relief of indigence, and a regular system is gaining ground throughout the country. While, in the New World, where we had been taught by some to suppose that no poor, nor laws for their relief existed, we know, on the contrary, that the most liberal and efficient system of legal charity ever established is in full operation, involving, as far as our information hitherto extends, an expense to which even England is a stranger. Thus, for instance, the poor of the city of New York cost the public not far short of 200,000 dollars annually. Whichever way we turn, we see a system of national charity in full operation, excepting in one country, and that country is found, unhappily, in our own European empire; and, still more lamentable to say, in that part of it where such an institution is beyond every other the most necessary. But I shall not extend these observations. It is enough to have shown that in almost every country under the sun, where the rights of human beings are at all recognized, and where the institutions are professedly founded upon them, there is a legal provision made for poverty, which is the more efficient the farther advanced in knowledge and character such nations may be. So true is the observation of our great moralist—a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. Now, Sir, let us ask why is it that Ireland, an integral part of an empire which has long taken the lead in every thing charitable and excellent, and in legally providing for the indigent more especially; why is it that in Ireland this right, recognised by every other civilised nation, has been resisted to the present hour? Is it that there is no necessity for this provision, or that the Irish are a caste so degraded that they have lost their natural right to it; or that property is absolved from the duty it owes to poverty, by some undefined immunity which it enjoys in no other country, and which it would be its lasting disgrace to plead if it had? On the contrary, Sir, circumstances peculiar to Ireland render the introduction 1312 of this just measure the more necessary. I will repeat some of its grievances: the long bane of Ireland which has existed, and indeed gone on increasing for many centuries, absenteeship, abstracting the wealth, and lessening the demand for labour in the country; connected with its concomitants, exorbitant rents, and under letting; which render the constant condition of the peasantry wretched in the extreme; and which, on any fluctuation in the season and the crops, places multitudes of them on the very verge of famine, and indeed often pushes many of them into its gulf; and lastly, this constant poverty, and occasional extreme want, super inducing that disease, which never wholly leaves Ireland, and which is sometimes heightened to that frightful degree, that thousands are swept away in its dreadful ravages; a calamity which all the medical authorities I have seen attribute to an insufficiency of the necessaries of life; I say all these circumstances most loudly demand the establishment of a Poor-law in Ireland, as more necessary than probably in any other country in Christendom. Nor must I ever lose sight of the interests of the poor of this country, which I repeat imperiously demand such a regulation as should prevent those influxes of labourers of every kind which our superior system constantly attracts to us, to the infinite detriment of our industrious classes. But regarding the justice and necessity of a provision for the poor of Ireland, in reference merely to their own condition, I will beg leave to quote the authority of one of the first advocates for the measure, who has put the argument forth in such a manner as to render it irresistible, whether addressed to the understanding or the feelings—a writer, moreover, who published more than three score years ago, when the population of the country little exceeded two millions and a half. I mention this to anticipate the objections of those who may choose to attribute the misery of Ireland to excessive numbers, and who consequently confine their remedies to recissory measures only—an argument which is difficult to deal with, because it is quite as regardless of the facts as it is of those feelings which otherwise decide this question. The admirable author to whom I allude is Dr. Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne: it is difficult to make a selection from his publication, not a word of which is redundant; I will, however, attempt to do so. 1313 He entitles his work "An Argument in Support of the Right of the Poor of the Kingdom of Ireland to a National Provision;" and, as his work shows, he had to encounter the very objections so frequently, but erroneously urged at present; namely, the pretended "enormous expense," "the exorbitance of the Poor-rates, &c." of this country; or, in other words, "the absorption of rents," now so universally put forth as an overwhelming objection. I shall first quote this excellent Prelate's opening sentence: "That the lower class of our people are very ill-accommodated with lodging, raiment, and even food, is but too manifest to all who are acquainted with their manner of living. That their poverty is like to continue with but little mitigation will be evident to any intelligent man, who reflects on the following, among other causes of it: the exorbitant rent extorted from the poorer tenants, ever loth and afraid to leave their ancient habitations; by the general method of letting farms to the highest bidder, without any allowance of a tenant's right: the system of letting large tracts of lands to undertakers, inured to tyranny and extortion, as prejudicial to the landlord as to the under tenant: and the low rate of the wages of labour. These circumstances, combined with some others, reduce the Irish cottager below the peasant of almost every country in Europe. Such is his hard condition, in the most plentiful season, and in the prime of his health and strength: what then must be his state in time of dearth, under the pressure of years, infirmities, or even a very numerous family? He is a stranger to luxury, or even to decent accommodation, and yet his wages seldom afford any reserve. On the death of such a father of a family, dependant on his labours for their main or perhaps entire support, how forlorn must be the condition of his widow or orphan children; It would shock a tender mind, if imagination could paint the miseries to which the bulk of the inhabitants of this kingdom are constantly exposed by the slightest reverse of fortune; by a single bad season; by an accidental loss; by an occasional disease, or worn by the gradual decay of nature. Nor are these affecting scenes confined to seasons of scarcity; they must always exist in a great, though not equal number. They present themselves but too often to every country gentleman, and still more to the clergy, in the exercise of their parochial duties (to 1314 whose experience we appeal) to need a proof. They cannot be doubted or denied by any, but those who shut their eyes, or steel their hearts against them. So numerous, so urgent, and well known are the distresses of the poor. Let us now fairly estimate the sufficiency of the resources at present subsisting for their relief. Our eyes will naturally be turned first to the landed gentlemen, who derive their wealth and importance from the labour of these men." (Is not this a truth, and if so, is it no argument?) "Of these (continues this clergyman) many, perhaps a majority of the most considerable, constantly reside in, another kingdom; and though some of them may cast back a part of their superfluity on those to whose industry they owe their all, yet it is to be feared that such instances are very rare." "On the contrary," says he, "it is too frequently urged, as a recommendation of Irish property, that it is not encumbered with any tax for the maintenance of the poor!"—He wonders how such a phrase should be so familiarised to the ear of any wise or good man as to lose its genuine horror. "If the sentiment were developed," he adds, "few would entertain it, and still fewer avow it; no ingenious reader will therefore think it invidious or unnecessary in this interesting argument, to lay open its plain import, which is this: an estate in this country is represented as peculiarly advantageous to the landlord, because, though he may, and generally does, avail himself of the utmost profit that can be drawn from the labour of the tenant, (leaving him too scanty a present maintenance), he is nevertheless at liberty to abandon that labourer to perish, when he is unable to work any longer. Is this boasted privilege either honourable or desirable? A wise man would not glory in such an exemption, a good man would not claim it, and he who wishes to enjoy, does not deserve it." He thus combats the argument too often put forth in favour of depriving the poor of their rightful claim to relief, for the purpose of substituting it by an optional sort of charity, a very favourite notion with some for reasons sufficiently obvious. He says, "It cannot be denied but that far the greatest part of our lands do not enjoy the benefit of the proprietor's residence, and in general the poor of these estates partake not of his charity. Now," says he, "when we have weighed, on one side, the extraordi- 1315 nary indigence of the whole peasantry, and allowed, on the other, for the number of absentees from the kingdom, the remoteness of many estates from the mansions of the resident gentry (which together render it no uncommon case to find a tract of country containing some scores of square miles without one family of note), it will be intuitively clear that there can be no balance, nor indeed the least proportion, between the necessities of the poor tenants and the alms of their landlords." Then regarding that method of relief which some are so anxious should remain the principal source of support in that country, and indeed become so in this—that of obliging the poor to relieve each other—he expresses himself in terms of just indignation, both as to the cruel selfishness and utter inadequacy of any such mode. I will just quote further the words in which he sums up his unanswerable argument in favour of the right of the poor, agreeable to the plainest rules of reason and the fundamental principles of civilization. "It would be a waste of words," says he, "and a disgrace to reasoning, to labour to prove a point so clear as this, that the richer members of society, who are the minority, have no right to exclude the lower class, who are a majority, from any portion of the public patrimony, without securing to them the resource of a subsistence; when they must otherwise be reduced to the dreadful alternative of breaking through those regulations, or perishing by a dutiful obvervance of them." The Bishop goes on to particularize those to whom he would have administered the relief a national provision would ensure. They are: 1. The infant poor. 2. The sick poor. 3. The aged poor. Alluding to the latter, he has this remark.—"If at the close of life they become a burthen, and having only to plead their former services, they have not that plea allowed from reasons of policy, it would be a still higher degree of economy, and even mercy, to adopt the refined Indian policy of putting an immediate end to them." Even regarding the improvident poor, against whom, however, this admirable political philosopher would take a distinction, still he would not warrant their utter desertion. And who could, who understands his own imperfection or his duties? I will terminate my appeal to him with what he says on this subject:—"If we may without injury to the State (and 1316 must, if we expect mercy ourselves), relieve the distress, though we blame the cause, wherein consists the inexpediency of obliging those of the rich who are too distant or dissipated to know, or too callous to regard, the misery of the poor, to contribute to its relief, and not to throw the whole burthen, as at present, on the resident, the considerate, and the benevolent; for a legal provision has this double advantage over voluntary alms, that it is at once more equitable to those who pay, and most equal and effectual to those who receive. But, if no reasoning can justify such obduracy as would permit a wretch to languish without help in age and sickness, because he had not made a provident use of his health and strength, on what principle shall we conclude, from the imprudence of the parent against all compassion to the orphan children?—on what pretext shall we exclude from the public care the distresses of the laborious and frugal, which were owing neither to their own nor their parents' political sins, but took their rise from high rents and low wages; from the scarcity of food, or the check of a manufacture; from the sudden increase of family, or the death of cattle; from disease unassisted by medicine, and in consequence, perhaps, of that want of help, the untimely loss of an industrious father?" He goes on to state many other facts and reasons in behalf of the introduction of legal relief for the poor of his country, and has answered, by anticipation, most ably, all that has been urged against so excellent a measure. He has shown their peculiar necessity and fitness, and the other advantages with which it would be attended, even in reference to important objects other than merely that under his consideration. To the honour of his function and of his memory, he was one of the first, if not the very first, who pressed upon the public, at any considerable length, the necessity of the extension of national relief to Ireland. His proposition, which I now re-urge in this House, may, perhaps, be awhile resisted; but, backed as it is by the highest duties and best feelings of humanity, it will assuredly prevail. But it may be said that the distresses under which Ireland laboured when her population was so scanty, have much abated since it has so greatly enlarged, and that, therefore, this national institution of charity is the less necessary. Sir, in no state of society can poverty be 1317 wholly abated; in none is it reduced to such a state as not to demand constant and permanent relief: and in that of Ireland least of any. Sir, it is unnecessary for me, I think, to describe the state of destitution in which Ireland is still plunged, and from which it will never be extricated till you adopt a permanent system of relief. The condition of the peasantry is known to most Gentlemen who hear me, it is known to myself—and I speak on that knowledge, and on the authority of numerous documents I might adduce: with these, however, I shall not now fatigue the House: I will merely point to their miserable condition when one of those visitations befal the country, which a material deficiency of the crop there invariably occasions. This will give more distinctly the features of that misery which constantly prevails there, though with considerable fluctuations. The failure of a crop not only occasions that general distress to which the Prelate I have just quoted so touchingly alludes, but it superinduces that disease which is still more dreadful. So that, whatever has been the state of population, whether large as at present, or small as in former times, still that epidemic has constantly prevailed in the country, which on these lamentable occasions has rapidly spread, and produced consequences the distressing nature of which can hardly be exaggerated. Sir, the destitution which oppresses so large a part of the people is as constantly experienced; like a lingering disease, which perhaps is as deplorable in its partial remissions as in its exacerbations, and, perhaps, as regards Ireland more deplorable, as in the extreme cases the sympathies of the empire are excited, and relief is at last, though tardily and imperfectly, administered. Now, Sir, we learn from all the best authorities on the subject, that the fever which has so long returned upon Ireland as its deadly scourge, and which its medical writers pronounce to be never wholly extinct, arises, according to their deliberate opinions, from the suffering and distress, the wretchedness and penury, to which the people are constantly exposed, and of which they are so often the victims; and from the recurrence of which nothing but an organized system of national relief, and funds supplied by law, will ever secure Ireland. Look at the last of these painful visitations. Was it fitting that the country should have then been 1318 without its national charity? The death of thousands and the ruin of tens of thousands is plainly attributable to this infamous neglect. It originated, as Drs. Baker and Cheyne observe in their valuable history of that pest, in a great measure from destitution and distress, heightened by the melancholy and gloom which fell upon the people from a view of their utterly hopeless condition. Deprived of their labour and bread by the evils to which I have before so pointedly alluded, and driven forth, many of them found no relief but the casual gleanings of food unnatural and often disgusting to human beings; the relief from mendicancy was often denied to them, for, as the same writers observe, the moving mass of hopeless misery which was then afloat, was often repulsed or driven from the towns into which it sought entrance and relief—some died of direct famine, and many of the same dreadful evil in a more lingering form. Sir, the volumes I hold in my hand, though they never touch upon the subject I am addressing myself to, but merely comprise a record of facts, form indeed the strongest evidence in favour of a system of legal charity that could possibly be adduced. But how melancholy are their contents; they are, like the roll seen by the sacred seer of old, written within and without with mourning, lamentation, and woe. I had intended to read from these official reports a few pages, as a specimen of the whole, but I forbear out of regard to the fatigue of this House in this necessarily long discussion. Let it suffice to say that these reports, &c. verify the fact of the constant existence of fever in Ireland, and attribute it to the poor and scanty food, the insufficient clothing, and the wretched habitations of the people. They describe them in many parts of Ireland, as having then subsisted on the unwholesome and unnatural food gleaned from the fields, or from the putrid remains of fish gathered on the shores;—and that even these supplies were insufficient; but I shall not harrow up the feelings of this House by further adverting to the distressing details these volumes present; and, Sir, will any man assert that optional charity did its office in a scene, and at a season like this? Can any one dare to say, the poor were adequately relieved at this period? Let me not, however, Sir, be understood to say, that distress so overwhelming perpetually prevails there— 1319 I do not mean to say that it always rose to that height: but, Sir, a dark flood of suffering always covers that unhappy country, though ever and anon a swelling wave may sweep over its surface, and in-gulf it in deeper and more universal misery. But though, Sir, I am not meaning to argue that equal distress always prevails; yet I do maintain, that much prevails at all times which demands a very different system of relief, much that nothing but the introduction of national charity will ever adequately relieve or lessen. In proof of this general mass of inadequately relieved suffering and distress as constantly existing in Ireland, I will make a very short, and, I think, decisive appeal, not founded upon any mere observation, nor dictated by any authority, however respectable, but having in itself the force of conclusive and undeniable truth. Sir, in the last census of Ireland, for the apparent exactness and accuracy of which the country is so highly indebted to Mr. Mason Shaw, the population, as in this country, is divided into ages. And, Sir, making the children in each country, under five years old, to be the radix of the calculation, to every 10,000 of these there would be in England 15,704 persons at and above the age of forty; whereas in Ireland there would be 11,522 only: above the age of fifty the number in this country would be 9416, in Ireland 6483; the former exceeding the latter by one half; above sixty in England the proportion is 4980, in Ireland 2560—almost exactly one half only are found in existence; upwards of seventy, in England there are 1950, in Ireland 778; above eighty, here 440, there only 155. Such then is the effect of leaving the poor unprovided for, upon the health and lives of the wretched victims of poverty and disease thus deserted. There may be some, by possibility, who will regard this statement as highly satisfactory; some who have come to the complacent conclusion, that the rich alone ought to be the monopolists of existence as well as property, and that the poor have in no case "any claim as of right to the smallest portion of food"—I quote one of them—and but little to existence itself. But if truth did not put down such horrible notions, the feelings and rights of human nature speedily would, the moment they became practically adopted. But, Sir, supposing that we were to reduce the right of the 1320 poor to relief to a mere argumentum ad crumenam, even then I think, on referring to the expenses incurred in Ireland on account of the poor—first, directly in the form of Grand-Jury Presentments, matters which, it is as notorious as noon-day, are often direct jobs, and that they corrupt the rich instead of relieving the poor; and, secondly, if the indirect expenses the present pernicious system involves, namely, the charge of prosecuting and punishing, imprisoning and transporting, those whose offences originate in abject poverty and want of employment, which, as Sir Matthew Hale says, feed the gallows and the gibbet—if to these retrenchments were added, as I am persuaded there might then be, much of the expense the constabulatory establishment occasions, and no inconsiderable part of that of the standing army there, which are only present to put down those disorders which, as a late Secretary of Ireland has well observed, have constantly originated in local distress or oppression; you would gain millions by the change. You would gain more than those millions, in the peaceful and gratified demeanour of an affectionate peasantry; in their returning devotion to a country and a constitution which had considered them in their low estate, had relieved them in their distresses, and given them a heritage, however humble, in the land of their fathers. Nor would the advantages rest even here, great as these are; in giving employment to that idleness which is now sustained, and consumes, like a canker, the national resources—employment which would be rendered indispensable to any system of relief you would contemplate to introduce, and for which there is in Ireland a present sphere beyond any other country upon earth, you would develope the resources of the country, add to its free liberty, and multiply its wealth; and connect with all these mighty advantages a perpetuity of prosperity which nothing thenceforth could disturb or destroy. Under all these circumstances, and after mature deliberation, I have arrived at the conclusion that not only is a legal provision for the poor in Ireland the most necessary, but it would be the most beneficial of all measures that could be adopted. It would employ the idle, and raise the value of the labour of those employed, now so distressingly low; it would bestow quiet—it would ensure peace—nay, it would dimi- 1321 nish the expenditure, as well as the suffering and distress of the country; it would compel those to contribute to the relief of poverty who are the prime causes of its existence—the absentees; in one word, it would benefit equally every class of society, the benefactors and the benefitted; and, in the literal meaning of the term, it would be that mercy which is "twice blessed, which blesseth him who gives and him who takes." But the great, and indeed the only objection, worthy notice against the introduction of a Poor-law into Ireland, is this, that there is no machinery necessary to its due execution. But, Sir, I am fully persuaded that when this objection is duly considered, it will rise into an argument for the necessity of the measure. If it did not find that machinery, it would of necessity create it: it would either bring forth into active exertion those who are at present culpably negligent of their duties, or it would recal those who have deserted their country; and if their principles are ineffectual for that purpose, their own interests would be all powerful for its accomplishment, and the preservation and due administration of property would be the guarantee for the due discharge of those personal duties, when higher and worthier motives had been totally disregarded and ineffectual. But, Sir, let us hear no more of this want of machinery. When the work of exaction has to be perfected; when the demands of the landlord or the law have to be realized, then, indeed, the machinery is at hand, and it is omnipotent for its purpose; that when the work of mercy is to be accomplished, when the sufferings of humanity have to be assuaged, and the duties we owe to our fellow-beings discharged, there could be no machinery formed for this peaceful and merciful purpose is a perversion of language and an insult upon reason and common sense. Sir, the supposed absence of that machinery for this just and necessary purpose, which the enactment of Poor-laws for Ireland would either recal or create, is of itself no mean argument in favour of this just, merciful, and necessary measure. The moral police, which the system would inevitably establish, would of itself be worth all the expense it would involve. But, Sir, the assertion that there is no machinery for so great and beneficial a purpose as that now proposed, is an insult upon the entire country. That 1322 bravery which is the characteristic of Ireland assures us of its inseparable associate, compassion; and I hesitate not to say, that placed in the middle ranks of society in that country, the friends of mercy would be as religiously guarded, and as conscientiously appreciated, as they would be in any community upon earth. But to dismiss this, and many other objections, in order to attend to the only remaining one which I shall now notice, and which, however disguised, I believe to be the only substantial one which impedes the measure I wish to propose: it is the great and growing expense which it is believed this institution would demand, which constitutes the main objection to its introduction into Ireland. And, Sir, this paramount objection is grounded upon a gross misconception, as to the effect of the Poor-laws in a pecuniary point of view as it regards England. I had meant, Sir, to have entered into this part of the subject much at large, fully aware, as I am, of its importance to the argument. But I shall con-fine myself, in deference to the House and the fatigue I have already occasioned it, to a very few observations. And first, I utterly deny that the Poor-laws of England have occasioned a great and growing expense. I hold in my hand, Sir, ample and irrefragable evidence of that important fact; but I shall only glean a very few proofs. Soon after the establishment of our national charity, the expense of maintaining the poor equalled one-third of the public Revenue: it now amounts to one-ninth of it only. In 1680 the amount of the Poor-rates of England and Wales was still one-third of the Revenue, and bore the same proportion to the exports. In 1776 the same duty imposed upon us only an expense of one-fifth of the Revenue, and one-seventh of the exports; while now the same expense amounts to but one-eighth of the national revenue, and one-tenth of the exports, the same expense having, in the meantime, diminished, as calculated from 1818, above one million. It will be remarked that I have omitted the returns of pretended average amount in the years 1747, 1748, and 1749, though they have of late been constantly made the radix of the fallacious calculations that have been put forth, officially, or otherswise, on the subject; as it is a notorious and well-known fact, and one recorded in the histories and parliamentary proceedings of the time, that they were so grossly deficient, 1323 as to be utterly worthless.—Then, Sir, the number of the poor has been conformable to the same scale of calculation. In the latter part of the 17th century, Gregory King, one of the most accurate satistical writers this country ever produced, calculated their number, including children, at 900,000. They were in 1608, when the children were also included, increased by one-tenth only—a great relative diminution therefore. Advert to the difference in the population, and not a single word by way of comment is necessary. In a word, the expense occasioned by the poor, and the number of those chargeable, has ever been the fruitful topic of declamation; but when seriously and fairly considered, we must come to the conclusion of one of the most intelligent and laborious writers that ever discussed this important topic, who, after making his historical collections regarding them, occupying as they did three quarto volumes, comes to this conclusion.—The rise in the Poor-rates has not kept pace with other branches of national expenditure, or even with our increased ability to pay them. This opinion will be yet more striking, when it is considered that in the sums now set down as the charges of the poor, one-fourth at least ought to be put down as wages, owing to the pernicious system which now so generally prevails. I had meant, also, to have contrasted the system of sustaining the poor now established, with that of which it is plainly the substitute; but this also I will waive on the present occasion. I will only remark, that a legal provision for the relief of the distressed is coeval with our Constitution—that it so greatly augmented that the lands of the church and of the poor at length amounted to one-third of the property of the kingdom; that when the last Henry, by an act of wilful spoliation, unexampled in any previous age or country of the world, confiscated to his parasites and mercenaries those rights, he promised at the same time a better provision for the poor out of those spoils, as did the French revolutionists, but he performed it not, neither did they. After that confiscation, Sir, the destitute poor were destroyed by multitudes, above 70,000 perished by the hands of the executioner in his reign; and an almost equal proportion in those of his successors, till at length the Poor-laws of England were established, drawn up by Bacon, and his proudest and 1324 noblest work. The effect of this law we have delivered to us by an eye-witness of both systems, Michael Dalton, who wrote the legal text-book of that period, and who delivers to us, from his own experience, the infinite advantage to society from the introduction of the Poor-laws. Happy would it have been had they been introduced into Ireland, as a contemporary deeply deplored they were not. Then would the population of Ireland, which still is what that of England was then, in idleness, degradation, and destitution, have risen with ours in an equal degree of comfort, contentment, and happiness;—a population which, notwithstanding all the vituperation which has been levelled at it, is unrivalled either in intelligence, industry, morality, or benevolence, by any people upon earth. And, Sir, I demand in behalf of this people, as a measure of defence, that a provision for their poor brethren of Ireland should be established, and without delay. ["Question" from two or three Members.] Question! I will tell those Gentlemen what is the question, The question is the comfort, the support, nay, the very existence of the poor and destitute in Ireland, and if honourable Members can find avocations more worthy of legislators than the serious discussion of this question, they are at liberty to pursue them elsewhere. Sir, I am aware that I have urged my arguments feebly; that I have omitted others which I ought preferably to have advanced; but I have occupied the House long; and I am myself incapable of proceeding: I am urging no new factious, unconstitutional claims: I am proposing no untried and novel systems: I am demanding, in behalf of the people of Ireland, their real and substantial rights—that people whose whole condition you were last Session exhorted to take into your consideration. You have seen good to take from most of them their political privileges; accord to them their natural rights in the name of justice. In demanding this I am sanctioned by the principles of civilization, the feelings of humanity, the doctrines of revelation. I am asking it in the name of the people of the United Empire, who demand it, and in unison with that voice which, whatever it may be in other cases, is assuredly in this the voice of God! Sir, I think the character of this House is at stake, and I call upon it to act, regarding all classes of society with justice and impartiality. 1325 The claims of those who have served the public in high, honourable, and lucrative situations, have never been here disregarded. Ministers, Judges, Chancellors, and other servants of the Crown; all public officers, civil, military, or naval: all ministers of the Church, of every order and degree, are either secure of their remunerations, or of those retired allowances which are awarded to their possession. They may, and most of them actually have, private fortunes, yet the munificence of the country either allows them to occupy their offices for life, or awards to them ample retired allowances. Are these reckoned improper, immoral, degrading, when received by the wealthier classes of society? No. Vast as is the expense so occasioned, compared with the fewness of the numbers benefitted, as compared with those of the poor, these expenses occasion no murmurs,—Da pretori, da deinde tribuno, as of old,—but that the wretched should receive any thing; that the poor worn-out labourer, who has had the misfortune to survive his strength, should have a morsel from the fields which he may have tilled for half a century; or that a cripple, who has been maimed in the boasted manufactures of the country, should be allowed a few daily pence at the public cost—that, with our political economists, sacred and profane, is the supposed grievance; it is one, however, against which this House will never inveigh; it is one, I hope, trust, and firmly believe it will, to its immortal honour, be anxious, from every consideration, whether of policy or justice, to extend to Ireland. No, Sir, the Parliament of this country, which has at all times, and in this Session, satisfied under such considerations the claims of the more elevated applicants, will not, cannot, refuse to helpless indigence, when it can labour no longer, the little pittance which justice and mercy equally demand in its behalf. But, Sir, I confidently anticipate a better course from this House. I trust, I believe, it will justify that character which it has on all great occasions hitherto exhibited; and in which it has through life been my pride to regard it. When did it happen that this branch of the Legislature, calumniated as it has been, failed to justify its title of the best friend to the real rights and interests of the people? when has it not preferably leaned to the weakest and supported the feeblest who bad justice 1326 on their side? Sir, a short time has elapsed since this House, which had long before swept from these shores the very sight and contamination of slavery, recognized, by a great and godlike act, unexampled by any previous legislative assembly in any age of the world, and in spite of national interests and remonstrances, the liberty of one quarter of the world, and became the armed champion of the un-happiest of mankind. Long before then, Sir, when public opinion was little known, and the popular voice was never heard; when no Press existed to watch its proceedings, and to control its course, Parliament provided for the poor; let the present one complete that great work, and in extending the provision of that act to Ireland, thereby secure to that country its future happiness and prosperity. Then will the glory of the country be complete, and this House will redeem itself from that imputed indifference to the rights and interests of the poor with which it is too often accused: then may every Briton adopt the exulting language of a hero of antiquity, as paraphrased by one of our own poets, and apply it to his own happy country to its utmost possible extent—Safe in the love of heaven an ocean flowsAround our realm, a barrier from the foes;'Tis ours the sons of sorrow to relieve,Cheer the sad heart, nor let affliction grieve,By Jove the stranger and the poor are sent,And what to these we give to Jove is lent.Sir, the poor of Ireland are this night at the bar of this Imperial Parliament. Many of the wealthy lean to these claims, and now are most anxious to concede them. The interests of the country demand a concession of those humble rights which have been already recognized in every civilized country upon earth. An act of mercy and justice can never be contrary to the dictates of true policy: it is one which our consciences dictate; which the public voice demands: and which, sooner or later, must be conceded, even if now refused. May we better consult what is due to our character, to our constituents, and to justice itself, and not record our verdict against justice and mercy, because it is found in the garb of poverty and distress. If I could, therefore, bring before this House those wretched objects who so loudly claim our consideration and relief, if I could bid them,Come like shadows, so depart,Show their eyes, and grieve their heart—then, Sir, I am sure their claims would be 1327 instantly conceded; and, more than this, if it were possible, by an act of prescience, to summon forth those miserable victims of suffering and poverty which the further withholding of so just and necessary a law will as surely occasion, as the want of one in previous times has already occasioned—the sorrow, destitution, and death that will be the inevitable result of our longer neglect, with the deeper anguish which the survivors will have to endure; then, Sir, can any one who bears the human form refuse his vote on this occasion? Should we do this, there is an eye to witness these sufferings, a Being who will record them; and who will not hold him guiltless, who, seeing his brother have need, and knowing that he will require assistance, shutteth up his bowels of compassion against him; and all from a deep and doubtful speculation, founded, as I contend, upon the grossest error and delusion, that the measure proposed may possibly diminish the revenue of the most affluent part of the community. Sir, I hope better things of this Parliament, whose date is almost run, on the most favourable principle of anticipation; but, on other grounds to which it is deeply painful to allude, though it is not unappropriate on this touching occasion to do so, we know too well, that, as a Parliament, our days are numbered. May we illustrate the remaining span by an act of mercy, which shall immortalize this Session, and render it, in one of its terminating acts, worthy the gratitude and admiration of posterity." The hon. Member concluded by stating, that he should, as a preliminary to a general measure for bettering the condition of the labouring classes of the kingdom, move that the following Resolution should be adopted by the House:—"That it is the opinion of this House, that the establishment of a system of Poor-laws, on the principle of that of the 43rd of Queen Elizabeth, with such alterations and improvements as the alterations in the times, and the difference in the circumstances of England and Ireland may demand, is expedient, and necessary to the interests and welfare of both countries."
§ On the question being put,
Lord F. L. Gower
rose, to oppose the Motion, which he did not mean to do, he said, with any asperity of language or feeling, though he had much reason to complain of the hon. Member's course of proceeding. He had no other means of judg- 1328 ing what motions were to be submitted to the House, but the notices on the Order Book; and certainly, when he saw a notice of a motion for leave to bring in a bill to improve the condition of the Poor of the British Empire, he did not expect that it would fall to his lot to be obliged to oppose a resolution to extend the Poor-laws to Ireland. But after the hon. Member had devoted much time to the subject, and had gone much at length into it, in a diffusive speech, he had not grappled with the difficulty—he had not proposed a practical measure, showing all the machinery and instruments, and how they were to work, by which his scheme of Poor-laws could be carried into execution in Ireland. Instead of a practical detailed measure, he had come forward with a mere resolution, for which he could not expect to receive the support of the House. If there were no other objection to that resolution, he should find one in the fact, that a committee was already sitting to inquire into the state of the poor in Ireland; and if the hon. Member thought the inquiries of that committee worthless, as compared with his own lucubrations, he could have no objection to the hon. Member submitting his views to the House; but the House would only act in common justice and fairness to that committee, if it withheld its support from the resolution proposed by the hon. Member, till after the committee had made its report. He must beg, out of deference to that committee, to forbear entering into the hon. Member's speech. Such an attempt would impose upon him the task of discussing the very able but conflicting evidence adduced before the committee to which he had alluded. It was on this simple ground that he declined accepting the challenge of the hon. member for Newark. The hon. Member had appealed strongly to the feelings of the House, as to whether Gentlemen would not endeavour to relieve the distresses of their fellow-creatures; but the question was, whether there existed any chance of the Legislature being able, by the means which he proposed, to confer any practical benefit upon the community. He doubted the advantage of the hon. Member's plan. It did appear to him, that those who hesitated as to its efficacy in alleviating the misfortunes of the lower orders, were not unreasonable. If the hon. Member's system would remove the poverty of Ireland, and prevent the inconveniences arising from 1329 the fluctuations of the seasons, let it be adopted; but he very much doubted the efficiency of any scheme of Poor-laws in these respects. Instead of removing unpleasant feelings between two classes of society in Ireland, it was to be feared that the introduction of Poor-laws would have a contrary effect, and establish sentiments and feelings, such as at present existed between the pauper and overseer in this country,—feelings which it was well known were not of the most enviable description. Not being disposed, however, to controvert all the hon. Member's statements, and thinking it only due to the committee sitting to inquire into the propriety of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland, that the House should come to no such resolution as that proposed by the hon. Member, till that committee had made its report, he should move the previous question.
§ Mr. Trant
observed, that the constitution of that committee, from which the member for Wicklow had been excluded, who had first brought the subject of the Poor-laws for Ireland under the notice of the House was such, that it was plain that the consideration of the propriety of adopting Poor-laws for Ireland was excluded from its inquiries. He thanked his hon. friend, therefore, for having brought the question before the House with such great ability.
Mr. W. Horton
complained of having been kept in town by the hon. Member having given notice of a general bill for the relief of the poor, which had turned out to be nothing more than a Resolution relative to Poor-laws for Ireland. The hon. Member admitted the necessity of making the poor provident, and he proposed to do this by supplying their wants, whether they were provident or not. Nothing but inconvenience could be expected from adopting the Resolution, till the report of the committee was made, and, therefore, he should oppose the motion.
Mr. S. Rice
would not detain the House if it were not that, were he not to say one word, he would seem to acquiesce in what had been said against the committee, which he, as an humble individual, had procured to be appointed. He was bound to defend that committee from the observations of the hon. member for Dover. It was a very fair committee; and one of the names he had placed on it was that of the hon. member for Newark, and he had only 1330 withdrawn it at the request of the hon. Member himself. Knowing that the hon. Member had paid great attention to the subject of Ireland, he had afterwards asked him to come before that committee as a witness, which he would not attend as a Member, but the hon. Member also returned a negative to that proposal. The hon. Member would attend that committee neither as a witness nor a Member, but he gave notice this day of a bill, which at best was only calculated to raise exaggerated hopes, which he had neither intelligence nor means to carry into effect; but instead even of this bill, he came down to the House and proposed a Resolution, different from his notice. There was not a proposition made to improve any part of the English Poor-laws, that was not first of all discussed in a committee; but the hon. Member came at once, and asked the House to pledge itself to a Resolution, of which he had given no notice, or rather such a delusive notice that no man could be prepared to expect his Resolution. Were the House to pre-judge the question by voting for that Resolution, it would not act consistently towards the committee it had appointed to inquire into the subject, and therefore he should oppose the Resolution.
§ Mr. J. Grattan
said, from the speech of the hon. member for Limerick, when he proposed the committee, as well as from the persons of whom it was composed, ten or eleven out of the twelve Members having expressed themselves hostile to the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, he certainly thought that the committee was appointed to make out a case against adopting Poor-laws in Ireland. Being of that opinion, he thanked his hon. friend for the Motion; and should he persist in dividing the House on it, he would certainly vote with him, though he must say, that he did not expect from his hon. friend's notice, a motion of that nature. He was satisfied that Poor-laws must ultimately be adopted in Ireland, and therefore he would support the Motion.
§ Sir R. Wilson
thought the hon. member for Newark was perfectly justified in bringing forward his Resolution at that period of the Session, in order to allay the apprehensions which were entertained on the subject. In his opinion there must, sooner or later, be a provision, in the nature of Poor-laws, for the people of Ireland.
§ Mr. W. Duncombe
contended, that the 1331 noble Lord (Gower) had given no sufficient answer to the arguments of the hon. member for Newark. He was surprised to hear him say, that he was not aware of what was to be the nature of the Motion, for his honourable friend, the member for Newark, had distinctly stated, in answer to a question by that noble Lord, that his motion would be to recommend the introduction of a modified system of Poor-laws into Ireland.
thought the time was not distant, when they should be compelled to apply to Ireland a system of Poor-laws, but a system very different from that in force in England. The question, however, required the most mature deliberation; and as there was a committee sitting at present to inquire into the subject, he was disposed to await the result of its labours before he assented to any proposition such as that of the hon. member for Newark. He felt it necessary to say this, that his vote might not be mistaken.
§ Mr. Sadler
said, he wished to offer a few observations in reply to what fell from the noble Lord opposite, in reference to his not having more distinctly specified the nature of his Motion when he gave notice of it. The fact was, that he (Mr. S.) was proceeding to explain the course which he meant to pursue, and that it was his intention to propose, in the first place, the introduction of a system of national charity into Ireland, when on that occasion he was interrupted by a call to order, otherwise he should have opened his intentions on that occasion most fully. He begged leave, however, to remind the noble Lord, that when so interrupted, and he was sure most properly, he immediately went and acquainted him, most distinctly, of his intention. He had again, as his hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire, had mentioned, explained his intention that day week. So much for his not having given due notice,—an answer which might apply equally to the remarks of the right hon. member for Newcastle, as well as to those of the noble Lord. Then as to the remark that the national charity of the Poor-law being not deserving of the name, because it was not voluntary, he begged leave to deny that position. As it respected the legislative 1332 acts of this House, whether in originating that law, or continuing it in operation, it had the merit of an optional act; and deserved, as such, all the eulogiums that had been pronounced upon it by a celebrated member of the legal profession, who described that charity as the means of drawing down the special favour of Heaven upon the nation which had adopted it. And would it not, said the hon. Member, be to all intents and purposes a voluntary boon, if extended at this moment to the poor of Ireland, and accepted by them as such. But as to the voluntary charity so much preferred, this optional relief so much eulogized, of what avail had that been on the last calamitous occasion he had been referring to. The Bishop of Limerick had informed a committee of the other House, that at that period, when the distresses of the Irish awakened the universal sympathies of the empire, and pressing applications were made to the proprietors of property of near 100,000l. per annum rental, 83l. only were obtained. So much, said the hon. Member, for optional relief as a safe substitute for a legal one. The hon. Member next adverted to what had fallen from the member for Limerick. It was true that he had been asked to be upon the committee; but after hearing what might be called the charge given to that committee by the right. hon. Secretary for the Home Department, and the speech of the chairman (Mr. Spring Rice) both, as he understood them, adverse to the only measure which could afford permanent and real relief to the distressed poor of Ireland, and especially that of the latter; when he looked to the construction of that committee, a majority of which were avowed opponents of the very principle of establishing Poor-laws in Ireland, he felt himself justified in refusing to be upon that committee, or giving evidence before it, certain as he felt as to the nature of the conclusion at which they would arrive; that, in fact, being settled a forehand. He did refuse to enlist under the banners of the hon. member for Limerick, conscious as he was, that he should have been a dissentient from his opinion and his report; and could only have served the purpose of making a sham fight upon the occasion, for the purpose of being dragged afterwards, as in triumph, at the hon. Member's chariot wheels. As to committees, he did not know that the circumstance of their appointment, especially for adverse purposes, 1333 ought to induce him to abandon the course which his duty and conscience clearly dictated. Many committees, it was true, had already sat upon the subject, and professed to take into consideration the state of Ireland; but hitherto those committees had given rise to nothing except expense, authorising individuals to dip their hands deep into the public purse, to exonerate wealth from the discharge of the duties it owed to the poor and to the public. He repeated that he had no confidence in the committee alluded to, and prognosticated most confidently, that it would decide against the claims which he had thought it his duty to advance.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
disapproved of the proposition for adopting Poor-laws in Ireland, when they gave so little satisfaction in their method of working in this country. He recommended his hon. friend to withdraw his Motion.