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a-year, after conferring together respecting the plenty or scarcity of the time,” to fix the wages. Persons directly or indirectly paying more, are to be punished by imprisonment and fine; persons receiving more, by imprisonment. No person is to depart from one parish to another, or from one hundred or county to serve in another hundred or county, without a license from the local authorities.
When we recollect that disobedience to these enactments exposed a man or a woman to be included in the proscribed class of vagabonds, punishable by whipping, branding, slavery, and death, it must be admitted that, whatever might be the practice, the law gave little freedom to the laboring classes.
The 14th Eliz. cap. 5, (1572,) carried on the same legislation against the able-bodied, merely aggravating the penalty, by subjecting the offenders (that is, all persons who would not work for what the justices should think reasonable wages) to whipping and burning for the first offence, and to the penalties of felony for the second. It made a further approach to the present system, by directing the fund "for setting to work the rogues and vagabonds," and relieving the impotent, to be raised by a general assessment.
Twenty-five years afterwards, the two acts of the 39th Eliz. cap. 3 and 4, were passed, which for the first time divided into separate statutes the punishment of the ablebodied, and the relief of the impotent. By the second of these acts, vagabonds (including, we repeat, persons able to labor, having no lord or master, not using any lawful employments, and laborers refusing to work for common wages) are to be whipped, but not branded, and sent back to their parishes : if they appear to be such as will not be reformed, they are to be transported, or adjudged perpetually to the galleys.
The other act, the 39th Eliz. cap. 3, differs so slightly from the 43d Eliz. cap. 2, that it requires no further attention.
The 43d of Eliz. directs, that the church wardens and two or more householders, to be appointed by the justices, shall take order, with the consent of the justices, for setting to work children, and all persons having no means to maintain themselves, and using no ordinary or daily trade of life to get their living by; and to raise a fund by taxation of the inhabitants for such setting to work, and for the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, and blind poor not able to work. And the justices are directed to send to the House of Correction, or common jail, “such as shall not employ themselves to work, being appointed thereunto as aforesaid.”
It appears from this statement, that the 43d of Elizabeth deserves neither the praise nor the blame which have been lavished on it. So far from having been prompted by benevolence, it was a necessary link in one of the heaviest chains in which a people calling itself free has been bound. It was part of a schemė prosecuted for centuries, in defiance of reason, justice, and humanity, to reduce the laboring classes to serfs, to imprison them in their parishes, and to dictate to them their employments and their wages. Of course, persons confined to certain districts by penalties of whipping, mutilation, and death, must be supported; and, if they were capable of labor, it was obvious that they ought to be made to contribute to the expense of their maintenance.
Thence arose the provisions for relieving the impotent, and setting to work the able-bodied. But these provisions do not, on the other hand, deserve the censure passed on them by the Committee of the House of Commons in 1817. They were not of a nature to induce the industrious to relax their efforts. They held out no temptations to idleness. The able-bodied, who were the objects of the 43d Elizabeth, were those who, having no means to maintain themselves, used no ordinary and daily trade of life to get their living by;” such persons were, by the previous acts, criminals; the work to which they were to be put was forced work; and if they did not employ themselves in it, “being thereunto appointed as aforesaid,” the justices were to commit them to jail. The industrious laborer was not within the spirit or the words of the act. This was, indeed, the complaint of Lord Hale: “The plaster,” says his Lordship, “is not so large as the sore. There are many poor who are able to work if they had it, and had it at reasonable wages, whereby they might support themselves and their families. These are not within the provisions of the law.”*
And it was long before the legislature assented to any extension of the 43d Elizabeth. The 8th and 9th Will. III. cap. 30, passed nearly a century afterwards, “ To the intent that the money raised only for the relief of such as are impotent as well as poor, may not be misapplied," requires all persons receiving relief, and their families, to wear a badge, containing a large Roman P, and the first letter of the name of the parish from which they received relief; the object being not, as has been supposed, to degrade the pauper, but to afford an easy means of detecting the overseer who had relieved an able-bodied person.
* See Lord Hale’s paper at length, in “Burn's History of the Poor Laws," p. 144.
The oppressive legislation of the Plantagenets and Tudors was . unsuccessful. The provisions on which its efficacy depended, namely, the regulation of wages by the justices, the punishment of those who refused to work for such wages, or who paid more than such wages, and the punishment of those who left their parishes without license, became gradually obsolete. Legally considered, they remained in force until the present century. Sir Frederic Eden has collected regulations of wages by the justices, from the 35th of Eliz. (1593) down to 1725. And the last which he gives, that regulating wages for the county of Lancaster in 1725, contains an exposition of the law by the justices, in the spirit of the times of Henry VIII. or Elizabeth: “That the transgressors may be inexcusable when punished, we, the said justices, publish these denunciations, penalties, punishments, and forfeitures which the statutes impose. No servant that hath been in service before, ought to be retained without a testimonial that he or she is legally licensed to depart, and at liberty to serve elsewhere, to be registered with the minister of the parish whence the servant departs. The master retaining a servant without such testimonial forfeits five pounds. The person wanting such testimonial shall be imprisoned till he procure it. If he do not produce one within twenty-one days, to be whipped as a vagabond. The person that gives more wages than is
appointed by the justices shall forfeit five pounds, and be imprisoned ten days; the servant that takes more to be imprisoned twenty-one days. Every promise or gift whatever to the contrary shall be void. We, the said justices, shall make strict enquiries, and see the defaults against these ancient and useful statutes severely corrected and punished.”
Free society is a recent and small experiment. The English Poor Laws and the English poor, constitute its only history; for only in England has the experiment been made on a large scale for several centuries. If we have not proved its total and disastrous failure in England, in our Sociology, and in this chapter, we are resolved to prove it before we have done.
It is a favorite political maxim of Englishmen, that taxation and representation should go hand in hand; and that none shall be taxed without their own consent. Yet in Great Britain, the working men, who
pay every cent of tax, are not represented at all, have no vote in elections, and are taxed without and against their own consent; whilst the capitalist class, who pay no taxes, but, as Gerrit Smith truly says, are the mere conduits, that pass them from the laborers to the government. This vampire capitalist class impose all the taxes, and pay none. Alas! poor human nature! It is ever grasping at truth, and hugging itself.