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(1389), the 13th Rich. II. was passed; which directs the justices of every county to make proclamation every half year, at their discretion, according to the price of food, what wages every artificer and laborer shall receive by the day. This act, with some intervals, during which the legislature attempted itself to fix the prices of labor, remained substantially in force until the present century. A further attempt to reduce husbandry laborers to a hereditary caste of serfs, was made by the 7th Hen. IV. cap. 17, (1405,) which, after reciting that the provisions of the former acts were evaded by persons apprenticing their children to crafts in towns--so that there is such a scarcity of husbandry laborers that gentlemen are impoverished-forbids persons not having 20s. a-year in land to do so, under penalty of a year's imprisonment.
It appears, however, that the laborers did not readily submit to the villenage to which the law strove to reduce them; for from this time the English statute book is deformed by the enactments against able-bodied persons leaving their homes, or refusing to work at the wages offered to them, or loitering, (that is to say, professing to be out of work,) which, to use the words of Dr. Burn, “make this part of English history look like the history of the savages in America. Almost all the severities have been inflicted, except scalping."* A new class of criminals, designated by the terms "sturdy rogues" and "vagabonds," was created. Among these were included idle and suspect persons, living suspiciously.† Persons having no land or craft whereby they get their living.* Idle persons calling themselves serving-men, having no masters. Persons who, after having been sent home, absent themselves from such labor as they shall be appointed to.7 Able-bodied poor persons who do not apply themselves to some honest labor or other; or serve even for meat and drink, if nothing more is to be obtained. I Persons able to labor, not having land or master, nor using any lawful employment. Laborers using loitering, and refusing to work for reasonable wages.
* History of the Poor Laws, p. 120.
+ 11 Hen. VII. cap. 2. * 22 Hen. VIII. cap. 12. † 27 Hen. VIII. cap. 25. $1 Ed. VI. cap. 3. & 3 and 4 Ed. VI. cap. 16. 14 Eliz. cap. 5. 39 Eliz. cap. 4.
The first attempt on the part of a person dependent on his labor for his support to assert free agency, by changing his abode, or by making a bargain for his services, or even by refusing to work for “bare meat and drink,” rendered him liable to be whipped and sent back to his place of birth, or last residence, for three years; or, according to some statutes, for one year, there to be at the disposal of the local authorities. The second attempt subjected him, at one time, to slavery for life, “to be fed on bread and water and refuse meat, and caused to work by beating, chaining, or otherwise;" and for the third, he was to suffer death as a felon.
We have seen that the 12th Rich. II. required the impotent poor to remain for life where they were found at the proclamation of the act, or at the places of their birth. The subsequent statutes require them to proceed either to their places of birth, or last places of residence, for three years. The law assumed, as we have already remarked, that they would be supported there by voluntary alms; and as respects the able-bodied, it assumed that an able-bodied slave, for such the laborer given up to the local authorities was, could always be made worth his maintenance; that maintenance being, of course, the lowest that could keep him in working order. It appears, however, that casual alms were found an insufficient, or an inconvenient provision for the impotent; that the local authorities were not sufficiently severe taskmasters of the able-bodied; and that the keeping them at work required some fund, by way of capital. The 27th Hen. VIII. cap. 25, (1,36,) therefore, requires the parishes to which the able-bodied should be sent, "to keep them to continual labor in such wise that they may get their own living by the continual labor of their own hands;" on pain that every parish making default shall forfeit twenty shillings a-month. It directs the churchwardens, and two others of every parish, to collect alms and broken meat, to be employed in supporting the impotent poor, and "setting and keeping to work the sturdy vagabonds ;” and forbids other almsgiving, on pain of forfciting ten times the amount. This is the first attempt at making charity legal and systematic; and it was obviously a part of the scheme for confining the laboring population to their own parishes. It seems to have been supposed that voluntary alms, systematically distributed, would provide wholly for the impotent, and form a fund which, aided by the fruits of their forced labor, would
support the “sturdy vagabonds;" and, therefore, that no one could have an excuse for changing his residence.
In the early part of Elizabeth's reign was passed a statute, 5th Eliz. cap. 3, (1562) inflicting the usual penalties, whipping, slavery, and death, on sturdy vagabonds; that is to say, on those who, having no property but their labor, presumed to act as if they had a right to dispose of it; and containing the usual provisions for confining the impotent poor to their parishes. In one respect, however, it was a great step in advance; for it contains for the first time a provision enabling the justices to tax, at their discretion, those who refused to contribute to the relief of the impotent and the keeping at work the ablebodied. Concurrently with this statute, and indeed as a part of it, for it is the next chapter on the roll of parliament, was passed the 5th Eliz. cap. 4. This statute requires all persons brought up to certain specified trades, at that time the principal trades of the country, and not possessed of property, or employed in husbandry, or in a gentleman's service, to continue to serve in such trades; and orders that all other persons, between twelve years old and sixty, not being gentlemen, or students in a school or university, or entitled to property, and not engaged in maritime or mining operations, be compelled to serve in husbandry with any person that will require such person to serve, within the same county. Females, in corporate towns, between the ages of twelve and forty, and unmarried, are to be disposed of in service by the corporate authorities, at such wages, and in such sort and manner, as the authorities think meet. The hours of work are fixed by the statute; and the justices are, twice
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,