Summary: An article from The Atlantic Monthly that examines current attitudes about poverty and public assistance in the late 1880's in the U.S., France, Germany, and England.
The Pauper Question
by D. 0. Kellogg
The Atlantic Monthly. (Volume 51, Issue 307, May 1883)
An article from The Atlantic Monthly that examines current attitudes about poverty and public assistance in the late 1880's in the U.S., France, Germany, and England.
THE labors of Henry Ozanam in Paris, of Edward Denison and Octavia Hill in London, of Daniel von der Heydt in Elberfeld, of Charles L. Brace and Mrs. Charles R. Lowell in New York, embracing diverse fields of action, have aroused a new interest in social problems, because they have animated the benevolent with the hope that the evils of pauperism and crime are not ineradicable. These names are but representative of a long list of persons, whose disinterested zeal and intelligence have adorned the age with examples of the noblest humanity. By a law of compensation which seems always to work in human affairs, as the industrial reconstruction of society, consequent upon discoveries in science and their application in arts, went on, invading and overturning old relations and habits, there sprang up a race of philanthropists to meet this moral confusion by reknitting the ties which hold all parts of the community in healthful social order.
A characteristic of modern benevolence is its recognition of the solidarity of human society. By virtue of this fact, man can no longer be regarded as a self-poised, isolated unit, whose character is the result of his own determination, but as the creature of his environment. Two fruitful inferences proceed from this principle: first, the inadequacy of mere physical instrumentalities to work a change in the condition of the debased, since these do not reach their fellowships; and secondly, the complicity of society in the evils of its wretched classes. Outlawry is a fiction; the word of the magistrate cannot undo the deed of God. For weal or harm, every living soul is an integral part of society; his deterioration is a disorder in the whole body. Probably these conclusions have not been formulated in the minds of many wise and effective disciples of charity, but they emerge none the less from all careful investigations into the situation and requirements of the miserable, and they are disclosed in the strenuous efforts of thoughtful philanthropists to reform the institutions and methods of the community, as an indispensable prerequisite to the reformation of persons. Let this contrast serve for an illustration: Professor Fawcett, in his work on Pauperism, tells us that an English landlord, desirous of improving the character of his agricultural tenants, whose bestiality was attributed to overcrowding, enlarged his cottages by adding rooms, so that the family could separate into decent privacy. Instead of doing this, however, his tenants sublet the new rooms, and thus increased the evils. These laborers were not conscious of any wants which could not be satisfied by herding in a single room. Their character was unchanged, and a mere mechanical improvement in their surroundings could not alter their habits. If Miss Octavia Hill met with better results in Barrett's Court, she was not less convinced than the landlord mentioned that no reformation was practicable among the objects of her solicitude, until their habitations were suited to good manners, and reflected upon them the standards of respectable society. But she knew equally well that her presence must enforce a decent discipline, and link her wards to a higher order of feeling and motive, or her tenants would go on as of old, turning the passage-ways into receptacles of garbage, and hewing the staircases into fire-wood. Miss Hill's success grew out of the recognition of two facts: the complicity of society in the degradation of her wards, and their capacity to respond to moral influences. They were the victims of neglect, and hence worse sufferers in character than in circumstances; but they were also human souls, susceptible to the order and beauty of discipline, when it was presented by one whose trained faculties attached her in a hundred joyous, honorable ways to that society which discipline unites and regally endows.
The proper mode of dealing with pauperism is involved with various propositions for remodeling existing systems of charity. Were poverty and misfortune identical with pauperism, no vexatious question would arise to perplex a conscientious benevolence. Technically, the pauper is simply a person who has become dependent on the community. But a vast deal more is attached to the terra in every mind. There is a type of character implied in it. A grave change, indeed, must have gone on in individual character before a persons private trials can become subjects of public concern. Mere poverty does not dissolve those ties of kindred and acquaintance which avail for even the severest misfortunes of life. A man loses his place in society, with its kindly ministries of goodwill, and becomes an object of public relief by the decay of those finer qualities which render man a social being and not a brute, and the community a society and not a herd. Pauperism is an anti-social condition, and that is a moral state. It is the nearest approach to actual outlawry that human nature can exhibit. If we may pronounce the judgment which Mr. R. L. Dugdale only suggests in his pamphlet, The Jukes, which is a study of hereditary pauperism pursued through six generations, embracing several hundreds of descendants of the same stock, pauperism involves a deeper incapacity to sustain social relations than crime. It is a lower abyss of physical and mental inaptitude, and, consequently, it is more incorrigible. It is doubtful if any class of unfortunates, whether reduced by the hand of God, as the old phrase ran, or by vice, can escape the taint of spiritual debasement, when they become objects of public and official relief.
Inasmuch as a frightful chasm lies between that position where a man is sustained by those resources of industry, thrift, affection, and esteem which centre legitimately in himself, and that wherein these are all dried up and public relief takes their place, the attention of social economists has long been directed towards the danger of offering facilities for crossing the chasm to those who are tempted to take the step by the pressure of poverty, a danger which is enhanced by the fact that the temptation appeals to those who have the fewest safeguards of intelligence and self respect. It is widely felt that public charity does present such facilities, and that it is a source of corruption, unless accompanied by provisions for restricting it to unavoidable suffering. Some of the humanest spirits, who have sacrificed themselves without reservation to charitable labors, even sympathetic women, through the secret chambers of whose heart the cry of pain went vibrating like a trumpet-blast from heaven, summoning them to duty, have regarded the prodigal relief of the present day as a source of no less mischief than intemperance. This opinion stands on record in a most emphatic way. Lord Grey's reform of the English poor law in 1834 was preceded by the most thorough scrutiny ever made of the pauper system of that country, by a parliamentary commission. It resulted in the creation of a national board of commissioners, who were to give effect to the changes deemed necessary. After several years experience, in the midst of a succession of bad harvests, and when the accompanying pressure of disordered markets had spread distress over the whole realm, the commissioners said, in their report to Parliament in 1839, all poor laws are in their essence impolitic and uncalled for, and that, consequently, their abolition ought to he the ultimate object of any changes that may be made, an object, however, that cannot be attained without being preceded by several years of careful preparation for it.
For the reasons now alleged, much criticism has turned upon the system of legal relief practiced in England and America. One feature of it is generally reprobated by thoughtful men, and that is the out-door relief administered by overseers or guardians of the poor. The suppression of this form of assistance is the first step urged, but it is only a first step. Still further measures would undoubtedly follow, and indeed they are already set on foot, but their efficiency is hindered by the distribution of public doles. Little reflection is needed to perceive that this simple reform aims at a vast deal more than the relief of the taxpayer from an insufficient burden; at more even than a withdrawal of a limited amount of temptation from the poor. It is designed to be the entering wedge of a system of effective action. The corner stone of that system is the discrimination between real and simulated destitution, with a practical control of those who become the wards of charity. Should outdoor legal relief be abolished, it would then be possible to erect an English system which should incorporate the best features of French and German charity.
A comparison of the three systems will go far to show what amendments the administration of poor relief in America requires. For this purpose European experience is especially valuable for us, since nearly all the States of our Union have imported the English plan and theory of official charity, without much scrutiny, and with all their defects. Besides this, the information concerning pauperism in Europe is much more thorough and systematic than with us.
The English scheme of poor relief lies in confusion. Until Lord Grey's government, the justices of the peace had authority to order pauper relief at their discretion. There was no uniformity of method observed in the realm, but each parish was at liberty to pursue its own counsels. The local officers had some ground for prodigality in the standard set up by a statute of 1796, which directed the public pauper to be maintained in a state of comfort. Poor-houses, built under the Elizabethan statute of 1601, existed in most parishes, but they were designed only for impotent folk. At the beginning of the present century pauperism increased with great rapidity, and in some seventeen years the ratepayers burden was doubled, a tax that in some instances amounted to a confiscation of ratable property. Whether as a consequence or a cause of this increase, the justices of the peace had adopted the expedient of making allowances from the parish treasury for insufficient wages, and bad fixed a standard to which the weekly income of paupers should be raised out of the rates. They justified this course by the argument that it was cheaper to provide a partial than an entire maintenance for the dependents upon the parish. The effect was disastrous, for it appeared in the genera1 reduction of wages, which brought the most industrious to the brink of starvation, and destroyed the motive of self-support.
When the ruinous nature of this method was brought to light by a parliamentary investigation which occupied four years, Lord Grey carried an amendment to the poor law through the legislature, which stripped the local justices of the power to order relief, created a national board of commissioners, with district commissioners under them, and ordered the erection of work-houses in every parish, or authorized union of parishes. It was the intention of the framers of this amendment to confine all relief to inmates of the work-house, except in cases of peculiar emergency. The parish officers were to see that work was provided for and secured from all the inmates who were capable of performing it, especially able-bodied dependents. Those who would not accept this mode of relief were to be held as not sufficiently pinched by want to be objects of official aid. This is the famous but neglected work-house test of England. Its character and issue were tersely stated by Mr. Edward Denison in 1869, the year previous to his death: The framers of the poor law of 1834 never seriously considered how they could find work for the destitute. They only wanted a disagreeable and deterrent occupation. Their principle was to offer board and lodging in the work-house to all who would take it; the only further consideration being how to make the recipients condition so uncomfortable that he would avoid it as long as he could, and get out of it on the first opportunity. Possibly this system, thoroughly and universally enforced by able administrators, would have stamped out pauperism altogether, to the infinite advantage of the whole laboring class. But the law never was in harmony with public opinion; it was very partially and negligently executed, and of course broke down. The poor law of 1834 has practically been repealed long ago. Four causes wrecked the plans of Lord Grey's government: the recalcitrancy of the parish authorities, who would not follow the instructions of the board of commissioners; the distress consequent upon the bad harvests of 1837-39, and upon the commercial depression of that period; the sundering of families in the work-house; and the lack of proper discrimination between helpless and able-bodied inmates. One building and one administration were offered to the infant and the idle, to the aged and the vagabond, to the deserted mother and the penniless inebriate, to the blind or maimed and the street beggar. Two incompatible designs were to be pursued under one roof. The same institution was to be a hospital for the helpless and ah agency for repressing importunity. Humanity lay behind one part of the scheme, and suspicion behind the other. Occupation meant to be deterrent in one ward could not he regarded as honorable in another. The work-house dress and discipline confounded the impotent with the vagabond. Misfortune wore the badge of vice. Of course, in such an institution, the natural associations of the family must be broken up by artificial classifications. Parents are sundered from children, husbands from wives, brothers from sisters, a separation which is the bane of institutional life. The one cause rendered the workhouse unpopular, while the other rendered its repressive design fruitless. The general commissioners were not clothed with authority over the parish guardians, whose administration still managed the tax-rate, and distributed its proceeds. Local self-sufficiency and usage met the intervention of a national committee with jealousy and obstinacy, as if it were an impertinence. Then, the quick succession of general distress compelled the commissioners to relax their instructions, and in three or four years after the poor law was amended there were in England seven out-door beneficiaries of the parish-rate to one inmate of the work-houses, a proportion which has been maintained ever since with disheartening monotony. The sequel is thus narrated by Edward Denison : The guardians, with short-sighted economy, knowing that the fewer the inmates of the work-house the smaller their expenses, neglected to offer the work-house when they ought to have offered it, and got into a way of giving small doles of out-door relief to those whom they knew they ought to have admitted. Once embarked on the system of giving out-door relief, without the application of either work-house or labor test, there was naturally no end to it. They had taken the lock off the door; they had no means of discriminating the applicants. These, of course, became more and more numerous, as it became evident that any one might get relief, if he were lucky, deserving or undeserving. Then, having voluntarily pulled down the barrier which excluded only the unworthy, they were at length, in self-defense, compelled to put up another of some sort, and they put up one which excluded all alike, or, at least, let no more than half in. They gave so little relief that it was a mere mockery. Then in comes public benevolence, says the poor law has broken down, and does its best to make a real break-down of it. That, in my view, is the history of the matter. To this statement he adds his opinion, formed when he was living in Philpot Street, at the East End of London, whither he went to obtain by daily contact with it some clear insight into the nature of pauperism: The remedy is to bring back the poor law to the spirit of its institution.? The same conclusion had been reached by Sir Charles Trevelyan, a coadjutor of Denisons in philanthropic endeavor, and one of the most patient students of this social problem in England. It is shared by Professor Fawcett, the present postmaster general of the realm. And it has also recently been proposed by Mr. Seth Low, the mayor of Brooklyn, before a conference of charities held in Boston; and his intelligent devotion to the cause of the poor in his native city attracted to him that attention which raised him to civi5 honors, usually reserved, not for riper, but for more protracted years.
How exactly this brief account is paralleled by our American States! New York, for example, by a statute which Mr. Low thinks to be as nearly perfect as can be, but which, unhappily, has been much disregarded, restricts out-door relief, to quote Mr. Lows words again, to persons not in a condition to be removed to the poor-house, and in cases where the disability is likely to be temporary. So distinct is this provision that the city of Brooklyn was impelled in 1878 to withhold its customary appropriations for out-door relief, and with what results will be told further on. Here, then, is English experience repeated. An excellent repressive law is neglected; an unlawful system of inadequate doles to the lucky is set up ; in self-defence a barrier is erected against the depletion of the public treasury by excluding, without discrimination between need and mere greedy clamor, half the claimants of relief. Then voluntary charity steps in, and creates a confusion amenable to no method or discipline. Divided among a hundred practically irresponsible organizations, and flowing from thousands of hands, guided by neither experience nor information, the generosity of men, conscientious enough to give but not to befriend, engulfs the poor in stronger temptations to pauper life.
In one respect Mr. Denisons representation may fairly be controverted. They gave, he says of the guardians, so little relief that it was a mere mockery. Probably lie would himself have consented to change this sentence, and make it read, They gave so unsuitably that it was a mere mockery; for his published letters show that he deplored the lavishness of English relief, and that he commended the Paris scale of relief, which is so small that one may wonder whether there is any use of dispensing it at all. The Parisian allowance for a paralytic or blind person is one dollar per month. This is the scale of relief for a pauper in his seventieth year. From this sum it rises slowly to $2.40 for one in his eighty-fifth year. Septuagenarian and octogenarians entitled to hospital relief may have $4.80 on each of the five wintry months, and $3.80 on each of the remaining months of the year. These are the largest allowances authorized, and comprise nearly all that are made in money. Relief in kind is on a still smaller scale, and is denied to able-bodied men except in extraordinary cases.
A few years since the city of Leipsic had a standard of maximum relief to cover clothing, rental, fuel, light, and food. It was about sixty-two cents per week of our money for able-bodied men; women, children, and the aged were deemed to require less. This standard has been abolished, but the actual subsequent distribution of relief has averaged below it. The old Leipsic standard does not differ materially from that of Elberfeld, in Rhenish Prussia, a city notable in the charitable world for the excellence, thoroughness, and efficiency of its relief system. Now these low standards are not to be accounted for by the parsimonious spirit of the communities where they exist, nor by the cheapness of the necessaries of life there. They are found to be adequate, while under our prodigality and disorder society constantly presents the aspect of unsatisfied pauperism. Beggars are never absent from our streets; the child's whine for cold pieces is heard almost daily at our back doors; the stoves of the poor are never sufficiently replenished with charity coal; the dispensaries are crowded; the soup-kettles are draining all winter into the messengers pails; the sick are constantly waiting for the hospital bed to become vacant; the merciful man walks all his life among supplicating hands. There is no such appearance of mendicancy in France, nor in the better organized German towns; not even in Belgium, the classic land of pauperism, as it has been called. The penuriousness of France or Prussia avails to do what the strenuous lavishing of England and America cannot accomplish.
It is time to ask the reason of this difference. We have mentioned France and some German cities as examples of economy. In them there are two systems, conceived in exactly opposite political theories ; but notwithstanding this, their administration of relief quite as exactly corresponds in principle and in method. Under each the entire control of relief is substantially held by one management; therefore the pauper is practically in the custody of a single authority; the work-house test is fully compensated for by a system of investigation which makes relief at the homes of the poor quite safe; and two great remedial influences are kept in constant action upon the pauper, namely, employment and the constant pressure of friendship. How these things are accomplished we are now briefly to inquire.
Louis XIV. invited the great charitable foundations of France, in terms that could not be resisted, to confide their trusts to the government. The movement thus begun was completed by Napoleon I., when he sequestered the revenues of the church, and made the priesthood directly dependent upon the treasury of the empire. But while Louis XIV. was thus enlarging the functions of the French government, his troops were ravaging Germany. At the peace of Westphalia, a generation earlier, the population of Germany was found to be reduced to one fourth its former number; its cities were in ruins, its finances in disorder; its institutions had to be created afresh. Thus Germany was one of the latest of modern European nations to establish order and accumulate trusts. There are fewer institutions originating in private, self controlled charitable foundations in that country than in any European country west of Russia and the Balkan peninsula. Her hospitals and asylums are largely the creation of civic munificence, and therefore amenable to authority. There are exceptions to this statement, hut they are not serious enough to hinder the application of coordinated charity to the best systems of German relief.
The theoretical divergence of the French and German schemes of public charity is this: in France the state absorbs private benevolence into its official organization; in Germany the state abstains from official action, but authorizes private organization, and clothes it with needful powers. It must be understood, however, that in speaking of a German system of poor relief reference is made to the successful methods employed in typical German cities, as in Hamburg, Berlin, Leipsic, Elberfeld, Barmell, and Crefeld. Of the North German Confederation, and of nearly every German state, it may be said there is no system. Their legislation has thus far been confined to laying down the principles upon which the liability of each state, or each community, for the relief of the poor is to be determined, and to prescribing the Ames within which each poor district may exercise authority. As in England and America, the details of administration are left to each locality.
A rapid survey of the French and German schemes will elicit their common features. Paris may be taken as the completest illustration of the practice throughout the country, a practice followed in Belgium in all. its respects. We have already seen that the ancient and valuable charity foundations of France passed into government control. Under the civil code, private generosity is forbidden to erect any new eleemosynary institutions without the permission of the chief executive of the state, a permission which is very rarely accorded. Individuals may endow government institutions as much as they please, but the state is strictly averse to independent, self-regulated charity organizations, and will not incorporate them. From these old trusts there accrues an income, not only for the maintenance of hospitals, but for distribution in alms. To this resource are added the contributions of the benevolent, the proceeds of certain fines, and, when occasion requires, a subvention from the public treasury. Here we reach the first principle of French relief. Although administered by the state, this relief is charity. The funds are supplied by the voluntary acts of the people; the official is but the almoner of them. Consequently, the pauper can set up no claim to aid. This principle is in direct contrast to the English theory. Under the latter, applicants for aid have brought the poor guardians into court to compel them to give relief; and it has been held that, although the pauper could not recover damages, the guardian was liable to penalty for a denial of statutory relief. Probably the same doctrine would be held in the American courts notwithstanding the difference of method between Great Britain and America in levying the poor tax.
The agency for dispensing the money entrusted to the state for charitable distribution in France is called the Bureau de Bienfaisance. There is one for each commune, or borough, in Paris, as it is intended there shall be one for each commune throughout the land. Of this bureau the maire is hereditary president, and his aids are hereditary or exofficio vice-presidents. Twelve administrators are appointed in each bureau, and assigned each to one division of the commune. Their appointment proceeds from the Prefect of the Seine, who, in turn, is the creature of the interior secretary of the national government. The functions of the administrator are those of an overseer of the poor, with a voice and vote in the business of the bureau. In addition to these, the Prefect of the Seine appoints a secretary-treasurer of each bureau, in whose hands are the registers and the money, and who is in subordination to the Director-General of Public Relief, another agent of the general government. The bureau employs a staff of doctors, midwives, and Sisters of Charity, but all paid employees hold office from the Prefect of the Seine. So far everything is official. The provision for voluntary effort is this: Each administrator may nominate as many assistants in his division as he can persuade the board of direction to accept. They are described as commissioners and charitable ladies, and their duties are thus prescribed: They second the administrators in their care of households inscribed in the registers; they are specially charged with the duty of obtaining all possible information of the poor to be entered on the books; they propose their admission; they distribute at each dwelling the ordinary and extraordinary contributions; they visit the persons assisted by the bureau, to learn their position, the resources of the family, arid all other facts which may enlighten the board.
Let it also be considered that this system of administration is closely supported by the police; that every person must be inscribed upon the register before relief can be obtained; that a pauper must prove a residence of twelve months in Paris, and give notice of any change of lodging; that he is dependent on the administrator for the certificates required for unusual surgical appliances, for pensions from the war department, for legal papers affecting inheritance or exemption from taxes and fines, and for admission to hospital relief; that the separate bureaux are all hound in one administration by means of conferences held under the Director-General of Public Relief, and of reports made to his office; and it will be seen that very little opportunity is left to voluntary and private effort. The whole plan is summed up in the words of Mr. Edward Denison:
"Whoever desires to understand the French system of dealing with destitution must constantly bear in mind these two facts :
"(1.) That in France the state makes no special provision for the poor.
"(2.) That in France no one can do anything at all except through state machinery.
"The result of the joint operation of these two circumstances is that private charity supplies the funds, and state machinery administers them."
One point remains to be noticed. All in-door or institutional relief is restricted to the smallest limits possible. Even in the case of a septuagenarian applying for extraordinary hospital relief, every inducement is held out to him to remain with his relatives . There is no workhouse in France; no almshouse, even, in our sense of the word. The Depots de Mendicite, which may be thought to correspond with the work-house, are not tests of destitution, nor relieving agencies at all. They are the receptacles of persons convicted before a magistrate of some petty misdemeanor, as begging, vagrancy, drunkenness, and such offenses as with us consign the perpetrator to the house of correction. A system like this assumes the practical custody of the pauper from the moment he begins to receive aid. He is placed in subordination to an authority, which controls every avenue of relief; he is under the constant supervision of visitors, who not only deliver to him his allowance, but who befriend and counsel him, who seek employment for him, and teach him the best use of his own resources. Except in cases of nearly complete impotency, from age or defect, he is never maintained, but only assisted, by public relief.
On the other hand, the bureau takes every precaution that no form of distress shall need to apply elsewhere. While the profligate has little opportunity to take refuge among strangers, and to ply the arts of mendicancy on disconnected and discordant societies, the needy is not forced to go from office to office, to obtain fuel here, medicine there, and food elsewhere. Provision is made for every form of exposure to suffering from birth to the tomb. Even bedclothes are loaned, dresses for the first communion are supplied, and studious apprentices are encouraged with small annual gifts of money. And all this apparatus is directed by a single management, in the decisions of which the judgments of men actually engaged in the work unite.
It has sometimes been disputed whether there was less suffering from want in Paris than in other large cities, but it is not questioned that France is remarkably free from mendicants. Should it be said that this may be attributed to the proverbial habits of economy and thrift which characterize the French poor, it might well be retorted that their independence is not assailed by the temptations of unwise and cruel charity.
An examination of the system practiced in Elberfeld will show that the same results are aimed at by very similar means. The Elberfeld plan has been adopted in the neighboring cities of Barmen and Crefeld; it is analogous to that of Hamburg, Leipsic, and Berlin. We shall state the features common to those cities. In the original conception of these relief agencies, the care of the poor is wholly entrusted to a society of patriotic men, authorized by the municipal council to administer poor relief, as the constitution of the Leipsic Directory phrases it. These societies are self-perpetuating and self-regulated, though liable to be overruled by the civil authority. They connect themselves with the municipal authority by assigning seats in their boards of direction to some municipal councilors, burgomeisters, and financial officers. They coordinate their enterprise with hospitals and like foundations, as in Hamburg and Berlin, by giving them a representation in the board, or, as in Leipsic, by a municipal ordinance requiring voluntary societies to divulge the nature and amount of relief which they grant to the beneficiaries of the directory. In Hamburg, at one time, a police regulation went so far as to forbid almsgiving on the street. The voluntary society is authorized to collect subscriptions from the citizens, and to disburse them at its discretion. The funds so procured are augmented in some instances by police fines and licenses for places of amusement. In Prussia, a citizen chosen to act as an agent of a municipal relief society is liable to a penalty if he refuses his unpaid services. At Elberfeld he loses his communal vote, and has his taxes raised. Usually, the service is cheerfully rendered as an honorable trust.
The Armen Directory, or whatever the society may be called, divides the city into numerous wards or divisions, each under one or two overseers. Each overseer has associated with him a number of private citizens as visitors, chosen from the division under his charge. At Leipsic, a few years since, there were sixty visitors for a population of ninety thousand. This proportion was thought too small, and together with the fact that the different overseers did not meet sufficiently often for conference, and consequently carried diverse methods and vigilance into the work, was believed to impair the efficiency of the system. Elberfeld had two hundred and fifty-two visitors for a population of seventy-one thousand, or one visitor for every eight cases of registered paupers. A point is made, in this city, that no visitor shall have more than four cases in charge at one time, and it is rigidly observed; for it will be noticed that eight cases annually would hardly furnish four at one time. Berlin must come very close to the Elberfeld standard, since this capital is divided into one hundred and sixteen districts, each under a subcommittee of from fifteen to thirty visitors. Did each sub-committee average twenty members, there would have been eight cases of pauperism annually to each visitor, when the population was seven hundred and twenty thousand.
The English type of the work-house is almost unknown in Germany, though in some states, as Saxony and Bavaria, for example, legal provision is made for it. The attempt was twice made to introduce it into Leipsic, but in 1846 the institution was finally abandoned. The German work-house is a convict place. Its doors open only to the mandate of the magistrate. The Armenhaus, or almshouse, is usually an asylum for impotent folk; and while these are employed as their capacity will allow, the institution does not aim at being a test of destitution. In Berlin, the great influx of population since the city became an imperial capital has forced the workhouse into a new and probably temporary use. As building has not kept pace with the increase of population, rents have risen rapidly, forcing the poorer tenants to seek for cheaper apartments. These are not easily found, and dislodged families obtain a refuge in the work-house while in quest of new homes.
But the prevailing sentiment of Germany is averse to in-door relief, on account of the separation of families which it involves. The Prussian law makes husbands and wives, parents and children, liable for each others maintenance, if they have the means therefore. This requirement is extended in some instances by communal law to half brothers and sisters, to grandparents and grandchildren. Where so much emphasis is laid upon the natural duties of relationship, no plan which sunders families or weakens their sense of responsibility one for another can receive much countenance.
Another feature of German law is that relating to settlements. Formerly, each state, to avoid the expense of pauper support, erected barriers to immigration from other states. The North German Confederation has now provided that any German may receive assistance from the commune where his necessity arises, but that the cost of it may be recovered from the commune where he has a legal residence. In Prussia, arbitration courts are established, with jurisdiction over this question. The practical result is that a record of pauperism is kept, almost as strict as that of France. The pauper cannot escape from the environment of kindred and acquaintance, a fact which in itself is a great obstacle to imposture.
When a destitute person wishes to be aided, under either the Leipsic or the Elberfeld plan, he must apply to the visitor in the locality where he resides. Thus his petition is brought before the overseer and the directory. He is then subjected to a most rigid inquisition, which is called the Fragebogen in Leipsic, the instruction in Elberfeld. He is informed that if he accepts relief he immediately parts with his civic rights, and that he must observe a courteous and perfect subordination to the relieving officers. Any willful untruth in his declarations subjects him to the custody of the police. He is then required to furnish a correct statement, and a record is made of his kindred in ascending and descending lines; of his occupation and the means of earning of each member of his family; of his previous history, particularly if he has ever been in the hands of the police; of his furniture, jewelry, goods in pawn, loans, debts, membership of any beneficial club, and his claims therein; of his rental, and whether it includes furniture, fuel, and light, and whether he sublets any of his apartments. He is questioned as to his efforts to obtain work, and idleness for a certain number of months without an effort to get employment is a misdmeanor punishable with imprisonment. While he is receiving relief, he must not keep a dog, or frequent places of amusement, or refuse the labor that may be assigned to him, or use the aid granted him for any purpose but his own immediate and personal wants. This may seem an impertinent, despotic regimen, but it is not without valuable advantages. Above all, it furnishes the information so essential to a proper management of the case, and it enables his guardians to protect him from enticements to sink into a dissembling vagabond.
The pauper, once registered, is placed in the care of a visitor, who is not only unpaid, but a reputable citizen, and who is enjoined to be a faithful, vigilant friend. The visitor is to seek employment for his wards; to visit them weekly; to observe any changes in their circumstances; to help them make the best use of their own resources, and leave the charity lists as soon as possible. The relief accorded is determined at a meeting of the directory, at which the overseers assist, and to which the visitors may come. It is to be in kind, when possible, and is not to be called for, but regularly carried to the paupers home. At Elberfeld, every month the lists are revised in the board meeting, reports are received of any change of circumstances in the condition of the beneficiaries, and all whose necessities have ceased are dismissed.
The result of Von der Heydts Elberfeld plan was so remarkable as to attract attention from all parts of Europe and America. In 1852, the year before Von der Heydts society was formed, the city, with a population of fifty thousand, had four thousand paupers. In 1869 the population was seventy one thousand, and the paupers one thousand and sixtytwo, while the expense had dwindled one half. In Leipsic, the ratio of paupers in 1832 was 9.2 per cent., in 1870 it was 3.26 per cent. In Berlin, the ratio of out-door paupers is about 2.5 per cent., and it is not materially different in Hamburg.
In these European systems, the French scheme is that of official relief, the German that of organized private charity. Both are alike in the following principles: unity of action; the practical and exclusive control of the beneficiary; aid rather than maintenance; out-door rather than in-door relief; assistance based upon thorough information as to the paupers disposition, resources, and needs, administered by experienced hands, and adequate in character and duration of time to prevent all suffering; and the earliest possible restoration to independence of the pauper. The remedial features of these systems arc dependent upon a complete acquaintance with each case, and the absence of interference with its management. Can these two features be grafted on our Anglo-American system? Or rather, since we have no system, can these two principles be rooted in our free soil, so that our rank growths of prodigality and caprice may on this stock bear wholesome fruit?
This is what our benevolent economists seem to aim at. If legal relief can be restrained to the inmates of public institutions, at once a coordination of work will ensue. Private charity takes up the out-door poor; the state assumes the care of the in-door paupers. Those who are in public institutions pass under the discipline of a single authority, and in that custody are removed from the interference of inexperienced, undiscriminating hands, and from the opportunity to practice the dishonorable shifts of the professional mendicant. Moreover, these public institutions are in turn more amenable to the best opinions of the community. Mistakes here soon become obvious, and are more easily remedied. Then, too, public relief comes into orderly relation with private benevolence. The state alone can restrain and coerce. That power is needed when the persuasions of free society fail. Those whom voluntary charity finds incorrigible, or beyond its influences, will gravitate into public institutions. Thus, private efforts for the good of the depressed will be accompanied with the alternative of the discipline of official oversight, when immoral forces prove insufficient.
But is it safe to trust private hands with the whole control of out-door pauperism ? In view of the fitfulness, caprice, sentimentality, and corrupting lavishness of ignorant benevolence, students of social science have long been deprecating the disorders of spontaneous charity. Well, it exists as a very momentous part of our social machinery. Nor is there any trace of the slightest disposition on the part of the free-born American or Englishman to surrender his inalienable right to give away his money just as he chooses. He is neither a German nor a Frenchman. We must deal, therefore, with private charity as hest we can, appealing to the good sense of the community, and to that genuine humanity which, in every generous breast, is deeper than the desire to gratify a mere sentiment for improved methods of working.
The attempt to organize the charitable forces of society on a basis of voluntary adhesion, which began in London more than a dozen years ago, not uninfluenced by the example of Elberfeld, has already made encouraging progress in England, and is rapidly taking root in our chief cities. Those economists who have most earnestly advocated the abolition of public out-door relief, like Sir Charles Trevelyan, Edward Denison, Octavia Hill, Professor Fawcett, and Seth Low, who have been already mentioned, with a host of others who might be named, have been warm friends of the charity organization movement. In its essential idea, charity organization aims to establish a bureau, through which every established institution and society formed for the assistance of the poor and every private citizen may act in cooperation. It renounces the pleasure of giving any relief which can he procured from agencies already existing. In pursuit of this idea, it schedules and classifies all the discoverable resources of charity, and says to the generous and to the destitute, here is where you can best accomplish your aims; here are the means appropriate to your desire or your need.
Charity organization, drawing its agents from workers already in the field, or from fresh volunteers, distributes them through every precinct of the city, to discover what forms of human misery are hidden there; to probe the social wounds, and ascertain how far they penetrate through the flesh into the character; to search out the cause they know not; to be discreet friends to the weak and incompetent; to open to them the sources, of help, and first of all those which place them upon their feet, and put a brave, hopeful, self-respecting heart in their breasts. Its purpose is that not an outcast soul, however dislodged from society, shall go misunderstood and unbefriended.
Holding this purpose, it comes to the community and says, We will accept the responsibility of every case of real or simulated distress which you may throw upon us. We will not relieve it ourselves unless it be so exceptional an instance that no other resource is at hand; for our aim is not to create a new organization, but to systematize and bring to the highest efficiency the hundreds of agencies already available, and so put an end to their disorder and waste. It is an agency for investigation, and as such it becomes a bureau of registration, at which relief societies may detect the overlapping of their work, the concealed assistance of their beneficiaries, and the impostures practiced upon them. There they may find the means to discriminate between meritorious and dissembling want.
Charity organization is a scheme of conference. Workers fresh from the field come together, that a hundred experiences may converge into some luminous ray of guidance, that the dispirited and perplexed may he encouraged, that the one sidedness of individual sympathy and observation may he corrected, that the wisdom of the many may coalesce into the wisdom of each one.
A plan like this has in it the meritorious points of the Elberfeld system; or, at least, it will have them as soon as private and public relief shall he separated and put in supplementary relations. It has the virtue of being a voluntary society of patriotic citizens; it furnishes friendly visitors, allotting the field among them, so that they do not cover the same cases, nor become overburdened with duty; it acquires that information which makes imposture difficult, and suffers no destitute person to he neglected ; it elicits and brings into order the resources of benevolence, so that no form of want goes unprovided for; by checking waste and distributing applicants systematically, it reduces relief from maintenance to assistance, from the prop of idleness to the crutch of the lame, and it can prolong well-adjusted aid while the necessity for it lasts finally, being a system of unity and thus gaining in a large measure control over the wards of charity, it can terminate relief when the occasion for it passes, and the dependent upon it is ready to graduate into the great world of industrial, social, and moral order. Such is the significance of the attempt to curtail legal relief to the limits of institutions. It is an important, if not an essential, step to systematized work, and until pauperism is confronted with system there is no hope of eradicating it. This paper, already long, ought not to pass over certain facts which illustrate and support its argument. Chalmers's experiment in one of the poorest and most populous parishes of Glasgow is a case in point, and is freshly appealed to as an example of wise administration. He abolished all legal relief in his parish, and charged every new case of pauparism that arose upon an evening penny collection, which amounted to $400 a year. In a population of ten thousand hut twenty new cases arose in four years, of which five were the results of illegitimate births or family desertion, and two of disease. The cost of their relief was but $175 a year. In a few years the established pauperism of the parish sank from 164 to 99, and Dr. Chalmers had to find new educational methods for employing his superfluous poor funds.
Mr. Low, in a paper to be found in the published proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction of 1881, brings forward three instances of the sudden curtailment of public official out-door relief which were attended by no discoverable distress. In 1876, the town ship in which Indianapolis is, by a change in the trusteeship of poor relief, reduced its expense from $90,000 a year to $8000. In 1878, the city of Brooklyn ceased to give out-door relief, in which $141,207 had been expended the previous year. The sudden withdrawal of this large sum found no compensations elsewhere that could be detected. There was no increase in the population of the almshouse or hospital, no augmented demand upon the treasury of the General Relief Society of the city, no police reports of unusual mendicancy or want. On the contrary, since the cutting-or of public out-door relief, with the exception of 1879, when the inmates of the hospital and almshouse were increased by only eleven, this in-door population and the expenditures of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor have diminished. Like statements may he made concerning Philadelphia, where the municipal councils in 1879 declined any further appropriations for out-door relief, although they had voted $66,000 to this purpose the previous year. No new strain was put upon either the public institutions or the resources of charitable societies.
For some years the East End Union of London, within whose limits lies one of the most poverty-stricken districts of that city, has abolished all official outdoor relief, with a most encouraging gain upon the pauperism of its territory.
One of the best informed writers on the subject of Italian pauperism writes, When Napoleon abolished the religious orders and the convent alms at Rome, out of thirty thousand beggars, thus left without assistance, only fifteen thousand had themselves registered and taken into St. John Laterans. The same thing happened in Lombardy in the time of Joseph II. When the workhouses of Pizzighettone, Abbiategrasso, and Milan were opened for beggars, the greater part of them disappeared.
These instances are taken from widely different countries, times, and circumstances, yet they concur to show that no small part of the apparent pauperism of the community is only simulated, in order to share in the spoils of charity. They sustain with uniformity the oft-repeated proposition that mendicancy grows by the provision made for it.
Probably few would object to the expansion of their comfort which even mendicants may gain by their vulgar cunning, if this were all that should be taken into account. We might well say with Charles Lamb, Rake not into the bowels of unwelcome truth to save a half-penny. But the half-penny is not the consideration at all. It is the saving of a human being. And the corrupting influence of professional, or mechanical, or official charity is beyond all denial. In it the element of personal sympathy is almost, wholly obscured. The fountain of beneficence is concealed. Paupers do not drink at the clear spring. The almoner of a public fund does not give his own away, but simply distributes among clamorous claimants what they regard as morally their own. They can recognize but little more ground of gratitude to the mechanism of distribution than to the hydrant which brings the water that it taints into their dwellings. There is little in this perfunctoriness to reinstate the poor in the consciousness of social ties. Rather, the official agency of relief is a bar to the avenues of society. It is a gate where those stand, to use Longfellow's graphic words,
Who amid their wants and woes
Hear the sound of doors that close,
And of feet that pass them by;
Grown familiar with disfavor,
Grown familiar with the favor
Of the bread by which men die.
Whatever scheme of dealing with pauperism may be pressed upon our notice, one truth will doubtless emerge from every experiment, clad in repulsiveness until society recognizes it, transfigured with divine radiance when obeyed. It is the truth that man is not an animal, but a moral and social being. The system must be simply the method 0 by which the noblest spirit acts, not a labor-saving mechanism. The English work-house, with all its discriminating rules, has lapsed again and again into a winters refuge of vagabonds, a recuperating asylum of the inebriate and licentious, a source of infection to its hapless innocent inmates, and a prop to prolong the career of profligacy. Under the elaborate and splendidly adjusted organization of the Bureaux de Bienfaisance, Napoleon III. thought it necessary, during his reign, to expend more than $360,000,000 on the public improvements of Paris, in order to furnish employment to the people, while Belgium is the classic land of pauperism. The severe Fragebogen of Leipsic cannot remedy the faithlessness or indifference of the overseer, nor the lack of moral influences attaching to the paucity of visitors. Under all systems, everything depends on the manner of administration, and the spiritual wealth of the community at their command. While the scope of relief extends to no greater wants than an intelligent farmer considers in his herd, the pauper cannot hut feel that he is placed among the cattle outside, and excluded from all participation in the life of these households. The closing of the doors to high human fellowships, with their moral basis of order and concord, with their bright conventions of courtesy and refinement, with their rich play of responsive sympathies, with their hope exciting vistas of still ampler and purer prospects, this is the saddest element in the situation of those whom adversity, ignorance, or vice has depressed. The poor wretch, who, lapsed from the pale of cosmic life, is sinking into the debasement of animalism, where intelligence turns to predatory instincts, the voice of conscience is quiet, the faculties for fellowship wither up, and the hope of better things does not stir the heart, needs to be environed by the friendships of the capable and strong. Without this higher and harder charity, organization is not method, but mechanism. The hand without the mind is but a tool. Together they are the artist. The mechanisms of charity can never shape the hard rock of pauperism into the features and forms of beauty. For that undertaking society must become an inspired artist. May not this persuasion have led the apostle Paul to couple the principle and exhortation together? He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption ; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.