Pauperism 1871

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Social Aspects

In the discussion of questions of social economy we should commence with principles, and endeavor to discover their practical influences, with a view to beneficial results. The term poor, as applied to social condition, denotes destitution of property, a want of material riches, extreme needs, etc. If the importance of this subject, be estimated by the interests it concerns, in its relations to society, it will not be regarded as inferior to any.

Poverty is a condition that, under the existing order of things, seems inseparable from humanity. It is not peculiar to some sections to the exclusion of others, except with incidental modifications, and its perpetuity seems more than probable. The strong oppress the weak, and impose burdens and hardships upon the defenseless; and toil is the inevitable lot of the bulk of mankind.

A good time may be, and no doubt is coming, and much is to be effected by the progress of science in mitigating the evils of life. Never before, indeed, were the proofs of progress more manifest than at present, yet it is equally a fact that the developments of six thousand years furnish no evidence that the present system of social economy will soon be materially changed. The fact is that labor is, by an original law the normal condition of human subsistence, and the most fertile fields need cultivation, and without labor of some sort we can scarcely escape penury. Fortunately in the dispensations of Providence.

Wealth and Happiness are not synonyms, nor yet poverty and wretchedness, man is for the most part adapted to his condition, so far as to very nearly equalize the blessings and fruits of a common inheritance, if not in the bestowment of wealth, at least in health, comfort and contentment.

Poverty is a relative term, and what is poverty to one would be considered competence to another. Indigence is quite another tem, and implies extreme distress and almost utter destitution. Pauperism, which is the real fact under consideration, denotes entire dependence, and is, therefore, recognized as a degraded, hopeless state. The relevancy of these suggestions in the way of prelude to some facts regarding our pauper population will, we hope, be apparent. That population in New York and Brooklyn is sufficiently numerous and burdensome to society to furnish an incitement to diligent and careful inquiry concerning it.

Pauperism is the culmination of helpless or impotent indigence, and denotes utter destitution and helplessness, and is, therefore, civilly considered, a hopeless condition, and, so far as it is attributable to indolence or criminality, is a degraded state. It constitutes a large element in society, and its existence is not only recognized but the obligation to provide by legislative enactments for its management and relief. Its nature and necessities have given form and character to the legislation on the subject, which has generally had a two-fold object first, the relief of suffering, and second, the repression of the evil itself, with its constant attendants, idleness, imposture and vagrancy, by depriving every person of the pretext for begging or plunder which a state of absolute destitution affords. The first is a moral end which only regards the distress of the individual: the second has in view the proper purpose of all our institutions, the general welfare and security of the community. Various are and have been the means resorted to for the attainment of these ends, and the question is certainly one of magnitude and complexity. The aim should be to reduce the evil to its minimum amount. We concede the problem to be a puzzling one, but yet hope it may receive a satisfactory solution. Not with any theory of its treatment, but with pauperism as it actually exists, has this article to do. As the result of sickness, accident, old age, or other unavoidable causes, pauperism will never have an end, that class of poor will not cease out of the land, in our time at least, and those who lose the ability to labor may properly look to the more favored to care for those thus subjugated to want.

But Able-bodied pauperism, the result of idleness, improvidence, intemperance, or other preventable causes, should nowhere exist. For the destitution implied is not enforced, but voluntary. Those who refuse to labor, or waste its proceeds in profligacy should suffer the retribution which attaches to indolence and vice. Being thus thrown upon their own resources, they must obey the law of their nature, and labor and save, or suffer the appointed penalty and starve. For he that will not work neither should he eat.

There is nothing to argue against Eleemosynary aid, but those in authority, and who have the best opportunity of knowing the facts, declare that scarcely a day passes that they do not witness the most cunning devices to obtain undeserved relief. With many there seems to be a mania for public support and plunder. Systems are organized and are often successful, to obtain not only relief, but actually lay by a fund for future reliance out of the paupers' box.

All experience gives assurance that what is here set forth regarding the loathsomeness of the habit of looking to the Poorhouse for support, is true to the fullest meaning and expression. To the halt, the lame and the blind, give, to the bereft of reason, give, to the idiotic, give, to the temporarily destitute, give, to the orphan, give, give generously, give heartily. But those who come tot he house of charity with no other than a miser's claim, mark with the indelible brand of shame and reproach. In attestation of this argument it may not be unprofitable or uninteresting to cite a few cases that have come within our personal observation.

Among the attempted impositions which are of daily occurrence, we transcribe an interview that occurred between a pauper and Mr. Corr, Superintendent of the Poor, in this city. We give the colloquy as it transpired.

An Application For Aid

A rather fine looking man, of uncouth manner, enters the office of the Superintendent of the Poor, and wishes to see the "boss," he is referred to Mr. Corr, and the following conversation takes place:

Mr. Corr__Well, sir, what do you want?

Pauper_This where you find coal, aint it?

Mr. Corr_This where relief is distributed to the poor. Are you in want of alms? We only give to those who are destitute, who are unable to help themselves. You look like an able-bodied man, able to work and provide for your own wants and those of a family, if you have one. Why don't you go to work?

Pauper_Well, I was to work all summer on the Park, but I got discharged.

Mr. Corr_ When you had work you should have saved your money, and you wouldn't now want charity.

Pauper_Well, I did save some money, but a little while ago I had to pay $80 for taxes, and that has cleaned me out, and now I should like a tone of coal sent to my house.

It is of course quite needless to say that this ended the interview. No coal or anything else was given. But what an abnegation of self-respect, dignity and manhood did it disclose. A strong, healthy man, degraded by an almshouse record as the recipient of a little coal, when he would at least subsist by the efforts of his noble birthright, free and honest labor. Such cases, however, are by no means rare. Instances are known of paupers with plethoric pockets and respectable bank accounts. We were told of a woman who was for nine years an inmate of the Almshouse in Kings County, when it was discovered that she was the possessor, in her own right of $10,000. She was, of course, dismissed from the institution, and proceedings were successfully instituted against her for the recovery of the amount of her maintenance all those years.

Indeed, we are assured that Brooklyn is the very paradise of paupers, and has a number out of all proportion to the other inhabitants. They assemble here and resort to all sorts of schemes to gain admission. They like the Kings County institution much better than that of New York, because they don't have to work there. Of course there, as in other places, a residence in the county is a pre-requisite to admission. To provide this there has been established for years past, in James street, not far from Fulton ferry, a brace of rival pauper boarding-house, to which beggars, street tramps, and criminals when they dare, resort. A night's lodging at the place may be had for ten cents, and that constitutes a residence, and warrants an application for aid as a pauper. The authorities would do well to look to these abuses and amen them, yes, reform them altogether. A pauper population, no matter where situated, experiences little change. The rule is "once a pauper always a pauper." The applications for relief are mostly from the same people. They come today and tomorrow and from week to week, year in and year out. People engaged in the dispensation of out-door relief, say they become perfectly familiar with not only the faces and forms but even the idiosyncrasies of the applicants.

Their poverty is for the most part real and undoubted, but it is in nearly all cases the result of laziness and inefficiency. They wont work, begging is the business of their lives. And there are in this community, we are assured, startling as the fact is, thousands of families dependent upon charity for all they receive in life from the cradle to the grave.

The doctor of the Poorhouse ushers them into existence; the charity nursery brings them up, and charity and precarious chance sustains their useless existence until the county undertaker consigns them to a pauper's grave. Among the regular pauper population there is a sort of organization or guild, and a sort of mystic tie arranged by which they recognize each other. They have signs, tokens and pass words that are altogether wonderful to the uninitiated; and they have a language of their own, and habits and customs little less inimical to society than those of the really criminal classes. But they are not criminal as a rule, nor do we believe they are beyond the reach of reclamation by proper means. No doubt it is often, too often, the chagrin and mortification of a residence in public institutions for temporary care and protection, which has ended life and led the unfortunate to a pauper's grave.



Website: The History
Article Name: Pauperism 1871
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle March 23, 1871
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