VIII. THE HOUSE OF HANOVER.
The British Poor Law is a slur upon its boasted civilization. The unequal distribution of land and of wealth leads to great riches and great poverty. Intense light produces deep shade. Nowhere else but in wealthy England do God's creatures die of starvation, wanting food, while others are rich beyond comparison. The soil which affords sustenance for the people is rightly charged with the cost of feeding those who lack the necessaries of life, but the same object would be better achieved in a different way. Poor-rates are now a charge upon a man's entire estate, and it would be much better for society if land to an amount equivalent to the charge were taken from the estate and assigned to the poor. If a man is charged with L100 a year poor-rate, it would make no real difference to him, while it would make a vast difference to the poor to take land to that value, put the poor to work tilling it, allowing them to enjoy the produce. Any expense should be paid direct by the landlord, which would leave the charge upon the land, and exempt the improvements of the tenant, which represent his labor, free.
The evil has intensified in magnitude, and a permanent army of paupers numbering at the minimum 829,281 persons, but increasing at some periods to upward of 1,000,000, has to be provided for; the cost, about L8,000,000 a year, is paid, not by landlords but by tenants, in addition to the various charities founded by benevolent persons. There are two classes relieved under this system, and which ought to be differently dealt with - the sick and the young. Hospitals for the former and schools for the latter ought to take the place of the workhouse. It is difficult to fancy a worse place for educating the young than the workhouse, and it would tend to lessen the evil were the children of the poor trained and educated in separate establishments from those for the reception of paupers. Pauperism is the concomitant of large holdings of land and insecurity of tenure. The necessity of such a provision arose, as I have previously shown, from the wholesale eviction of large numbers of the occupiers of land; and, as the means of supplying the need came from the LAND, the expense should, like tithes, have fallen exclusively upon land. The poor-rates are, however, also levied upon houses and buildings, which represent labor. The owner of land is the people, as represented by the Crown, and the charges thereon next in succession to the claims of the state are the church and the poor.
The Continental wars at the close of the eighteenth and the commencement of the nineteenth century had some effect upon the system of tillage; they materially enhanced the price of agricultural produce - rents were raised, and the national debt was contracted, which remains a burden on the nation.
The most important change, however, arose from scientific and mechanical discoveries - the application of heat to the production of motive power. As long as water, which is a non-exhaustive source of motion, was used, the people were scattered over the land; or if segregation took place, it was in the neighborhood of running streams. The application of steam to the propulsion of machinery, and the discovery of engines capable of competing with the human hand, led to the substitution of machine-made fabrics for clothing, in place of homespun articles of domestic manufacture. This led to the employment of farm-laborers in procuring coals, to the removal of many from the rural into the urban districts, to the destruction of the principal employment of the family during the winter evenings, and consequently effected a great revolution in the social system. Many small freeholds were sold, the owners thinking they could more rapidly acquire wealth by using the money representing their occupancy, in trade. Thus the large estates became larger, and the smaller ones were absorbed, while the appearance of greater wealth from exchanging subterranean substances for money, or its representative, gave rise to ostentatious display. The rural population gradually diminished, while the civic population increased. The effect upon the system of landholding was triplicate. First, there was a diminution in the amount of labor applicable to the cultivation of land; second, there was a decrease in the amount of manure applied to the production of food; and lastly, there was an increase in the demand for land as a source of investment, by those who, having made money in trade, sought that social position which follows the possession of broad acres. Thus the descendants of the feudal aristocracy were pushed aside by the modern plutocracy.