The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History

The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History

The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History

The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History

Excerpt

The problem of poverty must, by its very nature, be one of vital importance to any civilized community, and so anything that tends to throw light on the methods by which past generations attempted to solve it, and on the results which they achieved, cannot be without real interest and value. A mere collection of facts, however, is apt to be both uninspiring and bewildering unless the principle lying behind and co-ordinating them into a unified whole, can be discovered. In the record of the English Poor Laws this co-ordinating principle is seen to be that of public responsibility for the Poor, and the entire history of these laws is comprised in the acceptance and application of this assumption. Consequently it is only by seeing for whom this responsibility was incurred, by whom it was incurred, of what it actually consisted, the methods by which it was discharged, and the results that followed, that the tangled skein of the history of English Poor Relief can be unravelled.

In any country, and at any time, the treatment which is meted out to poverty must exert vast influence on the moulding of a people, and this is particularly true of the England of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The scope and activities of the Poor Laws were much wider, and far more generally diffused, than they are to-day. In the first place they affected a much larger proportion of the population than is now the case. After 1662 the overseers of the poor had certain rights over all persons who did not inhabit a tenement worth £10 a year or more. They could remove anyone who . . .

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