BY THE PASSAGE of the Poor Law Reform bill of 1834, said Disraeli, England announced to the world that it was a crime in England to be poor. The economic theory set forth by the Commission that framed the reform acts on poor relief-- "that it is not the intent of the poor law to take care of the poor; that is, of those who can earn their living by labour"-- had an even more rigid acceptance in this country than in England. Work was more plentiful here; everyone worked, or his immediate ancestors had. There was less tolerance of the able- bodied man out of work than in England where there had never ceased to be vigorous opposition to the philosophy of 1834, an opposition which finally triumphed in the 1909 acts that swept off the statute books forever the whole accumulation of punitive legislation toward the poor. We were the children of England, and like so many countries that started as colonial offshoots of an older and more stable nation, we held to the older traditions longer than they survived in the parent state.
Aside from these reasons, there probably was another factor that prevented us from taking a more generous view of the plight of our less successful citizens. The 1830 immigration brought to the United States people who were largely alien to the major culture; to most of us the needs of these newcomers seemed remote, and probably for a time they were hidden from view by the protective devices of mutual aid which aliens use to hide their weaknesses--much as the Plymouth settlers se-