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Whether, in our desire to gratify the benevolent feelings of our hearts, we are not laying the foundation of a great moral evil.
The office of almoner to the poor is a great privilege; do we not sometimes forget that it is also a solemn trust? Are we not inclined to say, “Why, it is only a little which we give and it is better to give this little, though we are not satisfied as to the case, than to allow the individual to suffer by our refusal ” ? This, it is believed, is a common plea; but are our consciences satisfied with this reasoning? Ought we not to reflect that this little, of which we make so small an account, may do an incalculable amount of injury, and that it is a solemn duty which we owe to the Societies that have entrusted us with the distribution of their funds, never to bestow the smallest modicum in charity until we are fully satisfied, from a thorough and personal examination of the case, that the applicant is both needy and worthy ? Otherwise, we most assuredly are holding out strong inducements to the poor to beg and deceive, and are, in fact, giving them what they are often known to claim — a right to call upon us for a share of our bounty.
“When the poor find they can have their necessities supplied by asking, they will soon leave off working ;" and under such circumstances, we see not how they can be blamed for the course they adopt; the blame is upon us. We alone are responsible for their idleness and poverty, and for the destruction of one of the best feelings of the human heart, the feeling of personal independence.
The reply of the drunkard to his wife was not so much a disgrace to himself, as it is a reproach to us. “Why do you complain that I spend all I earn for rum? it does no injury to you; the charitable societies will take care of you."
Your Committee would not dwell so long upon this point, had they not good reason to believe that the public in general are wholly unaware, both of the vast amount of deception which is practised among the poor of this city, and of the large supplies which they receive from one source or another beyond their real wants and necessities. Let us take, by way of example, a good case, as it is called. An application is made to one of our Societies for the relief of a poor family; it is examined and found to be deserving and in considerable distress. It is the privilege and delight of every benevolent mind to manifest its readiness to visit and supply the wants of such a family. Of course the standing committee of this Society do, at once, all that necessity or charity demands in the matter. Meantime, the report of the case, with all its claims to regard, spreads around. The committee of another Society hear of it, and visit and assist; a third visiting committee hear of it also, and · in their eagernesss “to do good,” call in and assist also. A fourth and fifth committee do the same : at last the report comes to the ears of three or four benevolent friends of these committees, and they call and add their mite to what has now become a generous supply for all the wants of a twelvemonth. Now this is a good case ; the applicant is poor and deserving. But has our charity lessened his wants or increased his worth ? Go to his hovel and visit him once more, after he has received
all this bounty, and you will find that he still holds out his hand and begs for more wood, more groceries. You have told him not to work, you have made him dependent upon your bounty for life.
This is the history, your Committee are inclined to believe, of hundreds of cases in this city. And, even if it does not come to this, is it not probable that under the present system of things, a vast proportion of what are called good cases, will receive much more than is necessary or proper ?. Can we expect even a deserving poor man to refuse what is so freely proffered? Let the previous character of the party be what it may, will not the vigorous effort to labor for daily support be in a degree relaxed, and reliance begin to be placed, more and more, upon our charitable funds, when assistance, proportioned to the necessities of the case, can be obtained from fifteen or twenty different Societies without their having any knowledge of the fact ?
Your Committee have made the above remarks, because they are persuaded that quite as much evil is produced by giving too much to deserving applicants, as by giving a little to bad and deceitful ones. The moral sense of the poor, it is believed, has been deadened by the course which charity has taken in this city; they know that we are generous to a fault, and they rely upon it. Else why is it that the tear of gratitude so rarely fills the eye of the receiver of alms ? Why do so many parents and children think it no reproach to their pride to beg from our Societies? Why do they so often openly declare, that our funds were meant for them and that they have a legal claim to them? And, finally, why is it a well established fact, that many families come to this
city for the express purpose of being supported by charity; and that many husbands and fathers leave their wives and children in the city and go themselves into the country, but are sure to return to them in the spring and tarry through the summer? These are serious questions, and well deserve the careful consideration of every man at all interested in the important, but little understood, subject of pauperism.
Great, however, as are the evils existing among us in relation to the poor ; and difficult as it is to find a cure for them, your Committee cannot but think that they may be, in a good degree, mitigated. They now beg leave to offer a few suggestions upon this point for the consideration of this meeting, which they make with great deference on their part, and with a strong hope that every individual present will aid them in their candid examination — by forgetting that he is attached to one Society more than another; by dropping all local feelings and prejudices, from whatever source they may have sprung, and by looking at this important subject only in the broad and comprehensive light of reason and truth.
Your Committee trust, also, that they shall not be suspected of a desire to impair, or in any way to interfere with, the rights or privileges of any Benevolent Society in this city by the suggestions they are about to make. So far from a wish to diminish the efforts or restrict the independence of these Societies, in the good work of charity which they all have so much at heart, your Committee desire it to be perfectly understood by all, that, in their opinion, it would be, under the present state of things, both unwise and injudicious to alter the existing
organization of these Societies, or to attempt to introduce any change in their mode of dispensing funds, inconsistent with their proper freedom of action.
In the opinion of your Committee, as expressed in the foregoing remarks, two prominent and serious evils exist in this city, in relation to the subject of pauperism. The one is, that the worst class of cases among our poor stand the best chance of obtaining, and do in fact obtain, the greatest amount of charity from our Benevolent Societies. The other is, that, with respect to the best class of cases, (comprehending all those who are more or less in want, and who are not vicious) some obtain much less and others far more than they deserve.
The two great objects, then, which it is desirable, above all others, to effect in this city, are, first, to prevent the possibility, or at least to diminish the chances of imposition; and second, to adopt some means by which the exact amount of charity given to each poor individual in the city shall be known by the Standing Committee of every Benevolent Society.
These objects your Committtee believe are wholly unattainable by any one Society, or by any one class of individuals acting alone, however experienced they may be in the characters of our poor, or however cautious in supplying their wants. They can only be effected by the unanimous coöperation of all our Benevolent Institutions and of all individuals who undertake to dispense charity in this city; and, with such a coöperation, your Committee believe they may be brought about. The Benevolent Societies in this city must agree to regard each other as a band of brothers, united to effect a great