« ZurückWeiter »
they may display in their support. So far as they have had time and opportunity, they have consulted with those persons who have knowledge and experience with respect to the poor of our city, and they have endeavored to obtain their views and opinions upon the subject submitted to them. '
The number of Benevolent Societies in this city, devoted to the noble object of relieving the wants and distresses of the unfortunate classes of our fellow-citizens, has always been considerable. Originating in the spirit of pure benevolence and conducted by individuals whose chief delight it has been to spend and be spent in the cause of charity, these societies have doubtless done much good. Unwilling to excite public observation beyond what was absolutely necessary, they have had little intercourse with one another ; each Society has proceeded in its own quiet, unobtrusive way, to seek out, and assist the poor, and the disconsolate, and has depended chiefly upon its individual experience and observation to enable it to detect vice and avoid deception. When our population was small, and charitable societies were few in number and scanty in means, this mode of proceeding was perhaps judicious; for it was desirable to ascertain how far public institutions could resemble the quiet and secret almsgiving of individuals, who are charged “not to let their right hand know what their left hand doeth.” But within a few years past the state of things in this city has essentially changed. Our population has become more dense and mixed, and our charitable societies have greatly increased both in numbers and wealth. A spirit of benevolence has been excited and is abroad in the community which knows no limit. No call, come froin what quarter it may, is suffered to remain unanswered. Every species of distress and every class of subjects would seem to be provided for. There is food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and physic for the sick. In addition to the large number of associations for the relief of suffering in general, the deaf and dumb, the blind, the widow, the orphan, the seaman, the abandoned, the old, and the infant, have each one or more associations especially devoted to the alleviation of its particular wants and sufferings. Yet, notwithstanding this increase of benevolent action in society, poverty has increased also, and to such an alarming extent as to demand the careful and serious consideration of every individual who has any regard for his own rights, or for the welfare of the poor.
Your Committee are also led to believe from inquiry and observation that, together with the increase of poverty, there has been a still greater increase of vice and deception among those who obtain assistance in one form or another from our charitable associations; an increase which imperiously calls for immediate attention and correction. And although the difficulties in the way of remedy for these alarming evils are "neither few nor smail,” they are yet of opinion that something may be done to lessen, if not to eradicate them. And your Committee are encouraged in this opinion from the good effects which have already resulted from a plan of proceeding recently adopted by the Ministers at Large, or City Missionaries, as they are generally called. For some years past, one or more of these gentlemen has been appointed by the several religious denominations in the city for the special purpose of visiting the poor at their several places of abode, of inquiring into their characters and administering to their spiritual necessities. These gentlemen have also, where it seemed important and necessary, contributed to the relief of the temporal wants of the poor ; but, till recently, their efforts of this kind were without concert or agreement of any sort with each other. At length, however, this part of their labors weighing very heavily upon their minds, and experience convincing them of the great evils attendant upon this partial mode of dispensing funds, and of the vice and deception which were created by it, a general meeting of Missionaries was called and a uniform plan of proceeding adopted. The city was divided into ten sections or districts, and a section allotted to each missionary as his sole field of labor. Meetings of all the Missionaries were also agreed to be held in this room once a fortnight; at which the parties were to report the results of their labors in their different districts, and to consult together respecting the character and wants of those under their charge. This plan, though it had been long thought impracticable, and by some inexpedient, has, after the experience of three months, proved highly useful. Indeed, so valuable is the information obtained, and so striking are the effects of this plan in the opinion of these gentlemen, that, at the last meeting of their board, they voted unanimously, " That the continuance of the semimonthly meetings, and the vigorous prosecution of the plan recently adopted were indispensably necessary to the proper fulfilment of their duties as distributors of charity.” These delightful effects of union and concerted action, on so small a scale, seem to justify the belief that much good would result from the adoption of a
similar plan by our various Benevolent Societies. It was in fact from a suggestion, made in the Board of Missionaries, that good might result from a greater degree of sympathy and cooperation among these societies, that a committee was chosen to devise some mode for effecting so desirable an object. In compliance with a vote upon this subject, the Committee called upon the officers of the different Benevolent Societies in the city, and were exceedingly gratified to perceive the cordiality with which the proposal was met, and the desire which was manifested that something might be done. A delegation from each of these societies met a fortnight since to consider the subject and appointed your Committee to report thereon. The willingness to meet and act together thus manifested by so many societies and individuals, your Committee regard as an important sign of the times.
Your Committee would by no means say anything which might have a tendency to check the spirit of benevolence in any heart. Charity they believe to be heaven's best gift to man; it blesses both him who gives and him who receives. They would therefore do everything in their power to encourage and foster a principle which is calculated, perhaps more than any other, to elevate and purify the human mind. But at the same time your Committee think it incumbent upon all to consider well what true charity is ; what it is in relation to themselves and what it is in respect to those who are to become the subjects of it. Men have not sufficiently attended to this point; they have suffered themselves to be carried away by the mere spirit of giving; satisfied with the pure and generous emotions which have arisen in their own minds,
they have too often forgotten to inquire into the effect which their almsgivings have produced upon the character and wants of those who received them. They have been too unwilling to ask themselves whether they do not, in fact, add to the numbers of the poor and to the evil and degradation of poverty, by the indulgence of a generous but ill directed feeling of the heart.
Your Committee have already said, that, in their opinion, there has been a large increase of poverty and vice in this city within the last few years; the facts which justify them in this opinion are drawn not only from their own experience and observation, but from the common consent of persons who have been actively engaged in the distribution of charitable funds in this city for the last twenty years, and who speak of it as a matter beyond all dispute.
These gentlemen state that the calls for charity have multiplied beyond all example in times past, while the amount of real distress, excepting that which arises from vice, is not, in their opinion, greater than it was many years since; they say, also, that there are more of those who d'epend entirely upon our charitable societies for support, and demand their charity as a right; more of those who deserve assistance, but who obtain a much greater amount than they deserve; and an alarming increase of those who deserve nothing, but who by artifice and deception get a good and entire support from charity. Your Committee might go into detail upon this point and recite cases which would fully corroborate the above statements, but they deem it unnecessary at this time.
The question at once suggests itself, from whence does