Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

us. We know individuals and heads of families, capable of labor, who will not themselves toil while they can live upon the toils of others. They are indisposed to any effort which they can avoid. They had rather beg than work; and as far as they can, they live, if not by beggary, upon alms. There are those, too, who might live in great comfort upon their earnings, is they were disposed to live within the compass of their earnings. In other words, they might live in great comfort upon their earnings, if they would deny themselves what they cannot afford, and were willing to appear to be simply what they are. But they are more desirous to appear, than to be, what they are not. They would not only find their condition to be a very comfortable one, but they would revolt from the thought of dependence upon alms, if they felt a proper self-respect, and were under the guidance of a higher principle of right, and honor, and duty. To give alms to such as these, we say, is an abuse of alms-giving. They need rather a ministration to their self-respect, and sense of duty. And there are those, — and they are not few, who, in cases of occasional, and even considerable failures of employment, might pass through those seasons wholly without the aid of alms, would they, while they have employment, but look to the seasons when employment will probably fail them, and appropriate for those seasons what might well be spared from their earnings. And would not alms-giving here be at least a ministration to thriftlessness? We need not say also how many there are, who, would they but wholly relinquish the use of ardent spirits, would never require the aid of alms for their comfortable subsistence. Nay, it may be that they are in no small degree induced to continue in their intemperance, and wastefulness, by their knowledge of the fact, that, when pressed by want, they can avail themselves of alms. It is with no pleasuré, - it is even with great pain that we thus speak of many who apply for alms, and receive, and abuse them. It is, however, not to be concealed, it is well known, – that injudicious alms-giving, has not only relaxed the main spring of industry in many a mind, it has not only acted as a bounty upon idleness, upon interperance, and upon willing and unnecessary dependence, but it has even led to, and encouraged the grossest deceptions, imposture and recklessness. We should pause upon these facts, and inquire what are our duties in view of them ? Let it be known that funds are provided for the various objects of human necessity, and these funds will be applied for; and supply in this case will indefinitely increase demand. It would be very unreasonable to look for any different result. If no necessity shall be felt in the Spring, Summer, and Autumn, of provision for Winter, on what ground are we to expect that such provision will be made? We shall in vain teach economy in words, where the necessity of it is superseded by the free supply of those wants, which the individual could himself have supplied merely by an economical use of his own resources. Nor have parents and adults only thus been injured, perverted, and brought to indolence, thriftlessness and debasement. Children are to a very great extent made beggars, through the facilities and excitements which are given to beggary. We say, therefore, that to give to one who begs, because he had rather beg than work; or, to give to one who is not too proud to beg, and yet is too proud to live, and to appear as he must, if he lives upon his own earnings; or to give to those who would be entirely able to support themselves, if they would but look to the future, and economise in

preparation for it; or to give to the intemperate, who, simply by abjuring the use of ardent spirits, might be independent of all eleemosynary aid; or in any way to supersede the necessity of industry, of forethought, and of proper self-restraint and self-denial, is at once to do wrong, and to encourage the receivers of our alms to wrong doing; it is to patronise pauperism, and it may even be, great vice. Alms-giving is one of the highest, and in the records of our religion, one of the most frequently and impressively inculcated, of our duties as Christians We would, therefore, by every proper means increase, and would on no consideration do any thing to lessen, our sense of its obligation. But we would also feel our responsibleness, as well in regard to the evils which may be incidental to it, as to the good which may be done by it. We must not, therefore, shrink from the fullest view which can be obtained of these evils. We know that it has been abused by many to whom it has been extended. And has it never been abused by ourselves, through the very injudiciousness with which we have exercised it? In speaking of its abuses, it is therefore to be remember. cd, that the whole blame of them falls not upon the poor. God forbid that we should be unjust to any one, and we are ready to say, especially to one who is poor. But we believe that a clear perception, and a faithful avoidance of the evils, of an injudicious bestowment of alms, is essa sential to Christian alms-giving. Rightly to understand uses in any case, we must also understand what are tendencies, and liabilities to abuses in it. We are not unnecessarily to do evil by the means by which we may, and should do good.

The great danger of systematic and established provisions for the relief of the poor, whether in the form of Poor

Laws, or of Charitable Foundations, or Societies, is in their tendency to deprave the poor, and thus indefinitely to extend and to perpetuate porerty. The history of such establishments is full of solemn admonition of these dangers. Nor is it even their worst tendency, that they may supersede the necessity, on the part of the poor, of the exertions they might make for their own relief. As far as this result has been produced, a preparation has been made for the reign and triumph of every base propensity in the soul, till in their progress of corruption, they have extended moral death to the best affections of our nature. This is strong language, but there is no exaggeration in it. Where such establishments have long existed, — for example, in England, - these dangers have to a fearful extent become realities. The history of the Poor Laws, and of the charitable foundations of England, furnishes abundant records of the dreadful abuses which have thus been made of charity, or alms. Nor have even its private Benevolent Societies escaped reprehension. Let us avail ourselves of this experience for our own instruction.

The published Reports of England upon poverty and the poor enable us to understand these subjects, as we could not otherwise have understood them. In those Reports, we have details upon these subjects to the extent of huge folios. And what are the lessons which they teach? We answer, that even under the wisest administration which could be obtained of associated and public charities, they have from the beginning, and constantly, operated upon very many as lures for support by charity, or alms, rather than by labor. They expose an inherent and very strong tendency in these charities, to all the evils which have resulted from them. As we read of these results, we are indeed almost constrained to say, “ how could it have been otherwise? Where there is little or no sense of character, or sense of shame, to deter from willing dependence, the temptations to it need not be great. Human wants are divine provisions for human exertions; and where ability is possessed, and opportunity is had, for the exertions by which self-support may be obtained, it is God's will that man should provide for his own subsistence. Yet many are, and ever have been, disposed to live with as little labor and self-denial as possible. Many are industrious, economical, careful for the future, only as they are compelled to be so by the absolute necessity of their conditions. They are always ready to avail themselves of any circumstances, by which they may live upon easier terms than of daily forethought, care and toil. We say not this in reproach. We do but state facts; and facts, for the evil of which the rich have as much cause to blame themselves, as to blame the poor. Nay, as far as the poor are concerned, there are often great extenuations. There is often far more of weakness, and of inefficiency of character, than of vice, in those who are thus disposed to live upon others. Still the fact stands out in bold relief, and for solemn admonition, that established provisions for the relief of the poor have never failed to obtain claimants, to any extent to which such provisions have been made. And not only so. The relief thus given has been received, not as alms, but as the proportion due to the receiver from a recognised common stock. As yet we see these results but to a comparatively small extent in our own country. The facilities for employment and support every where among us are so many and great, and our population is as yet so little crowded, compared with that of Europe, that demand in these cases may be resisted here, as it cannot be there.

« ZurückWeiter »