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Posts Tagged ‘vagrancy’

“If self-help became the fundamental principle by which the validity of relief would be measured, this was not only because it constituted the supreme objective of a successful intervention in working-class life, as per the philanthropic doctrine of welfare that had been well understood since the end of the eighteenth century, if not earlier. It is also because this principle came to serve as the main criterion used to distinguish autonomous families, who were entitled to short-term household assistance, from paupers, whose lot was to be confined within the workhouses of the Victorian era. This principle would henceforth serve to distinguish poverty from pauperism, to assign each a territory and a topical remedy. The authorities had swiftly learned to differentiate the two, of course, but they had often drawn the line at the boundary between classes rather than attempting to judge the extent of the pauper’s moral depravity. Pauperism was merely the extreme form of the working classes’ deep-seated inability to either adapt to economic laws, or (as conservatives hoped) to recreate bonds of dependency. In either case, the pauperized urban masses suggested a possible future for societies. Their existence offered evidence of congenital vice among the poor to all those Malthusians searching for it, just as it suggested to liberals the need for organized, large-scaled societal intervention in favour of all the poor, with private initiative and government collaboration on this work of social reconstruction.

But from the moment when personal and civil autonomy became the criterion used to classify poverty – when the urban industrial environment ceased to be a cause of poverty and instead became the dominant context for the manifestation of dependency – it became possible to image society as composed of two separate, coexisting worlds: that of ‘natural poverty’ the structural constraint inflecting the trajectory of all workers and peasants, and that of pauperism, an abject, immoral ghetto inhabited by those members of society who had failed the test of autonomy. Antoine-Elisée

Cherbuliez explained this separation, in 1853, as follows:

That which makes modern pauperism a blot on society, that which makes it frightening and dangerous, is its ordinary alliance with a state of mindlessness and depravity in the mass of individuals, an all-too natural effect of their agglomeration and their homogeneity. Instead of being disseminated throughout the population of a region, indigents form a separate ‘population unto themselves’; instead of a localized infection found in all station of society, they form a separate class, a whole body infirm…to destroy moral poverty would be the true means of driving physical poverty back within its normal bounds, and this is, in truth, all one may hope to obtain by the most energetic and continuous action of the most enlightened charity. When we have reached that point, we will have beaten pauperism; there will remain only a small sum of accidental misery, which would always be an evil, no doubt but would no longer constitute a scourge. There would still be plenty of individual suffering, many miserable lives; but society’s progress would no longer be halted, its economic development disrupted, its vital principle attacked by the scourge of collective poverty, which, by causing whole categories of workers to fall into savagery, gathers little by little, around the same hearths where civilization is being most actively developed, a people foreign to any civilization.

Two fundamental corollaries flow from this separation:

1. On the one hand, the isolation of pauperism as an easily discernible social ill, as a separate world populated by failed citizens, allows for the ‘rehabilitation’ of ordinary poverty as a normal or even legitimate social phenomenon. Poverty is the habitual condition of the working classes and constitutes a characteristic of their environment. It becomes unacceptable only when it reaches a degree of intensity that threatens the survival of the honest family. Poverty is an essentially human condition that renders human beings more vulnerable to life’s unfortunate circumstances. The discourse of liberalism had a last learned to reconcile progress with poverty. Progress was no longer the emergence of a free people from the Egypt of ancestral poverty and arbitrariness. Instead it had become the sum of small individual victories over adversity: poverty was at once the precondition, the environment, and the fertile soil in which the possibility of a better life for all could take root.

Thus, the kind of poverty literally constituted the condition for the existence of civil society. It was not a political issue, or even really a social problem. Fundamentally, it derived from the inherent dynamics of civil society and was to be confined thereto. This explains why private charity reigned supreme in the economy of welfare. Not only because state charity was clumsy and dangerous, a pretext for demands formulated in terms of rights, but quite simply and more fundamentally because ‘normal’ poverty, as a general rule, demands relief only in its accidental manifestations, on the surface of civil society. Honest workers and toiling peasants were members of the autonomous poor struggling to survive and, if possible, thrive in a hard world. The will was their driving force, the aspiration to a better life their sustenance. If an accident such as illness or temporary unemployment were to befall them, charity was there to fill the gap. However, an accident is but is nature unforeseeable, unique, circumstantial. Poverty, like accidents in general, was thus the concern of those most able to intervene at the right place and time – that is, neighbours, the community, or the local relief organization (itself staffed by neighbours). Private charity, whatever its forms – whether secular or religious, ethnically based or municipal, outdoor or indoor, occasional or long-term, and whether it dispensed goods or services – was the ineluctable horizon of this ‘normal’ poverty.

2. On the other hand, the mass of pauperized individuals was excluded from the ordinary poverty that continued, for the time being, to bedevil the still-imperfect liberal societies. This mass of people was the precise equivalent of the more or less irretrievable criminals found in the liberal prisons. Political economy, so loquacious on the conditions of production and consumption, professed its powerlessness in the face of this marginal population, which had to be recorded as a liability on the balance sheet of progress, as noted by 

Antoine-Elisée Cherbuliez in 1853:

On the question of pauperism, political economy affords little but negative insights. It rejects state intervention as always impotent and often dangerous; it likewise rejects any system of social organization founded on the negation of property or the family, or on the right to work, as promising nothing but universal misery and societal dissolution. But the full exposition of these economic doctrines, and the refutation of errors and utopias…in no way contain the solution to our problem. They teach us only that it remains unresolved, and prevent us from taking red herrings for solutions.

But if pauperism has no solution, at least in the short term it nonetheless demands a response. If it is not to be cured, it can be perhaps at least contained. As in the case of criminals, confinement begins to take on the hues of a segregation procedure in which the ideal of reform gives way to prophylactic isolation. Here again, the Foucauldian notion of disciplinary treatment is of no use in grasping the meaning of the institutions of confinement in the economy of relief. Workhouses were not instruments of disciplinary knowledge. The new hub and spokes structures were not panopticons and in their regimes disciplinary techniques played a blind, repressive role. Generally, official strategy did not positively aim to reform and remake individual paupers. The aim was negatively to repress pauperism by making indoor relief thoroughly unattractive and making outdoor relief unobtainable for able-bodied men.

Unlike the charitable aid dispensed by the private sector, which was sensitive to the specificities of each case, the confinement of ‘degraded’ elements of the working classes was a systematic procedure based on the notion that anyone who willingly applied for and submitted to it must surely be unable to meet his own needs. This was the primary, fundamental criterion making the workhouse, the house of industry, or the beggar’s prison, more an instrument of discrimination than a place of refuge or assistance. A general distinction among those interned was established on the basis of the treatment accorded them, between the obligate dependency of abandoned children, the infirm, the elderly, or the insane, on the one hand, and the morally condemnable dependency of unemployed but able adults, on the other. But the particular circumstances of dependency were ultimately secondary to the facts of desperation and self-selection that gave rise to the institutionalization of extreme poverty. 

Moreover, despite the extreme discourse of the hard-liners of political economy, the validity of state intervention in this area was seldom challenged. A population without any great hope for reform, dangerous to the mass of honest citizens, and burdensome to administer had to be excluded, and appeals for state intervention to accomplish this were inevitable, if only for lack of something better – as Lambert stated in 1873:

The very existence of a poor law, the very fact that there does exist a provision for all who cannot provide for themselves, is a direct incentive to pauperism, and to the neglect of social ties…Do not think that I wish to say hard things against it. I say that for the time being it is the best, the only method of dealing with a great evil…I look forward to a time when we shall return to the original principle of the poor law, and consider poverty a crime.

Lambert makes it clear that the ‘poverty’ at issue here is that of pauperism, that form of extreme poverty in which so many people perpetually subsist. The poverty of paupers is a social crime of sorts, a violation of the conditions of life in society. It may be largely set down to a lack of foresight an inability to provide for one’s dependents, an unfitness for stable employment. It is a crime by omission, and the elites have learned to distinguish it from ‘true’ crime of the deliberate, or premeditated variety, yet it still dictates confinement for the individuals in question. Whether managed by the public authorities or otherwise, the institutions in which paupers were confined gave them special visibility by virtue of their physical segregation from ordinary poverty. It now became possible, and indeed tempting, to ascribe specific characteristics, or even physical or psychological idiosyncrasies, to this population – to categorize paupers as ‘defective, dependent, and delinquent’ in Wines’ 1888 words. The people living in prisons, houses of industry, asylums, and even hospitals became symptomatic of a sui generis social pathology on the basis of which they could be isolated from all forms of solidarity and marked as counterexamples of social normality. In this way, the problem they represented could be reduced to a localized condition of an otherwise fundamentally healthy social body.”

– Jean-Marie Fecteau, The Pauper’s Freedom. Translated by Peter Feldstein. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017. French edition 2004. pp.176-181 

Image: W. H. Davenport, “Skulkers from work – 

Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,

No. CXCVIII, Vol. XXXIII, November 1866. p. 686. From the NYPL Collection, ID 810126

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“The extent, the thoughtlessness, the indiscriminate nature, of our benevolence, has called into existence a class—the most noxious that can infest a community—to whom charity is an ample, a regular, a luxurious livelihood; who can calculate with certainty upon this income–who subsist upon it, as upon any other occupation or profession. The same system not only maintains this class, it is perpetually recruiting and increasing it. It tempts into it all the more indolent, reckless, and poor of the labouring classes. It saps the virtues of energy and self-reliance in those yet uncontaminated, by holding out to them the demoralizing contrast between the eas comforts of those who beg, and the hard privations of those who toil. Wherever it plants its baneful footsteps, it spreads selfishness around it. It teaches men, ever ready to learn so luxurious a lesson, to rely on others rather than themselves. It soon teaches them to claim, as a right, sustenance from others, and to be discontented and malignant when it is withheld: it raises barricades almost insurmountable in the path of real philanthropy: it renders it almost impossible to do good among this class: it undermines the efficiency of the religions teacher, and actually poisons his ministrations. The ministers attached to the domestic missions, even while describing the most painful scenes of squalid misery, intimate that they found their power of giving pecuniary aid sadly interfered with their moral and religious influence. While money could be extracted or – hoped for, a deaf ear was too generally turned to other and more valuable species of assistance.”

– Anonymous, “Charity, Noxious and Beneficent. A Review of The Charities of London by Sampson Low.” Westminster Review, Volume 59, 1853. pp. 70-71.

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“Ce qui fait du moderne paupérisme une plaie sociale, ce qui le rend effrayant et dangereux, c’est son alliance ordinaire avec un état d’abrutissement et de dépravation chez la masse des individus, effet trop naturel de leur agglomération et de leur homogénéité. Au lieu d’être disséminés dans toute la population d’une contrée, les indigents forment a eux seuls une population à part;
an lieu d’être atteints çà et là dans tous les rangs, ils sont atteints en corps et forment une classe distincte: ce sont les laboureurs de telle localité on bien les ouvriers de telle industrie, habitant presque seuls certains cantons, certains villages dans les campagnes, certains quartiers ou fau bourgs dans les villes.

On comprend aisément l’influence déplorable que doit exercer cette circonstance sur les habitudes et les sentiments du pauvre. Une fois qu’il a commencé à déchoir de sa dignité d’homme libre et de travailleur honête, il ne se relève plus et descend toujours plus bas, parce qu’il vit au milieu d’êtres qui subissent la même dégradation, les mêmes privations, les mêmes humiliations, et qu’il envisage dès lors tous ces maux comme des choses inhérentes à sa condition, inséparables de son genre de vie et de la profession qu’il a embrassée. Il oublie peu à
peu tous les besoins intellectuels et moraux dont la satisfaction est incompatible avec son extrême pauvreté; il réduit ses besoins matériels eux-mêmes jusqu’à la dernière limite que le soutien de son existence physique puisse lui permettre de s’imposer; il tombe, en un mot, dans animalisme, et finit pas n’avoir plus la conscience de son abaissement d’hui plus, ni d’un de son million dénoûment. 

Tels sont aujourd’hui plus de un million et demi 

de paysans irlandaises; tels les ouvriers qui peuplent certains quartiers des villes de Londres, de Liverpool, de Manchester, de Leeds, etc., en Angleterre; de Lille, de Rouen, de Lyon, etc., en France. 

La concentration de la misère dans certaines localités et chez certaines catégories sociales, voilà, nous le répétons, le trait distinctif du moderne paupérisme. Le nombre total des indigents peut ne s’être point accru depuis un demi-siècle, ou n’avoir augmenté qu’en proportion de la popula tion entière de chaque pays ; mais le fléau, en se développant avec une intensité particulière sur des points déterminés et parmi des classes entie rs! d’individus, a formé des foyers de misère où la dégénération physique et morale de l’espèce humaine, favorisée par cette agglomération et cette homogénéité des populations-misérables, a
fait des progrès et pris des proportions dont il y
a en peu d’exemples dans les périodes antérieures.”

– Antoine Cherbuliez, “Paupérisme.” in Coquelin and Guillaumin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique. Volume II. Paris: Guillaumin & Hachette, 1854. p. 337. 

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“Le devoir de la prévoyance, comme tous les de voirs, a besoin d’une sanction, et, dans l’ordre na turel des choses, cette sanction ne lui manque pas: c’est la responsabilité qui pèse sur chaque famille; c’est cet enchaînement de causes et d’effets qui condamne le travailleur imprévoyant à souffrir dans sa personne ou dans celle des membres de sa famille; c’est cette peine à la fois afflictive et infamante, la misère, dont la menace retentit sans cesse aux oreilles du nécessiteux, et qui est tou jours là, sur ses talons, prête à lui faire expier, par des privations et des souffrances physiques et morales, le moindre accès de paresse, la moindre
habitude vicieuse.”

– Antoine Cherbuliez, “Bienfaisance Publique.” in Coquelin and Guillaumin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique. Volume 1. Paris: Guillaumin & Hachette, 1854. p. 167. 

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“…we are becoming foolishly soft, weakly tender, irrationally maudlin, unwisely and mischievously charitable. Under the specious mask of mercy to the criminal and benevolence to the wretched, we spare our own feelings at the cost of the most obvious principles of morality, the plainest dictates of prudence, the dearest interests of our country. We are kind to every one, except society. We find it easier and more agreeable to be generous than to be just. We shrink from painful subjects, painful scenes, painful necessities.

Under the old system of parochial administration, for example, mistaken kindness, a misty sense of duty, and bad political economy, had gone hand-in-hand in augmenting destitution, and demoralizing our peasantry, till the result of their joint efforts threatened absolute ruin to sociey, when the new Poor-law stepped in to arrest the evil. It did much: it would have done much more, had not blind charity-—debased this time by an admixture of the worst political passions—interfered to prevent the free and full action of those thoroughly sound, though stern principles of right and justice, on which it was founded. It was perceived by the authors of that admirable measure, that the only way of discouraging pauperism, and promoting energy and self-reliance, was by rendering the position of the pauper less comfortable and less desirable than that of the independent labourer.

It was shown—what it was a reproach to our national good sense to think required a proof—that this was demanded by every consideration of policy and justice. But since it was necessary that the poor-house should be a substantial and weather-proof building; since it was essential to health and propriety that it should be warm and clean; and since it was impossible to feed the inmates so wretchedly, or to cook their food so ill, as in the case of the honest and self-supporting peasant, it became indispensable to the object in view to compensate these advantages to the pauper with some counterbalancing désagrements, in the shape of confinement, labour, classification, privation of tobacco and other luxuries, &c. &c. It was at once seen, moreover, that paupers supported by the contributions of the industrious part of the community should not be allowed to propagate their leisure and their discretion. 

On those ill-regulated individuals whose charity is the mere dictate of a shallow vanity, or into Whose donations publicity enters as a large and necessary element, we need waste no words of condemnation. “I hate charity,” Lord Dudley is somewhere reresented as saying; “’tis such an ostentatious vice.” “We hate charity,” might as fairly be said; “’tis such a lazy vice.” In a vast proportion of cases, and among those who contribute most liberally and largely, charity is a clumsy and hollow compromise between indolence and kindness; the acting motive is the offspring of a half-awakened conscience, and a more than half triumphant sloth.”

– Anonymous, “Charity, Noxious and Beneficent. A Review of The Charities of London by Sampson Low.” Westminster Review, Volume 59, 1853. pp. 63-64, 78.  

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“Quels ont été, dans tous ces cas si nombreux
et si divers, les résultats de la bienfaisance pu
blique? A-t-elle fait cesser l’indigence, détruit la
misère, remédié au paupérisme? Non: partout,
au contraire, elle a dû augmenter des efforts et
des sacrifices dont l’insuffisance devenait évi
dente , et appeler à son secours la bienfaisance
privée- pour combler une lacune qui grandissait
d’année en année; partout l’accroissement du
nombre des indigents a été d’autant plus rapide,
que la charité, soit publique, soit privée, se mon
trait plus large et plus active; partout, en conséquence, où ce système imprudemment adopté
avait fait prendre à l’indigence un grand déve
loppement et des proportions alarmantes, il a
fallu, pour qu’il continuât d’être praticable, y in
troduire des restrictions qui ont rendu l’assistance
officielle presque aussi fâcheuse pour les indigents
que la misère et le dénùment dont elle devait
les préserver.

La bienfaisance publique tourne dans un cercle
vicieux dont il lui est impossible de sortir: elle
crée une attente qu’elle ne pourra pas satisfaire ;
puis elle s’efforce de la rendre illusoire pour di
minuer le fardeau dont elle s’est témérairement
chargée.”

– Antoine Cherbuliez, “Bienfaisance Publique.” in Coquelin and Guillaumin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique. Volume 1. Paris: Guillaumin & Hachette, 1854. p. 170.

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“In so far as education has proved successful, in repressing vagrancy, I would answer, (without intending disparagement of the benevolent intentions of the projectors of the
scheme, or the zeal of the officials employed in its administration) No! 

The children of the dissolute and careless remain, to a great extent, outside its influences; progressing to crime and vagrancy is expanding yearly into still more frightful
dimensions, presenting now too alarming an aspect not to call for prompt and grave consideration
in the proper quarter. 

In the neglect of the proffered advantages of education, the children are frequently
to blame; but the parents are more generally the guilty party. Had they the welfare of
their offspring at heart, they would compel their attendance at school, where the opportunities
were available; but, instead of doing so, they, too often, not only connive at their
truancy, but absolutely encourage it, and find for them, instead, occupations calculated to
make them idlers and rogues; the children thus growing up pests to society, shunning
alike industry and education. 

Those who have gardens within a city, know the aptitude of the vagrant boys to strip
them of everything worth carrying off; and the owners of’ house property are aware, to
their cost, of the sharp artillery practice of this class, when the destruction of the windowglass
of their untenanted houses has to be accomplished. 

The encouragement given to vice, through the random charity bestowed in the public
streets on the “please give me a copper” class of vagrants, is much greater than the
benevolent contributors are generally aware of. The quantity of poison, yelept whiskey;
bought in a week or month with the alms thus given, would make a frightful flood, if collected
in one reservoir. 

Not alone by the parents and their vile associates the baneful beverage thus obtained
is consumed. hie youthful mendicant through whose doleful whines it had been procured, is also a partaker of it, and the harrowing spectacle of the innocence of childhood degraded,
through the example of the parents, to the level of brutality, may be witnessed on walking
through the slums inhabited by this wretched class, in the vagrant of some seven or eight
summers, the tyro drunkard, proud of mimicking, in its little maudlin swagger and hiccup,
the daily action of the miserable parent. 

Should any imagine that the picture here is overdrawn, let them but refer to the police
authorities of our populous cities, and they will receive the saddening confirmation of it.
It is, perhaps, whilst his heart is filled with the courage inspired by the liquor, the
youthful beggar first attempts a higher part in the role of vagrant life. The fear of being
pounced on by some lynx-eyed police officer, is no longer before his fuddled vision.  In
strolling about lie comes across something which his infant intelligence tells him can be
turned into money; he sneaks off with it unseen, and reaches home with it, undetected, where, through the agency of a “receiver,” or the accommodating officers of the grogseller,
it is speedily converted into whiskey.

From thus picking up small waifs on the wharves and market places, carrying home
“stray ” sticks of cordwood, taking off keys carelessly left in doors and such small beginnings,
the vagrant acquires confidence by success, creeping up into the bigher walks of
pickpocket, burglar, counterfeiter, in short everything which an adept in his profession
may aspire to until filling a cell in the Penitentiary…or a felon’s grave. 

The end so shocking, what was the beginning? Too generally, Vagrancy!


If the vagrant is to be reclaimed and the public spared the injury and cost of his misdeeds, some organized agency for the purpose is requisite.

This must necessarily be a state institution. The support desirable from private
beneficence is to uncertain to base on it the maintenance of a permanent undertaking. 

While simply pointing out the necessity that exists for some salutary measure, I do
not intend to enter upon the details of its organization, these would necessarily follow on
the adoption of the principle. 

The plans devised in those older countries, where vagrancy has been a subject of
state legislation, would supply the best information that made valuable by experience. 

That mode of treatment would best succeed, which would be gentle and compassionate.
The proceedings of the tribunal before which the vagrant should be brought for
examination, should be different from those pursued towards adult prisoners, and divested
of the exposure consequent on actual crime. 

The detectives employed (men tender and considerate) should be a body distinct from
the civic police, not alone in the duties discharged, but in the externals of dress. 

The vagrant, when taken up, should not be confined in an apartment used by the
criminals or disorderly classes, nor examined at the same time, or at the same place, with
them. Every harsh and repulsive feature should be put aside, that could give the appearance
of criminal prosecution to this first movement of benevolence in behalf of the vagrant.
The case should be enquired into in the presence of the parents, if the vagrant have
any, and they could be found; and every information possible should be obtained, in the
meantime, touching their reputation and habits. 

As, with every other scheme proposed for public consideration, objection may be made
to this one, on the ground of its expense, there need be but little room for this objection,
I imagine. 

Thus officers, one of them holding rank over the others, and competent to keep the
records of the department, and an office in which to keep these, which would also answer
for the Court, would constitute the bulk oi the expense, and this simple arrangement
would, at least for the present, embrace the necessary machinery for working the system. 

There are benevolent institutions at present in operation in Toronto which, under
suitable arrangements, would be found adequate to give the experiment a trial, and at
very small cost, I would suppose.
In the “ Boys’ Home,” an institution founded by some benevolent ladies of that city, and which has already done much to check the evil which is the subject of these remarks, would probably be found at least for some time a refuge for those vagrants of the Protestant
faith, and in the Reformatory Farm School, established by His Lordship the Catholic
Bishop of Toronto, would, I have no doubt, be received, those belonging to the Catholic
body. 

The establishment of such a tribunal and its machinery would, I have little doubt, be
hailed by many a sorrow-stricken parent as a blessing.
For the refractory youth-so often spoiled by blind indulgence, who does truant shuns from school and the parental roof, and associates with none but the worst of companions, and over when the parents have lost all influence, yet whom they cannot bring themselves to place in a prisoner’s dock; this tribunal and its-sentence of committal to a
strange but benevolent home, would be a merciful recourse, and, in all probability, restore
many a repentant prodigal to welcoming parents.”

– Inspector Terence O’Neil, “SEPARATE REPORT FOR THE YEAR 1864,” Annual Report of the Board of Inspectors of Asylums, Prisons &c for the year 1864. Sessional Papers of the Province of Canada, Sessional Papers No. 14, 29 Victoria, A. 1865. pp. 79-82

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