Зображення сторінки

They are barely able to stand themselves, and cannot possibly bear another's burden. Under ordinary circumstances, every electoral division ought to be able to support its own poor, and with judicious legislation they will no doubt shortly be in a position to do so ; but the present calamity places them far beyond the limits of ordinary circumstances. It is a national, an imperial calamity, which must be borne by each locality as far as its resources enable it, and the deficiency should be made up out of the imperial exchequer.

If by a national rate it be meant, that the whole expense of supporting the poor should be paid out of the general taxation of the empire, like any other of the public burdens, it is evidently objectionable, as leading to the most profuse expenditure and wanton extravagance in the management, when freed from the check of local interests ; it would also be necessary that the poor of England and Scotland should be placed on the same footing. But if by the term, “a national rate," it be meant that Ireland should be constituted into one large parish for poor-law purposes, what is this but to repeal the Union, by constituting a separation of interests on such an important point ? Unless the Union be repealed, these are not three kingdoms, but one united empire, of which the various counties are constituent parts. Cork is as Yorkshire ; Mayo, Caithness, and Lancashire are equally the objects of imperial care. If one suffer beyond its capability of endurance, it is entitled to assistance from the common fund to which all contribute ; to the care of the central authority, which exists to promote the well-being of all. It is a question between the common government of the empire and the afflicted county or province, not one between England and Galway, or Ireland and Lancashire. England may have been the richest and most powerful of the three separate kingdoms; but in consenting to a union, she waived her superiority, merged her individual existence, and placed her constituent counties on a level with those of Scotland and Ireland. To revive this claim of superiority, to speak of England in terms which are applicable only to the empire at large, is unwise, whether on the part of individuals or of the public press. It can only tend to create dissension between different parts of the same state, and to keep up those hostile feelings, which the sense of mutual dependence and a common interest would soon bury in oblivion.

In this spirit the Government have acted, and the advances from the Treasury, the payment out of the national funds of half the expenditure on public works, have been a just and a generous con

tribution towards meeting the present difficulty. The destitute have been, to a great extent, supported. They should not now be allowed to starve, because the district in which they live is bankrupt. The most strenuous exertions should be used to collect the poor-rates, undeterred by threats, and uninfluenced by favouritism ; but if the amount prove insufficient, the government must again be called on to assist. It would be highly injudicious to confiscate the property of the afilicted district, to ruin the present inhabitants, by insisting on too heavy a rate, and withholding all assistance, until, the whole population being reduced to pauperism, it became evident that there was no alternative but assistance or death. · There is no propriety in looking to Kildare or Antrim to assist the poverty of Kerry or Donegal. They support their own poor, pay their own rates, contribute towards the general expenses of the empire by the payment of taxes, and are no more bound to support the destitution of the west of Ireland, than are the inhabitants of Norfolk or the citizens of London. If Manchester were in distress, her factories idle, her hard-working population unemployed, the poor-rate so high that even the wealth of Manchester was unable to bear the burden ; it would be utterly useless to apply to her neighbours, themselves suffering from the same calamity. Relief could only come from the imperial exchequer; and from it, unquestionably, relief would be afforded. Let it not be supposed that the illustration is extravagant, or that such a case is impossible. Three years ago, the failure of the potato-crop appeared quite as improbable. “ To the north-western population of Eng“ land, cotton is not only a necessary of life, but it “ is that paramount necessary which includes all “ others."* Already Manchester suffers from a short crop of cotton, as she never suffered before. But let the blight be total in Louisiana and Georgia; let a servile war interrupt the cultivation, and destroy the hopes of the cotton planter ; and the destitution in Manchester, and over a large part of Lancashire, would rapidly approach to that of Mayo. The sources of employment would be dried up. The factories would be as valueless as the untilled fields of Erris. The poor, having no money, and receiving no wages, would become destitute. It would be impossible to collect a poorrate sufficient for the necessity. Recourse must be had to the imperial exchequer.

The following suggestion, made by Professor Hancock, is much to the point, and is here quoted, both because it is so explanatory, and also

* Times, Sept. 4th, 1847.

that the proposal may have the support of his authority :-“ The principle is thus admitted, " that although the property in the distressed “ districts ought to be primarily charged with the “ cost of relief, yet when the cost becomes exces“sive, part of the burden should be thrown on the “ public taxes. This principle could be applied to " the extended poor-law, and the difficulty about

confiscation would be at once avoided. If the “ expenditure of any electoral division, under the “ extended poor-law, in one month, should ex" ceed five pence for each pound of net annual “ value, that is, five shillings a year, let one-half “ of the excessive expenditure be defrayed by “public grants. If the expenditure of any electo“ral division in one month should exceed one “ shilling and three pence for each pound of net “ annual value, let the excess above such sum be “ entirely defrayed by public grants ; with power “ to the government, in the latter case, to appoint “ a special guardian, without whose consent no “ further relief should be given.

“In this plan of raising the funds, the sums of “ five pence in the pound, and one shilling and three " pence in the pound, are of course only taken for “ illustration. The scale on which public contribu“tions should be given, ought not to be determined s without elaborate investigation of the subject.

« НазадПродовжити »