“…I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion
of the means.—I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making
them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In
my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more
public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for
themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was
done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no
country in the world [but England] where so many provisions are established for
them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and
maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both
sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their
estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these
obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their
best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this
burthen?—On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in
which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you
passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all
inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on
somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support
in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of
idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the
increase of poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their
manners. St. Monday, and St. Tuesday,
will cease to be holidays. SIX days shalt thou labour, though one of the
old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a
respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower
people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their
happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by
dividing all your estates among them.”
(Benjamin Franklin, "On
the Price of Corn and the Management of the Poor" (1766), Writings
(New York: Library of America, 1987), 587-88).
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