Page images

lutely forced to satisfy their clamorous demands. These beggars not only infested all the streets, public walks, and public places; but they even made a practice of going into private houses, where they never failed to steal whatever fell in their way.

In short, these detestable vermin swarmed everywhere : and not only their impudence and clamorous importunity were without any bounds, bui they had recourse to the most diabolical arts, and the most horrid crimes, in the prosecution of their infamous trade. Young children were stolen from their parents by these wretches, and their eyes put out, or their tender limbs broken and distorted, in order, by exposing them thus maimed, lo excite the pity and commiseration of the public.

• Some of these monsters were so void of all feeling, as to expose even their own children, naked and almost starved, in the streets, in order that by their cries and unaffected expressions of distress, they might move those who passed by to pity and relieve them; and in order to make them act their part more naturally, they were mercifully beaten when they came home, by their inhuman parents, if they did not bring with them a certain sum, which they were ordered to collect.'

Similar impositions and cruelties, we may well-suppose, have elsewhere marked the ravages of this 'overflowing scourge,' on the continent of Europe. most astonishing length has the predatory system of which I am now complaining, been carried in England, especially in and about the metropolis. To an amazing height has the audacity of the vilest miscreants proceeded under ihe cloak of extreme poverty.

It appears,

from the report of a select Committee of the House of Com


To a

mons, appointed to investigate the causes and extent of pauperism, that hundreds of hale and sturdy beggars, infest the streets of the capital, and occupy all the approaches to it by day; and that they have places of rendezvous in the environs, to which they repair at night, to make their report, and to riot and satten on their ill-gotlen spoils. Can the demoralizing tendency of practices like these, admit of a single doubt? If the grand object were to furnish victims for the gallows, and tenants for the state prisons; to train men to theft, robbery, murder, rape, and blasphemy, could any more promising school of violence, pollution, and blood be countenanced and patronized in any community ?

I trust, brethren, that scourging and maiming helpless children, have not, as yet, attended the progress of mendicity in this enlightened and highly favored country. But who can pronounce with confidence, that these horrible enormities have never been practised even here ? Human nature is everywhere the same ; and there is no philosophical truth more firmly established than this, that like causes produce like effects. If the system has not yet had time to develope all its haggard and diabolical- seatures, in the United States, it is surely and steadily tending to the fullest maturity of sin and suffering.

Who does not know, that most of those loathsome, strolling wretches who infest our towns, are addicted to lying, swearing, drunkenness, and theft.

How many of them seem to take it for granted, that whatever you possess is theirs, and most outrageously abuse you, in your own houses, if you venture to deny them. How many of these insufferable drones and impostors have you found intoxicated, with the very money which you had given them to procure a night's lodging at the public

house. How often have they profanely assailed you with quotations from scripture, and dreadful imprecations of divine vengeance, when you have thought it your duty to send them away empty. Which of you would trust one of them alone, for a moment, in a room where you have any thing valuable that can be taken away?

? And are such impositions and abuses as these to be tolerated ? Can we justify ourselves before God, in squandering upon these impious vagabonds what ought to be given away in real charity ? No; let such harpies find, that what they get costs much more than it is worth. Make their nefarious trade as disgraceful and unprofitable as possible, and you will soon be freed from their impertinence. Let the same course be pursued everywhere, and I hesitate not to say, that it will be a great blessing to the vagrants themselves. It will drive most of them to labor for their own support; and thus, while their best good is promoted, the public will be relieved from a most unreasonable burden. In the mean time, the few who are really incapable of self-support, will find their way to alms-houses and other asylums, where they will, in general, be made far more comfortable than they are, or can be, in their present vagrant course of life.

Upon the whole, I am constrained, brethren, to give it as my deliberate opinion, that more than nine tenths of all that is bestowed upon itinerant beggars, in the shape of charity, is far worse than thrown away.

It goes to feed a nest of vipers. It fearfully increases the evil, which it is intended to relieve.

But here, benevolence may ask, what then ought to be done? Shall all these miserable beings be spurned from every door, and left to starve in the streets ? No, my brethren, far from it. Your laws have made ample

provision for their support; and under some of the best regulations, I believe, that human wisdom has ever de vised. They have, in the first place, ordered to be built, in every county,' a house of correction, to be used and employed for the keeping, correcting, and setting to work of rogues, vagabonds, common beggars, and other idle, disorderly, and lewd persons. To carry the provisions of the statute into effect, every Justice of the peace is expressly authorised to commit to the said houses of correction, all rogues, vagabonds, and idle persons, going about in any town, or place, begging ; also, common drunkards, and such as neglect their calling or employment; mispend what they earn, and do not provide for themselves and for the support of their families.'

Let every vagrant beggar, then, be reported to the nearest Justice of the peace, and sent away immediately to the house of correction, where, if able, he may be compelled to labor for his own support. This course might be attended with some little inconvenience at first; but it would, I am persuaded, be the most effectual, and, in its operation, the most benevolent course, that can be taken with common beggars. If any doubt, however, should arise in your minds, whether the stranger applying for charitable aid, ought to be ranked with such, direct him to the Selectmen of the town; and, if, upon inquiry, they find him a proper object of charity, let him be provided for as a state pauper. This would have a surprising effect. Not one in twenty' would ever apply to the fathers of the town; for vagrants, of all men, hate the trouble of substantiating their claims, by any higher evidence, than their own declarations. Few of them are deficient in natural sagacity; and many are gifted with extraordinary shrewdness. They soon learn where they

can prosecute their trade to the best advantage, and with the fewest embarrassments. Let half a dozen of them find that nothing can be obtained without an application to the Selectmen, and nearly the whole tribe will soon abandon any town, as a theatre wholly unfit for their operations.

2. The claims and wants of adult resident paupers, next demand your attention. These, it is agreed on all hands, must be taken care of. They must be sheltered, and fed, and clothed. But how, where, and under what regulations, are questions of considerable moment. The laws of this Commonwealth hold all the rateable property of each town solemnly pledged for the support of its own poor. Whether this is the best mode of providing the necessary funds, I shall not stop to inquire. It has, I am aware, recently been questioned by some very able writers. But we must take the law as it is : and perhaps it could not be altered for the better. It certainly manifests a very benevolent regard for those who cannot maintain themselves.

In providing for adult paupers, you should endeavor, as far as practicable, to make a distinction between the virtuous poor, and those of a contrary character; and to unite comfort, economy, reformation, and prevention in your system.

There is no where, perhaps, a greater difference of character, than among paupers. The dependance of some, or rather the cause of it, is their deepest guilt and shame. They are self-destroyed. They have, in a sense, cut off their own hands. They have thrown their prop

ty into the fire, or what is far worse, have cast it into the bottomless gulf of intemperance. Now reason and religion seem alike to require, that a difference should be

« PreviousContinue »