This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
In its broadest sense, half the world exists on charity; and the amount of wealth so distributed, exceeds calculation.
Man comes into the world a helpless being. If left alone, he dies. He has not the faculties of self-defence and self-support that brute young possess. Years pass before he attains the power of maintaining his own existence.
Even in the best states of society, woman is, to a great degree, rendered, by delicacy of constitution, incapable of self-support. At times, the fierce competitions of trade may be hushed when she comes among them; yet she must always subsist somewhat by the sufferance of the fiercer and stronger sex. In the barbarous state, she is the tool and slave of man.
Besides these large classes, the field of adult manhood is trenched upon by accidents of birth or circumstance, that render thousands incapable, physically or mentally, of earning a livelihood.
All these must live by charity.
But in the sense of economy, in our modern civilized state, the field of this agency is greatly limited. The family relation adopts by far the greater part of all who are helpless to control their own condition. There have been peoples where children were the property of the state, and were reared at the public charge. There have been communities where women were had in common, and their maintenance was included in the budget of the treasurer. But the world has settled down to the family relation, and so we are to consider it.
But there are yet melancholy outcasts from society,— aged folk and cripples and young children, — who have lost their staff and stay by the natural course of life, by the ravages of vice, by appalling accidents, or by the devastations of war. These form a great community, over which the state is called to watch with tender care; a solemn trust, appealing to the holiest feelings of our nature. For these it has to provide, not food and shelter alone, but healing for their diseases, correction for their vices, help for their infirmities of body and mind, instruction and useful arts, as far as they are capable of receiving them.
Such are the natural constituents of this class; but unfortunately, by social obstructions and political oppression, we find, in some communities, thousands of able-bodied and hard-working men dragged down into the mire of beggary, compelled by wicked institutions to shameful want.
There is hardly any social result so distressing as the reduction of the healthy workman to the low ground of charity. This, found in almost any degree in a political system, must be held to offset a great many splendid merits; while freedom from such conditions must be accepted as satisfaction for many conspicuous defects. Legislators should ever consider the independence of the poor man as the visible "fulfilment of the law." It is a crying curse, that ever a stout man, glad to work, should be forced to beg.
In the United States, the question of charities has not that engrossing interest which it commands in the older peoples of the world. Land here is so cheap, labor so much in demand, that no able-bodied man has any excuse for pauperism. And even a large share of those disabled by severe accidents are yet competent to earn something for livelihood, in a country where every hand is wanted for work. It is probable, that the pauperage of the nation is not, in ordinary times, equal to one-half of one per cent of its population; while England and Wales had, in 1859, four and a half per cent; Holland, in 1855, eight and a half; Belgium, in 1846, sixteen; East and West Flanders rising that year to thirty per cent.
The methods of charity have not, therefore, the same importance with us which they bear elsewhere. It is a matter of profound concern with others, that pauperism should be in every way discouraged, and that what of it is necessary should be as cheaply arranged as possible. Here, the only occasion for anxiety is, lest some unfortunate should be overlooked in the general prosperity of the country. It will not, however, be without interest and instruction to regard carefully the practical principles which should govern the administration of charity.
1st, What classes are entitled to charity?
Manifestly all who are unable to subsist in human decency without it.