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A Year's Residence in the United States of America: Vol 2
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389. IT is a subject of great exultation in the hireling newspapers of the Borough-villains, that "poverty and poor-rates have found their way to America." As to the former it is literally true; for the poverty that is here has, almost the whole of it, come from Europe; but, the means of keeping the poor arise here upon the spot.
390. Great sums of money are raised in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other great sea-ports, for the maintenance of "the poor," and, the Boroughmongers eagerly catch at the published accounts of this concern, and produce them as proofs, that misery is as great in America as it is under their iron rod. I will strip them of this pretext in a few minutes.
391. Let us take New York, for instance. It is notorious that, whatever may be the number of persons relieved by poor rates, the greater part of them are Europeans, who have come hither, at different periods and under circumstances of distress, different, of course, in degree. There is, besides, a class of persons here of a description very peculiar; namely; the free negroes. Whatever may have been the motives, which led to their emancipation, it is very certain, that it has saddled the white people with a charge. These negroes are a disorderly, improvident set of beings; and, the paupers, in the country, consist almost wholly of them. Take out the foreigners and the negroes, and you will find, that the paupers of New York do not amount to a hundredth part of those of Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham, or London, population for population. New York is a sea-port, and the only great sea-port of a large district of country. All the disorderly crowd to it. It teems with emigrants; but, even there, a pauper, who is a white, native American, is a great rarity.
392. But, do the Borough-villains think, that the word pauper has the same meaning here that it has under their scorpion rod? A pauper under them means a man that is able and willing to work, and who does work like a horse; and who is so taxed, has so much of his earnings taken from him by them to pay the interest of their Debt and the pensions of themselves and their wives, children, and dependents, that he is actually starving and fainting at his work. This is what is meant by a pauper in England. But, at New York, a pauper is, generally, a man who is unable, or, which is more frequently the case, unwilling to work; who is become debilitated from a vicious life; or, who, like boroughmongers and Priests, finds it more pleasant to live upon the labour of others than upon his own labour. A pauper in England is fed upon bones, garbage, refuse meat, and "substitutes for bread." A pauper here expects, and has, as much flesh, fish and bread and cake as he can devour. How gladly would many a little tradesman, or even little farmer, in England, exchange his diet for that of a New York pauper!
393. Where there are such paupers as those in England, there are beggars; because, when they find, that they are nearly starved in the former character, they will try the latter in spite of all the vagrant acts that any hell-born Funding system can engender. And, who ever saw a beggar in America? "I have!" exclaims some spy of the Boroughmongers, who hopes to become a Boroughmonger himself. And so have I too. I have seen a couple since I have been on this Island; and of them I will speak presently. But there are different sorts of beggars too as well as of paupers. In England a beggar is a poor creature, with hardly rags (mere rags) sufficient to cover its nakedness, so far even as common decency requires. A wretched mortal, the bare sight of whom would freeze the soul of an American within him. A dejected, broken down thing, that approaches you bare-headed, on one knee, with a trembling voice, with "pray bestow your charity, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake have compassion on a poor soul ;" and, if you toss a half-penny into his ragged hat, he exclaims in an extacy, "God Almighty bless your honour!" though you, perhaps, be but a shoe-black yourself. An American beggar, dressed very much like other people, walks up to you as boldly as if his pockets were crammed with money, and, with a half smile, that seems to say, he doubts of the propriety of his conduct, very civilly asks you, if you can HELP him to a quarter of a dollar. He mostly states the precise sum; and never sinks below silver. In short, there is no begging, properly so called. There is nothing that resembles English begging even in the most distant degree.
394, I have now been here twenty months, and [ have been visited by only two beggars. The first was an Englishman, and what was more to me, a Surrey man too; a native of Croydon. He asked me if I could help him to a quarter of a dollar; for, it is surprising how apt scholars they are. "Yes," said I, "if you will help my men to do some work first." He said he could not do that, for he was in a hurry. I told him, that, if a man, with a dollar a day, and pork for the tenth part of a dollar a pound, could not earn his living, he ought to be hanged; "however," said I, "as you are the first Surrey man I ever saw in America besides myself, if you be not hanged before this day week, and come here again, I will help you to a quarter of a dollar." He carne, and I kept my word. The second beggar was an Italian. This was a personage of "high consideration." He was introduced to the side of my writing table. He behaved with a sort of dignified politeness, mixed with some what of reserve, as if he thought the person to whom he was addressing himself a very good sort of man, but of rank inferior to himself. We could not understand each other at first; but, we got into French, and then we could talk. He having laid down his hat, and being seated, pulled out a large parcel of papers, amongst which was a certificate from the Secretary of State of His Majesty the King of Sardinia, duly signed and countersigned, and sealed with a seal having the armorial bearings of that sovereign. Along with this respectable paper was an English translation of it, done at New York, and authenticated by the Mayor and a Notary Public, with all due formality. All the time these papers were opening, I was wondering what this gentleman could be. I read, and stared, and read again. I was struck not less by the novelty than the audacity of the thing. "So then," said I, breaking silence, "your sovereign, after taxing you to your ruin, has been graciously pleased to give you credentials to show, that he authorizes you to beg in America; and, not only for yourself but for others; so that you are an accredited ambassador from the beggars in Sardinia!" He found he was got into wrong hands: and endeavoured to put an end to the negociation at once, by observing, that I was not forced to give, and that my simple negative was enough. "I beg your pardon, Sir," said I, "you have submitted your case to me; you have made an appeal to me; your statement contains reasons for my giving; and that gives me aright to shew, if I can, why I ought not to give." He then, in order to prevent all reasoning, opened his Subscription, or Begging-book, and said: "you see, Sir, others give!" "Now," said I, "you reason, but your reasoning is defective; for, if you were to shew me, that you had robbed all my neighbours without their resenting it, would it follow that I must let you rob me too?' "Ah! par bleu" said he, snatching up his credentials, "je vois que vous étes un avare" — Ah! by Old Nick, I see you are a Miser. — And off he went; not, however, before I had had time to tell him to be sure to give my best respects to the king of Sardinia, and to tell His Majesty to keep his beggars at home.
395. I afterwards found, that cases like this are by no means rare; and that, in Pennsylvania, in particular, they have accredited beggars from all parts of the continent of Europe. This may be no unuseful hint for the English Boroughmongers, who have an undoubted claim to precedence before the German and Italian beggars. The Boroughmongers may easily add a legation of mendicity to their Envoyships and Consulships, without any great disgrace to the latter; and, since they can get nothing out of America by bullying and attacking, try what can be gained by canting and begging. The chances are, however, that many of them will, before they die, be beggars in their own proper persons and for their own use and behoof; and thus give a complete rounding to their career; plunderers in prosperity, and beggars in adversity.
396. As to the poor-rates, the real poor-rates, you must look to the country. In England the poor-rates equal in amount the rent of the land! Here, I pay, in poor-rates, only seven dollars upon a rent of six hundred! And I pay my full share. In short, how is it possible, that there should be paupers to any amount, where the common average wages of a labourer are six dollars a week; that is to say, twenty-seven shillings sterling, and where the necessaries of life are, upon an average, of half the price that they are in England? How can a man be a pauper, where he can earn ten pounds of prime hog-meat a day, six days in every week? I was at a horse-race, where I saw at least five thousand men, and not one man in shabby clothes.
397. But, some go back after they come from England; and the Consul at New York has thousands of applications from men who want to go to Canada; and little bands of them go off to that fine country very often. These are said to be disappointed people. Yes, they expected the people at New York to come out in boats, I suppose, carry them on shore, and give up their dinners and beds to them! If they will work, they will soon find beds and dinners: if they will not, they ought to have none. What, did they expect to find here the same faces and the same posts and trees that they left behind them? Such foolish people are not worth notice. The lazy, whether male or female, all hate a government, under which every one enjoys his earnings, and no more. Low, poor and miserable as they may be, their principle is precisely the same as that of Boroughmongers and Priests: namely, to live without labour on the earnings of others. The desire to live thus is almost universal; but with sluggards, thieves, Boroughmongers, and Priests, it is a principle of action. Ask a Priest why he is a Priest. He will say (for he has vowed it on the Altar!) that he believes himself called by the Holy Ghost to take on him the care of souls. But, put the thing close to him; push him hard; and you will find it was the benefice, the money and the tithes, that called him. Ask him what he wanted them for. That he might live, and live, too, without work. Oh! this work! It is an old saying, that, if the Devil find a fellow idle, he is sure to set him to work; a saying the truth of which the Priests seem to have done their utmost to establish.
398. Of the goers back was a Mr. ONSLOW WAKEFORD, who was a coach-maker, some years, in Philadelphia, and who, having, from nothing hardly to begin with, made a comfortable fortune, went back about the time that I returned home. I met him, by accident, at Goodwood, in Sussex, in 1814. We talked about America. Said he, "I have often thought of the foolish way, in which my good friend, NORTH, and I used to talk about the happy state of England. The money that I have paid in taxes here, would have kept me like a gentleman there. Why," added he, "if a labouring man here were seen having in his possession, the fowls and other things that labourers in Philadelphia carry home from market, he would be stopped in the street, and taken up on suspicion of being a thief; upon the supposition of its being impossible that he could have come honestly by them." I told this story after I got home; and we read in the news-papers, not long afterwards, that a Scotch Porter, in London, who had had a little tub of butter sent him up from his relations, and who was, in the evening, carrying it from the vessel to his home, had actually been seized by the Police, lodged in prison all night, brought before the magistrate the next day, and not released until he had produced witnesses to prove that he had not stolen a thing, which was thought far too valuable for such a man to come at by honest means! What a state of things must that be? What! A man in England taken up as a thief and crammed into prison, merely because he was in possession of 20 pounds of butter!
399. Mr. WAKEFORD is, I dare say, alive. He is a very worthy man. He lives at CHICHESTER. I appeal to him for the truth of the anecdote relating to him. As to the butter story, I cannot name the precise date; but, I seriously declare the fact to have been as I have related it. I told Mr. WAKEFORD, who is a very quiet man, that, in order to make his lot in England as good as it was in America, he must help us to destroy the Boroughmongers. He left America, he told me, principally in consequence of the loss of his daughter (an only child) at Philadelphia, where she, amongst hundreds and hundreds of others, fell before the desolating lancets of 1797, 1798 and 1799.