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opulent commercial, and a numerous and intelligent operative class—sudden alterations of prosperity and depression-extremes of wealth and destitution
- the increase of crime—the spread of education political excitement-conflicting claims of capital and industry--divided and independent opinions on every public question, with many other anomalies peculiar to our existing state.
Another result of the transition from agricultural to manufacturing supremacy, has been the creation of not only new interests and new questions of discussion, but also a vast enlargement of the circle of inquirers. Questions of government, of law, of commerce, and industry, are not now agitated and solved by a limited and prescriptive class-the clergy, the educated and learned—but by that powerful and multitudinous body, forming at least nineteen-twentieths of the community, denominated the INDUSTRIOUS ORDERS. No monopoly of intelligence is recognised; the dissemination of opinions, as the vend of commodities, is claimed to be free and unprivileged.
It is to meet in some degree these altered conditions of society, this publication has been designed. My purpose has been, first to present an outline of the history, and a digest of the chief facts illustrative of the past and present state of the Middle and Working Classes ; and, secondly, to give a brief, and popular exposition of the social and economical questions which agitate the community in its several relations of governors and governedcapitalists and labourers-employers and employed. A work in a cheap and accessible form, embracing these objects, it appeared to me would fill a chasm in the department of useful literature, and might allay jealousies and animosities, by removing their most fruitful source-defective information. That I have been entirely successful in my undertaking, I do not flatter myself, but a long and attentive observance of the political, moral, and industrial state of England, imboldened me to make the attempt.
The work is divided into three Parts, exclusive of the Appendix.
Part I. comprises a History of the Middle and Working Classes, tracing their origin and progress, and indicating the chief circumstances by which their social condition, up to this time, has been determined. To judge of their present and prospective state, it was necessary to revert to the past, and point out the measures by which their existing position has been attained. This part, therefore, may be considered preliminary to those which follow.
The Second Part is denominated Political Economy of the Industrious Orders, but is more particularly intended to be a popular exposition of the principles which influence the relations and conditions of the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing
classes. My object here in particular was to be practical, and avoid, both in matter and language, what may be termed the metaphysics of economical science. The chapters, however, on Wages, Population, Capital and the Middle Classes, Money, Trades' Unions, Poor-laws, Rent of Land, &c., will show that the elucidation of no important truth has been omitted nor compromised, but that all the great maxims on which the wellbeing of the several orders is mutually dependent, have been unshrinkingly, and, I hope, intelligibly, though briefly unfolded.
Since the days of Adam Smith, political economy has become in some respects a new science, not so much from the acquisition of new truths, as by the new questions forced upon its consideration by the exigencies of society. Fluctuations in employments -over-population-the apportionment of wages and profits — the instrument of exchange -- and the voluntary and compulsory relief of indigence, form the engrossing subjects of attention, and on which we find little to guide us in the Wealth of Nations. The treatment of some of these matters will be found peculiar to this publication. The Unions of Trades form a novel feature in our industrial situation. Formerly we had to struggle for freedom in the employment of capital against the ignorance of rulers, and the selfishness of individuals; now, it seems industry aspires to establish its monopolies of labour on the exploded errors of the mercantile system. The ostensible object of the trade associations in the equitable conservation of their own interests is laudable; but one always views with apprehension the exercise of secret and irresponsible powers, and I have endeavoured to ascertain the limits within which their operations may be beneficial or injurious to themselves and the community.
On the important subject of the PooR-LAWS, I have differed from some of the more intrepid, but not, perhaps, best informed of my contemporaries. They always appeared to me an institution of police, no less than of humanity, inseparable from a civilized community. Under their operation, the working classes of England may be advantageously compared with those of any European country, and under an improved administration, they may, I doubt not, be made more conducive to the diminution of indigence, than any system that could be substituted in their place. It is a sad mistake t consider the poor an aggregation of vice and imposture, to consider every man in want a suspected, if not convicted, delinquent; or to think that any considerable proportion of them would not prefer —were they attainable--the independent wages of industry, to parish or charitable allowance. I who have had abundant opportunities for observing the poor, know such conclusions to be erroneous; they are the deductions of selfishness or misanthropy, derived from the exceptions not the rule of life.
The origin of some prevalent errors on the poorlaws, as well as their more prominent abuses, I have endeavoured to explain. While I concede the necessity of their institution, I know well they are only an imperfect substitute for individual prudence, but till that prudence is formed, we must submit to their provisional establishment, as the least of a choice of evils, and the most effective instrument of its creation.
The Third Part is Political Philosophy—a term, which in its most extensive application, also includes political economy, but in this case is restricted to an exposition of the Principles of Government, Civil Liberty, Laws, Property, Morals, the English Constitution, and Popular Education. These are all important themes, and in the estimation of some, of delicate import; but it appears to me as unwise as impracticable, in times like these, to shun their investigation, and it is much better their real foundation should be stated, than that the crude ideas which are constantly being promulgated, should gain a transient-for it could never be permanentascendancy. In lieu of social institutions being endangered, I feel assured they will be improved and strengthened by popular inquiry and reflection.
The above affords, I think, a tolerable outline of the scope and plan of the publication. The design is a popular compendium of social and economical knowledge, to state principles briefly and clearly