|A TABLE showing the number of Paupers supported at the public expense in the city and county of ALBANY, during the twelve months preceding April 21, 1823, with other particulars, derived from public documents and reports furnished the Secretary of State.|
| Sums of money raised by tax, in the city and county of
for the support of the poor, in the years 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821,
In the year
There were eight paupers sent to this town from the town of Knox, by an order of removal from which we appealed, and the appeal is still pending in the supreme court: the costs will probably not be less than $800. I am convinced that a total alteration of the pauper system has become necessary, especially with respect to appeals, removals and settlements. They create an enormous burthen upon the community. [Letter from the supervisor of Guilderland.]
I am of opinion that a county poorhouse, in each county, would decrease pauperism, and the expense of supporting the poor. [Letter from overseer of the poor of Watervliet.]
CITY OF ALBANY.
In the city of Albany, 126 paupers were
supported in and 20 out of the alms-house: 26 of those in
the alms-house, employed in cultivating the farm attached to the
alms-house, the residue in picking hair and oakum, and in the internal and
domestic concerns of the establishment. The labor done, exclusive of what
is done by the women, is estimated to amount to $843.37. Of the 126
paupers in the alms-house, 56 are male, and 70 female; between 50 and 60,
are men, disabled by sickness, &c. from gaining a livelihood for
themselves; 46 are children, under the age of seven years. The salary of
the superintendent of the alms-house is $300; of an overseer of the poor,
$100; and two physicians, ($250 each,) $500--Total, $900. Twenty-three
paupers have been removed, by order. The farm attached to the alms-house,
contains about 60 acres. Many of the paupers are transient, or county
paupers, for the support of which the county paid $1790.76.
From my own observation, I am of opinion, that a very considerable proportion of the poor, who now depend upon charity principally, might be enabled to support themselves entirely. One lamentable fact must be acknowledged, that our numerous charitable institutions, however laudable and proper in themselves, have the unhappy tendency of increasing the number of dependent poor; they are induced too much to rely upon them for support, or at least to believe, that there is no great necessity for their individual efforts for their own maintenance; and it is to be feared that this circumstance may in some degree, interfere with any plan that may be devised for the improvement of the condition of the poor.
That there is a radical defect in our poor laws, is but too apparent, from the simple fact, that under our present system, pauperism is a growing evil; and I have come to the conclusion, as the result of all my observation and reflection on this subject, that the erection of houses of industry, is the only effectual mode of improvement. This notion seems to be very general, and as far as I have been able to learn, is the result of all the research, labor and attention, that has been bestowed upon the subject by respectable gentlemen, in this and many of our sister states; and to this end, it will be necessary, that the legislature should compel the erection of houses of employment in the several counties in the state; or two or more counties, of their population, should be at liberty to associate in the erection of a house of employment: to these institutions, all the poor in the respective counties should be sent -- no relief should be afforded to out-door pensioners -- this secret mode of relieving poor families, at their houses, is undoubtedly a powerful incentive to many to seek relief, when a little straightened in their circumstances, whose pride would deter them from entering our houses of employment, and thus become publicly and notoriously paupers; and from this rule there should be no exemption, except in cases of inability to be removed. In a large and commodious building, connected with a farm, all who might be sent there, could be employed, either in cultivating the farm, or at such other occupations, as the persons having the superintendence of the institution should direct. A house of correction, or penitentiary, should be attached to this institution, wherein that class of persons, denominated by our law disorderly persons, should be confined and employed, and such other persons as the legislature might direct. This plan would afford to the virtuous and unfortunate poor, an advantage over the intemperate or vicious poor, inasmuch as they might be classed, in reference to cleanliness, sobriety, submission, industry, and faithfulness in their work, and thereby avoid that indiscriminate arrangement, which usually obtains in almshouses.
This is but a faint outline of my ideas of a house of employment. It cannot be expected, nor do I feel competent to go into a minute detail, of what might be supposed the best mode for the internal management of such an institution, either in respect to diet, employment, &c.
Plans of reform, like the one above proposed, when the operation of such reform is expensive, will, as a matter of course, and merely from its novelty, meet with a cold reception; and I am prepared to hear the popular objection, that the erection of these houses of employment, will require the expenditures of large sums of money; I have no doubt, however, (although I have no data in my possession from which I can make any thing like a correct estimate,) that houses of employment may be erected upon the contemplated plan, for a sum considerably less than the amount of the annual tax raised for the support of the poor in the state. Upon this point, however, you will be well informed, and will be enabled to afford such information as will satisfy even the most fastidious; the operation of this plan would have the happy tendency of abolishing the practice of selling paupers at auction, which prevails in many towns in our state.
The transmission of paupers from county to county, by constables, is a feature in our poor law which ought to be abandoned. There is so much of barbarity in this disposition of the poor, that I am astonished when I reflect that in a country boasting of its free institutions, a custom so abhorrent to the best feelings of our nature, should have so long obtained; for it will be perceived, that from whatever cause persons may become chargeable, whether from misfortune or otherwise, all are alike submitted to the degradation of a custom which should never be tolerated in a civilized country. The expense consequent upon this mode of disposing of the poor, is enormous; the constable into whose custody the pauper is committed, and whose circumstances in most cases are straitened, is necessarily compelled to rid himself of the pauper, at the least possible expense, inasmuch as he is often in advance for supporting and transporting the pauper for several months, and not unfrequently for more than a year; and then too his account is subject to the test of a most rigid and I fear sometimes an unjustifiable economical regulation of the respective boards of supervisors. In this manner, the unhappy subject of this barbarous practice, is handled about from constable to constable, not unfrequently from one extremity of our state to another, generally in feeble health, and during the inclemency of the winter season. This practice should be abandoned, and some other mode adopted of charging the town where the pauper may be settled with the expenses of his maintenance, while he may remain chargeable.
The litigation between towns, the fraud and imposition growing out of the present system, such as the common practice of procuring paupers to be set down in cities or towns, when they have no settlement, and various disgraceful resorts for the purpose of avoiding expense are so many additional evidences of the imperfection of the present poor law. Permit me to state one case of the many which have occurred in this city, within the last six years. A poor unfortunate lunatic, of the age of eighteen or twenty years, was left in our streets in the winter, and in the night, whose feet were in consequence badly frozen; he could give no intelligible account of himself, but from all the circumstances, there was too much reason to believe, that this was one of the tricks frequently resorted to by towns, to free themselves of paupers. This young man was of necessity sent to the almshouse, where he remained several months, and by the mere accidental admission of a stranger, his residence was ascertained.
The intricacy, obscurity and confusion which are found to prevail, in the adjudications upon our own and the English poor laws, appear to me to afford an additional cogent reason in favor of an alteration in our poor law. The settlement of paupers should be more plainly and accurately defined; and perhaps some simple mode of obtaining a settlement like the following would be improper, viz: 1st. Residence in any city or town, for the term of two years, 2nd. Children so long as they constitute a part of their father's family, to follow the settlement of their father, 3d. Illegitimate children, to follow the settlement of their mother, 4th. Birth, in the absence of all other settlements. This or some other plain rule, would contribute materially to diminish the litigation arising from appeals, which are always expensive, and commonly dilatory in their progress to a final decision. In several cases I have known the costs of prosecuting a single appeal, amount to a sum more than equal to the annual support of all the poor of the town, prosecuting such appeal.
There is another, and to my mind, a prominent defect in our poor laws. I allude to the present mode of supporting foreign poor, or such as have no residence in the state, usually denominated transient paupers; they are now maintained at the charge of the county wherein they may become chargeable, and the operation of this rule bears extremely hard upon the counties adjacent to the Hudson river; its operation upon our county, for instance, is extremely severe, in consequence of our local situation: there is a constant influx of foreigners into our city, and this item of expense in our county, during the last year, amounted to rising of two thousand dollars. I do not know how an increase of this class of paupers can be prevented, so long as inducements to emigration are held out by the government of Great Britain. Nothing, however, can be more unjust than that cities or counties should be burthened with the support of foreigners, merely because they have no settlement elsewhere. The principle which we have adopted from the English poor laws, that each city or town should support its own poor, presupposes that the place where a person has been long enough to gain a settlement, has had the benefit of his contributions to the commonwealth; and from thence is derived a moral obligation, to support him, when by infirmity he is unable to support himself. This argument it will be perceived, loses its force when applied to the case under consideration; and this principle never can with propriety, be applied to transient paupers, or such as have gained no settlement in the state; these poor are emphatically the poor of the state, and should be maintained at the expense of the state; nothing can be more improper than that four or five counties in the state, should be compelled to support, comparatively, all the foreign poor.
The sixteenth section of our poor law, refers to the remedy intended to be given to a town burthened with a sick or lame pauper, unable to be removed to his place of settlement, by a notice to the overseers of the poor; this will be found upon examination to be in a good measure ineffectual. Permit me to suppose a case illustrative of my position. A poor person is taken sick or lame in the city of New-York, whose settlement is in the town of Buffalo, all the requisites to charge the town of Buffalo with the expenses of his maintenance, are complied with by the city of New-York; the town of Buffalo is indisposed to defray the expense of his maintenance; thereupon, it becomes necessary for the overseer of the poor of the city of New-York, to repair to Buffalo, a distance of 450 miles, with his witnesses to substantiate the claim, to make complaint to two justices of the peace, who are authorised to cause the sums that shall appear to have been necessarily expended in the maintenance of the pauper, to be made of the goods and chattels of the overseers of Buffalo* by a distress and sale of the same; there is no provision that his expenses or those of his witnesses shall be paid, and he is necessarily subjected if inclined to avail himself of his remedy under this section, to expend an hundred dollars, to recover perhaps fifty. This, it is admitted, is a strong case, but you will find upon reflection that in most cases arising under this section, cities or towns are comparatively remediless. [Letter from the overseer of the poor of the city of Albany.]
We have no poor house or house of industry. Our mode of managing our poor of late is, to sell their board and clothing, to the lowest bidder, and have them all supported at one place by one man. We have formed many new plans for the support of our poor. We have hired each one's board at different places in our town, by the week and by the year; and we have sold their board and clothing to the lowest bidder, at different places by the year. But we find no method of supporting our poor so easy as we now have adopted, both for ourselves and our paupers. [Letter from the overseer of the poor of Coeymans.]
*Suppose the overseers had no property to seize, there is no remedy against the town. Besides why should the individual property of the overseers be made liable, as the town is not bound by law to indemnify them for any sacrifice.