1837: Selling the Poor

From The Liberator (Boston, Mass.), Mar. 31, 1837:

The Middletown, Conn. Sentinel has the following notice:–

Notice.– The poor of the town of Chatham will be sold on the first Monday of March [i.e., March 6], 1837, at the house of Zebulon Penfield, Esq. At 9 o’clock in the forenoon.

–This custom of selling the poor, though as far removed from the southern practice of slave-holding as the East is from the West, is nevertheless despicable and inhuman. The object of it is, on the part of the towns, to be relieved of the burden of providing for the needy, sick and helpless, in the cheapest manner. Hence these unfortunate fellow-beings, without any election of their own, are put up at auction, and sold to the man who will feed and clothe them at the lowest rate–he having the privilege to make as much money out of their forced labor as possible. Thus, being bought on speculation, it naturally follows that they are liable to fall into the hands of licentious, drunken, brutal, or extortionate men, and their treatment is often most rigorous and intolerable. If they complain, their complaints are almost as little heeded as are those of the poor slaves. They are paupers, forsooth, and therefore they must not presume to find fault with any thing their purchaser may do to them. During our brief sojourn in Connecticut, last year, we saw an old veteran ninety-six years old, who had been sold to an intemperate wretch, and by whom he had been repeatedly knocked down and furiously trampled upon, merely because he asked for a morsel of bread, being famished for the want of proper sustenance. Such cases of barbarity are not rare, and the guilt primarily belongs to the towns which sell their poor in the manner stated above. Truly, ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.’ It may be said, by way of palliation, that it is best not to give any encouragement to paupers: But this is to beg the question. To encourage vice is one thing–to starve and maltreat those who are ostensibly provided for, is another. In offering the town poor for sale to the lowest bidder, it is evident that there can be no discrimination between those who are qualified to exercise a benevolent supervision over these objects of charity, and those who are not qualified, either as it respects their humanity or their moral character:– and, surely, our knowledge of human nature must teach us, that much of the patience, long-suffering and kindness of the Son of God is needed on the part of those who assume the responsibility of providing for the halt, the maimed, the blind, and the incorrigible vicious.

 

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