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seers, and the overseers now in office respond to applications for aid according to their several dispositions.

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Throughout all the State the conditions are the same, formity, little or no investigation, little attention to common business principles, and no sane, deliberate, and shrewd inquiry into the actual needs of applicants or into the best methods of supplying those needs. The result is what might be expected, a hodgepodge of loose business methods and official extravagance, in which the unfortunate and the impostor share alike, in which independence is broken down and pauperism and professional mendicancy are fostered, in which the suffering and distressed are humiliated by association with the fraudulent in the public mind, in which the exigencies of party politics and the demands of personal favoritism may be satisfied without detection, in which more than $500,000 is annually expended of hard-wrung taxes, and in which there is no inducement to properly discharge the duties of the position, and no reward for personal effort. In saying this, it is not meant to intimate that the township overseers of the poor are a dishonorable body of men. They are good and bad, exactly as a thousand private citizens are good and bad. They work under laws loosely drawn and loosely interpreted. They succumb to customs which have prevailed among their predecessors for many years. They yield to pressure brought upon them by prominent members of their small constituencies. They are not paid a sufficient salary to justify them in giving to the duties of the office the time necessary for their proper discharge. They are burdened with a multitude of other duties, in addition to that of looking after the welfare of the poor. The criticism here made of their methods must be considered in connection with the numerous and serious disadvantages under which they labor.

He who attacks an existing order usually gains but an impatient hearing, unless he is prepared to propose a remedy for the faults which he points out. Knowing this full well, I am compelled to confess my inability to propose a system of official outdoor poor relief which would meet the countless demands upon it. As society is at present organized, I doubt the wisdom of absolutely abolishing official outdoor relief, although that method of disposing of the entire matter appeals strongly to me. If a cask leak from a thousand small apertures, the waste cannot be controlled. If the waste be only from

the spigot, it may be quickly and easily regulated. Under the present system of official outdoor relief in Indiana the public funds are wasting through a thousand channels. Would it be possible, by placing the administration of official outdoor relief in the hands of a few trained officers, so to regulate expenditures as to insure the benefits desired and at the same time to prevent waste and the fostering of mendicancy?



Canon Barnett has called attention to the fact that, of all agencies for the relief of the poor, governmental agencies are by far the most important. The State assists more widows, orphans, defectives, prisoners, aged persons, and sick than all church and private persons combined. Therefore, the legislation which governs this vast expenditure demands our serious study. It reaches out the hand of help to the dweller in the most remote township within the national domain. It cares alike for the native and the foreigner, for white and black, and for every form of need and infirmity. As to this point Professor A. G. Warner, in his valuable book on American charities, makes the following remark: "In each commonwealth the fabric of the public charitable institutions rests upon the quicksands of the poor law, which few study and probably none understand.” The present paper aims to furnish some data for the consideration of this difficult and complicated subject. It is based upon a careful comparison of all the statutory enactments, judicial decisions, and administrative interpretations of all the States and Territories of the American Union, so far as it has been possible to procure the necessary information in one of the best equipped law libraries in the United States. Mr. H. A. Millis, whose faithful, arduous, and efficient assistance has made the accomplishment of this task possible, will present a phase of the subject which I purposely omit. Additional details will be published later.*

*Corrections are solicited, and may be sent to the writer.

For American students it is needless to reproduce the forms of our local and general government. A single fact it is important to emphasize: Each commonwealth makes laws which deal with the matter of public relief (1) by giving sanction and generality to local customs, (2) by regulation of local administration, (3) by creating and conducting charities which belong to the commonwealth itself. The function of the federal government, save in the Territories and in the District of Columbia and in relation to immigration, is unimportant.

Thus we

Dr. E. Münsterberg declares that the entire field of the poor law is simply an exact determination of the personal relations of giver and recipient. All else is by the way. It relates to methods of administration, and does not belong to its indispensable content. exclude all private charity, save as regulated by law; all schemes for thrift and insurance, such as savings-banks, loan associations, and the like; and all purely protective legislation. So far as a person, by his own means or by the means of those connected with him or by private charity, is not sustained in life, public relief enters as a factor. The poor law decides two questions,— who shall give and who receive. With this careful and exact limitation the subject is not quite so formidable as it would otherwise appear. Yet the difficulty of classifying the mass of material is very great.

I shall attempt to present in compact form the legal answers to the following questions: (1) Who is entitled to public relief? (2) On what political community does the burden of support fall? (3) What are the essential principles of administration ?

A comparative view of our poor laws may direct the attention of younger or more backward communities to the experience of the more advanced and highly developed communities. Such comparison stimulates investigation, and thus leads to improvement. After this comparative study of the law as a whole, further examination of the legislation of the several States in detail is requisite, similar to that so well done by Professor John Cummings, of Harvard University, for Massachusetts and New York.* The genetic development of the law must be traced from its earliest to its latest stage. This latter attempt will not be made in the present article.

First. The Recipient.- Who is entitled to public relief? The legal pauper must, for some reason, be unable to support himself;

* Poor Laws of Massachusetts and New York, with Appendices containing the United States Immigration and Contract Labor Laws. By John Cummings, Ph.D. Published for the American Economic Association, July, 1895.


for instance, because of infancy, illness, infirmity, defect, old age, or lack of remunerative employment. He must be without help from others naturally bound to support or aid him; namely, relatives within the prescribed degrees of consanguinity or affinity. He must be without property or income. Finally, he must have a "settlement," gained by birth in the district, or by residence for a stated term of months or years, or by sustaining the relation of parent, wife, child, or apprentice to some citizen who has a settlement.

Second. The Giver.- What political division is responsible for giving or withholding relief, where application is made for it by an individual claiming to fall within the above description of a legal pauper?

The political divisions liable to perform this duty are (1) the State, (2) the county, (3) the township, (4) the city.

1. The State regulates the public relief given by counties, towns, and cities. It stimulates, directs, prescribes rules, supervises, corrects errors and defects, and supplements local provision for relief. Legislation is permissive or mandatory. Sometimes it merely guides the impulse and stream of local relief. Sometimes it unites the resources of the commonwealth to provide large and costly institutions, which would too heavily tax the resources of a narrower territory.

In a few States the constitution requires the legislature to establish and maintain a system of pauper relief. Usually, however, the legislature is left free in this regard; yet no State has entirely disregarded this natural duty.


Outdoor relief is seldom provided for by a State tax. In a few of 'the older States dependants without local settlements are designated "State paupers," who are aided at the cost of the State treasury. 2. In most American States the county is authorized or required, as the case may be, to relieve and support the indigent poor. This is the prevalent system, although the New England States have. always shown a preference for the system of more purely local relief by towns. New Hampshire has both town and county organization in pauper relief.

The county may discharge its duty directly or it may employ local officials for administration. These local authorities may be appointed for this purpose by the county authorities or they may be elected by the people. They sometimes have additional duties imposed upon them by law, relating to roads, schools, and other interests.

It is impossible to bring all the various existing combinations of local official responsibility under any single formula of expression.

In one group of States the county does not appear in outdoor relief; but this responsibility rests primarily upon the towns, those who have no local settlement being relieved at the cost of the State. Another method obtains in certain States where the town is ordinarily the burden-bearer, but paupers without a town settlement are maintained by the counties. In still other States some counties provide all outdoor relief, while in other counties it is furnished by the towns; and the law authorizes the counties to change at pleasure from one system to the other, either by a popular vote or by the act of the county legislature. In most States the county system prevails, and the burden rests upon this political division. The poor tax is a county tax. The direct almoners report to the county officials, and are in some degree under their direction.

3. In New England, where the town meeting has from early colonial times been the popular organ of control, it was natural that poor relief should be governed by it. These towns, however, guarded their privileges with jealousy, which compelled the State to provide relief for dependants who were denied rights of aid by towns. In the South and West, where the pioneers lived in isolated homes, remote from each other, the county became the natural basis for relief. But the township organization offered a convenient instrument of disbursement. There is evident a tendency to lay this burden upon the town, since electors are more ready to scrutinize the methods of officials when they can see and feel the direct effects of the system. In Delaware the "hundreds" give relief.

4. Legislation recognizes in increasing measure the peculiar needs of cities, and it permits or enjoins them to assume the burden of their own poor.

Third. Administration of Relief. We come now to the consideration of the more complex question, By what agents and methods is public relief given?

1. OUTDOOr Relief.

By the State. Where the town system prevails, and where paupers without local settlement are treated as State charges, relief to State paupers is administered by the town authorities; and the cost of the same is reimbursed from the State treasury.

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