Imatges de pàgina

I have letters from all quarters on the suliject. I got a letter from Berwick, which says that the whole of the session funds are given to the poor people who belong to the Establishment. I mean the session funds, not the assessment. Now, it may be said, that as the congregation provides all the funds, it is only fair that the poor belonging to the Establishment should get all the proceeds. It was never so before. On the contrary it was held that as the Established Church was provided for by the State, and did not come under the burden of providing for their own religious ordinances, it was only fair that these collections at the church doors should go to support not their own poor alone, but the general poor. This was the former rule, and it was the rule of justice and fairness, considering that the members of the Establishment were relieved from the expense of providing their own religious ordinances. Yet in the face of the law, and of the universal and general practice which formerly prevailed, the sessions now exclude from any share in these funds the poor belonging to dissenting congregations, but particularly those belonging to the congregations the Free Church. There is another class of cases. It seems that in some instances poor people, influenced by the common sympathy which has been so generally evinced towards the Free Church, have been desirous to share the privilege of contributing their mite-the merest trifle-at the sacrifice of some little thing which they call a luxury, such as tobacco, and thus be enabled to put a hulfpenny into the plaie on collection-day,—hy which, perhaps, the Free Church may gain altogether some L.5 a-year or so.

We do not ask ihese contributions by any means, nor do we expect them; but it would be a cruelty to refuse to take any thing when offered in the feeling that accompanies them. Well, inquiries are in many cases now instituted, whether or not the poor people give anything in this shape to the Free Church, or to any other congregation with which they are connected; and it has been proposed by the heritors, that in any case where a pauper is found to contribute to the Free Church, he shall be cut off the roll. (Sensation.) A foundation for this has been laid in a series of. queries circulated in one parish, of which I have got a copy. It is entitled a series of questions to be answered, and declaration to be signed, hy all the applicants for parochial relief in the parish of Barry, as often as required by the heritors or kirk-session,-also by all paupers already on the roll, when so required, otherwise their allowances shall cease immediately.” It will be observed, that these do not refer to the claim of a new pauper for enrolment; but a poor man or woman being already on the roll, here is a set of queries which, if you do not answer, you will be deprived of the allowance you receive from the parish. There are some of these queries that I admit are fair enough, though sufficiently minute, and with these I do not interfere. But I come to the 22d query, which says, “ Have you ever received any charity from any person, or institution, or church, or society? If so, state the times when, and how much you received ?" Now, I do not object to ask if a pauper gets a stated allowance from any church or institution; but what right, I would like to know, bave they to ask how much he got from a charitable individual, who the day before might compassionate his condition, and give him a halfpenny or a sixpence. The object of such a question as this is quite obvious. A poor man or woman, we will say, has gained the respect and esteem of a person or persons in the better circumstances of life, who wish to make them more comfortable,-say, for instance, the members of a church, who say, “ We wish to make this Christian poor man better than others who have no character, or whose crimes and vices have brought them into poverty.” Now, this question is addressed to them, and for no possible object whatever, but that of diminishing the legal provision in proportion to the aid which has been granted by the benevolent. They thus reduce the virtuous poor to the level of the blackguard and the vicious ; and the kind-hearted person in reality does not give his charity to the poor, but he pays it into the pockets of the heritors." (Hear, hear.) The 24th query is,-As to what place of worship the pauper has attended during the time he has been in the parish, and if he is a communicant, &c. I need not remark on this, but pass to the 25th query, which is,-* If you belong to, or generally attend any Dissenting place of worship, have you contributed within the last three years, or do you still contribute, either directly or indirectly, any thing for the support of the minister or congregation you attend; or anything, directly or in.

so on.

directly, in money or equivalents, for behoof, in any manner, of the denomination to which the said minister belongs. If so, state how much?” (Cries of “Shame, shame.") Now, this needs no comment. Do you contribute anything in money or equivalents ? says the query. So that if some poor aged woman sweeps out the house of God in rea. diness for the Sabbath-day, or if any poor old labouring man was willing to bring God's word to the pulpit, and lay it before his servant, these are to be taken as equi. valents for labour, and deducted from his allowance from the parish. (Hear, hear.) I will read you next the 28th query, which says,—" Supposing the beritors and kirksession should agree to sustain your present application, are you willing to subscribe the annexed declaration, bequeathing all you may bave at your death to the kirksession, in repayment of what they may advance, or have already advanced to you?" And then follows the declaration, of the following tenor:-" I, the said -, do hereby declare, that the written answers above inserted to each of the foregoing printed questions are all true,—that I have kept back no part of the truth, but have stated my whole circumstances in the above answers to the best of my knowledge and ability. Farther (now let the Assembly mark this), upon the heritors or kirk-ses. sion granting me an allowance, I hereby oblige myself and heirs (should we ever be able), to refund and pay back the amount or value of whatever I inay receive, or that may be expended for my support; and, further, in the event of my death, I hereby nominate and appoint the kirk-session, for the time, of this parish, or any of the members of tbat session accepting, to be my executors and universal legatories," and

Here, therefore, the poor man is only put into the position of receiving as a loan the pittance wbich is supplied to him by the parish. But, Sir, the heritors are bound by law to support him. They are bound to do so,—it is a debt owing by them, -and yet in this parish they take the obligation which I have read to you from the poor man, before he can be placed on the roll,--an obligation which, i hesitate not to say, is utterly illegal. They force the poor, under the terror of being denied a place on the poor's roll, to sign this obligation, binding the poor people to pay back that which the law says is their due, but which the heritors say, we will only lend to you, and make ourselves your executors and universal legatories.” (Hear, bear.) It is, in fact, a legal debt converted into a loan. These circumstances are, I think, sufficient to warrant our taking some steps in this matter for protecting the poor. This subject has already been before the Assembly, for in 1841 they adopted the report on the subject which I had the honour to submit, and which included, as one great remedy for the evils of pauperism, measures for elevating the religious status of the people. The report stated, that “it is not to be expected that the country will endure to see distress and destitution systematically perpetuated without admi. nistering at least physical relief, to whatever extent may be necessary, for removing the destitution. The poor must not and will not be allowed to starve ; and if the machinery for preventing pauperism by moral means be not only excluded, so far as the court of the heritors is concerned, but obstructed by them, when attempted to be provided by others, there will be no alternative, however deeply the necessity for it may be deplored, but uniting in one common effort for enforcing an universal assessment, to whatever extent this may be required, for relieving that destitution, the only means of preventing which, the heritors, while professing to approve of them, will not allow to be carried into effect, even when not involving the burden of a single farthing upon themselves." From this the house will see that the matter bas not now been introduced for the first time in the Assembly since the disruption. These were my sentiments in 1841. They are the same now. But the necessity for moving in the matter has become imperative, by the greater bardships to which the poor are subjected by the withdrawal of so many elders from the Establishment to the Free Church. It is unnecessary for me to say more on the subject, beyond this, that the circumstances are such as to warrant the Assembly to adopt some measures such as the necessity of the case requires.

Rev. Mr Begg said, I am sure we all feel indebted to Mr Dunlop, who has brought forward this important subject in such an admirable way. No man is so well entitled to speak on that subject, and submit a question to the Assembly on the subject of the poor as Mr Dunlop; and I am sure that in the sentiments which he

bas just expressed, we all cordially concur. (Hear, hear.) The circumstances wbicb have occurred were not unforeseen by those who have directed their attention to the subject, especially in connection with the disruption which has taken place. We warned the landlords of what would be the consequence, and so far from taking up this question with any vindictive feeling to the landlords of Scotland, it forced it self on our notice long ago. We foresaw that if the church was empty, the plates would be empty also; and as there is no other way of supporting the poor, we, in defence of the poor, will be forced to insist on such legal measures as will compel the beritors to grant them relief, -and here I agree with Mr Dunlop,--not in charity, but as a right,-aye, a rigbt as good as any heritor in Scotland has to his estate. You will observe the peculiarly hard case of the poor in connection with this matter. In the first place, the great aristocracy of Scotland have taken the entire possession of those Church lands which were destined by the benevolent and large-minded Reformers to supply the wants of the poor; avd, then, in the second place, after the people of this country, by a long struggle, extorted back from the aristocracy a small portion of this enormous wealth for the purpose of maintaining a simple and efficient, and, as we thougbt, a scriptural Establishment, by which means was not only Chris. tianity spread over the land, but in a great measure the temporal wants of the poor were supplied ;-after all this, I say, the second act has been to rob the people of their spiritual privileges, by driving their ministers and themselves out of the Establishment which they had erected. (Hear, hear.) I say, Sir, the people of Scotland have been robbed, for they have as good a right to be in the oceupation of these places of Worship, as the landlord has to be in the possession of his estate or his baronial residence. In addition to this, there is a third bardship of being thus driven out,—they are denied standing-room in the places of worship raised by themselves. Too little has been said of the persecution kept up by the landlords of Scotland in this matter. Sites are still denied ; and even where churches are found to be built on an uncertain tenure, tbese churches have been pulled down. I know of two cases in which the churches have been pulled down, and the people driven to the open air, when they could not find a footing in the parish. This is what it bas come to at Jast. Having robbed the people of their spiritual privileges, they rob them of their temporal rights in the face of their own idol, -the law to which they wished us to bow down and worship. (Hear, hear.) I felt the utmost indignation not long ago, wben a devout old woman came into my house and told me the following tale :- She said that she and her ancestors had been servants in the family of a nobleman in the south of Scotland for many generations (she was above seventy), “ but the other night,” said she, “I allowed a preacher of the Free Church to come into my house and conduct the worship of God, and next morning, at ten o'clock, I was dismissed from my employment, and I am now bouseless and destitute in the world.” (Cries of “ Shame, shame.") This is only one of the atrocities which is now perpetrated in Scotland ; and it would be surprising if we could pass it over unnoticed. But you have had brought before you some queries which have been circulated in a certain parish. These are undoubtedly of the most offensive nature, and the man who print. ed them was not so wise as some others have been in this our day and generation. Queries, Sir, are asked, which are not printed. An ominous shaking of the head is a sufficient indication from a great man to a small man; but if he joins the Free Church he will be robbed of his temporal rights. There are multitudes of indications of this kind, and many questions are asked, though few are so foolish as to put them in print. Now it is the duty of the Assembly boldly to announce to the poor that they bave a right to be supported. By the law of the land they are en. titlea to receive needful subsistence; and if the landlords will not give it freely, they must be compelled to give it. We should intimate this, and suy that we will stand by our people, if necessary. We should appoint a committee to advise with the people, and, when necessary, aid them to obtain their temporal rights. This would be the practical conclusion of Mr Dunlop's statement; and I move in substance, that the Assembly concur in the overture, and appoint a committee, whose object sball be to carry out the design of the overture.

Dr Laird of Portmoak said that be could not agree in all the views which bad been expressed by the previous speakers. No doubt there might be instances of cruelty in administering the poor laws; but these were fortunately few. It was of the last consequence to keep up that independence of mind which bud so long distinguished the Scottish population, and which had made them at all times so averse, without absolute necessity, to cast themselves upon public support. If the Committee now proposed were appointed, he would ask the Free Church, for its own sake, and for the sake of peace, to instruct that Committee to act with the greatest dis. cretion; for if they stood up in opposition to the powers that be, it might not have the effect contemplated, but, on the contrary, be the means of increasing the hard. ships of the poor. All the length he would go would be, that when support could not be obtained by voluntary provision, he would advise the people how to apply, and when to apply; but it would only lead to embarrassment, to put forward the idea that the poor were entitled or bad a right to come forward at all seasons, and under all circumstances. He had been examined by the Poor Law Commission on this subject, and one of the most sensible questions addressed to bim was,-“ Would you generally approve of giving support to able-bodied men?”— to which he had re. plied, " Certainly not.” But to prevent extreme suffering or starvation, he would be willing to vest a discretionary power somewhere; for it was necessary that provision be made to supply the wants of able-bodied persons in some cases. He repeat. ed, therefore, tbat it the Committee was to be appointed at all, it should be instructe ed to act with the greatest discretion, and to stir up as little enmity as possible.

CHARLES Cowan, Esq. said, the impression was abroad that the poor in Scotland were in much worse circumstances than the English poor. Now, the destitution in many parts of England was of the most extreme nature ; and he believed that in some of the large towns multitudes had no wish to live from one day to anotber, so great was the wretchedness; and if they referred to the bills of mortality in London, any one might satisfy himself of the fact. He rose principally for the purpose of submitting a communication from an excellent and philanthropic friend of his own. (Mr Cowan then read the communication, having for its object, recommendations for elevating the status of the humbler classes by self-supporting institutions.) There was a prejudice here and elsewhere against institutions which professed to be self-supporting; and people were wont to say that they were mere theories, and savoured of Owenism. But wben they looked to the success of the Free Church as a self-supporting institution, they should be slow to pronounce a judgment against the plan of his excellent friend realizing all which it professed to do.

He would conclude with expressing the hope that it might yet be said of the Free Church, as had been said of an individual, -* Blessed is be that considerech the poor, and delivereth himn in bis time of trouble.”

Rev. Mr Gibson of Glasgow said, that every member of Assembly must be deeply indebted to Mr Dunlop for bringing tbis matter so ably before the house. He knew not wbether they should regard with the greatest indignation tbe cruelty practise

on the bodies, or the cruelty practised on tbe souls and consciences of the poor, in the manner which had been detailed to them. He did not remember the words of the queries, but they appeared to him to be directed against a poor man, with perhaps 4s. a.quarter, or 4s. a-month, receiving a farebing in addition from the charity of others, wbich was not known to heritors. The queries were directed to obtain the knowledge of every source of relief, and they must often operate as a temptation on the ininds of the poor to conceal the truth, of the most injurious kind. He hoped the public indignation which would be expressed against this system would prevent iis continuance. He was not sure that he could entirely agree to the suggestion to appoint a formal Committee of the house to receive cases of this kind and give tbem advice. He believed as much good would be done if the ministers confined themselves to their own province, and firmly expressed tbeir minds against those acts of cruelty wbich bad been detailed to them, and the invasion of the rights of conscience, as if they appointed a Committee for the purpose. In cases which required it, there were parties at all times ready to give advice as to the steps necessary to be taken to defend the rights of the poor. He would not press his own views against the mind of the house ; but before the motion was

formally put, it would be well to consider if such a Committees was really necessary. He thought it should not be done ; and he hoped the members of the house, and their brethren in all parts of the country, knowing what had been said on this subject in the house, and knowing also what was the legal right, would counsel the people as to the remedy to realize that legal right. He had no doubt that every minister and elder would express his indignation against the cruelty which had been perpetrated upon the bodies, as well as the souls and consciences of the poor.

Mr Berg stated, in answer to Mr Gibson, that it appeared to him, if they did not appoint a committee, they would do nothing. The public might hear through the newspapers that the Assembly had considered the subject; but the fact was, that unless they appointed a Committee, they would just leave things as they were. (Ap. plause.) They should not only express their opinions, but appoint a committee to give advice in special cases. At the same time be would recommend that they should enter into communication with other evangelical denominations on this subject. All denominations of Dissenters were equally interested in the matter.

Rev. Mr MILLER of Monikie said, that the heritors might not have done all that was laid to their charge, but kiik-sessions ought to endeavour to protect the poor against such oppressions as had been alluded io. In his own parish there were poor persons who had permitted prayer-meetings to be beld in their house, in connection with the Free Church, and it was told to them that if they allowed them to continue, chey would be struck off the roll. There was another case happened, just be. fore he came up to the Assembly. The Residuary minister was to dispense the sacrament in a few days, and it was intimated to a poor woman, who had joined the Free Churcb, that if she did not leave him, ( Mr M.) and attend the Residuary on that occasion, she would be cut off the roll. He (Mr M.) told her that there was a clear decision in the Ceres case ; and if she could not in ber conscience communi. cate with the Residuary, but should abide with the Free, and be struck off the roll on account of it, be would take the necessary steps to get the case brought up to tbe Court. He seconded the motion of Mr Begg.

Dr HENDERSON rather scrupled about going into the motion. They were, of course, all of one on the point of principle, but he apprehended that much would be done by members acting with their sessions in defence of cases which came before them. He rather thought the cases of oppression were confined to the poor belong. ing to the Free Church, and that the poor belonging to the body of the Dissenters were not suffering from the same cause. He feared that the appointment of a committee would wear tow much the aspect of assuming an attitude of enmity against the landlords,-be knew that was not the object,-it was the protection of the poor; but that was not the light it would be viewed in by those who were opposed to them, and he should like if wbat was done were done without going into anything like extreme measures.

Mr Duncan of St Boswell's said, as the person in whose former parish the case occurred wbich now regulated the administration of the poor-law in Scotland, he could state as to the beneficial effects it bad produced. It might do well enough in towns for the ministers and members of session to look after the interests of the poor, but it was not so in the country, and the Presbytery to which be belonged had already contemplated the appointment of a committee, similar to that proposed by Mr Begg. So far from any such committee showing enmity to the landed interest, it would, on the contrary, show them to be their best friends. It would teach them that this was a serious matter with wbich they had to do, and that they had not to deal with poor people, wbo might be easily cajoled into their own way of thinking. It would, moreover, strengthen the hands of every Free Church minister, to show, should an emergency occur, where he had to go for relief. He supported the motion of Mr Begg, therefore, on the ground that it would give protection to those poor people in the country who might be subjected to oppressive measures in this respect, as their Church had determined that no oppression sbould be practised in reference to the poor of the land; but that they should be taken care of, and have their interests protected, the same as other members of the community. It was imperative on every man to give to those who needed it, as God bas given to him; and when the law of

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