Eric V. Snow



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Basic Differences between the American and English Elites' Methods of Control
Because the English farmworkers were legally free, the English aristocracy and gentry, as well as their allies among the tenant farmers, had to take a considerably different approach to maintaining social control and imposing work discipline on their work force than American slaveholders when dealing with their slaves. One key difference was that local government loomed much larger in the lives of the English farmworkers than it did in the lives of the slaves, whose master or mistress had the total power to discipline them except for serious offenses such as murder. England, having long been settled, had much stronger local administrative machinery in place, even if its actual ability to deploy force in times of emergency was surprisingly low. Compared to Southern frontier America and its vigilante/lynch mob spirit, a much stronger respect for the law as a means of settling inter-personal disputes existed, even if duels among aristocrats remained a standing exception to this rule until well into the nineteenth century.
The Freedom of Action Local Government Officials Had in England
In England, controlling unruly or troublesome agricultural workers on a routine basis while not at work was a job largely left to the magistrates and justices of the peace. Conveniently enough for local rural elites, these normally were squires, parsons, landowners, or various others in the local rural ruling class who possessed a vested economic interest in disciplining the lower classes. For unlike ancien regime France, with its central control and appointment of local officials and gendarmes, only intensified after the Revolution, England's rural officialdom normally had its roots in the immediately surrounding countryside where they held office. French intendants and their subdelegates were directly responsible to the king and his royal council, often served in alien areas, and were removable at will. By contrast, local English officials simply could not be easily disciplined or removed by the king, parliament, or the home office. Only with an address to the king from both Houses of Parliament could they be removed. As a result, English government in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was much more decentralized than France's, and local magistrates provided a check on the central government's powers such that the local landowners often could insulate themselves from London's effective authority. But this system correspondingly created hundreds, nay, thousands, of petty oligarchies, wherein squires, parsons, and landowners served as magistrates locally, often ruling on cases that indirectly or directly affected their own interests. Generally they could pretty much do as they wished, bending laws and setting precedents that served their own interests, largely only restrained by any sense of paternalism or gentlemanliness they possessed. Justices of the peace also had taken on many administrative responsibilities over the centuries, and had much authority, directly or indirectly, over the maintenance of parish roads, the settlement law's enforcement, and the setting of the poor rates. Since so much of the laborers' lives and fates were wound up in the poor and settlement laws, power fell into the hands of the local vestries under the Old Poor Law and boards of guardians under the New, giving local government great direct influence on the laborers' lives. The corresponding institutions in the American South had much less influence on the slaves because so much effective de facto judicial power had been delegated to the slaveholders through their ability to use corporal punishment. English rural elites used the local administrative machinery at the parish and county levels, whether through courts or the bodies that oversaw paupers and gave out relief, to mainly to control the laborers, not so much any personal power that came from being supervisors or employers.483
Because the laborers were legally free men and women, employers, as employers, had much less control over the laborers when they were off work than the slaveowners had over their personal chattels. Work discipline issues spilled over much less into the off-work personal lives of the agricultural workers than for the slaves. Except in some cases under the poor laws for families declared paupers, it was impossible to destroy or split up a laborer's family in order to force compliance with his or her betters. The laborers, at least theoretically, had the freedom to quit and go anywhere in England they wished--although, as we will see, the settlement laws put a considerable crimp on this. As a result, English rural elites had to use considerably more indirect measures of control than the Southern slaveholders had, who could, on the spot have recalcitrant slaves whipped, imprisoned, or sold, only rarely facing any official appeal or interference against their actions concerning their enslaved blacks.
The Basic Strategy for Controlling the Farmworkers Better
Since the landowners as well as the farmers had increasingly accepted a commercial system of agriculture (paternalistic rhetoric notwithstanding), and raised crops for sale and not generally for immediate subsistence, they would not attack the free market on principle to restrict the freedoms of the laborers, at least by the late eighteenth century. Their approach instead was to rig the labor market on terms that favored them, making the laborers semi-freely then choose to work for this or that local farmer or landowner in some given parish. They used enclosure to try to force laborers into a complete dependence on wages through destroying the semi-independent, "scratch as scratch can" subsistence economy that eked out a living off the parish commons. By using the settlement laws that forced laborers to stay in their own parishes when they became chargeable to the poor laws (or worse, before 1795, when the local parish believed they may become chargeable), they created semi-captive pools of laborers. But this could be expensive, because the poor rates had to be jacked up to pay for all these people on relief. Parishes with one or a very few dominant landowners could manipulate the poor laws by driving out all laborers who might become chargeable to the parish, such as during the long winter slack season in arable areas. These parishes became "closed," because laborers could not easily gain settlements or live in them without long-term contracts. Landowners would keep only the laborers they needed year around in these parishes, and relegate the "reserve army of unemployed" to nearby "open" villages or small towns, which was drawn upon during seasonal peaks such as harvest and haymaking. This practice also had the advantage of allowing them to dispense with farm servants, who gained settlements when given one-year contracts in the parish they worked in, and who likely became semi-idle in winter anyway. Parishes to which extra laborers were driven had the misfortune of becoming "open" because those who owned (or rented) the land were too large or diverse a group to act in a monopsonic fashion. Ratepayers (the occupiers of the land) in these parishes had to pay much higher poor rates (which amounted to real estate taxes) as a result than the landlords or farmers in closed parishes. With the passage of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, landowners found another way to avoid having to pay relief to all but the most desperate. The New Poor Law banned outdoor relief to the able-bodied, and deterred applicants for relief by the workhouse test by even those possessing local settlements. So the English rural elites, by skillfully wielding enclosure, the settlement laws, and the poor laws, could lower their wage bills and poor rates by saturating the local labor markets with labor only as they needed it, allowing them to dispense with farm servants, while attempting to avoid paying for its "upkeep" during seasonal lows in the agricultural year through foisting "surplus workers" upon open parishes and through making small landowners (or tenants) pay higher poor rates than they otherwise would have and by finding ways to deter laborers from applying for parish relief. Let us consider each part of this program piece by piece.
Enclosure as a Method of Social Control and "Class Robbery"
Although public-spirited motives could always be cited to justify enclosure, it still remained a form of class aggression, of landowners against cottagers and laborers, in Thompson's words "class robbery," since it clearly served the material interests of the former group as against the latter.484 Landowners received a large, proportional increase in their property, since they had formal legal title to their rights in land. By contrast, the poor's customary rights to the use of the village common were not legally recognized. As a result, they normally got little or nothing from the commissioners hired to assess, apportion, and award the lands that had been the village commons. Usually they not only received nothing, but lost access to the commons, which now was split up among pre-existing landowners. The Earl of Lincoln admitted that nineteen of twenty private enclosure bills ignored the rights of the poor. Even when their rights were recognized and were awarded a small piece of land, it often had to be sold. In Buckingham, within two or three years of enclosure 50 percent of the landowners sold their land, as opposed to the normal rate of 20 percent selling per decade.485 Perhaps they could not pay the legal costs all landowners had to bear for parliamentary enclosure to take place. Sometimes they could not pay to build fences on their small strip of land, which cost proportionately more for small parcels than large, so they had to sell it. One calculation found it cost four pounds an acre to enclose twenty acres, but two acres cost thirteen pounds each. As a clergyman for Parndon, Essex noted, after an enclosure that took place in 1795: "Their little allotments all sold; could not enclose." Since the purchasers were the normally better-off landowners or farmers to begin with, this land was likely permanently alienated from the poor as a class. These general effects were reported by one veteran of twenty enclosure commissions thus, as summarized by another:
Numbers in the practice of feeding the commons cannot prove their right, and many, indeed most who have allotments, have not more than one acre, which being insufficient for the man's cow, both cow and land are usually sold to opulent farmers. That the right sold before the enclosure would produce much less than the allotment after it, but the money is dissipated, doing them no good when they cannot vest it in stock.
Another commissioner said that in most of the enclosures he had known, "the poor man's allotment and cow are sold, five times in six before the award is signed."486 The sellers of these small strips of land received from enclosure a few pounds that was likely swallowed up by basic living expenses like food--food often once gained by grazing their animals on the commons in the past, an option now terminated by enclosure. Enclosure clearly was a redistribution of property from the poor to the rich, which is only obscured because the poor's customary rights to the commons were not generally legally recognized--and, even when they were, the resulting allotments awarded often did them little permanent good.
Enclosure: Direct Access to the Means of Production and Food Both Lost
As noted above, meat largely fell out of the farmworkers' diets during the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (pp. 30-33, 37, 39-41). In many areas enclosure helped cause their diet to deteriorate, because the poor before it could own a cow, sheep, or pig, and graze it on the commons. After enclosure, they had to sell their cows (especially) since the only pasture they could use had now disappeared behind the fences of their richer neighbors and/or converted to arable use. The poor now had to pay hard cash earned from wage work for milk, butter, and meat that before they had gained independently from working for others by the generally minimal effort of having one or more of their animals graze on the local commons. As Somerville noted: "Each enclosure bill excluded the poor man from the common, and, upon the whole, it may be as well for them to live the mean life of breeders of geese, rather than be turned out to labour for wages less than the price of food." But more was lost than just additional income in the form of animal foods. They also lost their direct access to the means of production whenever enclosure struck their parish or village. With the destruction of the semi-subsistence economy of the poor based on the commons, which had kept many out of the labor market for much of the year, the now thoroughly proletarianized laborers were thrown upon exclusively depending on working for others to gain a living--or upon handouts of others, whether the charity of the rich or the dole of the parish. Excellently summarizing this process, one clergyman in 1795 said enclosure and the stripping of cottages of attached land reduced the laboring poor "from a comfortable state of independence to a precarious state as mere hirelings, who when out of work, come immediately upon the parish."487 Some even saw destroying the economic independence of the poor as a good policy since it imposed stricter labor discipline upon them. As one advocate of large farms claimed:
[The benefit the poor gain from the commons] is an essential injury to them, by being made a plea for their idleness; for, some few excepted, if you offer them work, they will tell you, they must go to look up their sheep, cut furzes, get their cow out of the pound, or perhaps, say they must take their horse to be shod, that he may carry them to a horse-race or cricket-match . . . if by converting the little farmers into a body of men who must work for others, more labour is produced, it is an advantage which the nation should wish for: the compulsion will be that of honest industry to provide for a family.488
Opposing an unsuccessful 1845 bill that encouraged allotments, one M.P. said laborers should be "solely" dependent on wages for a living. So the farmworkers lost more than food when enclosure came, but any remaining economic independence as well from their social superiors, whether as employers or as dispensers of charity or parish relief, unless a permanent system of allotments was put into place.489
But even for the rich, the blessings of enclosure were by no means unmixed. Under the poor law, ratepayers--who were not necessarily exactly "rich"--had to support unemployed laborers. When enclosure cut off the poor from the commons for cutting fuel, grazing animals, or raising vegetables, those out of work turned to the parish much more quickly than they otherwise would have if they could have maintained a state of semi-subsistence, semi-independence. When completely proletarianized laborers ran out of cash earned from wages, they and their families were fundamentally helpless, and had to look to others for aid. Enclosure commonly caused rate hikes in many parishes in order to support the now greatly multiplied numbers of paupers, especially in arable areas because seasonal unemployment was high in winter. One gentleman told Somerville in 1844 that he expected half the laboring population of his parish in Sussex to seek relief at the workhouse in winter. Speaking generally, the rush to enclosure during the French Wars and their immediate aftermath correlated with a rapid increase in the amount of poor relief granted from the 1790s until the 1815-20 post-war period. It peaked then at 3.2 percent of national income and twelve shillings ten pence per person. Snell powerfully demonstrates this relationship more specifically by regressing the amounts of per capita poor relief paid with the ten counties most affected by parliamentary enclosure, where over 35 percent of their land was enclosed. The correlation determination (r) was an astonishing .911, which meant "as much as 83 per cent of the variation [r] in poor relief in these counties can be explained by the percentage of land enclosed." Even in those fourteen counties where 17 to 35 percent of the land was enclosed a correlation coefficient (r) of .755 was produced, with the coefficient of determination (r22) coming to over 57 percent. The history of specific parishes proves these correlations were not coincidental. Sir Paul found an average increase in the rates of over 250 percent in the nine parishes he listed. In the extreme case of Lidlington, they went from one shilling to four shillings six pence in the pound, in Chattris, from two shillings to four shillings six pence, and Hethersett, five shillings to ten.490 Thus, enclosure could actually damage landowners, for increasing their control of the laborers by stripping them of their former state of semi-independence using the commons caused local tax hikes.
Open and Close Parishes: One Dumps Laborers onto the Other
One parish, by dumping its laborers off on other parishes as much as walking distances and the legalities of the settlement laws allowed, lowered its poor rates. Creating a "close parish" in which ideally only the minimal number of laborers required year around gained settlements therein became a standard objective for many in the rural elite. Landlords would work to pull down cottages deemed unnecessary, and farmers would avoid hiring live-in farm servants on one-year contracts to keep from giving them settlements in the parish they worked in. As clergyman John Cox of Essex testified: "People began to see that by hiring by the year they created settlements in their parishes, and they did not do it long." A number were taken to hiring servants for fifty-one weeks or a few days short of a year. Ann Peece was dismissed a few days short of a year because "it would not be safe for the parish for her to continue there."491 All laborers who became chargeable as paupers would be shipped out to their parish of settlement, if it was elsewhere. The laws of settlement before 1795 were a very powerful tool, because if parish authorities simply thought someone was "likely" to become chargeable, he could be removed to his place of settlement under the 1662 Settlement Act. Prior to the 1795 act, certificates also had to be granted by the original parish of an immigrant to another parish in order to allow him or her to leave legally, which helped clarify the immigrant's place of settlement. If the receiving parish demanded a certificate, and it was not granted, it could immediately remove (i.e., "deport") the immigrant back to his or her place of origin. Relegated to some other nearby "open parish," were all the "catch work" laborers needed only during seasonal peaks such as harvest, haymaking, and spring planting. Here ratepayers suffered from the misfortune of not being able to operate as a tight cartel to keep laborers from gaining settlements, so they had to provide relief for laborers often employed elsewhere for at least part of the year. Those not employing farm labor were forced to subsidize those who did, who failed either to pay a living wage (as under the Speenhamland/family supplement system) or to employ them year around.492
Even some time before the French Wars, Young encountered one man, Charles Turner, who by bringing in more laborers instead of pushing them out, acted "diametrically opposite to the vulgar ideas impressed by those efforts of barbarism, the poor laws of this kingdom: Instead of quarrelling with other parishes to see who should be troubled with the fewest poor, he endeavors by all means to increase that number in his." The effort to push out laborers intensified after the effects of enclosure, population growth, and the decline of service manifested themselves as the nineteenth century began. Sometimes extreme measures were employed to push laborers off onto other parishes. After the French Wars, estates for eight to ten miles around Norwich were systematically cleansed of laborers, while cottages were pulled down faster than they were built in some areas of Devon and Somerset. (As described above about laborers' housing (pp. 65, 69-71), the settlement laws were a major reason for the poor quality of rural housing and crowding, such as the poor quality cottages that tradesmen charged exploitive rents for in the open villages). Separating laborers' parish of work and of residence sometimes imposed walks of five, ten, preposterously even twelve miles in some cases around Norwich. This problem laid the foundation for the infamous gang system, as the authors of the 1867-68 Report knew, where gang masters would gather groups of men, women, and/or children from (normally) open villages to work on distant farms. Originally, the settlement laws existed to protect a given parish's resources (its commons, etc.) for its own poor first of all as against newcomers who might overtax them if permitted to come in without restrictions. But in the hands of the landlords and large farmers they became a tool of oppression for driving down the poor rates. The Hammonds powerfully and succinctly described Hodge's predicament thus: "The destruction of the commons had deprived him [the laborer] of any career within his own village; the Settlement Laws barred his escape out of it."493
The Decline of Service
The decline of service was another development farmworkers normally strongly opposed since it injured themselves as a class. From their viewpoint, it guaranteed them food and a place to stay when still young and unmarried for an entire year. It also encouraged the accumulation of savings before marriage because the cash part of their wage was paid as a lump sum at the end of their contract. Now as the accumulated effects of enclosure, population growth, and the near universalization of parish relief under (especially) the Speenhamland system piled up in the early nineteenth century this changed. But traditionally, starting as young teenagers, a man or woman working in husbandry would be a farm servant for so many years, and live on the farmer's premises. At annual hiring fairs, they (likely) would switch employers, and live for another year with another farmer. After getting married, they became day laborers hired by the day, week, or month, who lived in their own cottages. But in one way this system's decline did benefit the laborers: It reduced the amount of control and surveillance their superiors exercised over them.
Now, when did service collapse? Regionally, this system persisted in northern England into the mid and late nineteenth centuries, and in some parts of the southwest, but in southern England it had largely disappeared by c. 1840, especially in arable areas in the southeast. It had begun to change in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and many in husbandry became laborers without having passed through the farm servant stage first. Snell's figures, based on quantifying 1,272 settlement law examinations for southeastern counties, found that while in the 1760s about 45 percent of farm servants continued with the same employer for two years, it fell to about 25 percent by the 1790s for a group of southeastern counties. For some counties, such as Hertsford, Buckingham, Berks, Essex, and Oxford, this practice ceased completely by 1820, and for Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, by 1810. While a gradual decline in the number of annual hirings can be seen from c. 1780, the main collapse dated from c. 1810, with a rapid increase in shorter hiring periods occurring, and a corresponding decrease in fifty-two week hirings, by 1840. Fifty-one week hirings, which are obvious contrivances to avoid giving farmworkers settlements, for this same area rose from nearly nil in 1810 to nearly 20 percent by 1830. But down into the 1820s and 1830s, a large number of regular annual hirings still occurred. In the north, service remained a feature of many agricultural workers' careers, as the 1867-68 Commission on Employment in Agriculture found. In north Northumberland, service included the female "bondage" system. This varied from standard service because the woman still lived at her parents' home, not her employer's. Yorkshire itself still had a strong system of statute hirings, in contrast to it "dying out in many localities" elsewhere in England. Chadwick hoped the New Poor Law, which abolished outdoor relief for the able-bodied, would operate "both on the feelings and interests of the employers of labour as an inducement to resort to the ancient and excellent practice of hiring labourers for the year certain."494 This hope remained unsatisfied, for it would be hard to bring back this system as dead as it was by 1834 in southern England, unless the causes of its decline strongly reversed themselves.495
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