Eric V. Snow



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[The laborers] paid for the failure of British rural society to combine tradition and capitalism, for they got the benefits and hopes of neither. Stretched on the rack between the pauperisation of a caricatured market economy and the social oppression of those who grew rich from it, they lacked even the only real resource of the British labouring poor, the capacity to constitute themselves as class and to fight collectively as such.547

The New Poor Law's passage and implementation symbolized how the rural elite decided to alleviate this contradiction in their society by leaning more strongly to the side of individualism, yet, by leaving the settlement laws in place with little change other than abolishing a year of service as a head of settlement, they were still trying to rig the labor market in their favor.


Paternalism Vs. Capitalism: The Trade-Offs between Freedom and Security
From the subordinate class's viewpoint, what are the advantages and disadvantages of paternalism? Under this social system, a subordinate class theoretically made the bargain of choosing to obey an upper class in exchange for its provision of physical safety and general well-being. The subordinate class thus trades freedom for greater security, whether economic or against criminals. With the waning of feudalism, the part of the bargain concerning physical safety and protection against criminals or invaders largely, if not completely, drops from view. Concerning the contract between classes (though "orders" may be a less anachronistic term) the upper class would maintain its provision for the poor was a privilege, but inevitably the lower class made that provided by custom a right, making it hazardous for the upper class to change the terms of the deal. In a complaint similar to that made by American masters about their slaves' actions when they did not defer rightly to them out of appreciation, Chadwick noted that: "No gratitude is ever created (for relief received as a right) towards a numerous body, invested with a corporate character and official functions."548 Since the poor had turned the custom--one based on law, of course, but that does not eliminate its conditional character since the upper class theoretically can always change laws--into a right, the desire of some to abolish the poor law outright and end all parish relief in the early 1830s was deemed impractical because the elite feared a social revolt. The laborers accepted the crust of bread provided by the local parish at a high price, especially under the settlement laws' restrictions, because they lost much of their freedom to change employers and migrate to where better jobs, or any jobs, were available.
Service as an institution also reflects the trade-off between freedom and security under paternalism, since it gave the farm servants involved more security--a guaranteed job, food to eat, and a place to stay for an entire year--at the cost of having more freedom to pursue shorter-term jobs that were more financially rewarding in their given time span, such as being a migrant harvester in season. Jeffries noted the latter advantage, maintaining that by his time of writing young farmworkers preferred the latter option: "[The young laborer] is rarely hired by the year--he prefers to be free, so that when harvest comes he may go where wages change to be highest. He is an independent person, and full of youth [and] strength." Those in service were also burdened by being at the beck and call of his or her master potentially all waking hours, or at least for all the customary tasks done by farm servants in their particular locality. Since the risk-taking entrepreneurial attitude of pursuing economic opportunity wherever it knocks is generally weaker among the poor, and the desire for economic security greater, they normally resented the failure of their social superiors to take them or their teenage children into their homes to work in husbandry. The family of origin was burdened with its children for a longer period in their teenage years--but this also arguably strengthened the family as a unit.549 The decline of service made it not only harder to gain a settlement, but increased the social segregation between farmworkers and the farmers and landowners. Instead of living and eating together under one roof, the farmworkers now lived increasingly separately in their own cottages even when unmarried. Its decline undeniably made class relations worse, as illustrated by the lack of farm servants involved in the "Bread or Blood" riots of East Anglia or Swing itself.
How the Waning of Paternalism Made the Laborers' Class Consciousness Possible
The waning of vertical relationships (client-patron) and the growth of horizontal, intra-class ones made the development of class consciousness possible, as Snell and Engels both noted. Making large numbers of the laborers live on their own in their own cottages, often gathering them into large open villages, combined with the effects of declining migration to urban areas or even other nearby rural parishes in the south in the early nineteenth century, reduced the influence, control, and supervision of the dominant class, because paternalism is most effective on a face-to-face basis. Subordinates find it much easier (especially when illiterate, etc.) to identify with the interests of an upper class when somebody physically present around them embodies and represents it, as Newby has stated. A drop in control might not be for the good of the child or teenager who would have been taken into service, as Arch noted: "He earned money enough to be independent of his mother, and ten chances to one he would get into all sorts of mischief, and there was no one to control him. His master did not care, as a rule, what he did out of work time." This lament illustrates the essence of paternalism: the controls of the superior are for the good of the subordinate, even when the latter does not know it or appreciate it. Consider the behavior of one squire's domestic servants, which describes well the annoyances that come with constant surveillance, even when he had a kindly disposition: "He [the squire] was the meanest [meaning, "stingiest"] master they [the coachman and footman] had ever known; yet they could not say that he paid less wages, or that they were ill-fed--it was this meddling, peddling interference they resented." The relationship of the farm servant and farmer was significantly closer, for better and for worse, than that of mere employer and mere employee, only brought together by the cash nexus in an impersonal labor market.550 Hence, even from the farmworkers' viewpoint, some advantages came with the decline of service, since it increased their freedom and reduced the direct supervision and control of their employers, allowing for the development of stronger horizontal relationships and ideas of self-interest as a collective in their subordinate group, but at the cost of greater economic insecurity, more unemployment, and worse living conditions.
The Power of Gifts to Control, and When They Do Not
When the upper class makes gifts to the subordinate class which it cannot pay back, the power of paternalism is manifest. As noted above (pp. 151-52) when dealing with how the parson's charity in Arch's parish of birth was a powerful control device for helping to keep the laborers in line, the ability of one person to put others in his debt increases his control over them, even when they are not legally obligated to pay anything back. This reason no doubt helped motivate one witness to the Committee on Allotments to say he did not want to create an arrangement in which the laborer thinks it his right to have an allotment, instead of a kind arrangement, due to passing a Parliamentary Act. But apparently freely given gifts come at a price. The Duke of Wellington voluntarily supported one widow near his estate, even providing her with a cottage. When Somerville came to visit the Duke's park in Hampshire, he wanted to go in, but she was initially hesitant to allow him in while the Duke was present in the park because "she could not do anything, on any account, to give his Grace offence." Hudson despised the "servility, hypocrisy, and parasitism" that grew up around a dominant squire in a village, judging it better to suffer poverty without gifts of "the customary blankets and sack of coals to old women" in order to gain "greater manliness and self-dependence when the people are left to work out their own destiny." But when the gift becomes something automatically supplied by law through a governmental entity, the social effects of the "gifts" radically change. By the mere passage of a law providing something to someone, they are prone to thinking over time that they were entitled to it as a right--even though the law can be changed just as quickly to take it away from them, showing it was an arbitrary creation. For this reason, ruling class members fought a losing war when they maintained that the allowance system of supplementing wages through the parish was an "indulgence" to the poor, in particular to the deserving poor, not an "entitlement" for everyone.551 Because they still had a deep-seated desire to stand on their own two feet economically, and not depend on handouts, the laborers came to resent what they nevertheless maintained was a right. "The parish money is now chucked to us like as to a dog," said one Sussex laborer in the 1834 Poor Law Report, which was full of (from the elite's viewpoint) insolent, churlish complaints by paupers concerning their right to relief. Since the ratepayers themselves resented paying the increasing poor rates, and found all sorts of ways to deter applicants for relief even before the passage of the New Poor Law, the laborers naturally felt this negative attitude themselves, and wished to reply in kind. Gifts given by paternalists in the upper class clearly lose much of their ability to positively influence the behavior of the subordinate class when they are perceived as a right, which is especially apt to happen when guaranteed by law for long periods, as was the case for the Tudor Poor Law.552
The Failure of Paternalism as an Ideological Control Device from C. 1795
From the upper class's viewpoint, the bottom-line consideration about paternalism was its success as a social control device, especially through ideological hegemony, because the latter would give the social order legitimacy through eliding "is" and "ought" together. While this program was reasonably successful (so far as the thoughts of average people in history are discernable) up until about 1795 in England, it began to seriously fail in the first decades of the nineteenth century, in which a somewhat inchoate sense of resentment and desperation began to sweep over the farmworkers in southern England due to the effects of enclosure, population growth, the decline of service, mass pauperization coming from rising unemployment, and skyrocketing increases in their dependence on parish relief, not just in bad years such as 1800-1801 or 1795-1796, but routinely as a matter of course. Their increasing loss of economic independence, defined both as loss of direct access to the means of production (through enclosure) and through the inability of laborers' wages to support their families without supplements from the parish through such means as the Speenhamland and roundsmen systems, created a sense that the past had been better than the present. The Swing riots, the "Bread or Blood" riots of East Anglia, the traditional food riots that occurred especially in bad years--all these reflected desires for a paternalistic economy in which the upper class really did care about the material needs of the poor and for just prices and just wages, since the crowd's public demands were not revolutionary, but generally highly limited and incremental, even when they had the cover of anonymity to make demands, with little use of outright violence. However, these protests still signaled that the laborers' minds were beginning to cease to identify with individuals with power among the rural elite, as the emptying pews of the Church of England to swell the ranks of Dissent and the indifferent help illustrate.553 But a lag of about a generation between the growing rejection of paternalism and the embracing of class consciousness in the period c. 1795-1840 occurred because, as Obelkevitch observed:
While the objective conditions of their lives were those of a working class, subjectively they were reluctant to abandon traditional values, and preserved a communal outlook in a class society. If being determines consciousness, it does not do so instantaneously. The decisive period of change came late for the labourers, in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century.554
The Swing Riots of 1830-31 should be seen primarily as demands by the rural lower class that the elite practice its traditional obligations to the poor, rather than a decisive rejection of paternalism.
The Laborers' Growing Class Consciousness, C. 1834 to 1850
Rural social relations were damaged especially by the 1834 Poor Law and earlier attempts to tighten the screws on relief such as by inflicting humiliating acts on the paupers, like harnessing them to parish carts. Resentment against workhouses was shown by the Swing Riots earlier themselves, where two were pulled down at Selborne and Headley, Hampshire, and by the general resistance against building them later, especially in northern England. One witness told in 1853 a Parliamentary Committee that: "My firm persuasion is, that these workhouses [in Suffolk] might have been pulled down or nearly destroyed, if we had not had the assistance of the police." The attitudes beneath these attacks were illustrated by one laborer who said his Union was "the greatest curse that ever happened to the poor man," while one fire engine operator heard during a fire, "Unless something be absolutely done about these unions, the fires will go on."555 The rural England Somerville toured in the 1840s was full of sullen and resentful laborers. Should a threshing mill be built, "the ferocious population of the neighbourhood will burn down barns, corn-ricks, and all," even though the Oxfordshire farmer in this case already employed 50 percent more laborers per acre than any of his neighbors and had greatly improved the land. Another farmer, in Buckingham, if he did the same, feared similar results, and then he could never rest "on his pillow, himself nor family, in peace." While traveling in England, he found, when raising the possibility of enclosing any commons of size to laborers nearby: "in all cases they reply with a bitterness expressive of no milder belief than that they think me an agent of some one about to rob them, about to invade their little privileges, and despoil them of an independence which, even if not worth a penny, they would still cherish." One Wiltshire laborer he encountered on the road, already quoted above (p. 286) for his especial resentment against the farmers, plainly thought in class terms. Merely upon the sight of Somerville appearing relatively well off, he condemned him without knowing who he was:
"Ah! you be a precious lot o'hard screws on a poor man, the whole lot of you." "Which lot? You seem to include me, and yet you don't know who or what I am?" "Don't I though? I see you ha' got a good coat on your back, and a face that don't look like an empty belly; there be no hunger looking out atween your ribs I'll swear. You either be a farmer or somebody else that lives on somebody else."556

As shown by these conditions of social unrest plainly just underneath the surface, class consciousness developed among the laborers due to the accumulated grievances they had against the rural elite, showing paternalism's failure to ideologically hold their minds, even if the outward signs of deference may largely still have held.557


When the Laborers as a Class In Itself Began to Act For Itself
The decisive step to full class consciousness among the farmworkers had to wait until the time of the formation of farmworkers' unions, beginning in the 1860s, culminating in Arch's Agricultural Labourers' Union of the 1870s, especially to the extent it involved the farmworkers seeing their fortunes linked to urban artisans, miners, domestic outworkers, or industrial workers, i.e., the working class as a whole. To appropriate some of Marx's language, it was only then the rural laborers as a class in itself really began acting for itself, with leaders raised from its own ranks such as Arch who articulated its interests.558 It is one thing to have a lot of sullen laborers who are resentful of farmers, parsons, squires, and aristocrats, who increasingly realize at some level they are getting the shaft as group from some other group in society, which was the general condition of the laborers between c. 1795 and 1870 suffering under the pressures of enclosure, the decline of service, the mass pauperization of the Old Poor Law and the workhouse tests of the New. It is quite another for this group to rise up, organize itself at least some formally, and make demands of its rulers on a widespread scale, which it was to do through farmworkers' unions in the 1860s and 1870s. Much of the baggage of paternalism had to be dropped, which was a gradual process from the mid-1790s until the passage of the New Poor Law, which showed the ruling class had largely abandoned those ideals itself. The laborers' class consciousness grew rapidly as they began to discard paternalism as an ideological construct themselves after their social superiors many did the same. The creeping realization came over the bulk of laborers that little positive could be generally expected from the rural elite of aristocrats, squires, parsons, and large farmers as a group to help them out of their plight, even if scattered exceptions existed, such as the great aristocrats who worked at improving the cottages on their estates, mentioned above (pp. 71-73) in the section on the standard of living, or those who gave allotments early on, such as the Earl of Winchilsea. At this stage, paternalism increasingly became mere empty rhetoric without much reality of outgoing concern for the lower classes backing it up.559 One witness proclaimed to the Committee on Allotments in 1843 that "there are no better disposed persons in the world towards the poor than the landed proprietors of England," while another in a letter extract said that providing garden allotments was "a most important one [matter], most especially to the landowners, who must naturally have the welfare of the laboring classes much at heart."560 In the countryside Somerville toured in southern England, these proclamations would have rang especially hallow, as "faith without works." Even though Arch himself made repeated statements about the farmers and laborers' interests being fundamentally one, which displayed some remnants of the old paternalistic ideology (much like Cobbett, whose Toryism never totally died), his autobiography is saturated with a sense of class consciousness. This class perspective was the basis for the initial successes of his union in organizing workers, even if its membership never compared anything near a majority of all farmworkers in England. The mere existence of class consciousness demonstrates the eventual failure of the rural elite to maintain ideological hegemony by the end of the period with which this work is mostly concerned (1875).561
A Comparison of Respective Elite Control Strategies: Slaveowners and Squires
The goals of slaveowners and the English rural elite were fundamentally the same: to gain labor services from a subordinate class at least cost to itself in money and surveillance time. Now some truly practiced paternalism can be found in both cases, in which there was some sacrifice of profit or advantage to the subservient group by some masters or English landowners. Nevertheless, with human nature being what it is, self-interest inevitably prevails as the leading upper class objective, although this may manifest itself by seeking prestige or power instead of profits. Both elite classes proclaimed (or allowed to be proclaimed in its name) a communitarian paternalism as its ideology, although this was particularly shallow or unlikely among the smaller, recently-established American planters in interior regions of the South, and had even worn thin among many in the English rural elite in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Both elites faced a fundamental contradiction between the values of capitalistic commercial agriculture and paternalism, where the elite was to provide protection and security in return for the obedience of the subordinate class as part of the implicit social contract. Since the market in capitalism rules over the ruling classes, and its economic power and variableness can neither be controlled nor denied in the long run, the slaves and laborers were made promises by their rulers that could not be kept. Hence, we find the slaveholders selling off slaves and dividing families in times of bankruptcy and economic distress, while the English elite found that the Old Poor Law was simply economically incompatible in the long run with enclosure, the decline of service, and high levels of labor productivity, and so eventually terminated it with the New Poor Law's workhouses. The individualistic, self-seeking behavior associated with commercial agriculture under capitalism tended to swamp the communal values proclaimed by paternalism in the case of both elites. In many individual cases the elite's members were not always especially happy about this contradiction's results. William Ford, Northrup's exceptionally kind master, nevertheless sold eighteen slaves when facing bankruptcy due to being security for his brother. The rector of Petworth parish, attacked aspects of the New Poor Law, yet admitted had he been a member of Parliament, he still would have voted for it even if amending it had been impossible.562 Having embraced commercial capitalism, the slaveholders and gentry faced the raw fact that it was not especially compatible with paternalistic obligations to their respective subordinate classes, which often opened a yawning gap between ideology and performance from the latter's viewpoint, one which in the English rural elite's case became wider during the period surveyed here (c. 1750-1875).
While both elites exercised traditional, face-to-face authority with members of their subordinate classes, the English rural ruling class tended to do this more through the agency of the state as a magistrate, while the southern slaveholders, with the assistance of overseers, exercised their authority as a master on the work site. The latter also sometimes resorted to extra-legal means, such as participating in mobs with poor whites, an option barred to English gentlemen dealing with social inferiors. The English landowners were more concerned with general social control through the parish and county as governmental entities, leaving to the farmers and their bailiffs most of the immediate supervisory tasks of imposing work discipline on the work site. But American slaveholders, especially if they lacked overseers, were deeply involved in imposing day-by-day work discipline on the slaves and other supervisory functions. Since they owned the slaves, and owned the piece of property they worked on, their ability to control the slaves off working hours was much greater than that of English landholders and farmers relative to the laborers, who often went home to some open village some distance away from the work site.563 Both the Southern United States and England had strong traditions of landowners staying in residence on their landed property for at least for part of the year, so their personal involvement in managing their estates, especially the slaveholders', was particularly high compared to (say) that of French nobles and landholders, gathered into residence in Paris, various provincial cities, or (before 1789) Versailles. A major difference between the two elites was that the American slaveholders were much more likely to use personal violence, such as by corporal punishment or outright killings, including by extra-legal means, to impose their wills on the slaves. Since the state under the slave codes delegated so much power to masters and mistresses to use force against their slaves at their own discretion, this naturally tended to spill over into helping other slaveholders control their slaves extra-legally. The practical weakness of the state in sparsely populated, recently settled frontier regions, where the police as a professional institution were simply non-existent, and whites, rich and poor, were quick to use violence to settle disputes among themselves, was another reason for them to resort to "judge lynch" during panics about slave revolts or for punishing slaves who attacked their owner individually. In the English case, since the rural elites had considerably less fear of the laborers' revolting, especially before the 1830-31 Swing Riots, correspondingly far fewer "police state" measures were necessary to control the behavior and movements of the legally free laborers, such as through the pass/patrol system. As the nineteenth century drew on, especially after the Swing riots and the imposition of the New Poor Law, this began to change, and the gentry and aristocracy largely came to see the advantages of having rural police on the model of London's "bobbies" or France's gendarmes. Nevertheless, the amount of violence employed and blood drawn routinely by the English rural elite was far less than that by American slaveholders, as their respective treatments of the Swing rioters and the Turner revolters demonstrates, whether legally or (especially) extra-legally.
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