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The tendency of population to press beyond the limits of subsistence, is an evil which, from the days of Plato to the present period, has forced itself upon the attention of those who have speculated on the means of improving the condition of mankind. This has been the pregnant and perennial source of degradation, misery, and crime. As the number of labourers increases faster than the capital which gives them employment, many become unable to procure a livelihood by the honest exertion of their powers, and are goaded by want to the commission of violence and fraud. The aid afforded by individual benevolence and legislative provision, though it may sometimes prove a temporary palliative, ultimately heightens the symptoms of this moral and political disease. Such aid, by teaching the people to look to others for support, takes away from them the most powerful motives to the forming of frugal and prudential habits, increases improvident marriages and illicit intercourse, augments the numbers of those for wbom no employment can be found, and thus multiplies the misery, which it is intended to remove. The truth of these observations is, unfortunately, verified, by the actual condition of the English poor.
Though we have carried individual charity and legislative provision to an extent unparalleled in the history of the world, yet poverty and distress, so far from being checked, seem to be advancing in geometrical progression. One eighth of the population receives parochial aid, and the amount of the Poor Rates is seven millions. Throughout many counties a part of the wages of the labourer is paid by, the parish; and if the system proceeds as it has hitherto done, the rental of the country will be swallowed up in the maintenance of the poor.
Now, the principle of population which, in all old countries, 'has presented obstacles hitherto insuperable to improving the condition of the people, and which seems at first sight to be rendered even more mischievously active, by the efforts made by the benevolent to correct the misery it creates, will be found, when we look narrowly into the nature of man, and the structure of society, not only capable of being duly controlled, but calculated to become the antecedent of a bigher degree of civilization and happiness than could otherwise obtain. In this country, where political philosophy has been so successfully studied, and where the tendency to over-population has been so much increased by erroneous legislation, it is natural to expect that there should exist a general disposition to retrace the false steps formerly taken, and to devise and adopt the means of impressing prudential restraint upon the people, and of getting rid of a system of Poor Laws which, in its accelerating progress, threatens to absorb all property, and to sweep all inde.
pendence from the land. Accordingly, we find that variou's plans for the attainment of these objects have, from time to time, been proposed by political philosophers and statesmen, and with laudable alacrity adopted by the people; until, at length, in the gradual advance of improvement, the happy thought of a Bank for Savings was suggested. Before we proceed to give an account of the nature and operation of this simple but invaluable invention, we will present our readers with a rapid sketch of some of the principal plans for benefiting the poor, which preceded it.
In 1772, Mr. Baron Mazeres, assisted by Dr. Price, published a proposal for enabling the industrious poor to purchase with their surplus earnings, life annuities, to commence at the period when vigour begins to fail, and to be secured upon the parish rates. Early in the ensuing session of parliament, Mr. Dowdswell brought in a bill for giving effect to that plan. This bill was supported by Mr. Burke, and all the most enlightened members of the Commons; but it was afterwards thrown out by the Lords. Indeed, the plan itself, though sanctioned by names so illustrious, was open to insuperable practical objections; and is now interesting, only as marking a period when the highest powers of intellect began to be seriously directed to the solving of that most difficult and most important problem in political science-the prevention of poverty. Repeated attempts were subsequently made to revive, under modifications and improvements, the scheme of deferred annuities; but without success. Mr. Pitt laboured most assiduously to improve the whole system of the Poor Laws; and at a later period, Mr. Whitbread attempted to legislate upon the same important subject : but both these statesmen fell into the common error of attempting to govern too much; and their plans were productive of no utility except that of impressing, by such conspicuous examples, the important lesson, that redundant population, with its consequent misery and dissolute ness, cannot be remedied by an Act of Parliament.
The origin of Friendly Societies has not been accuratelý 'traced. These societies are in fact insurance offices for disease, misfortune, and old age. A certain monthly or quarterly payment is made during the continuance of health and vigour, for which a specific allowance is made when this state is interrupted by accident, sickness, or the decay of nature. Now it is calculated, that when a great many individuals in the full enjoyment of strength, unite in a scheme of this kind, the chances being greatly in favour of health, they may afford, by regular contributions, not only to make a seasonable allowance to such of their number as may be rendered incapable of labour, but also to accumulate a considerable stock, out of VOL, V. N.S.
which they may make some provision for the exigencies of age These Friendly or Benefit Clubs, are a great improvement upou the scheme of life-annuities commencing at a late period; and though they are but an approximation towards a perfect system for enabling the people to secure themselves from poverty and dependence, they have been productive of every important benefit. Mr. Rose, whose exertions in the cause of the poor baye been so unwearied and efficient, had a bill passed in 1793, granting some valuable privileges to Benefit Societies; and this encouragement, together with the growing intelligence of the people, caused these institutions to increase so rapidly, that the number of their members which, at the period of passing Mr. Rose's Bill, had been only 50,000, amounted in 1805, to 700,000. While the erroneous calculations on which these Benefit Societies, or Insurance Clubs, too frequently proceeded, and the narrow and compulsory principle which, from their nature, they necessarily involved, prevented them from accomplishing all the good which had been anticipated, their rapid and extraordinary increase held out an auspicious omen to those who speculated on the means of bettering the condition of the poor, and proved that the people were ripe to appreciate and adopt any efficient plan of self- support which might be offered.
In the year 1806, Mr. John Bone established in the metropolis an Economical Bank, for the purpose of affording to persons of all ages, trades, and descriptions, an opportunity of providing for their future wants by the payment of small
This institution was called Tranquillity. The bank consisted of several funds, the most useful of wbich was the juvenile or temporary deposite fund. The labourer might as often as once a week, place his sixpences and shillings in this fund, and afterwards withdraw the amount, increased by the compound interest upon it. An admirably simple mode of keeping the accounts was devised, which obviated all difficulties that might have arisen from the expense of management; and thus the advantages of banking, which had hitherto been confined to the opulent, were brought within the reach of the labouring classes. This was precisely what was wanted. As the modes of instruction proposed by Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster, render the advantages of education attainable by the poor, so the simple and uncostly method of banking devised by Mr. Bone, presents to them the certain means of acquiring property and independence; and the conjoint operation of these improvements promises meliorations in society, of which, at the present period, we can form but an inadequate conception.
The Economical bank, called Tranquillity, was discontinued for want of the means of defraying the incidental expenses which, at the commencement of such establishments, must.
necessarily be incurred; but the simple and efficient principles upon which it was founded, were not likely to be lost. In the Ocr tober Number of the former series of our Journal, for the year 1806, it was endeavoured to fix the attention of the public upon a plan which involved moral considerations of such general importarice; and in the year 1810, the Rev. Mr. Henry Duncan, as he iforms us in his valuable publication, established at Ruth weit an economical bank on the principles of Mr. Bone. The'temporary deposite fund which, in the bank of Tranquillity, was subordinate to an annuity fund, Mr. Duncan rendered the leading provision of the Ruthwell bank. This was a considerable improvement upon the original plan. The Económicas bank of Ruth well, succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations of its benevolent founder, and became the model of similar institutions which now rapidly started into existence in Edinburghi, Bath, Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton, Londor, atid various other places throughout the United Kingdom.
my presenting our readers with this brief sketch of the history of Banks for Savings, we have been led almosť involuntarily to express our opinion of their utility. Such incidental and general approbation, however, would be quite inadequate to convey a just conception of their beneficial tendency; and it therefore becomes necessary that we should enter into a full and more particular examination of the nature and extent of the advantages which such institutions are calculated to confer. As the wagés received by the industrious classes must always be sufficient to keep the supply of labour up to the demand, it necessarily follows, that a man with the average number of children, will be just able to maintain' his family, and that a single man, or a man with less than the average number of children, will earn more than is necessary to his support. To furnish*á cofivenient and secure place of depósité, in which their surplus* earnings may be laid up to accumulate at compound interest, and froin which they may be withdrawn at the will of their proprietors, is the object of bariks for savings. The whole difference between the sum which will support a family of average number, and the sum which will maintain a single person, is a disposable surplus which the young unmarried man may lay up as a' provision for his future wants. In the most common species of employment, the surplus of the unmarried labouring man will be three shillings a week'; and this, accumulated in a bank for savings, at four per cent compound interest, will, in the space of eleven years, amount to upwards of a hundred pounds. An unmarried labouring woman, may, in the same period, accumulate fifty pounds. Thus, by means of banks for savings, the lowest species of labourers, if they begin to save at fifteen, and remain single until six and twenty, may, at the period of marriage, have accumulated a fund sufficient; with their future earnings, to ensure comfort and independence in their after years. · From what we have already said, our readers will at once perceive, how superior Economical banks, in which small and irregular sums may at any time be deposited, to accumulate at compound interest, and to be withdrawn at pleasure, are, to all those plans for deferred annuities, and benefit clubs, wbich have from time to time been proposed for the benefit of the poor. Schemes for annuities to commence at a late period of life, Dever cap.become popular, or extensively beneficial. The advantages which they hold out are too remote and contingent to operatę very forcibly upon the mind, or to counterbalance the desire of immediate enjoyment. The labourer cannot be expected to surrender that perfect empire over his little property, which is ever a source of pride and satisfaction; or to postpone his union with the object of his affections, for the purpose of purchasing a deferred annuity which he may never live to receive. And even if the industrious classes could be prevailed upon to sink their surplus earnings in the purchase of annuities to commence at a late period of life, such annuities would neither afford aid in sickness and disaster, nor contribute to the support of an infant family. Benefit societies, or insurance clubs, (which such societies really are,) against the accidents which deprive the labourer of the power of earping bis own şubsistence, were a great improvement upon the scheme of deferred annuities. But Benefit societies, though highly useful under the particular casualties against which they are intended to provide, are yet, when regarded as a general system for enabling the labouring classes to acquire comfort and independepce, extremely defective and inoperative. Many of the 'objections which have been urged against them, such as their meetings being held at public houses, and their proceeding upon erroneous calculations, might be easily obviated ; but the fixed and equal payments which they enforce, are essential to them as schemes of insurance; and these, while they often press in the severest manner on the poorer members, prevent the skilful and prosperous workman from investing the full amount of his surplus earnings. None of these inconveniences and deficiencies attach to an Economical bank, which has no stipulated periods of payment, and which receives any sum. But the great perfection of such institutions, and that in which they excel all other sciemes for providing for the poor, is, that they are calculated to exert a salutary influence over marriage. Economical banks, in which the surplus earnings of early life may be deposited to accumulate, and from which, at the option of the owner, they may be withdrawn, afford the labouring classes,