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 THE EXTENSION OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL

Factory Laws, The Modification Of Land Ownership, Sanitary Regulations, And New Public Services

66. National Affairs from 1830 to 1900. The English government in the year 1830 might be described as a complete aristocracy. The king had practically no powers apart from his ministers, and they were merely the representatives of the majority in Parliament. Parliament consisted of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The first of these Houses was made up for the most part of an hereditary aristocracy. The bishops and newly created peers, the only element which did not come in by inheritance, were appointed by the king and usually from the families of those who already possessed inherited titles. The House of Commons had originally been made up of two members from each county, and two from each important town. But the list of represented towns was still practically the same as it had been in the fifteenth century, while intervening economic and other changes had, as has been seen, made the most complete alteration in the distribution of population. Great manufacturing towns had grown up as a result of changes in commerce and of the industrial revolution, and these had no representation in Parliament separate from the counties in which they lay. On the other hand, towns once of respectable size had dwindled until they had only a few dozen inhabitants, and in some cases had reverted to open farming country; but these, or the landlords who owned the land on which they had been built, still retained their two representatives in Parliament. The county representatives were voted for by all “forty shilling freeholders,” that is, landowners whose farms would rent for forty shillings a year. But the whole tendency of English landholding, as has been seen, had been to decrease the number of landowners in the country, so that the actual number of voters was only a very small proportion of the rural population.

Such great irregularities of representation had thus grown up that the selection of more than a majority of the members of the House of Commons was in the hands of a very small number of men, many of them already members of the House of Lords, and all members of the aristocracy.

Just as Parliament represented only the higher classes, so officers in the army and to a somewhat less extent the navy, the officials of the established church, the magistrates in the counties, the ambassadors abroad, and the cabinet ministers at home, the holders of influential positions in the Universities and endowed institutions generally, were as a regular thing members of the small class of the landed or mercantile aristocracy of England. Perhaps one hundred thousand out of the fourteen millions of the people of England were the veritable governing classes. They alone had any control of the national and local government, or of the most important political and social institutions.

The “Reform of Parliament,” which meant some degree of equalization of the representation of districts, an extension of the franchise, and the abolition of some of the irregularities in elections, had been proposed from time to time, but had awakened little interest until it was advocated by the Radicals under the influence of the French Revolution, along with some much more far-reaching propositions. Between the years 1820 and 1830, however, a moderate reform of Parliament had been advocated by the leaders of the Whig party. In 1830 this party rather unexpectedly obtained a majority in Parliament, for the first time for a long while, and the ministry immediately introduced a reform bill. It proposed to take away the right of separate representation from fifty-six towns, and to reduce the number of representatives from two to one in thirty-one others; to transfer these representatives to the more populous towns and counties; to extend the franchise to a somewhat larger number and to equalize it; and finally to introduce lists of voters, to keep the polls open for only two days, and to correct a number of such minor abuses. There was a bitter contest in Parliament and in the country at large on the proposed change, and the measure was only carried after it had been rejected by one House of Commons, passed by a new House elected as a test of the question, then defeated by the House of Lords, and only passed by them when submitted a second time with the threat by the ministry of requiring the king to create enough new peers to pass it, if the existing members refused to do so. Its passage was finally secured in 1832. It was carried by pressure from below through all its stages. The king signed it reluctantly because it had been sent to him by Parliament, the House of Lords passed it under threats from the ministry, who based their power on the House of Commons. This body in turn had to be reconstructed by a new election before it would agree to it, and there is no doubt that the voters as well as Parliament itself were much influenced by the cry of “the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,” raised by mobs, associations, and meetings, consisting largely of the masses of the people who possessed no votes at all. In the last resort, therefore, it was a victory won by the masses, and, little as they profited by it immediately, it proved to be the turning point, the first step from aristocracy toward democracy.

In 1867 a second Reform Bill was passed, mainly on the lines of the first, but giving what amounted to almost universal suffrage to the inhabitants of the town constituencies, which included the great body of the workingmen. Finally, in 1884 and 1885, the third Reform Bill was passed which extended the right of voting to agricultural laborers as well, and did much toward equalizing the size of the districts represented by each member of the House of Commons. Other reforms have been adopted during the same period, and Parliament has thus come to represent the whole population instead of merely the aristocracy. But there have been even greater changes in local government. By laws passed in 1835 and 1882 the cities and boroughs have been given a form of government in which the power is in the hands of all the taxpayers. In 1888 an act was passed through Parliament forming County Councils, elected by universal suffrage and taking over many of the powers formerly exercised by the magistrates and large landholders. In 1894 this was followed by a Parish Council Bill creating even more distinctly local bodies, by which the people in each locality, elected by universal suffrage, including that of women, may take charge of almost all their local concerns under the general legislation of Parliament.

Corresponding to these changes in general and local government the power of the old ruling classes has been diminished in all directions, until it has become little more than that degree of prominence and natural leadership which the national sentiment or their economic and intellectual advantages give to them. It may be said that England, so far as its government goes, has come nearer to complete democracy than any other modern country.

In the rapidity of movement, the activity, the energy, the variety of interests, the thousand lines of economic, political, intellectual, literary, artistic, philanthropic, or religious life which characterize the closing years of the nineteenth century, it seems impossible to choose a few facts to typify or describe the period, as is customary for earlier times.

Little can be done except to point out the main lines of political movement, as has been done in this paragraph, or of economic and social development, as will be done in the remaining paragraphs of this and the next chapter. The great mass of recent occurrences and present conditions are as yet rather the human atmosphere in which we are living, the problem which we are engaged in solving, than a proper subject for historical description and analysis.

67. The Beginning of Factory Legislation. One of the greatest difficulties with which the early mill owners had to contend was the insufficient supply of labor for their factories. Since these had to be run by water power, they were placed along the rapid streams in the remote parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire, which were sparsely populated, and where such inhabitants as there were had a strong objection to working in factories. However abundant population might be in some other parts of England, in the northwest where the new manufacturing was growing up, and especially in the hilly rural districts, there were but few persons available to perform the work which must be done by human hands in connection with the mill machinery. There was, however, in existence a source of supply of laborers which could furnish almost unlimited numbers and at the lowest possible cost. The parish poorhouses or workhouses of the large cities were overcrowded with children. The authorities always had difficulty in finding occupation for them when they came to an age when they could earn their own living, and any plan of putting them to work would be received with welcome. This source of supply was early discovered and utilized by the manufacturers, and it soon became customary for them to take as apprentices large numbers of the poorhouse children. They signed indentures with the overseers of the poor by which they agreed to give board, clothing, and instruction for a certain number of years to the children who were thus bound to them. In return they put them to work in the factories. Children from seven years of age upward were engaged by hundreds from London and the other large cities, and set to work in the cotton spinning factories of the north. Since there were no other facilities for boarding them, “apprentice houses” were built for them in the vicinity of the factories, where they were placed under the care of superintendents or matrons. The conditions of life among these pauper children were, as might be expected, very hard. They were remotely situated, apart from the observation of the community, left to the burdens of unrelieved labor and the harshness of small masters or foremen. Their hours of labor were excessive. When the demands of trade were active they were often arranged in two shifts, each shift working twelve hours, one in the day and another in the night, so that it was a common saying in the north that “their beds never got cold,” one set climbing into bed as the other got out. When there was no night work the day work was the longer. They were driven at their work and often abused. Their food was of the coarsest description, and they were frequently required to eat it while at their work, snatching a bite as they could while the machinery was still in motion. Much of the time which should have been devoted to rest was spent in cleaning the machinery, and there seems to have been absolutely no effort made to give them any education or opportunity for recreation.

The sad life of these little waifs, overworked, underfed, neglected, abused, in the factories and barracks in the remote glens of Yorkshire and Lancashire, came eventually to the notice of the outside world. Correspondence describing their condition began to appear in the newspapers, a Manchester Board of Health made a presentment in 1796 calling attention to the unsanitary conditions in the cotton factories where they worked, contagious fevers were reported to be especially frequent in the apprentice houses, and in 1802 Sir Robert Peel, himself an employer of nearly a thousand such children, brought the matter to the attention of Parliament. An immediate and universal desire was expressed to abolish the abuses of the system, and as a result the “Health and Morals Act to regulate the Labor of Sound Children in Cotton Factories” was passed in the same year. It prohibited the binding out for factory labor of children younger than nine years, restricted the hours of labor to twelve actual working hours a day, and forbade night labor. It required the walls of the factories to be properly whitewashed and the buildings to be sufficiently ventilated, insisted that the apprentices should be furnished with at least one new suit of clothes a year, and provided that they should attend religious service and be instructed in the fundamental English branches. This was the first of the “Factory Acts,” for, although its application was so restricted, applying only to cotton factories, and for the most part only to bound children, the subsequent steps in the formation of the great code of factory legislation were for a long while simply a development of the same principle, that factory labor involved conditions which it was desirable for government to regulate.

At the time of the passage of this law the introduction of steam power was already causing a transfer of the bulk of factory industry from the rural districts to which the need for water power had confined it to the towns where every other requisite for carrying on manufacturing was more easily obtainable. Here the children of families resident in the town could be obtained, and the practice of using apprentice children was largely given up. Many of the same evils, however, continued to exist here. The practice of beginning to work while extremely young, long hours, night work, unhealthy surroundings, proved to be as common among these children to whom the law did not apply as they had been among the apprentice children. These evils attracted the attention of several persons of philanthropic feeling. Robert Owen, especially, a successful manufacturer who had introduced many reforms in his own mills, collected a large body of evidence as to the excessive labor and early age of employees in the factories even where no apprentice labor was engaged. He tried to awaken an interest in the matter by the publication of a pamphlet on the injurious consequences of the factory system, and to influence various members of Parliament to favor the passage of a law intended to improve the condition of laboring children and young people. In 1815 Sir Robert Peel again brought the matter up in Parliament. A committee was appointed to investigate the question, and a legislative agitation was thus begun which was destained to last for many years and to produce a series of laws which have gradually taken most of the conditions of employment in large establishments under the control of the government. In debates in Parliament, in testimony before government commissions of investigation, in petitions, pamphlets, and newspapers, the conditions of factory labor were described and discussed. Successive laws to modify these conditions were introduced into Parliament, debated at great length, amended, postponed, reintroduced, and in some cases passed, in others defeated.

68. Arguments for and against Factory Legislation. The need for regulation which was claimed to exist arose from the long hours of work which were customary, from the very early age at which many children were sent to be employed in the factories, and from various incidents of manufacturing which were considered injurious, or as involving unnecessary hardship. The actual working hours in the factories in the early part of the century were from twelve and a half to fourteen a day. That is to say, factories usually started work in the morning at 6 o’clock and continued till 12, when a period from a half-hour to an hour was allowed for dinner, then the work began again and continued till 7.30 or 8.30 in the evening. It was customary to eat breakfast after reaching the mill, but this was done while attending the machinery, there being no general stoppage for the purpose. Some mills ran even longer hours, opening at 5 A.M. and not closing till 9 P.M. In some exceptional cases the hours were only 12; from 6 to 12 and from 1 to 7. The inducements to long hours were very great. The profits were large, the demand for goods was constantly growing, the introduction of gas made it possible to light the factories, and the use of artificial power, either water or steam, seemed to make the labor much less severe than when the power had been provided by human muscles. Few or no holidays were regarded, except Sunday, so that work went on in an unending strain of protracted, exhausting labor, prolonged for much of the year far into the night.

To these long hours all the hands alike conformed, the children commencing and stopping work at the same time as the grown men and women. Moreover, the children often began work while extremely young. There was a great deal of work in the factories which they could do just as well, in some cases even better, than adults. They were therefore commonly sent into the mills by their parents at about the age of eight years, frequently at seven or even six. As has been before stated, more than half of the employees in many factories were below eighteen years, and of these a considerable number were mere children. Thirdly, there were certain other evils of factory labor that attracted attention and were considered by the reformers to be remediable. Many accidents occurred because the moving machinery was unprotected, the temperature in the cotton mills had to be kept high, and ventilation and cleanliness were often entirely neglected. The habit of keeping the machinery in motion while meals were being eaten was a hardship, and in many ways the employees were practically at the mercy of the proprietors of the factories so long as there was no form of oversight or of united action to prevent harshness or unfairness.

In the discussions in Parliament and outside there were of course many contradictory statements concerning the facts of the case, and much denial of general and special charges. The advocates of factory laws drew an extremely sombre picture of the evils of the factory system. The opponents of such legislation, on the other hand, declared that their statements were exaggerated or untrue, and that the condition of the factory laborer was not worse than that of other workingmen, or harder than that of the domestic worker and his family had been in earlier times.

But apart from these recriminations and contradictions, there were certain general arguments used in the debates which can be grouped into three classes on each side. For the regulating laws there was in the first place the purely sentimental argument, repulsion against the hard, unrelieved labor, the abuse, the lack of opportunity for enjoyment or recreation of the children of the factory districts; the feeling that in wealthy, humane, Christian England, it was unendurable that women and little children should work longer hours, be condemned to greater hardships, and more completely cut off from the enjoyments of life than were the slaves of tropical countries. This is the argument of Mrs. Browning’s Cry of the Children:

“Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers.
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows;
The young birds are chirping in the nest;
The young fawns are playing with the shadows;
The young flowers are blowing toward the west;
But the young, young children, O my brothers!
They are weeping bitterly.
They are weeping in the play-time of the others
In the country of the free.

‘For oh!’ say the children, ’we are weary,
And we cannot run or leap:
If we cared for any meadows, it were merely
To drop down in them and sleep.’

They look up with their pale and sunken faces,
And their look is dread to see,
For they mind you of their angels in high places,
With eyes turned on Deity.
‘How long,’ they say, ’how long, O cruel nation,
Will you stand, to move the world on a child’s heart
Stifle down with a mailed heel its palpitation
And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?’”

Secondly, it was argued that the long hours for the children cut them off from all intellectual and moral training, that they were in no condition after such protracted labor to profit by any opportunities of education that should be supplied, that with the diminished influence of the home, and the demoralizing effects that were supposed to result from factory labor, ignorance and vice alike would continue to be its certain accompaniments, unless the age at which regular work was begun should be limited, and the number of hours of labor of young persons restricted. Thirdly, it was claimed that there was danger of the physical degeneracy of the factory population. Certain diseases, especially of the joints and limbs, were discovered to be very prevalent in the factory districts. Children who began work so early in life and were subjected to such long hours of labor did not grow so rapidly, nor reach their full stature, nor retain their vigor so late in life, as did the population outside of the factories. Therefore, for the very physical preservation of the race, it was declared to be necessary to regulate the conditions of factory labor.

On the other hand, apart from denials as to the facts of the case, there were several distinct arguments used against the adoption of factory laws. In the first place, in the interests of the manufacturers, such laws were opposed as an unjust interference with their business, an unnecessary and burdensome obstacle to their success, and a threat of ruin to a class who by giving employment to so many laborers and furnishing so much of the material for commerce were of the greatest advantage to the country. Secondly, from a somewhat broader point of view, it was declared that if such laws were adopted England would no longer be able to compete with other countries and would lose her preeminence in manufactures. The factory system was being introduced into France, Belgium, the United States, and other countries, and in none of these was there any legal restriction on the hours of labor or the age of the employees. If English manufacturers were forced to reduce the length of the day in which production was carried on, they could not produce as cheaply as these other countries, and English exports would decrease. This would reduce the national prosperity and be especially hard on the working classes themselves, as many would necessarily be thrown out of work. Thirdly, as a matter of principle it was argued that the policy of government regulation had been tried and found wanting, that after centuries of existence it had been deliberately given up, and should not be reintroduced. Laws restricting hours would interfere with the freedom of labor, with the freedom of capital, with the freedom of contract. If the employer and the employee were both satisfied with the conditions of their labor, why should the government interfere? The reason also why such regulation had failed in the past and must again, if tried now, was evident. It was an effort to alter the action of the natural laws which controlled employment, wages, profits, and other economic matters, and was bad in theory, and would therefore necessarily be injurious in practice. These and some other less general arguments were used over and over again in the various forms of the discussion through almost half a century. The laws that were passed were carried because the majority in Parliament were either not convinced by these reasonings or else determined that, come what might, the evils and abuses connected with factory labor should be abolished. As a matter of fact, the factory laws were carried by the rank and file of the voting members of Parliament, not only against the protests of the manufacturers especially interested, but in spite of the warnings of those who spoke in the name of established teaching, and frequently against the opposition of the political leaders of both parties. The greatest number of those who voted for them were influenced principally by their sympathies and feelings, and yielded to the appeals of certain philanthropic advocates, the most devoted and influential of whom was Lord Ashley, afterward earl of Shaftesbury, who devoted many years to investigation and agitation on the subject both inside and out of Parliament.

69. Factory Legislation to 1847. The actual course of factory legislation was as follows. The bill originally introduced in 1815, after having been subjected to a series of discussions, amendments, and postponements, was passed in June, 1819, being the second “Factory Act.” It applied only to cotton mills, and was in the main merely an extension of the act of 1802 to the protection of children who were not pauper apprentices. It forbade the employment of any child under nine years of age, and prohibited the employment of those between nine and sixteen more than twelve hours a day, or at night. In addition to the twelve hours of actual labor, at least a half-hour must be allowed for breakfast and an hour for dinner. Other minor acts amending or extending this were passed from time to time, till in 1833, after two successive commissions had made investigations and reports on the subject, an important law was passed. It applied practically to all textile mills, not merely to those for the spinning of cotton. The prohibition of employment of all below nine years was continued, children between nine and thirteen were to work only eight hours per day, and young persons between thirteen and eighteen only twelve hours, and none of these at night. Two whole and eight half holidays were required to be given within the year, and each child must have a surgeon’s certificate of fitness for labor. There were also clauses for the education of the children and the cleanliness of the factories. But the most important clause of this statute was the provision of a corps of four inspectors with assistants who were sworn to their duties, salaried, and provided with extensive powers of making rules for the execution of the act, of enforcing it, and prosecuting for its violation. The earlier laws had not been efficiently carried out. Under this act numerous prosecutions and convictions took place, and factory regulation began to become a reality. The inspectors calculated during their first year of service that there were about 56,000 children between nine and thirteen, and about 108,000 young persons between thirteen and eighteen, in the factories under their supervision.

The decade lying between 1840 and 1850 was one of specially great activity in social and economic agitation. Chartism, the abolition of the corn laws, the formation of trade unions, mining acts, and further extensions of the factory acts were all alike under discussion, and they all created the most intense antagonism between parties and classes. In 1844 the law commonly known as the “Children’s Half-time Act” was passed. It contained a large number of general provisions for the fencing of dangerous machinery, for its stoppage while being cleaned, for the report of accidents to inspectors and district surgeons, for the public prosecution for damages of the factory owner when he should seem to be responsible for an accident, and for the enforcement of the act. Its most distinctive clause, however, was that which restricted the labor of children to a half-day, or the whole of alternate days, and required their attendance at school for the other half of their time. All women were placed by this act in the same category as young persons between thirteen and eighteen, so far as the restriction of hours of labor to twelve per day and the prohibition of night work extended.

The next statute to be passed was an extension of this regulation, though it contained the provision which had long been the most bitterly contested of any during the whole factory law agitation. This was the “Ten-hour Act” of 1847. From an early period in the century there had been a strong agitation in favor of restricting by law the hours of young persons, and from somewhat later, of women, to ten hours per day, and this proposition had been repeatedly introduced and defeated in Parliament. It was now carried. By this time the more usual length of the working day even when unrestricted had been reduced to twelve hours, and in some trades to eleven. It was now made by law half-time for children, and ten hours for young persons and women, or as rearranged by another law passed three years afterward, ten and a half hours for five days of the week and a half-day on Saturday. The number of persons to whom the Ten-hour Act applied was estimated at something over 360,000. That is, including the children, at least three-fourths of all persons employed in textile industries had their hours and some other conditions of labor directly regulated by law. Moreover, the work of men employed in the same factories was so dependent on that of the women and the children, that many of these restrictions applied practically to them also.

Further minor changes in hours and other details were made from time to time, but there was no later contest on the principle of factory legislation. The evil results which had been feared had not shown themselves, and many of its strongest opponents had either already, or did eventually, acknowledge the beneficial results of the laws.

70. The Extension of Factory Legislation. By the successive acts of 1819, 1833, 1844, and 1847, a normal length of working day and regulated conditions generally had been established by government for the factories employing women and children. The next development was an extension of the regulation of hours and conditions of labor from factories proper to other allied fields. Already in 1842 a law had been passed regulating labor in mines. This act was passed in response to the needs shown by the report of a commission which had been appointed in 1840. They made a thorough investigation of the obscure conditions of labor underground, and reported a condition of affairs which was heart-sickening. Children began their life in the coal mines at five, six, or seven years of age. Girls and women worked like boys and men, they were less than half clothed, and worked alongside of men who were stark naked. There were from twelve to fourteen working hours in the twenty-four, and these were often at night. Little girls of six or eight years of age made ten to twelve trips a day up steep ladders to the surface, carrying half a hundred weight of coal in wooden buckets on their backs at each journey. Young women appeared before the commissioners, when summoned from their work, dressed merely in a pair of trousers, dripping wet from the water of the mine, and already weary with the labor of a day scarcely more than begun. A common form of labor consisted of drawing on hands and knees over the inequalities of a passageway not more than two feet or twenty-eight inches high a car or tub filled with three or four hundred weight of coal, attached by a chain and hook to a leather band around the waist. The mere recital of the testimony taken precluded all discussion as to the desirability of reform, and a law was immediately passed, almost without dissent, which prohibited for the future all work underground by females or by boys under thirteen years of age. Inspectors were appointed, and by subsequent acts a whole code of regulation of mines as regards age, hours, lighting, ventilation, safety, licensing of engineers, and in other respects has been created.

In 1846 a bill was passed applying to calico printing works regulations similar to the factory laws proper. In 1860, 1861, and 1863 similar laws were passed for bleaching and dyeing for lace works, and for bakeries. In 1864 another so-called factory act was passed applying to at least six other industries, none of which had any connection with textile factories. Three years later, in 1867, two acts for factories and workshops respectively took a large number of additional industries under their care; and finally, in 1878, the “Factory and Workshop Consolidation Act” repealed all the former special laws and substituted a veritable factory code containing a vast number of provisions for the regulation of industrial establishments. This law covered more than fifty printed pages of the statute book. Its principle provisions were as follows: The limit of prohibited labor was raised from nine to ten years, children in the terms of the statute being those between ten and fourteen, and “young persons” those between fourteen and eighteen years of age. For all such the day’s work must begin either at six or seven, and close at the same hour respectively in the evening, two hours being allowed for meal-times. All Saturdays and eight other days in the year must be half-holidays, while the whole of Christmas Day and Good Friday, or two alternative days, must be allowed as holidays. Children could work for only one-half of each day or on the whole of alternate days, and must attend school on the days or parts of days on which they did not work. There were minute provisions governing sanitary conditions, safety from machinery and in dangerous occupations, meal-times, medical certificates of fitness for employment, and reports of accidents. Finally there were the necessary body of provisions for administration, enforcement, penalties, and exceptions.

Since 1878 there have been a number of extensions of the principle of factory legislation, the most important of which are the following. In 1891 and 1895, amending acts were passed bringing laundries and docks within the provisions of the law, making further rules against overcrowding and other unsanitary conditions, increasing the age of prohibited labor to eleven years, and making a beginning of the regulation of “outworkers” or those engaged by “sweaters.” “Sweating” is manufacturing carried on by contractors or subcontractors on a small scale, who usually have the work done in their own homes or in single hired rooms by members of their families, or by poorly paid employees who by one chance or another are not in a free and independent relation to them. Many abuses exist in these “sweatshops.” The law so far is scarcely more than tentative, but in these successive acts provisions have been made by which all manufacturers or contractors must keep lists of outworkers engaged by them, and submit these to the factory inspectors for supervision.

In 1892 a “Shop-hours Act” was passed prohibiting the employment of any person under eighteen years of age more than seventy-four hours in any week in any retail or wholesale store, shop, eating-house, market, warehouse, or other similar establishment; and in 1893 the “Railway Regulation Act” gave power to the Board of Trade to require railway companies to provide reasonable and satisfactory schedules of hours for all their employees. In 1894 a bill for a compulsory eight-hour day for miners was introduced, but was withdrawn before being submitted to a vote. In 1899 a bill was passed requiring the provision of a sufficient number of seats for all female assistants in retail stores. In 1900 a government bill was presented to Parliament carrying legislation somewhat farther on the lines of the acts of 1891 and 1893, but it did not reach its later stages before the adjournment.

71. Employers’ Liability Acts. Closely allied to the problems involved in the factory laws is the question of the liability of employers to make compensation for personal injuries suffered by workmen in their service. With the increasing use of machinery and of steam power for manufacturing and transportation, and in the general absence of precaution, accidents to workmen became much more numerous. Statistics do not exist for earlier periods, but in 1899 serious or petty accidents to the number of 70,760 were reported from such establishments. By Common Law, in the case of negligence on the part of the proprietor or servant of an establishment, damages for accident could be sued for and obtained by a workman, not guilty of contributory negligence, as by any other person, except in one case. If the accident was the result of the negligence of a fellow-employee, no compensation for injuries would be allowed by the courts; the theory being that in the implied contract between employer and employee, the latter agreed to accept the risks of the business, at least so far as these arose from the carelessness of his fellow-employees.

In the large establishments of modern times, however, vast numbers of men were fellow-employees in the eyes of the law, and the doctrine of “common employment,” as it was called, prevented the recovery of damages in so many cases as to attract widespread attention. From 1865 forward this provision of the law was frequently complained of by leaders of the workingmen and others, and as constantly upheld by the courts.

In 1876 a committee of the House of Commons on the relations of master and servant took evidence on this matter and recommended in its report that the common law be amended in this respect. Accordingly in 1880 an Employers’ Liability Act was passed which abolished the doctrine of “common employment” as to much of its application, and made it possible for the employee to obtain compensation for accidental injury in the great majority of cases.

In 1893 a bill was introduced in Parliament by the ministry of the time to abolish all deductions from the responsibility of employers, except that of contributory negligence on the part of workmen, but it was not passed. In 1897, however, the “Workmen’s Compensation Act” was passed, changing the basis of the law entirely. By this Act it was provided that in case of accident to a workman causing death or incapacitating him for a period of more than two weeks, compensation in proportion to the wages he formerly earned should be paid by the employer as a matter of course, unless “serious and wilful misconduct” on the part of the workman could be shown to have existed. The liability of employers becomes, therefore, a matter of insurance of workmen against accidents arising out of their employment, imposed by the law upon employers. It is no longer damages for negligence, but a form of compulsory insurance. In other words, since 1897 a legal, if only an implied part of the contract between employer and employee in all forms of modern industry in which accidents are likely to occur is that the employer insures the employee against the dangers of his work.

72. Preservation of Remaining Open Lands. Turning from the field of manufacturing labor to that of agriculture and landholding it will be found that there has been some legislation for the protection of the agricultural laborer analogous to the factory laws. The Royal Commission of 1840-1844 on trades then unprotected by law included a report on the condition of rural child labor, but no law followed until 1873, when the “Agricultural Children’s Act” was passed, but proved to be ineffective. The evils of “agricultural gangs,” which were bodies of poor laborers, mostly children, engaged by a contractor and taken from place to place to be hired out to farmers, were reported on by a commission in 1862, and partly overcome by the “Agricultural Gangs Act” of 1867. There is, however, but little systematic government oversight of the farm-laboring class.

Government regulation in the field of landholding has taken a somewhat different form. The movement of enclosing which had been in progress from the middle of the eighteenth century was brought to an end, and a reversal of tendency took place, by which the use and occupation of the land was more controlled by the government in the interest of the masses of the rural population. By the middle of the century the process of enclosing was practically complete. There had been some 3954 private enclosure acts passed, and under their provisions or those of the Enclosure Commissioners more than seven million acres had been changed from mediaeval to modern condition. But now a reaction set in. Along with the open field farming lands it was perceived that open commons, village greens, gentlemen’s parks, and the old national forest lands were being enclosed, and frequently for building or railroad, not for agricultural uses, to the serious detriment of the health and of the enjoyment of the people, and to the destruction of the beauty of the country. The dread of interference by the government with matters that might be left to private settlement was also passing away. In 1865 the House of Commons appointed a commission to investigate the question of open spaces near the city of London, and the next year on their recommendation passed a law by which the Enclosure Commissioners were empowered to make regulations for the use of all commons within fifteen miles of London as public parks, except so far as the legal rights of the lords of the manors in which the commons lay should prevent. A contest had already arisen between many of these lords of manors having the control of open commons, whose interest it was to enclose and sell them, and other persons having vague rights of pasturage and other use of them, whose interest it was to preserve them as open spaces. To aid the latter in their legal resistance to proposed enclosures, the “Commons Preservation Society” was formed in 1865. As a result a number of the contests were decided in the year 1866 in favor of those who opposed enclosures.

The first case to attract attention was that of Wimbledon Common, just west of London. Earl Spencer, the lord of the manor of Wimbledon, had offered to give up his rights on the common to the inhabitants of the vicinity in return for a nominal rent and certain privileges; and had proposed that a third of the common should be sold, and the money obtained for it used to fence, drain, beautify, and keep up the remainder. The neighboring inhabitants, however, preferred the spacious common as it stood, and when a bill to carry out Lord Spencer’s proposal had been introduced into Parliament, they contended that they had legal rights on the common which he could not disregard, and that they objected to its enclosure. The parliamentary committee practically decided in their favor, and the proposition was dropped. An important decision in a similar case was made by the courts in 1870. Berkhamstead Common, an open stretch some three miles long and half a mile wide, lying near the town of Berkhamstead, twenty-five miles north of London, had been used for pasturing animals, cutting turf, digging gravel, gathering furze, and as a place of general recreation and enjoyment by the people of the two manors in which it lay, from time immemorial. In 1866 Lord Brownlow, the lord of these two manors, began making enclosures upon it, erecting two iron fences across it so as to enclose 434 acres and to separate the remainder into two entirely distinct parts. The legal advisers of Lord Brownlow declared that the inhabitants had no rights which would prevent him from enclosing parts of the common, although to satisfy them he offered to give to them the entire control over one part of it. The Commons Preservation Society, however, advised the inhabitants differently, and encouraged them to make a legal contest. One of their number, Augustus Smith, a wealthy and obstinate man, a member of Parliament, and a possessor of rights on the common both as a freeholder and a copyholder, was induced to take action in his own name and as a representative of other claimants of common rights. He engaged in London a force of one hundred and twenty laborers, sent them down at night by train, and before morning had broken down Lord Brownlow’s two miles of iron fences, on which he had spent some L5000, and piled their sections neatly up on another part of the common. Two lawsuits followed: one by Lord Brownlow against Mr. Smith for trespass, the other a cross suit in the Chancery Court by Mr. Smith to ascertain the commoner’s rights, and prevent the enclosure of the common. After a long trial the decision was given in Mr. Smith’s favor, and not only was Berkhamstead Common thus preserved as an open space, but a precedent set for the future decision of other similar cases. Within the years between 1866 and 1874 dispute after dispute analogous to this arose, and decision after decision was given declaring the illegality of enclosures by a lord of a manor where there were claims of commoners which they still asserted and valued and which could be used as an obstacle to enclosure. Hampstead Heath, Ashdown Forest, Malvern Hills, Plumstead, Tooting, Wandsworth, Coulston, Dartford, and a great many other commons, village greens, roadside wastes, and other open spaces were saved from enclosure, and some places were partly opened up again, as a result either of lawsuits, of parliamentary action, or of voluntary agreements and purchase.

Perhaps the most conspicuous instance was that of Epping Forest. This common consisted of an open tract about thirteen miles long and one mile wide, containing in 1870 about three thousand acres of open common land. Enclosure was being actively carried on by some nineteen lords of manors, and some three thousand acres had been enclosed by rather high-handed means within the preceding twenty years. Among the various landowners who claimed rights of common upon a part of the Forest was, however, the City of London, and in 1871 this body began suit against the various lords of manors under the claim that it possessed pasture rights, not only in the manor of Ilford, in which its property of two hundred acres was situated, but, since the district was a royal forest, over the whole of it. The City asked that the lords of manors should be prevented from enclosing any more of it, and required to throw open again what they had enclosed during the last twenty years. After a long and expensive legal battle and a concurrent investigation by a committee of Parliament, both extending over three years, a decision was given in favor of the City of London and other commoners, and the lords of manors were forced to give back about three thousand acres. The whole was made permanently into a public park. The old forest rights of the crown proved to be favorable to the commoners, and thus obtained at least one tardy justification to set against their long and dark record in the past.

In 1871, in one of the cases which had been appealed, the Lord Chancellor laid down a principle indicating a reaction in the judicial attitude on the subject, when he declared that no enclosure should be made except when there was a manifest advantage in it; as contrasted with the policy of enclosing unless there was some strong reason against it, as had formerly been approved. In 1876 Parliament passed a law amending the acts of 1801 and 1845, and directing the Enclosure Commissioners to reverse their rule of action in the same direction. That is to say, they were not to approve any enclosure unless it could be shown to be to the manifest advantage of the neighborhood, as well as to the interest of the parties directly concerned. Finally, in 1893, by the Commons Law Amendment Act, it was required that every proposed enclosure of any kind should first be advertised and opportunity given for objection, then submitted to the Board of Agriculture for its approval, and this approval should only be given when such an enclosure was for the general benefit of the public. No desire of a lord of a manor to enclose ground for his private park or game preserve, or to use it for building ground, would now be allowed to succeed. The interest of the community at large has been placed above the private advantage and even liberty of action of landholders. The authorities do not merely see that justice is done between lord and commoners on the manor, but that both alike shall be restrained from doing what is not to the public advantage. Indeed, Parliament went one step further, and by an order passed in 1893 set a precedent for taking a common entirely out of the hands of the lord of the manor, and putting it in the hands of a board to keep it for public uses. Thus not only had the enclosing movement diminished for lack of open farming land to enclose, but public opinion and law between 1864 and 1893 interposed to preserve such remaining open land as had not been already divided. Whatever land remained that was not in individual ownership and occupancy was to be retained under control for the community at large.

73. Allotments. But this change of attitude was not merely negative. There were many instances of government interposition for the encouragement of agriculture and for the modification of the relations between landlord and tenant. In 1875, 1882, and 1900 the “Agricultural Holdings Acts” were passed, by which, when improvements are made by the tenant during the period in which he holds the land, compensation must be given by the landlord to the tenant when the latter retires. No agreement between the landlord and tenant by which the latter gives up this right is valid. This policy of controlling the conditions of landholding with the object of enforcing justice to the tenant has been carried to very great lengths in the Irish Land Bills and the Scotch Crofters’ Acts, but the conditions that called for such legislation in those countries have not existed in England itself. There has been, however, much effort in England to bring at least some land again into the use of the masses of the rural population. In 1819, as part of the administration of the poor law, Parliament passed an act facilitating the leasing out by the authorities of common land belonging to the parishes to the poor, in small “allotments,” as they were called, by the cultivation of which they might partially support themselves. Allotments are small pieces of land, usually from an eighth of an acre to an acre in size, rented out for cultivation to poor or working-class families. In 1831 parish authorities were empowered to buy or enclose land up to as much as five acres for this purpose. Subsequently the formation of allotments began to be advocated, not only as part of the system of supporting paupers, but for its own sake, in order that rural laborers might have some land in their own occupation to work on during their spare times, as their forefathers had during earlier ages. To encourage this plan of giving the mass of the people again an interest in the land the “Allotments and Small Holdings Association” was formed in 1885. Laws which were passed in 1882 and 1887 made it the duty of the authorities of parishes, when there seemed to be a demand for allotments, to provide all the land that was needed for the purpose, giving them, if needed, and under certain restrictions, the right of compulsory purchase of any particular piece of land which they should feel to be desirable. This was to be divided up and rented out in allotments from one quarter of an acre to an acre in size. By laws passed in 1890 and 1894 this plan of making it the bounden duty of the local government to provide sufficient allotments for the demand, and giving them power to purchase land even without the consent of its owners, was carried still further and put in the hands of the parish council. The growth in numbers of such allotments was very rapid and has not yet ceased. The approximate numbers at several periods are as follows:

1873            246,398
1888            357,795
1890            455,005
1895            579,133

In addition to those formed and granted out by the public local authorities, many large landowners, railroad companies, and others have made allotments to their tenants or employees. Large tracts of land subdivided into such small patches are now a common sight in England, simulating in appearance the old open fields of the Middle Ages and early modern times.

74. Small Holdings. Closely connected with the extension of allotments is the movement for the creation of “small holdings,” or the reintroduction of small farming. One form of this is that by which the local authorities in 1892 were empowered to buy land for the purpose of renting it out in small holdings of not more than fifteen acres each to persons who would themselves cultivate it.

A still further and much more important development in the same direction is the effort to introduce “peasant proprietorship,” or the ownership of small amounts of farming land by persons who would otherwise necessarily be mere laborers on other men’s land. There has been an old dispute as to the relative advantages of a system of large farms, rented by men who have some considerable capital, knowledge, and enterprise, as in England; and of a system of small farms, owned and worked by men who are mere peasants, as in France. The older economists generally advocated the former system as better in itself, and also pointed out that a policy of withdrawal by government from any regulation was tending to make it universal. Others have been more impressed with the good effects of the ownership of land on the mental and moral character of the population, and with the desirability of the existence of a series of steps by which a thrifty and ambitious workingman could rise to a higher position, even in the country. There has, therefore, since the middle of the century, been a widespread agitation in favor of the creation of smaller farms, of giving assistance in their purchase, and of thus introducing a more mixed system of rural land occupancy, and bringing back something of the earlier English yeoman farming.

This movement obtained recognition by Parliament in the Small Holdings Act of 1892, already referred to. This law made it the duty of each county council, when there seemed to be any sufficient demand for small farms from one to fifty acres in size, to acquire in any way possible, though not by compulsory purchase, suitable land, to adapt it for farming purposes by fencing, making roads, and, if necessary, erecting suitable buildings; and then to dispose of it by sale, or, as a matter of exception, as before stated, on lease, to such parties as will themselves cultivate it. The terms of sale were to be advantageous to the purchaser. He must pay at least as much as a fifth of the price down, but one quarter of it might be left on perpetual ground-rent, and the remainder, slightly more than one-half, might be repaid in half-yearly instalments during any period less than fifty years. The county council was also given power to loan money to tenants of small holdings to buy from their landlords, where they could arrange terms of purchase but had not the necessary means.

Through the intervention of government, therefore, the strict division of those connected with the land into landlords, tenant farmers, and farm laborers has been to a considerable extent altered, and it is generally possible for a laborer to obtain a small piece of land as an allotment, or, if more ambitious and able, a small farm, on comparatively easy terms. In landholding and agriculture, as in manufacturing and trade, government has thus stepped in to prevent what would have been the effect of mere free competition, and to bring about a distribution and use of the land which have seemed more desirable.

75. Government Sanitary Control. In the field of buying and selling the hand of government has been most felt in provisions for the health of the consumer of various articles. Laws against adulteration have been passed, and a code of supervision, registry, and enforcement constructed. Similarly in broader sanitary lines, by the “Housing of the Working Classes Act” of 1890, when it is brought to the attention of the local authorities that any street or district is in such a condition that its houses or alleys are unfit for human habitation, or that the narrowness, want of light or air, or bad drainage makes the district dangerous to the health of the inhabitants or their neighbors, and that these conditions cannot be readily remedied except by an entire rearrangement of the district, then it becomes the duty of the local authorities to take the matter in hand. They are bound to draw up and, on approval by the proper superior authorities, to carry out a plan for widening the streets and approaches to them, providing proper sanitary arrangements, tearing down the old houses, and building new ones in sufficient number and suitable character to provide dwelling accommodation for as many persons of the working class as were displaced by the changes. Private rights or claims are not allowed to stand in the way of any such public action in favor of the general health and well-being, as the local authorities are clothed by the law with the right of purchase of the land and buildings of the locality at a valuation, even against the wishes of the owners, though they must obtain parliamentary confirmation of such a compulsory purchase. Several acts have been passed to provide for the public acquisition or building of workingmen’s dwellings. In 1899 the “Small Dwellings Acquisition Act” gave power to any local authority to loan four-fifths of the cost of purchase of a small house, to be repaid by the borrower by instalments within thirty years.

Laws for the stamping out of cattle disease have been passed on the same principle. In 1878, 1886, 1890, 1893, and 1896 successive acts were passed which have given to the Board of Agriculture the right to cause the slaughter of any cattle or swine which have become infected or been subjected to contagious diseases; Parliament has also set apart a sufficient sum of money and appointed a large corps of inspectors to carry out the law. Official analysts of fertilizers and food-stuffs for cattle have also since 1893 been regularly appointed by the government in each county. Adulteration has been taken under control by the “Sale of Food and Drugs Act” of 1875, with its later amendments and extensions, especially that of 1899.

76. Industries Carried on by Government. In addition to the regulation in these various respects of industries carried on by private persons, and intervention for the protection of the public health, the government has extended its functions very considerably by taking up certain new duties or services, which it carries out itself instead of leaving to private hands.

The post-office is such an old and well-established branch of the government’s activity as not in itself to be included among newly adopted functions, but its administration has been extended since the middle of the century over at least four new fields of duty: the telegraph, the telephone, the parcels post, and the post-office savings-bank.

The telegraph system of England was built up in the main and in its early stages by private persons and companies. After more than twenty-five years of competitive development, however, there was widespread public dissatisfaction with the service. Messages were expensive and telegraphing inconvenient. Many towns with populations from three thousand to six thousand were without telegraphic facilities nearer than five or ten miles, while the offices of competing companies were numerous in busy centres. In 1870, therefore, all private telegraph companies were bought up by the government at an expense of L10,130,000. A strict telegraphic monopoly in the hands of the government was established, and the telegraph made an integral part of the post-office system.

In 1878 the telephone began to compete with the telegraph, and its relation to the government telegraphic monopoly became a matter of question. At first the government adopted the policy of collecting a ten per cent royalty on all messages, but allowed telephones to be established by private companies. In the meantime the various companies were being bought up successively by the National Telephone Company which was thus securing a virtual monopoly. In 1892 Parliament authorized the Postmaster General to spend L1,000,000, subsequently raised to L1,300,000, in the purchase of telephone lines, and prohibited any private construction of new lines. As a result, by 1897 the government had bought up all the main or trunk telephone lines and wires, leaving to the National Telephone Company its monopoly of all telephone communication inside of the towns. This monopoly was supposed to be in its legal possession until 1904, when it was anticipated that the government would buy out its property at a valuation. In 1898, however, there was an inquiry by Parliament, and a new “Telegraph Act” was passed in 1899. The monopoly of the National Company was discredited and the government began to enter into competition with it within the towns, and to authorize local governments and private companies under certain circumstances to do the same. It was provided that every extension of an old company and every new company must obtain a government license and that on the expiring of this license the plant could be bought by the government. In the meantime the post-office authorities have power to restrict rates. An appropriation of L2,000,000 was put in the hands of the Postmaster General to extend the government telephone system. It seems quite certain that by 1925, at latest, all telephones will be in the hands of the government.

The post-office savings-bank was established in 1861. Any sum from one shilling upward is accepted from any depositor until his deposits rise to L50 in any one year, or a total of L200 in all. It presents great attractions from its security and its convenience. The government through the post-office pays two and one-half per cent interest. In 1870 there was deposited in the post-office savings-banks approximately L14,000,000, in 1880 L31,000,000, and ten years later L62,000,000. In 1880 arrangements were made by which government bonds and annuities can be bought through the post-office. In 1890 some L4,600,000 was invested in government stock in this way.

The parcels post was established in 1883. This branch of the post-office does a large part of the work that would otherwise be done by private express companies. It takes charge of packages up to eleven pounds in weight and under certain circumstances up to twenty-one pounds, presented at any branch post-office, and on prepayment of regular charges delivers them to their consignees.

In these and other forms each year within recent times has seen some extension of the field of government control for the good of the community in general, or for the protection of some particular class in the community, and there is at the same time a constant increase in the number and variety of occupations that the government undertakes. Instead of withdrawing from the field of intervention in economic concerns, and restricting its activity to the narrowest possible limits, as was the tendency in the last period, the government is constantly taking more completely under its regulation great branches of industry, and even administering various lines of business that formerly were carried on by private hands.