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Settlements and Removals, Act of

Settlements and Removals, Act of, 1662. The end of the Civil War period left the Elizabethan poor law arrangements in confusion, since many people had left their native villages and towns, some to join armies, others to find work. Charles II's Cavalier Parliament brought in an Act ‘for the better relief of the poor of this kingdom’ (13 & 14 Car. II c. 12) which governed poor relief until the reform of 1834. Though overseers and justices had often tried to move on the indigent poor there was no Elizabethan statute to justify doing so, save for ‘vagrant rogues’. The Act of 1662 offered the drastic solution that any persons, not necessarily begging or asking for relief, but only ‘likely to be chargeable’ might be expelled to their native parishes by a removal order granted by two JPs. In addition to being a gross infringement of personal liberty, the arrangements were bound to lead to disputes between parishes which, according to Rickman in 1822, had become ‘the main employment of Quarter Sessions since the Revolution’. Though there were hundreds of cases of severe hardship, the law cannot have been rigorously enforced since the cost of removal and litigation, which fell upon the parish, was considerable, and the growth of towns suggests that movement remained possible. But in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: ‘there is scarce a poor man in England, of forty years of age, who has not, in some part of his life, felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.’ The first substantial concession did not come until 1795 when it was enacted that persons should not be removed on suspicion that they might become a charge on the poor rate, but on evidence that they had become so.

J. A. Cannon

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