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Home > Document Library > Poverty and Welfare > Draft of a Bill for Support of the Poor

Draft of a Bill for Support of the Poor

Thomas Jefferson

[The Foundersí approach to welfare: group homes with work requirements for the able-bodied. — TGW]


Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that the Aldermen of every county wherein such provision, as is herein after required for setting the poor of the county to work, shall not have been made, shall, so soon as conveniently may be, purchase the inheritance, or procure a lease, of one hundred acres of land, or any less quantity that is sufficient for the purpose intended, in the county, and thereon cause a house to be built, if a proper one be not there already, and kept in repair, and shall cause all persons in their county, who are maintained thereby, or who seek relief therefrom, to be put into such house, to be there maintained and employed in such work as they shall be able to perform; and may also, by their warrant, apprehend and send to the same place all persons found wandering and begging alms, in the county… and shall put such beggar to work for any time not exceeding twenty days. And the said Aldermen shall hire some discreet man to oversee those who shall come or be put into such work-house, and shall, from time to time, ordain rules for his conduct, and for the government, employment, and correction of the persons subject to him, restraining him from correcting any of them with more stripes than ten, at one time, or for one offence. And in order to keep them at work shall provide wool, cotton, flax, hemp and other materials, with the tools and implements necessary for the manufacture thereof. And the said Aldermen shall meet together, at the court-house of their county, at some time between the second Tuesday in July and the first day of August in every year, and by taxation of the persons and property, in their county, according to the mode of assessment prescribed by the law which shall be then in force, for raising money for the public exigencies, shall raise competent sums of money for the necessary relief of such poor, lame, impotent, blind, and other inhabitants of the county as are not able to maintain themselves. And also for the putting out the poor children apprentices, as well as for defraying the expences of putting so much of this act in execution as relates to setting the poor to work and keeping them so employed; they shall collect appropriate taxes.

…All able bodied persons not having wherewithal to maintain themselves, who shall waste their time in idle and dissolute courses, or shall loiter or wander abroad, refusing to work for reasonable wages, or to betake themselves to some honest and lawful calling, or who shall desert wives or children, without so providing for them as that they shall not become chargeable to a county, shall be deemed vagabonds, and shall be sent, by order of an Alderman, to the poor house, there to be kept to labor during such time as shall be limited by the order, not exceeding thirty days; …unless, …the vagabond shall give surety for his good behavior, and that he shall betake himself to some honest and lawful calling for twelve months; from which order the party thereby condemned may appeal to the county court, who, if the order be affirmed, shall award him to pay the costs.

[From "A Bill for Support of the Poor," Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 2:419-20, 422.]


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