Eduard Bernstein

Cromwell and Communism

Chapter XVII
John Bellers, Champion of the Poor and Advocate of a League of Nations


I. The College of Industry

All historians who have dealt with the social conditions of England in the seventeenth century agree that the situation of the poorer classes, more especially that of the agricultural labourers, from the end of the Commonwealth in 1660 to the close of the century was invariably bad. The legislation enacted by the restored monarchy, as far as it concerned the economic life of the nation, was throughout class legislation in favour of the great landlords, and the “revolution” of 1688 only changed this in so far as it admitted the commercial classes to a greater share in the government of the country. The landed class ruled as the representatives of their own and the commercial interests. As far as the working classes were concerned, this meant a change for the worse in their situation for a long time to come. Any neglect under the Stuart dynasty to promote the interests of the possessing classes was now remedied. The enactments before referred to for the benefit of the landlords, under Charles II, had been supplemented in 1677 by an Act which declared all tenantships to be short-term leases, in default of the production of tenancy agreements to the contrary effect. Such agreements, however, could not be produced in the great majority of cases, partly because no such deeds had ever reached the hands of the farmers, and partly because the tenure was based on relations passed on from father to son since the feudal times. In such cases, and frequently enough in others, small freeholders and farmers were unable to assert their freehold or leasehold rights at law. Thus the way was prepared for a transformation of agrarian conditions, under which small could have managed to subsist, into such as compelled them either to toil like serfs or else make room for a capitalist tenant. To make up for this, in addition to the import duties on corn, export bounties were fixed lest improved cultivation should bring about a greater reduction in the price of corn. The situation of small holders and agricultural labourers was further worsened by the enclosure or monopolizing of forests, marsh lands, and heaths by the landlords. Formerly farmers and agricultural labourers were able to supply their wants to a great extent by shooting or snaring game, or to add to their income by the sale of game; this, too, was gradually prohibited from the time of James I, one of the reasons given being that poaching promoted idleness, which meant that it prevented the labourers working for the landowner.

The commercial growth and the expanding incomes of the proprietary classes, of which the economists in the latter part of the seventeenth century, such as Sir William Petty, Josiah Child, and others, write with rapture [1], brought slender benefits to a very small section of the working classes, while the situation of the great bulk of them changed for the worse. For while profits and prices went up enormously, wages were kept down by judicial assessments. Even if we knew nothing of this from the documents extant, this one fact would speak volumes, that the weekly pay of the private soldier, who, under Cromwell’s Commonwealth received 7s. 6d., in 1685 was 4s. 8d. only. [2] The fact that men were willing to enlist at this rate of pay shows that the general condition of the workers must have considerably deteriorated. Wages remained so low that in the country and in domestic industry they had, in most cases, to be supplemented by grants from the poor fund. The poor rates assumed colossal proportions, amounting to over one-third of the whole Government budget. Charles Davenant estimates the number of poor and beggars in 1696 at nearly one-fourth of the whole population; it is not surprising that everybody was debating how to remedy this state of things. An entire literature on the problem of the poor and poor relief sprang up. [3]

In all these essays we may trace two fundamentally different views, although they are not always clearly expressed. One view is concerned, in the interest of the comfortable classes, with finding means of getting rid of the “pauper plague”, while the other aims at raising the poor for their own sakes, and seeks to discover a better organization of society. Andrew Tarranton may be taken as a typical representative of the first view, while the more humanitarian outlook is best represented by John Bellers the Quaker. [4]

John Bellers was born in 1654 of well-to-do parents. Himself a Quaker, he married a Quakeress, as was almost obligatory by the matrimonial traditions of the Friends, and through this marriage became “Lord of the Manor” of Coln Aldwyns in Gloucestershire. Precluded from a political career by belonging to a sect which, at that time, was still ostracized in this respect, he occupied himself with all kinds of studies and philanthropical undertakings. Among his friends was William Penn, the famous founder of Pennsylvania, as well as John Sloane, the physician and philosopher, whose great institution laid the foundation for the establishment of the British Museum. Although not of a very strong constitution, and frequently indisposed, he attained the age of seventy-one years. He died in 1725, one of the best men of his time, and as Marx writes concerning him, “a veritable phenomenon in the history of political economy”.

The first of the publications before us from the pen of Bellers dates from 1695, one of the seven consecutive years of distress, the notorious “seven lean years”, which befell the English working community at the end of the seventeenth century, and which depressed the purchasing power of workmen’s wages to an extraordinarily low level. Proposals for Raising a College of Industry of All Useful Trades and Husbandry is the title of Bellers’ essay, but as a matter of fact, what Bellers has in view is a labour colony or association. He declares in his essay in two places why he has selected the name of College of Industry. [5]

On page 11 he says he would rather call it a College than a Workhouse, because it is a more pleasing name, and, moreover, because all kinds of useful instruction can be imparted there; and in the concluding chapter, when discussing the objections that might be raised against his plan, he says that “Workhouse” savoured too much of the “Bridewell”. Nor was the name “community” considered suitable, because everything was not to be in common. College, on the other hand, suggested the idea of a voluntary sojourn. Bellers is fully conscious of the hybrid character of his proposal, and clearly indicates that considerations of a purely practical nature prevented him from going further. With truly Quaker-like ingenuousness, in which, however, his opinions reveal themselves enlivened with a certain waggish humour which occasionally recurs in his writings, he answers the question as to why the poor, that is to say the working men, are not to have all the profit of the college, by giving the following reason: “Because the Rich have no other way of living but by the Labour of others; as the Landlord by the Labour of his Tenants, and the Merchants and Tradesmen by the Labour of the Mechanicks.” However, he advances other reasons, besides this concession to the rich, why the college should yield a profit. In order to set it to work on a sufficiently large scale much money is required, and “a thousand Pound is easier raised where there is Profit, than one hundred Pound only upon Charity”. Besides, the more money is put into an undertaking the more guarantee is offered that people will see to its being properly worked so that the interest therein may not be diminished. But the college is not meant to be a benevolent institution, for the additional reason that the working man, when he enters it, shall have a right to it. A comfortable life at the college is to be “the rich man’s debt to the industrious labourer, and not their Charity to them”. Only the surplus which is left beyond the yieldings required for this purpose is to go to the capital of the association.

Bellers estimates this capital, for a colony of three hundred able-bodied persons, at £15,000, provided that the ground is not leasehold but freehold, the latter being decidedly preferable. (The calculation is £10,000 for the ground, £2,000 for live and other stock, £3,000 for installations, tools, etc., for the industrial workmen.) The minimum contribution shall be £25; every 50 shall entitle to one vote in the Administrative Council, but no one, however much he may invest, shall have more than five votes.

The working population of the college is divided by Bellers, with regard to its Budget, as follows:

Forty-four industrial workmen (mechanics, etc.), including one manager and one deputy-manager.

Eighty-two women and girls, who are to do household work of all kinds (including spinning, etc.), as well as dairy work.

Twenty-four field and other labourers (men and boys), including one manager and his wife.

Altogether, one hundred and fifty persons whose labour supplies all the requirements of the college.

Another ten men will supply, by the produce of their labour, the requirements of fuel, iron, etc., the labour of five more would supply the rent of the buildings, and that of thirty-five more (if required) the rent for the ground. If no rent is to be paid, the produce of the work of these latter would be added to that of the other hundred workers, constituting the surplus shown by the enterprise. But even if the ground was held on lease only, the surplus, assuming the value of the yearly produce per man at £10 per annum, would amount to 100 x 10 = £1,000. However, Bellers estimates the average of productive capacity at £15 for each worker.

Bellers states that he has arrived at this estimate of the surplus of production, which corresponds to a rate of surplus value equal to 300 : 135 = 45 per cent., “from a view of the Nation, where I suppose not above Two Thirds, if one Half of the Nation are useful workers; and yet all have a living”. Furthermore, the college offers a number of economic advantages. It would save the cost of shops, the maintenance of middlemen and other useless trades, lawyers’ fees, bad debts, etc.; there would be a reduction in the cost of dwellings, heating, cooking, and food to be bought. Many women and children would be productive workers, and loss of time through periodical want of employment could be avoided. In addition to this, the college would reap the benefit of a combination of industry and agriculture. The fields falling to the share of the industrial population would be better cultivated than the allotments of, mechanics would otherwise be, because more cattle would be kept at the college, and hence more manure would be available, and altogether a more economical mode of working would be possible. A further advantage would be afforded by the fact that at harvest time not only the actual field labourers, but also mechanics and others might assist, and altogether the available forces might be distributed as required.

Besides abolishing the middleman and avoiding the loss entailed by the separation of agriculture and manufacture (a subject to which Bellers reverts in another place), the elimination of speculation would be an advantage to the college. The greater part of the production of the members is destined for their own consumption, and whatever is not consumed by them would, as far as possible, be employed for stock and for the expansion and development of the enterprise. The profit is to be ascertained annually and credited to the shareholders according to their investments. It might be drawn out or added to the “principal” as desired, but no kind of stockjobbing to be allowed with the shares because this “will ruin any good thing”. If any member desires to sell his share, the other shareholders should have the right of appointing a purchaser, who would then enjoy the rights of his predecessor. In no case would any surplus arise until all the requirements of the workers at the college had been amply provided for in every respect. Contrary to what obtains outside in ordinary life, where “the Tradesmen are endeavouring to get one from another what they can; so they are all straining the necessity of the Mechanick, not regarding how little he gets, but to get as much as they can for themselves”.

At the college the workers, as long as they were in the prime of their life, should observe the general hours of work, but “as they grow in years in the college, they may be allowed to abate an Hour in a Day of their Work, and when come to Sixty years old (if Merit prefer them not sooner) they may be made Overseers; wh. for ease and pleasant life, will equal what the Hoards of a private purse can give”. [6] The rules of work should be based on the rules in force for the time being with the best situated “prentices” in London.

Further notable institutions of the college are:

The managers and other officials (overseers) of the college, like the actual workmen, shall be paid in kind, not cash.

The dwelling-house of the college shall consist of four wings: one for the married people; one for single young men and boys; one for single women and girls; and one for sick and invalid members. At meals, which are to be taken together, the young people, boys and girls, are to wait alternately.

The workrooms are also to be divided. The young men at the college shall be apprenticed up to the twenty-fourth, and girls up to the twenty-first year; they may then leave the college if they like, or may marry.

At first great care shall be taken to engage a number of trustworthy workers who are likely to set a good example; the others may at first consist of apprentices. They must begin with young people. “Old people”, he says in the Introduction, “are like earthen vessels, not so easily to be new moulded, yet children are more like clay out of the Pit, and easy to take any form they are put into.” Hence if the poor should perchance at first “prove brittle”, the rich who had found the money for the college should not lose patience. “Seven or fourteen years may bring up young ones that Life will be more natural to.”

Great value is to be attached to education, not only as to the “what” but also as to the “how” thereof. It shall combine work with instruction, and endeavour to act more by object-lessons than by theory, more by practice and experience than by rote learning. And what children read for instruction they had better read together. “Children reading and discoursing one to another, gives a deeper impression than reading to themselves, we remembering a man’s voice longer than his face.” Well-to-do people may become boarders at the college at certain fixed contributions, and on condition of orderly conduct. Similarly the college would afford board and education to children of well-to-do people for payment, and to these, too, the combination of work and instruction would be of the utmost advantage. “Seeing others work, at spare times instead of Playing, wd be learning some trade, work not being more Labour than Play; and seeing others work, to imitate them w’ be as much diversion to the children as Play.” The development of bodily strength and skill is as important for the rich as for the poor, for the learned as for the mechanic. Work and learning must go hand in hand, for “an Idle Learning being little better than the learning of Idleness” ... “Labour it’s a primitive institution of God ... Labour being as proper for the body’s health as eating is for its living; for what gains a man saves by Ease, he will find in Disease ... Labour adds Oyl to the Lamp of Life when thinking Inflames it ... Men will grow stronger with working.” ... And the work is to be on a definite plan, not mere tiring out of the body. “A Childish silly employ leaves their minds silly.” [7]

Of course the college is to have a proper library. Also a “physick-garden”, laboratories for the preparation of medicine, and the like.

In calculating the working strength of the college, the number of three hundred was only selected for the purpose of more clearly illustrating the proportion of necessary and surplus work. The college, however, might be considerably larger; it might number three thousand members, especially in districts where staple products are manufactured. Nor need it be confined to the trades enumerated. Even seafaring men might join it and enjoy its advantages, provided that they undertook to endow it with their goods or the value thereof. [8] In short, it should be “an epitome of the world”.

A College thus constituted cannot so easily be undone as single men, whatever changes comes (except the People are destroyed), for if plundered, Twelve months time will recruit again; Like the Grass new mowed, the next year supplies again; Labour bringing a supply as the Ground doth; and when together, they assist one another; but when scattered are useless, if not preying upon one another.

The first edition of the Proposals was dedicated by Bellers to his co-religionists, the “Children of Light named in scorn Quakers”. “The consideration of your great Industry and diligence in all affairs of this Life, your great charity in relieving your own Poor, and others also, as occasions offer, your great Morality acknowledged by all, and your religious Sincerity known to the Lord; Hath induced me to Dedicate these following Proposals to your serious Consideration, whilst I think you a very regular Body, willing and capable of such an Undertaking ... I often having thought of the misery of the Poor of this Nation, and at the same time have reckoned them the Treasure of it, the Labour of the Poor being the mines of the Rich, and beyond all that Spain is Master of; and many thoughts have run through me how then it comes that the Poor sh’ be such a Burthen and so miserable, and from it might be prevented; whilst I think it as much more charity to put the Poor in a way to live by honest Labour, than to maintain them idle, as it wd be to set a man’s broken leg, that he might go himself, rather than always to carry him.” The dedication is followed by an introductory disquisition in which the leading economic ideas of Bellers are developed.

It commences as follows: “It’s the interest of the rich to take care of the poor and their education, by wh. they will take care of their own heirs.”

But Bellers knew that by stressing the need of provision for future generations he would gain but little sympathy from the rich for his proposals, and hence he was careful to promise them an immediate advantage, namely the profits of the college. He held that a profitable enterprise would attract money, last longer, and do most good. What sap is to a tree, profit is to a business; it stimulates its growth and keeps it in vigour. We see that Bellers was by no means a dreamer. He recognized with a keen eye the spirit of his time, and in this respect is even ahead of the thinkers of his period.

He observes that out of consideration for their profits the rich would find it advisable to provide for the poor. [9]

“For if one had a hundred thousand acres of Land, and as many pounds in money, and as many cattle without a Labourer, what wd the rich man be but a Labourer. And as the Labourers make men rich, so the more Labourers, there will be the more rich men (where there is land to employ and provide for them).” The rich therefore had an interest in seeing that honest workers married as soon as they had come to mature age. [10]

“For is it not strange to consider how industrious the world is, to raise corn and cattle, wh. only serves men, and how negligent of (or rather careful to hinder) the increase of men?” “The increase of the Poor is no burthen, but advantage, because the conveniencies increase with them”, he writes a hundred years before Malthus.

The mercantile system which in the seventeenth century was represented in England by Thomas Mun, Josiah Child, Charles Davenant, and others with more or less ability; was partly a reaction from the preceding monetary system. A cardinal principle of this system was the prohibition of exports of gold and silver, or, more properly speaking, it was the theoretical expression of a practice perfectly normal in a state of society which produced mainly for direct consumption, that is, the feudal system. According to this system, foreign trade consists almost exclusively in the exchange of surplus home production for foreign products. Simultaneously with the decay of the feudal units of production and with the rise of the monetary system, foreign trade lost the characteristics of primitive barter and became increasingly differentiated in independent purchases and sales. Consequently the prohibition of the exportation of money was felt to be a serious inconvenience, and the champions of foreign trade combated this prohibition by arguing that the main point was not the separate transaction but the final result: who laughs last – that is to say, who makes a surplus in the end – laughs best. Applying this to the whole country, the main thing was that its trade with other nations should in the end show a balance in its own favour (the theory of the balance of trade), in this case any money exported would return with interest and compound interest, as the corn, cast out in seed-time, is returned many times over in the harvest. [11]

It may be contended that this theory was based upon a greater reverence for money than the monetary system which it combated. But in arguing against the monetary system, or the monetary policy, it emphasized the importance of production, of labour, in obtaining a favourable balance of trade, arid enunciated a system of Protection designed to stimulate production and develop manufactures. In thus stressing productive labour as the source of wealth it prepared, at the same time, the way for a new school of thought which strove to be emancipated from money. In 1662 Sir W. Petty ascribed the value of commodities to the labour embodied in them, and in the person of Bellers we encounter the first socialist who tried to put this idea into practice, that is to say, to justify the antagonism to money which he shares with all communists.

“This College-Fellowship will make Labour, and not money the standard to value all Necessaries by; and tho’ money hath its Conveniencies, in the common way of living, it being a pledge among men for want of credit; yet not without its mischiefs; and call’d by our Saviour The Mammon of Unrighteousness; most Cheats and robberies wd go but slowly on, if it were not for money: And when People have their whole dependence of Trading by Money, if that fails or is corrupted, they are next door to ruine ; and the Poor stand still, because the Rich have no money to employ them, tho’ they have the same Land and Hands to provide Victuals and Cloaths, as ever they had; wh. is the true riches of a nation, and not the money in it, except we may reckon beads and pin-dust so, because we have Gold at Guiney for them.” [12] Money is a “crutch” which a country, in a sound condition, does not require any amore than a healthy body requires a crutch.

Whereas often now the Husbandman and Mechanicks both are ruined, tho’ the first have a great crop, and the second industriously maketh much manufacture; money and not Labour being made the Standard, the Husbandman paying the came Rent and Wages, as when his crop yielded double the Price; it being no better with the mechanicks, where it is not who wants his Commodity, but who can give him money for it (will keep him) and so often he must take half the value in money, another cd give him in Labour that hath no money. [13]

In conclusion, Bellers traverses a number of objections which might be raised against his proposal. We quote those of his answers which throw most light on his trend of thought.

To the objection of the difficulty of the undertaking, Bellers answers that what would be impossible of an individual would be quite possible for a number working together. And he gives the example quoted by Marx in Capital, vol.i: “As one man cannot, and ten men must strain, to lift a tun weight, yet one hundred men can do it only by the strength of a finger of each of them.”

Scarcity or Famine was not to be feared in the college, since there would be no temptation to waste their stores in order to heap up money. “And there hath seldom been any years of Scarcity, but years of Plenty have been first.” [14]

But would the more highly paid workmen join the college which only offered them a mere subsistence? To this he replies that the college offers far more than this, since it relieves them of anxiety concerning their children, cases of sickness, etc. [15] Extra pay might moreover be granted for performances beyond a certain average standard. However, not all poor people would be so foolish as the Spanish beggar-woman who would not let her son accept a situation with an Englishman as he would thereby lose the chance of becoming King of Spain. “For tho’ some Poor get estates, how many more become miserable?”

Another point raised is whether people would submit to the confinement of the college.

This confinement need not be an absolute one, no more than “absolutely needful for the good government of the college”. And he thinks the “Plenty and Conveniencies in the College will sufficiently allay the hardness of the College rules.”

Bellers excuses his proposals as to differences in dress with the remark that these would only correspond to actually existing distinctions. Probably he simply meant to make a concession to the more prosperous elements he desired to attract. Moreover, the prescription of a uniform clothing would have no doubt been worse still.

But however plausible he made his proposals he does not appear to have found, with the “Children of Light”, the support he expected, or at least sufficient support. Possibly this was simply due to lack of means, as the pockets of the members were severely taxed. [16] However this may be, the first edition of Bellers’ Proposals was followed by a second in the following year, which, instead of being dedicated to the Quakers, was inscribed to the Lords and Commons of Parliament and to the thoughtful and those concerned for the public weal. The former are requested to examine the proposals made in the pamphlet and to carry them out for the benefit of the nation.

They were urged to grant any concessions necessary for the establishment of these associations. It was not to be inferred from this that he required a monopoly for his societies; if others tried to put into execution any similar or somewhat modified plans, they should by all means be encouraged therein. The “thoughtful”, etc., are requested to deposit subscriptions and contributions for the projected enterprise with two inhabitants of the City mentioned by name, one a merchant and the other a lawyer. For the rest this edition differs little from the first. The working capital required is put at a somewhat higher figure than in the former edition, as the £15,000 for ground, livestock, and working materials is supplemented by £3,000 for buildings. Moreover, the amount of the shares is fixed at a higher rate; and the author also discusses a further objection that might be raised, namely, that the college might engender laziness and monkish habits. Finally, the readers and friends are requested, in a special appeal, to forward communications as to available sites that might be suited for the college, etc. The second edition, however, does not contain any fundamental alterations in the plan of the enterprise or the arguments in its favour.

The following additional sentences which it contains, as compared with the first edition, deserve special notice: “I believe the present idle hands of the poor of this nation are able to raise provision and manufactures that w” bring England as much treasure as the mines do Spain, if send them conveniencies abroad; when that can be thought the nation’s interest more than breeding up People with it among ourselves, wh. I think wd be the greatest improvement of the lands of England that can be; it being the multitude of people that makes land in Europe more valuable than land in America, or in Holland than Ireland.” The college is a “Civil Fellowship rather than a religious one”.

A copy of this edition, as Robert Owen tells us in his autobiography, was accidentally found, about 1817, by Francis Place, the well-known Radical, while sorting out some useless books from his library, and he at once brought it to Owen with the words: “I have made a great discovery – of a work advocating your social views a century and a half ago.” Owen asked for the pamphlet, and told Place he would have a thousand copies made of it for distribution, and would acknowledge that the author deserved the credit of being the parent of the idea, “although mine had been forced upon me by the practice of observing facts, reflecting upon them, and trying how far they were useful for the every-day business of life”. [17]

Owen kept his word, and thus Bellers became at that time more generally known.



2. Bellers’ Essays and Other Writings

We must suppose that the general public did not evince sufficient interest for Bellers’ proposals and that new objections were raised. Anyhow, in 1699 Bellers published a new pamphlet which, to a great extent, turns upon the views set forth in the Proposals. This is the publication entitled Essays about the poor, Manufactures, Trade, Plantations and Immorality, and of the Excellency and Divinity of Inward Light.[18]

The essays are remarkable in many respects and worthy of the best passages of the Proposals.

In a dedication addressed to the Houses of Parliament, the pamphlet opens with a reference to the weavers’ disturbances in London during the preceding Parliamentary session. If the indigent of any single trade could venture to defy, for a time, the whole of Parliament, what might be expected if a hungry multitude entered the houses of some of the possessing class? The legislators should consider this. The possessing classes might be influenced by fines, the healthy by the infliction of bodily pain; but “what can awe the misery of starving?” This is followed by a short discussion of three questions with reference to establishments for the employment of healthy unemployed. The question as to whether the working of these establishments by the State or by private persons is preferable is answered by Bellers in favour of the latter. He says that the State works expensively and administers badly. [19]

The State should only be left to provide for those totally unable to work. The question as to whether it would be better to select certain specified trades for the employment of the unemployed poor, or whether it would be better to place the poor in individual households, is answered by Bellers with the arguments already known to us in favour of joint housekeeping and of co-ordinating the most various branches of production and employment.

Bellers then deals with the question, “How the Poor’s Wants will be best answered, and the nation’s strength and riches increased.”

He says that the poor suffer from four evils, namely: bad education in their youth, want of regular employment, want of constant sale for the products of their work, and want of sufficient sustenance in return for the work performed. All these evils could be remedied by the colleges or colonies proposed by him. They would at the same time increase the value of the land of the nobility and gentry, populate districts which were then thinly populated, and counteract the congestion in other places. Thus they would, for instance, draw away the excess of population from London, which, containing 10 per cent. of the total population of the country, was decidedly too populous. “The nation can maintain but a number of tradesmen and gentry, in proportion to the number of labourers that are in the nation to work for them.”

The first essay is to “shew that 500 Labourers, Regularly Imploy’d, are capable of Earning £3,000 a year more than will keep them”.

The demonstration, supported by figures, is introduced with the remark that if productive labour had not from the first produced more than it had cost, the human race would have vanished long ago. “By computation, there is not above two-thirds of the People or Families of England that do raise all necessaries for Themselves, and the rest of the people by their labour; and if the one-third; wh. are not Labourers, did not spend more than the two-thirds wh. are Labourers, one-half of the People or Families Labouring cd supply all the nation.” People might object to his budget that according to it every worker was, on an average, to earn 16d. per day, while in reality at the time many, with the greatest exertion, would scarcely earn 6d. or 8d. This, he says, is quite correct, but it was so just because the other 8d. or 10d, went into the pocket of the ground-owner or dealer. “For it the products commonly stands the user in double the price the master had.” Again, the great difference between the amount paid to the actual producer – the artisan-and the price of the goods was also due to the bad social organization of production. It “is the great Unhappiness of many of our mechanicks, that they make Commodities when nobody wants them”. With a better organization of labour, therefore, more wages could be given and less work could be demanded from the individual, and still the working of the colony would remunerate the investors of capital.

The second essay endeavours to “shew how 500,000 poor are capable to add 43 millions value to the nation”.

As regards the calculation, the proof relies on the surplus work which the poor are capable of performing and which Bellers “capitalizes” at 5 per cent., as well as on the value imparted by their work to land. More interesting than this antiquated calculation are the propositions brought forward by Bellers in support of his ever-repeated thesis that “the Increase of regular labouring people is the Kingdom’s greatest treasure, strength and honour”.

Land, cattle, houses, goods and money are but the carcas of riches, they are dead without people; men being the life and soul of them.

Double our Labouring People and we shall be capable of having double the noblemen and gentlemen that we have; or their estates will be worth double what they are now: But if it were possible to increase our houses and treasure (and not our people) in such excess, that the poorest man in the Kingdom were worth a million of money. There must be as many of those rich men hewers of wood and drawers of water, plowmen and threshers, as we have of such Labourers now in the Kingdom, or else we shd be under Midas’ Golden Curse, starve for want of bread, tho’ we had our hands fill’d with gold.

To say foreigners wd supply us for money. Yes, but it is their labouring people must do it; who also being subjects to foreign princes, may take their turn to come and plunder as well as feed us.

There are no increasing of rich men, but as poor labourers increase with them; where there is no servants, there can be no masters.

Passing on to the question of the organization of labour, Bellers points, among other things, to the increase of the “necessitous poor” through “the uncertainty of fashion”, a subject which he, as a Quaker, had particularly at heart. He points out that in winter many industrial labourers were out of work because dealers and master weavers would not invest any money before they knew what would be the next fashion. In the spring, on the other hand, sufficient hands could not be obtained at short notice. Then large numbers of apprentices and chance helpers were set to work, hands were withdrawn from the plough, and future beggars were introduced in the town.

Passing over a rather interesting digression to the effect that “dear bread will make dear manufactures and ruin trade”, in which almost the whole Free-Trade gospel is anticipated, we will turn to Bellers’ criticism of trade in general, and of foreign trade in particular.

In the Essay on Tradesmen he writes: “Merchants and tradesmen are to a nation as Stewards, Bayliffs, and Butlers are to great Families,” and are therefore useful as a good government is to a nation. “But as traders are useful in distributing, it’s only the Labour of the Poor that increaseth the Riches of a nation, and tho’ there cannot be too many Labourers in a nation, if their imployments are in a due proportion; yet there may be too many traders in a country for the number of labourers.” Tradesmen might become rich while the nation might be impoverished through “extravagancy”. An instance as to the consumption of wine forms the transition to the Essay on Foreign Trade. He says that this trade also is useful by introducing into the country, among other things, articles of art and of consumption which the country itself ,::does not produce, but this trade also is profitable to a country inasmuch as “ornamental or delightful” things are brought over which are not produced in the country. But in this matter a “voluptuous age may easily fall into excess, with dress and pleasure, whilst nothing can be strictly said to inrich a nation but what increaseth its people ... But how much of the silks, oyls, pickles, fruits and wine we receive from Turkey, Italy, Spain and France ... are an equivalent and of equal use to us, wh. the more lasting and needful clothes and provision we send out for them wa be, may be some question.”

Supposing we send 400 thousand pound a year of English manufacture to them 4. Countries, and by the returns, the merchants and retailers may get 30 per cent. wh. makes 250 thousand pounds value imported, to be spent in England. Now, Quere, whether this 400 thousand pounds first sent out, is not rather the nation’s expence, than the 120 thousand pounds the traders get, may be supposed to add to the nation’s stock? And another question is, what of it is prudently spent with comfort, and how much is extravagantly wasted, to the ruin of the bodies and estates of the spenders?

If we send 100 thousand pound of manufactures to Holland and Germany, we have commonly some useful manufactures for them; however, if we did employ our own idle poor upon them things, it’s possible they wd be able to raise most of them foreign goods we want.

“But then our woollen manufacturers that supply them countries wd complain of such new manufacturers; as some Lancashire men lately petitioned the Parliament, that Flanders lace shd be allowed to come into England that thereby they might have better vent for their cloth in Flanders. And thus”, Bellers writes, and in doing so he really says the last word on the eternal dispute of free trade and protection, “whilst our manufactures are disproportioned to our husbandmen, we are, and shall be like limbs out of joint, always complaining, lay us wh. way you will. For wh. reason several Laws, made for incouraging of Trade, doth but raise an intestine war among our mechanics, because the advantage of one Trade is often the ruin of another.”

And the essay concludes with the query: “If we do not depopulate our country by pineing many at home for want of them manufactures, and especially food, wh. we send abroad, to supply the pride and luxury of others by the returns?” “120 thousand pounds”, adds Bellers, “imported to be spent at home, for 100 thousand pound sent out, leaves the publick never the richer at the yeare’s end.”

There follows next an Essay on Money. It expands the ideas set forth in the introduction to the Proposals. “Land, stock upon it, Buildings, and money are the body of our riches, and of all these”, Bellers says, “money is of least use.” . . . “Land and live stock increase by keeping, buildings and manufactures are useful, whilst kept, but money neither increaseth, nor is useful, but when it’s parted with.” “So what money is more than of absolute necessity for a home Trade, is dead Stock ... Money hath two qualities, it is a pledge for what it is given for, and it’s the measure and scales by wh. we measure and value all other things, it being portable and durable, and yet it hath altered far more in value to all things than other things have among themselves, when there was but the one 2oth part of the money in England to what there is now ... the same number of days’ work of a man wd pay for a sheep or cow 300 years ago as will now, and the same labour will plough an acre of land now as would then.”

We must remember that this was written when the methods of agriculture and manufacture changed but slowly. And even where Bellers starts from false premises, the idea which he aims at is nevertheless correct.

The essay on the Abating of Immoralities asserts that all economical improvements are useless unless they are combined with moral elevation. The essay Against Capital Punishment, or, as Bellers entitled it, Some Reasons Against Putting of Felons to Death, is a very fine anticipation of the best works of Beccaria and others. He calls the premature death inflicted by the State “a stain to religion”, and compares the relation of the criminal to society to that of a scapegrace to his family. “If a man had a child or near relation, that shd fall into a capital crime, he wd use all his interest to preserve his life, howmuch soever he abhorred his fact, in hopes he might live to grow better, especially if he cd have such a power of confinement upon him, as might prevent his acting such enormities for the future. And this child, and near relation, is every one to the publick.” Moreover, it should not be forgotten that man is not wholly responsible. “The idle and profane education of some, and the necessities of others bring habits almost invincible.”

Bellers stresses the economic loss caused to society by killing criminals instead of employing them in useful work in penitentiaries, but adds that this is not the cardinal point. He appeals to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses”, and inveighs against the excessive punishment then in vogue, of the gallows or penal servitude for small thefts. Finally, he demands that the detestable conditions existing in the prisons should be altered, and that the prisons should be freed from exploitation by speculative gaolers.

The booklet, which concludes with the Essay on the Inward Light, stamps Bellers as one of the most unprejudiced minds of his time, not on all points free from its errors, but almost in all points far in advance of the majority of even his more enlightened contemporaries.

The same may be said touching the next publication of Bellers, the contents of which are sufficiently indicated by its title, which we; therefore reproduce in full: “Some Reasons for an European State proposed to the Powers of Europe, by an universal guarantee and an Annual Congress, Senate, Dyet or Parliament, To settle any Disputes about the Bounds and Rights of Princes and States hereafter. With an abstract of a scheme formed by King Henry the Fourth of France, upon the same subject. And also A Proposal for a General Council or Convocation of all the different Religious Persuasions in Christendom (not to Dispute what they Differ about but) to Settle the General Principles they Agree in: By wh. it will appear, that they may be good subjects and neighbours, tho’ of different Apprehensions of the way to Heaven. In order to prevent Broils and War at home, when Foreign Wars are ended.” London, 1710.

In this, as in his other proposals, is notably in advance of his predecessors, although Bellers he is careful to make allowance for existing circumstances. This pamphlet is by no means an abstract essay, but is closely related to contemporary occurrences, from which he endeavours to show the expediency of his proposals. The War of the Spanish Succession, which had been raging since 1701, had involved great sacrifices in money and blood, and still seemed to be no nearer its end; it was from this that Bellers derived an argument in favour of his proposal of an international confederation. In a dedication addressed to Queen Anne he points to the sacrifices incurred and the alliance concluded (between England, Holland, and Austria or Germany) in order to secure peace after the end of the war, and how little guarantee after all this alliance afforded, on how many contingencies its maintenance depended, seeing that each one of the allied States had to take other conditions and circumstances into account. In an address to the Powers he further calculates the expenditure in men, money, and economical welfare, incurred through war, directly or indirectly, by European nations since 1688 alone. The method of calculation in this case also is one which is thoroughly original for that period. Finally, he unfolds his proposal. Europe is to be divided into a number of districts (say one hundred) of equal size (cantons or provinces), and each State is to send one member per canton to the Parliament of States, that is to say, each State shall be represented therein in proportion to its size and population. This Parliament, which shall only deal with the external and general relations of States to each other, without interfering with their internal affairs, is to determine how many combatants, or vessels, and how much money each State is to provide per canton, in case a joint action should be required against truce-breakers; and according to the obligations undertaken in this respect by the various States, the number of their votes in the joint Parliament will be proportioned, so that, in addition to their geographical extent, their capabilities will be taken into account. Parliament will then arrange as to the reduction of standing armies and the number of men per canton to be kept under arms in peace-time.

In other respects, too, Bellers shows himself in this essay far ahead of his age. As the title suggests, he reproduces in it a similar project of Henry IV of France. In his comments thereon he remarks that Henry had excluded the “Muscovites” (Russia) and Turkey from his scheme, which, in his opinion, was done only in deference to the Roman See. But, says he, “The Muscovites are Christians, and the Mahometans men, and have the same faculties and reason as other men, they only want the same opportunities and applications of their understandings to be the same men: But to beat their Brains out, to put sense into them, is a great Mistake, and wd leave Europe too much in a state of war; whereas the farther this civil Union is possible to be extended, the greater will be the Peace on earth, and good will among men.”

In 1710 it required not only a high degree of intellectual freedom but also no small meed of courage to give expression to this view. The other proposal in this pamphlet, the “religious Parliament”, which is not to discuss the things that separate religions, meaning dogmas, but is to ascertain what the various religions have in common, which could only be certain ethical maxims, is also a remarkable one for its time, however slender its prospects of success. It breathes a new catholicity. It was an appropriate and dignified reply to the crusade against all denominations not belonging to the Established Church which had been set on foot in the summer of 1709 by Sacheverell, and which, in 1710, was instrumental in raising the Harley-St. John Tory coalition into power.

One of the first acts of the new Government (1711) was to tighten the franchise by establishing a minimum property qualification. This may have prompted Bellers to publish in 1712 an essay in favour of electoral reform, or, as the title says, An Essay towards the Ease of Elections of Members of Parliament. It relates chiefly to precautions against bribery, abuse of oaths, etc., at elections. Cases of bribery shall be visited on the bribers, as the seducers, with punishments up to five times as high as the bribed, and the making of oaths shall be replaced by affidavits with legally binding force.

In 1714 he published a larger treatise, in which he anticipates a national health service. This, in fact, is the scope of the essay “About the Improvement of Physick, in 12 proposals, By wh. the Lives of many Thousands of the Rich, as well as of the Poor may be saved yearly. With an Essay for Imploying the Able Poor By wh. the Riches of the Kingdom may be greatly Increased. Humbly dedicated to the Parliament of Great Britain.” London, 1714.

The most important proposal of this treatise is to establish a systematic connection between the study of medicine and the practice of medical science with the hospital system, which is to be organized and financed everywhere by the public bodies – Parishes, or Hundredths, Counties, or the State. Bellers also enlarges on the equipment and arrangements of hospitals, pleads for the establishment of separate wings or special hospitals for certain diseases, and finally discusses curative methods (as we observed in the Introduction, he was on intimate terms with one of the most eminent physicians of the day), but of course his remarks on this subject are antiquated.

An appendix recapitulates briefly the proposal of the “College”, which Bellers never tired of preaching up to his last breath.

Thus as late as in 1723 he published a new essay entitled An Essay for Employing the Poor to Profit, with the motto, “If there were no Labourers there would be no Lords; and if the Labourers did not raise more food and manufactures than what did subsist themselves, every Gentleman must be a Labourer, and Idle Man must starve.”

The arguments do not differ from those in the former essays, except that those relating to money and foreign trade are put more tersely. Again and again he points to the vicissitudes of life and appeals to “duty and interest” as mighty advocates for stimulating the rich to active provision for the poor. We may refer, as a remarkable feature in this essay, to the attitude adopted by Bellers to the struggle which was proceeding with increasing intensity between the manufacturers and the mechanics over the introduction of technical improvements in manufacturing processes. Bellers, who is so impartial with regard to manufactures as to declare it to be a great mistake to stimulate them without a simultaneous development of agriculture – to be like “placing more Men to a Table without putting more Food there”, yet most decidedly opposes all legislation directed against machinery. In this respect his friendliness towards the workers does not blind him for a single moment. Laws against reduction of labour (that is to say against labour-saving machinery and methods) are as unreasonable, he writes, as if one would tie fast one hand of each worker to his back so that two might always be required instead of one. On this topic too he had perfectly modern ideas.

The pamphlet asks for the appointment of a Parliamentary committee to examine its proposals.

In the spring of 1724 Bellers published An Epistle to Friends of the Yearly, Quarterly, and Monthly Meetings, that is to say, of the Quaker organizations, wherein he urgently recommends to them active care of the inmates of prisons and hospitals, partly for purposes of propaganda among them, and partly in order to improve their material position as far as possible.

And he sang his swan-song the same year in “An abstract of George Fox’s Advice and Warning To the Magistrates of London in the year 1657. Concerning the Poor, with some Observations thereupon, and Recommendations of them to the Sincerely Religious, but more particularly to the Friends of London, and Morning-Meeting of these times.” It is a warmhearted and impressive admonition to his co-religionists not to neglect the cause of the poor, nor to confine themselves to mere almsgiving. It was to the Friends that he first directed his plan for the organization of industrial colleges, and his last word in favour of the creation of methodical arrangements for the useful and profitable employment of the unemployed is again addressed “more particularly to the Friends”. In the year 1725 death snatched from his hand the pen which he had indefatigably wielded on behalf of the poor.

What he did by way of direct assistance for the poor and needy is outside the scope of this work; the remark may suffice that he was not simply a benefactor in theory. It would also be beyond the scope of this work to inquire into the effect of Bellers’ writings upon the corresponding literature of his and the following ages. In speaking of him we have already gone ahead of the period we had set ourselves to investigate. But this could not be avoided, as not only chronologically, but also as regards the character of his ideas, he stands out as a landmark between the communism of the seventeenth and the reform movements of the eighteenth century.




1. Child states, among other things, that in 1688 there were more people represented at the London Exchange with a fortune or income of £10,000 than there were in 1651 with fortunes of £1,000 and over, so that a dowry of £2,000 in those cases was not thought of so much as sixty years earlier one of £500 would have been.

2. Macaulay’s History of England, etc., vol.i, chap. 3. Macaulay at the same time quotes many instances of the low rate of wages in those days. The weavers’ wages in Norwich fell to 6d. a day.

3. A bibliography of this as well as of the literature of the problem in general up to the end of the eighteenth century is given by Sir Fr. Eden, The State of the Poor, 1799.

4. We say best, as Bellers does not stand alone with this opinion. He simply summarized the ideas of an entire generation of philanthropic authors and placed them on a more solid basis. Even William Petty, whom we cannot count among these, writes in favour of the unemployed, “rather burn the work of a thousand people than let this thousand lose, through non-employment, their capability for work”. And again: “There need no beggars in countries where there are many acres of unimproved improvable land to every head, as there are in England” (Essays on Mankind, vol.i).

5. The full title runs as follows: “Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry of all usefull Trades and Husbandry with Profit for the Rich, a plentiful living for the Poor and a good education for Youth which will be advantage to the government by the Increase of the People and their Riches. Motto: Industry brings Plenty. – The Sluggard shall be cloathed with Raggs. He that will not work shall not eat.”

6. Compare with this and other proposals those of Winstanley in Chapter VIII.

7. The above sentences are quoted by Marx in Capital, vol.i. He adds that “as early as at the end of the seventeenth century Bellers conceived with fullest clearness the necessity of the abolition of the present mode of education and division of labour which generate hypertrophy and atrophy in the two extremes of society, although in opposite directions”, and it is certainly no exaggeration to say that Bellers’ proposals contain the germs of the best principles of modern pedagogy.

8. In the second edition of the Proposals we read: “As also at the sea coast may be raised several colleges as nurseries to the most effectual and successful fishery.”

9. Poor is always used as meaning all those who depend on their work or on charity for their living.

10. p.2.

11. This simile is used by Th. Mun in his publication, England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade.

12. p.3.

13. pp.12, 13.

14. p.20.

15. “From being poor they will be made rich, by enjoying all things needful in health or sickness, single or married, wife and children; and if Parents, die, their children well educated and preserved from misery, and their marrying incourag’d, which is now generally discourag’d.” There is no competition or overreaching to be feared at the college, and all these advantages are purchased by “doing only an easie day’s work”.

16. At the conclusion of a pamphlet by Bellers published in 1697, and which is specially addressed to the Friends, there is an appeal, signed by about forty-five Quakers, to the Friends, in favour of giving such a college a trial. Among the signatories we find William Penn, Robert Barclay, Th. Ellwood, and John Hodgskin. This pamphlet, An Epistle to Friends Concerning the education of Children (in the sense of the Proposals) is to be found in the library of the London Central Office of the Quakers.

17. Life, etc., p.210

18. On the front of the title page we read verses 1 to 3 of the 41st Psalm, and on the back page some sentences from William III’s Speech from the Throne, from a publication by Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale and from another by Sir Josiah Child – “as powerful a King, as honoured a judge, and as rich a merchant, as England ever had”. All of which passages refer to the necessity of sufficient provision for the poor.

19. This was at Bellers’ time undoubtedly the case.


Last updated on 21.11.2002