The following pamphlet reflects the pro-laissez-faire point of view.againts the
campaign for a ten-hour day.
THERE are few subjects upon which more erroneous sentiments prevail, than as to the
proper objects and limits of legislation. The "trop governer, " is no
less common, than mischievous. The propriety of legislation, as the cure of an evil, is,
by most people, considered as a mere corollary of the proof of its existence, and they are
surprised when you demur at applying, what they conceive to be, the easy and natural
It is said that, "Experience is a dear school, but that fools learn in no
other," and we fear that, until education be sounder and more universal, until the
lower classes are taught something more than reading and writing, and the higher classes,
something more than the dead languages and mathematics, the school of experience is the
only one in which we must continue to learn. By experience is, of course, meant, that of
the individual, for a knowledge of the experience of others, and of other times and
actions is wisdom: that wisdom, in which, alas! we are so deficient.
In legislation, upon some subjects at least, it seems as if we stumbled upon the
highroad of truth, only after having travelled, in vain, every byeway of error, and until
we have been driven, by some impassable barrier, to retrace our steps.
Thus, in our attempts to improve, by legislation, the condition of the poor, we have
not only multiplied the number, but reduced them to a state of degradation before unknown.
By our poor laws and our charities, we have pauperised, and almost ruined the country.
In our commerce and manufactures also, the effects of legislation have been equally
mischievous. By our well meant, but injudicious attempt to foster and protect, we have
constantly been driving capital from productive into unproductive channels, encourag-
ing the smuggler, checking our commerce, and stunting our manufactures; and our efforts
to procure to the operatives a fair remuneration for their labour, has always ended in a
reduction of their wages, or in depriving them altogether of employment.
Thus, after repeated failures, we have been, in some degree, schooled into knowledge,
and have purchased our experience at the usual price. Modern legislation is indeed
improving, though the improvement is rather of a negative nature, and consists not so much
in passing better laws, as in repealing bad ones. It may be confidently predicted
that all further improvement will be of the same kind, and thus, in matters of commerce
and manufactures at least, we shall approach continually to a condition of complete and
With such experience in the past to guide us, and such a course obvious for the future,
it would indeed be unpardonable, if, instead of proceeding to retrace one false step after
another, as the opportunity presents itself, we should be guilty of committing additional
errors of the very same nature.
We have been led to these reflections, by perceiving the efforts making, in various
quarters, to prepare the public mind for a measure, proposed to Parliament by Lord Ashley
in 1833, and of which notice of motion has already been given by his Lordship, for the 6th
of April; namely all Act of Parliament for restricting the hours of labour, to ten daily,
in all the cotton, woollen, worsted, flax, and silk factories of the United Kingdom.
The parties who are endeavouring to carry this measure, are the same, now, as at the
former period. In the first place, a certain number of the operatives themselves, who have
been persuaded that they would continue to receive the same wages, when working only
ten hours a-day, as they now receive, for working twelve. The "Short Time
Committee" at Manchester, represents itself, we know not how truly, as their organ in
In the second place, the public at large, whose humai feelings have been much
excited by the tales of hardship, which have been industriously circulated respecting the
children employed in the factories. And, thirdly, the Tories, as a party, for the question
has now assumed entirely a political aspect, and who seem to think that they can
strengthen themselves and weaken ministers, by adopting, what they consider, the popular
This conclusion seems justified by the fact, of the whole Tory press, including the
Quarterly Review, having taken the field, and by raking up every old story, and adding
some new ones, it is endeavouring to excite the feelings of the public, and of the members
of the Legislature, against the mills and the mill-owners. Thus, by blinding their
judgment, their support is sought for a measure, uncalled for, to say the least;
mischievous to those whom it is pretended to serve, and hazardous to the interests of the
kingdom at large.
It is our intention to examine the question of the "Factory System,
" as it is now called, in all its bearings, to weigh with care the evils
which have been alleged against it, to explain the nature of the present law, which the
advocates of the "Ten Hours Bill" seek to repeal, and to inquire
into the objects and consequences of the measure, which they seek to substitute.
The Factory Question has been so long before the public that we shall not enter
minutely into the history of the legislation upon the subject.
The bill of Sir Robert Peel, in 1802, was, we believe, the first instance of
legislation as to labour in Factories, and its operation was limited to apprentices.
We confess that we entertain some doubt of the propriety of proceeding farther than
this first step in the interference with labour. A parent is the natural and only
efficient guardian of a child. "If parents are inhuman enough to over work their
children, Parliament cannot remedy the evil by setting itself up as the universal guardian
of the offspring of the poor. The cause obviously lies in the bad moral character of the
parents, and on raising that character, which Factory Bills more effectually debase,
depends the only chance of cure."
When there is no natural guardian, or, from circumstances, he is prevented from
exercising his guardianship, and the law transfers to a master the privileges of a parent
amongst which is a command over the services of the child it most properly imposes upon
him also the duties of a parent the providing the food, clothing and education of
the child and, as far as it can enforce the same, it ought to impose the duty of humanity
and kind treatment.
Sir Robert Peel's Bill of 1802 was therefore defective, in limiting its humane
provisions to apprentices employed in cotton mills, instead of extending them to all
Reasonable doubts may, however, be entertained of the propriety of interference
with children resident at home under the protection of their parents, except so far as
securing to them an education, which will fit them for the performance of
their duties, as members of the social body, and after a mature consideration of the
Reports of the Factory Inspectors, and much conversation with intelligent mill-owners, we
are satisfied that no protection of an effectual nature can be secured to children, except
by some general system of education, duly enforced. Such a system would apply,
not merely to the few children employed in factories but to all children. The necessity of
attending schools a certain portion of every day, would secure, from being overworked, all
children, not merely those employed in factories; and it would secure also the proper
employment of their time when not at work, or before they were old enough to enter the
But to resume our subject. In 1816 a bill was passed, making the regulations of
that of 1802 applicable to all children under 16 years of age. Like its
predecessor, its operation was confined to cotton mills. Respecting this bill, the
Quarterly Review remarks, "The generous nature of their Lordships, assigned 11 hours,
but the Commons amended the period to 12 of actual labour." We
cannot speak to this, but may observe, in reply, that Sir John Hobliouse's Bill of 1825
was one for working 66 hours per week, but that "the generous nature of
their Lordships, amended the period of actual labou?' to 69 hours.
In 1831, Sir John Hobliouse brought in another bill, extending the application of his
former one from cotton, to all other factories, in which woollen, worsted, flax, and silk
goods were manufactured, and in which the moving power was steam or water. "It was
somewhat amended," says the Quarterly Review (p. 409), "by the prohibition of
night working for all under 21, and by the advance of the ages, entitled to protection,
from 16 to 18 years. He deserves (Sir John Hobliouse), and shall receive our warmest
thanks for his amiable exertions."
It is only fair to observe, that for these improvements, Sir John Hobliouse's Bill was
indebted to the committee of the mill-owners, then in London; and that the same provisions
in the existing law were also introduced by the mill-owners, in opposition to the wishes
of those who framed it.
It is only an act of justice to state those facts, when the masters are so
constantly represented, as "sacrificing thousands and tens of thousands, on the
altars of Mammon and Moloch. "
Scarcely had the second bill of Sir J. Hobliouse been in operation twelve months, when
the late Mr. Sadler, emerging as if from a long entombment, with all the political and
religious prejudices of the olden times, comes forward with a new
proposition for limiting the labour, not of children only, but of adults, employed
in factories, to ten hours daily.
Nothing surely could be more reasonable, before passing such a
measure, involving such a principle, with such momentous interests at stake, than to call
for evidence to prove its necessity, particularly as a new law upon the subject has but
just passed the Legislature. Yet such a reasonable determination encountered the greatest
opposition, and was denounced as cruel, it being represented "that thousands of
lives would be sacrificed by the delay. "
It was agreed with Mr. Sadler, in committee, that he should take his witnesses first,
and close his case, and that then the other side should take theirs. This was merely an
arrangement for mutual convenience, and to save expense.
The close of the Session, and of Mr. Sadler's case were however, contemporaneous, and
in defiance of justice, and we should think, of strict parliamentary usage, Mr. Sadler
immediately published the evidence, and gave to the world such a mass of exparte
statements, and of gross falsehoods and calum-
nies, as they are now generally admitted to be, as probably never found their way
before into any public document.
The natural consequence of this partial proceeding, was to inflame the public mind to
such a degree, that, in the ensuing Session of Parliament, the millowners, finding that
they would not be allowed to call evidence on their side, which justice and the previous
arrangements with Mr. Sadler's Committee entitled them to do, demanded, and with
difficulty obtained, that a Parliamentary Commission should proceed immediately to the
manufacturing districts, armed with full powers to examine every body and to scrutinise
every thing relating to the subject.
To the Report of this Commission, and the facts collected by it, all verified upon
oath, we shall frequently have occasion to appeal, and will only remark here, that they
form an official and authenticated mass of evidence to which all must bow, and that
every statement which has been made on either side, must be considered as of little value,
except in so far as it is confirmed, or otherwise, by this document....