Letter Six - John Joseph Macdonald

Date of letter: 30 September 1893. Poor Law Union: Liverpool Poor Law Vestry

CIRCUMTEXT: [contains numerous references to previous correspondence between Guardians and Poor Law Commissioners in regards to inmates and postage stamps/letters to try to establish any past precedent in similar incidents]

O. I. Division Liverpool Workhouse. Brownlow Hill. The President of the Local Government Board
I beg leave deferentially to submit for your grave consideration and presidential decision, a grievance fraught me with feelings of pain and indignation, the irrepressible outcome of right invaded by dominant wrong, which I in common with the pauper population of this Workhouse, suffer under. My plaint is that the official personnel of this institution are, in my opinion acting ultra vires1 and contravening not only the Orders and Regulations but the generous mild and beneficial spirit of the Poor Law as embodied and represented by the Local Government Board, in arrogating to themselves the power to demand and enforce obedience to the behest that I – and the inmates generally…-must, immediately on delivery , open my letter or letters for official inspection when any stamp which they may contain are abstracted and are either confiscated or withheld from the owner while an inmate of the Workhouse. Now Sir, against a mode of procedure so high-handed as his is; invasive and deprivative as it is of the right – unless it can be, conclusively demonstrated that Workhouse paupers have no just claims of privileges whatever – which I deem sacred, i.e. to have and to hold free from official control and interference, the means in the shape of a little money or postage stamps, for epistolary communication with my friends and kindred in the outsid world, I take leave to record my strong and emphatic protest and appeal to your high sense of Justice to redress the wrong and abuse of official authority to which when reasonable and not arbitrary I have ever yielded a ready and willing obedience. Regretting my trespass upon your valuable time.
I am, Sir your obedient servant
John Joseph Macdonald. Pauper inmate of the Liverpool Workhouse

1 Beyond the scope of given power

« Return to A ‘right’ to relief?

1. How many references does Macdonald make to his “rights” in this letter? What particular “right” is he most concerned the guardians in his Union are not upholding?

2. How far do you agree that MacDonald has a valid complaint? Notice how the commissioners have attempted to use precedent (past decisions) to make a decision about MacDonald. Judges today use precedent all the time when deciding the outcomes of cases; how far does this demonstrate a law-based approach to poor relief?