Essays upon several projects: or, effectual ways for advancing the interest of the nation.:
Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.

II. For Widows.

The same Method of Friendly-So|ciety I conceive wou'd be a very pro|per Proposal for Widows.

We have abundance of Women who have been Bred well, and Liv'd well, Ruin'd in a few Years, and, perhaps, left Young, with a House full of Chidren, and nothing to Support them; which falls generally upon the Wives of the Inferior Clergy, or of Shopkeepers and Artificers.

Page  133 They Marry Wives with perhaps 300 l. to 1000 l. Portion, and can settle no Jointure upon them; either they are Extravagant and Idle, and Waste it, or Trade Decays, or Losses, or a thousand Contingences happen to bring a Tradesman to Poverty, and he Breaks; the Poor Young Woman, it may be, has Three or Four Children, and is driven to a thousand shifts, while he lies in the Mint or Friars un|der the Dilemma of a Statute of Bank|rupt; but if he Dies, then she is ab|solutely Undone, unless she has Friends to go to.

Suppose an Office to be Erected, to be call'd An Office of Ensurance for Wi|dows, upon the following Condi|tions:

Two thousand Women, or their Husbands for them, Enter their Names into a Register to be kept for that purpose, with the Names, Page  134 Age, and Trade of their Husbands, with the Place of their Abode, Paying at the time of their Entring 5 s. down with 1 s. 4 d. per Quarter, which is to the setting up and support of an Office with Clerks, and all proper Officers for the same; for there is no main|taining such without Charge; they receive every one of them a Certifi|cate, Seal'd by the Secretary of the Office, and Sign'd by the Governors, for the Articles hereafter mentioned.

If any one of the Women become a Widow at any time after Six Months from the Date of her Subscription, upon due Notice given, and Claim made at the Office in form, as shall be directed, she shall receive within Six Months after such Claim made, the Sum of 500 l. in Money, without any Deductions, saving some small Fees to the Officers, which the Tru|stees Page  135 must settle, that they may be known.

In Consideration of this, every Woman so Subscribing, Obliges her self to Pay as often as any Member of the Society becomes a Widow, the due Proportion or Share allotted to her to Pay, towards the 500 l. for the said Widow, provided her Share does not exceed the Sum of 5 s.

No Seaman or Soldiers Wives to be accepted into such a Proposal as this, on the account before-mention'd, because the Contingences of their Lives are not equal to others, unless they will admit this general Exception, supposing they do not Die out of the Kingdom.

It might also be an Exception, That if the Widow, that Claim'd, had really, bona fide, left her by her Hus|band to her own use, clear of all Debts and Legacies, 2000 l. she Page  136 shou'd have no Claim; the Intent be|ing to Aid the Poor, not add to the Rich. But there lies a great many Objections against such an Article: As

  • (1.) It may tempt some to For|swear themselves.
  • (2.) People will Order their Wills so as to Defraud the Exception.

One Exception must be made; and that is, Either very Unequal Matches, as when a Woman of Nineteen Mar|ries an Old Man of Seventy; or Women who have Infirm Husbands, I mean known and publickly so. To remedy which, Two things are to be done.

  • (1.) The Office must have moving Officers without doors, who shall in|form themselves of such matters, and if any such Circumstances appear, the Office shou'd have 14 days time to re|turn their Money, and declare their Subscriptions Void.
  • Page  137 (2.) No Woman whose Husband had any visible Distemper, shou'd claim under a Year after her Sub|scription.

One grand Objection against this Proposal, is, How you will oblige People to Pay either their Subscripti|on, or their Quarteridge.

To this I Answer, By no compul|sion (tho' that might be perform'd too) but altogether voluntary; only with this Argument to move it, that if they do not continue their Pay|ments, they lose the Benefit of their past Contributions.

I know it lies as a fair Objection against such a Project as this, That the number of Claims are so uncertain, That no Body knows what they en|gage in, when they Subscribe, for so many may Die Annually out of Two thousand, as may make my Payment 20 or 25 l. per Ann. and if a Woman Page  138 happen to Pay that for Twenty Years, though she receives the 500 l. at last she is a great Loser; but if she dies before her Husband, she has les|sened his Estate considerably, and brought a great Loss upon him.

First, I say to this, That I wou'd have such a Proposal as this be so fair and so easy, that if any Person who had Subscrib'd, found the Payments too high, and the Claims fall too of|ten, it shou'd be at their liberty at any time, upon Notice given, to be Re|leased, and stand Oblig'd no longer; and if so, Volenti non fit injuria; every one knows best what their own Cir|cumstances will bear.

In the next Place, because Death is a Contingency, no Man can directly calculate, and all that Subscribe must take the hazard; yet that a Prejudice against this Notion may not be built on wrong grounds, let's examine a little the Page  139 probable hazard, and see how many shall die Annually out of 2000 Sub|scribers, accounting by the common proportion of Burials, to the number of the Living.

Sir William Petty in his Political Arithmetick, by a very Ingenious Cal|culation, brings the account of Buri|als in London, to be 1 in 40 Annually, and proves it by all the proper Rules of proportion'd Computation; and I'le take my Scheme from thence.

If then One in Forty of all the People in England Die, that sup|poses Fifty to Die every Year out of our Two Thousand Subscribers; and for a Woman to Contribute 5 s. to every one, wou'd certainly be to Agree to Pay 12 l. 10 s. per Ann. upon her Husband's Life, to receive 500 l. when he Di'd, and lose it if she Di'd first; and yet this wou'd not be a Ha|zard beyond reason too great for the Gain.

Page  140 But I shall offer some Reasons to prove this to be impossible in our Case; First, Sir William Petty allows the City of London to contain about a Million of People, and our Yearly Bill of Mortality never yet amounted to 25000 in the most Sickly Years we have had, Plague Years excepted, sometimes but to 20000, which is but One in Fifty: Now it is to be consi|der'd here, that Children and Ancient People make up, one time with ano|ther, at least one third of our Bills of Mortality; and our Assurances lies upon none but the Midling Age of the People, which is the only Age wherein Life is any thing steady; and if that be allow'd, there cannot Die by his Computation, above One in Eighty of such People every Year; but because I wou'd be sure to leave room for Casualty, I'le allow One in Fifty shall Die out of our Number Sub|scrib'd.

Page  141 Secondly, It must be allow'd, that our Payments falling due only on the Death of Husbands, this One in Fifty must not be reckoned upon the Two thousand; for 'tis to be suppos'd at least as many Women shall Die as Men, and then there is nothing to Pay; so that One in Fifty upon One Thousand, is the most that I can sup|pose shall Claim the Contribution in a Year, which is Twenty Claims a Year, at 5 s. each, and is 5 l. per Ann. and if a Woman Pays this for Twenty Year, and Claims at last, she is Gainer enough, and no extraordinary Loser if she never Claims at all: And I verily believe any Office might Un|dertake to Demand at all Adventures not above 6 l. per Ann. and secure the Subscriber 500 l. in case she come to Claim as a Widow.

I forbear being more particular on this Thought, having occasion to be Page  142 larger in other Prints; the Experiment being resolv'd upon by some Friends, who are pleas'd to think this too useful a Project not to be put in execution; and therefore I refer the Reader to the Publick Practice of it.

I have nam'd these two Cases as spe|cial Experiments of what might be done by Assurances in way of Friend|ly Society; and I believe I might without Arrogance affirm, That the same Thought might be improv'd in|to Methods that shou'd prevent the General Misery and Poverty of Man|kind, and at once secure us against Beggars, Parish-Poor, Alms-Houses, and Hospitals; and by which, not a Creature so Miserable, or so Poor, but should claim Subsistence as their Due, and not ask it of Charity.

I cannot believe any Creature so wretchedly base, as to Beg of mere Page  143 choice, but either it must proceed from Want, or sordid prodigious Covetousness; and thence I affirm, There can be no Beggar, but he ought to be either Reliev'd, or Punish'd, or both. If a man begs for mere Cove|tousness, without Want, 'tis a baseness of Soul so extremely sordid, as ought to be us'd with the utmost Contempt, and punish'd with the Correction due to a Dog. If he begs for Want, that Want is procur'd by Slothfulness and Idleness, or by Accident; if the latter, he ought to be reliev'd; if the for|mer, he ought to be punish'd for the Cause, but at the same time reliev'd also; for no man ought to starve, let his Crime be what it will.

I shall proceed therefore to a Scheme, by which all Mankind, be he never so mean, so poor, so unable, shall gain for himself a Just Claim to a comforta|ble Subsistence, whensoever Age or Page  144 Casualty shall reduce him to a neces|sity of making use of it. There is a Poverty so far from being Despicable, that 'tis Honourable, when a man by direct Casualty, sudden Providence, and without any procuring of his own, is reduc'd to want Relief from others, as by Fire, Shipwreck, Loss of Limbs, and the like.

These are sometimes so apparent, that they command the Charity of others; but there are also many Fa|milies reduc'd to Decay, whose Con|ditions are not so publick, and yet their Necessities as great. Innumera|ble Circumstances reduce men to want; and pressing Poverty oblige some people to make their Cases pub|lick, or starve; and from thence came the Custom of Begging, which Sloth and Idleness has improv'd into a Trade. But the Method I propose, thoroughly put in practice, would remove the Page  145 Cause, and the Effect wou'd cease of course.

Want of Consideration is the great reason why People do not provide in their Youth and Strength for Old Age and Sickness; and the ensuing Proposal is, in short, only this, That all Persons in the time of their Health and Youth, while they are able to Work and spare it, shou'd lay up some small inconsiderable part of their gettings as a deposit in safe hands, to lie as a Store in bank to relieve them, if by Age or Accident they come to be dis|abled, or uncapable to Provide for themselves; and that if God so Bless them, that they nor theirs never come to need it, the overplus may be em|ploy'd to relieve such as shall.

If an Office in the same nature with this, were appointed in every Page  146 County in England, I doubt not but Poverty might easily be prevented, and Begging wholly suppres'd.