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  • Writer's pictureAllison Compton

Poor Wayfaring Strangers: Poverty in 18th-Century Europe

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

Image Credit: Eventide by Hubert von Herkomer

Walking through the poorer areas of an eighteenth-century city was a dangerous and harrowing proposition. One would see inadequate or non-existent sanitation, cramped housing, and adults and children alike begging in the street. The young woman selling flowers or fruit to passersby might also earn money from prostitution on the side. In rural areas, life was ruled by the rhythms of agriculture and the entire family worked hard in the fields and their home-based ‘cottage industry‘ to create essential goods for the family and selling any surplus they could produce. At the end of the day, they would lay down on a bed of straw with their family surrounding them and possibly even some animals to keep the livestock safe and the family warm. In short, the era was dirty, smelly, and rough. The philosopher Voltaire decried that lifelong penury was the fate of a majority of people in Europe and the poor were akin to “two-footed animals who live in a horrible condition approximating the state of nature, with hardly enough to live on and clothe themselves, barely enjoying the gift of speech, barely aware that they are miserable, living and dying practically without knowing it.“[1]

Poverty was widespread in rural and urban areas all over the continent, and with it all of the accompanying social ills: disease, interpersonal disconnection, spousal and child abandonment, and crime. Governments and enlightened thinkers of the time were aware that poverty and crime were extensive problems in their societies. However, ideas about how to address this ranged from the more radical attitudes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, to the more moderate prescriptions of Adam Smith and David Hume. Responses to poverty and crime were at best inconsistent and well-meaning, at worst intentionally punitive and cruel. All of the approaches in dealing with poverty in the eighteenth century were generally faulty in some fundamental way. Many of the social and judicial reforms of this era showed the roots of hard-won progress towards dealing more fairly with the poor, but some of the economic arguments led to the rise of laissez-faire capitalism run amok during the nineteenth century. This is a legacy the world is still struggling to balance today: how to care for the most vulnerable members of our society while keeping the economy robust and healthy for the well-being of society as a whole.

The Huddled Masses: Rates of Poverty in England & France During the Eighteenth Century

In the eighteenth century, the entirety of Europe, including England and France, was primarily agrarian. The rural population of France in 1769 was an estimated 12 million people (or 75 percent of France's population was closely tied to agriculture.) In 1771, England had a rural population of 2.8 million people (40-47 percent of England's population at the time.)[2] Agricultural production was the epicentre of the economy and most people’s daily toil. For peasants, agricultural work was a precarious life that depended upon the abundance and quality of the annual harvest “which could vary up to 25 percent year-over-year.”[3] Not only did rural peasants have to contend with the insecurity of the crop harvest, but they had financial responsibilities: to the church in the form of their 10 percent tithe, the seigneurial dues and rent for the land they lived on, as well as taxes to the crown. Peasants also had to ensure that they collected enough seed—or purchased it on credit which they would have to pay back—to plant next year’s crop. All of these demands were made on the harvest before a family would see any of it on their table or could benefit financially by selling the surplus for their own upkeep.[4] By the 1780s to 1790s, approximately 10 percent of the population of England and France could qualify as indigent, meaning they required charity, public assistance or had taken to the road as vagrants.”[5] It is no exaggeration to say poverty was ubiquitous in England and France.

What were some of the causes of eighteenth-century poverty? One major contributor originated in the seventeenth century. During this time cold, wet weather perpetuated several years of low- and poor-quality harvests that led to a widespread food crisis in Europe.[6] It left most of the population malnourished and prone to lower productivity and early death from a myriad of illnesses. Some of these illnesses many people may have been able to recover from if they had been better fed.[7] There were also significant changes in industry beginning to occur during the early eighteenth century. Labour which was traditionally done at home, such as spinning and weaving, were taken out of the domestic sphere and brought into an industrial setting. The economic practice of 'cottage industries,' where families worked together day-to-day in their home to help each other produce goods for the maintenance of the family, began to decrease. Domestic production was replaced by low-wage jobs that required people to comply with the 'factory system' and sometimes compensated workers based on piecemeal production.[8] The uncertainty of the agricultural industry caused stagnation in the economy as a whole. Governments hoped the industrialization of agricultural production and factory work would buttress the issues in agriculture, but in reality, it resulted in high unemployment and paltry incomes for rural peasants and the urban working-class. It made poverty in the eighteenth century widespread and because of the lack of social mobility, grinding poverty could be generational.

The Daily Grind: The Experience of Poverty in the Eighteenth Century

The lives of a majority of people in eighteenth-century Europe, be it if they laboured in the fields or in a factory in a city, were marked by unemployment, famine, and the constant threat of complete destitution nipping at their heels. The peasants and labouring people of England and France lived in very close quarters with their family members, and possibly even with animals to stave off the cold.[9] In urban areas, homes and streets were filthy from human and animal waste and garbage and sanitation were usually sub-par. These conditions “were breeding grounds for disease,” and as a result, “measles and especially smallpox, typhus and typhoid fever claimed thousands of victims.”[10] Infant mortality was also incredibly high in the period.[11] People warded off indigence in several ways: pulling together as a family and ensuring all members contributed to each other’s survival, travelling from home for part of the year as a migrant worker, or even moving to larger communities in search of work. These were all coping mechanisms the peasants and urban poor used to sustain themselves during this era. All sources of income, food, or goods were essential for the upkeep of a family. While people struggling with poverty were resourceful, “a crop failure, a sharp rise in bread prices, a foreclosed debt, the loss of a job, a serious illness or accident, or the death of a spouse—[and a peasant or working-class] family might be plunged into indigence.”[12] Everyone, including the women and children, had to work for the well-being of the family.

The men in a “peasant [family] might hire [themselves] out at harvest time as an agricultural [labourer] on a larger farm” or to earn extra money.[13] They might also acquire an income through “illegal activity such as smuggling.”[14] The food of a peasant was simple and meat was incredibly rare on the table of the English or French peasant.[15] As a result, some men turned to game poaching to feed their family.[15] Hunting was the prerogative of the landed gentry and aristocracy and the law was not on the side of the peasant.[16] Penalties for poaching can best be described as draconian, and they steadfastly protected the privileges of the elite and “served to define and maintain class distinctions in rural society.”[17] Sometimes peasant men would be required to perform military service which could take him away from home for months or even years at a time—thereby leaving his family without his labour.[18] This made women’s contributions incredibly crucial “to the household economies of peasant and urban poor families.”[20] Women of peasant and working-class origin were “were expected to work to support themselves both when single and married.”[21] In a rural setting, women would tend family vegetable plots, care for livestock, and collect and sell eggs and milk. In cities and large towns, women would utilize the domestic skills they had acquired to earn money as spinners, seamstresses, dressmakers, lacemakers, housekeepers, laundresses, peddlers, and food sellers.[22] Adults toiled all day for incredibly low pay and little respect for their economic contributions.

Children in the eighteenth century did not receive the long period of education that they do today. They had to grow up very quickly and contribute to the family income as soon as possible. In rural areas, children could be seen helping their parents with work from the age of four or five with tasks that were deemed age-appropriate.[23] Peasant families sometimes kept their children at home to make use of their labour or the decision might be made to send a child to a larger community or city to work as a factory worker or trade apprentice (if they were boys) or domestic servants (if they were girls.)[24] A boy could begin an apprenticeship in childhood and stay with their master until their mid to late teens. Sending girls into the workforce as they neared puberty was a perilous situation. Not infrequently, they could be seduced or outright sexually assaulted by older males who would take advantage of the rather lax supervision of an inexperienced girl.[25, 26] An adolescent girl or woman who sold produce, pre-cooked food, or flowers on the street might supplement their incomes in the sex trade. Given the combination of the low pay in domestic service and factory work, and the frequency of unwed pregnancy, one can see how this could be a slippery slope to prostitution. It was not an uncommon fate for many poor women at this time, and as many as one in five were involved in the sex trade to support themselves.[27] The daily grind of the entire family reflects the scope of poverty and the extent of effort people had to go through to make ends meet.

Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels or Economic Victims: Views on Poverty in the Eighteenth Century

As today, people’s attitudes towards the poor in the eighteenth century ranged from oppressively paternalistic to callously cruel. Some viewed poor people as simply doing their best to get by in a harsh world and saw them suffer with “patient resignation [and] acceptance of starvation, pain, and deprivation.”[28] Others looked at peasants and the working-class with contempt and disgust, thinking of them as dirty and lazy. “Polite society” defined the poor by the lowest depths of depravity to which they would sink to survive. They painted the men as violent drunkards and the women as loose.[29] In general, the treatment of paupers and vagrants in the eighteenth century was severe and punitive. Poor people were often categorized into “deserving” and “undeserving” of public aid. The “deserving” poor were those who were aged, infirm, disabled, mentally ill or orphaned (by the death of parents or by being surrendered to a foundling hospital.) The “undeserving” poor were roaming vagrants, beggars, and the “willfully” idle.[30] As the eighteenth century progressed, most European governments implemented measures to deal with the already staggering, and steadily increasing, problem of working poor and indigent people in their kingdoms.[31]

Leading thinkers of the age spent a lot of time reflecting on the causes of poverty and crime and how it should be curbed. Adam Smith believed that employment provided a source of accomplishment, pride, and a sense of belonging for people. Work wasn’t simply a matter of earning money, it was a mark of social inclusion.[32] Having money, and the goods it can buy, signifies a person’s status within a community. While Smith believed that the government did have a responsibility to see to the general condition of the people in their country, he did not believe that the government should take active responsibility in providing for the basic needs of the populace.[33] Smith contended that keeping the poor engaged through work and providing them the means to care for themselves was the key to ending poverty, not wide-scale economic redistribution. David Hume’s views on poverty and class also aligned with Smith’s—he did not believe that unequal distribution of wealth was either unjust or an inherently negative thing for society. Hume saw the drive to acquire merit—and the property and social capital that comes with it—as “the basis of human prosperity and meaning.”[34] Thinkers such as Smith and Hume espoused energetic self-reliance and believed true equality would cripple industry and lead nations as a whole to poverty.[35] Although Smith also asserts: “no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable" and the government has a responsibility to ensure a basic standard of living for their citizens through providing employment.[36]

On the other side of the argument about poverty were thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot. They shared similar views and wrote passionate “polemics against economic inequality…for the unfettering of private property…[and] for a more equal distribution of national wealth.” Both of these men also criticized colonialism and possessed a “romantic nostalgia for a simple, primitive life based on common ownership and common production of goods.”[37] For instance, Rousseau agreed with Smith that there were “natural” and “moral” inequalities between people from which they derived social advantages, which in turn lead to economic inequality.[38, 39] Rousseau strongly believed that severe inequality promoted a person’s dependence on other human beings for survival, and this endangers freedom in society at large when people have to follow the will of their economic betters instead of their own will.[40] Diderot was also “militant in his defense of private property and against feudal privilege, [this] also expresses itself in his fear of large-scale private property, the concentration of economic wealth in the hands of a few wealthy individuals who will oppress the mass of small property owners and finally make them into beggars or miserable exploited wage-workers.”[41] These tensions seem familiar even to modern-day people. Governments in the industrialized world still argue and debate over how to balance free-market economic principles with providing a robust social safety net for citizens who need it.

Governments at this time also had several different methods to attempt to deal with poverty which ranged from religious institutions, condoned state-sanctioned begging, workhouses, and public works programs which all became prevalent during the century.

Condoned Begging

Despite the changing attitudes on begging on the streets and giving individual charity, there was the tradition of begging and giving alms to the poor on sanctioned holidays. Christmas was an especially important holiday in this regard. Employers would give their servants extra money, or people would be more generous with giving alms at this time of year.[42] There were also specified days or celebrations when people working in certain trades could obtain relief from their local parish or municipal government. These days were opportunities for receiving a dole or for legal begging.[43] Even funerals and weddings provided an opportunity to earn alms. Some beggars would wait outside a church on Sundays so that people fresh from a sermon extolling the virtues of caring for the poor and filled with Christian charity might drop a coin in their hand.[44] Some municipalities even resorted to handing out badges, acting as a sort of permit, to beg within a designated area. These customs and laws were a way to restrain and reduce begging on the streets.

Religious Institutions

Poor relief at the beginning of the eighteenth century was mainly the concern and responsibility of the church and religious confraternities. It was the widespread view that it was the duty of a good Christian (and their path to eternal salvation) to give alms to individual beggars, a charity or a religious confraternity.[45] Institutions such as the order of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of Charity were highly involved in helping the less fortunate. From a religious perspective, committing crimes or resorting to prostitution to survive was a moral failing rather than a desperate action brought on by dire economic circumstances. The church’s paternalistic attitude toward the poor is reflected in the routines of the religious charities, hospitals, and even Magdalene Houses asylums/laundries which “emphasized strict routines, cleanliness, and moral preaching to the inmates.”[46, 47] Religious institutions took on the care of the poor as a Christian duty, but paradoxically, viewed poverty as a punishment from God. The Church did provide a social safety net for people, but as the eighteenth-century wore on, the donations they collected decreased, while the number of poor surpassed their capacity to assist.

The Workhouse & dépôt de mendicité

The increasing punishments for vagrancy and begging made it harder for the poor to travel and find work. In 1722, England introduced a law that established workhouses and in France, a decree in 1767 led to the opening of the dépôts de mendicité (which were meant specifically for vagrants and beggars). These institutions were worse than many of the criminal prisons and were “contaminated with disease and ridden with abuses from corrupt administrators and greedy entrepreneurs who exploited inmates’ labour and failed to provide them with sufficient food” Workhouses and dépôts de mendicité were harsh places and had a mortality rate of 20 percent for adults.[48, 49] One study in London found that infants born in the workhouse infirmary suffered an alarming mortality rate of 90 percent![50] Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was appalled by the treatment and arrests and of the poor in France and in his capacity as intendant (tax collector), closed all but five of the dépôts in Limoges by 1776. Unfortunately, workhouses persisted across Europe well into the nineteenth century.[51]

Public Works Programs

The liberal political economists of the era had a solution to poverty—create employment. This led the governments of England and France to attempt to combat poverty by setting up public works programs from royal grants. The reasoning behind these programs was that it removed unemployed people, who were possibly begging on the streets or roaming the countryside in search of work, and gave them a way to engage their idle hands and a purpose. Women were often funneled into make-work projects in the textile industry and men were assigned to building projects on roads, bridges, and canals.[52] Governments thought that by providing poor people a way to earn a small income and contribute to something economically productive for their community it would decrease unemployment and crime. There were many educated intellectuals who were acutely aware of the poverty problem and had many ideas on how governments and individuals could address it. Clearly none of these methods discussed above solved the problem, and working conditions seemed to get worse as the nineteenth century dawned and with it an even more rapid pace of industrialization.

The Goal & The Gallows: Views on Crime & Punishment

The eighteenth century is an incredibly fascinating time to study the concepts of poverty and crime. One the one hand, people began to view the poor and their criminal behaviour with more empathy and humanity, on the other hand, crime was still dealt with harshly and arbitrarily. There were some enlightened people in government who believed that the prevalence of crime and poverty were linked and that lack of access to employment and opportunities was responsible for an increase in crime—not something innately depraved or malicious within the character of the poor. Further evidence of the increasing desperation of people in response to economic conditions is reflected in the number of prosecutions for violent crimes began to decrease and crimes against property began to increase during the century.[53] Laws changed accordingly to reflect this shift. The list of property crimes for which one could receive capital punishment grew longer throughout the century, which served the interests of well-to-do landowners and criminalized simply for being poor.[54]

There were many judicial reformers during this time such as Baron de Montesquieu and Cesare Beccaria. One of the most influential treatises on the reform of justice in the eighteenth century, On Crimes and Punishments (1764), was written by Beccaria and it builds and extends the ideas of Montesquieu put forward in The Spirit of Laws (1748). This work demonstrates that he had some very progressive ideas on how the law should be enforced. His ideas impacted jurisprudence in his day and they form the basis of legal systems across the world today by laying out the following ideas and principles:

  • Laws tend to favour the men who made them and depend on tradition.

  • Laws should be based on rational principles, not by trial and error.

  • Governments and judges should apply a dispassionate, mathematical study of crime and punishments.

  • Only conduct specifically prohibited by law can draw penalties and these penalties must be specified by law.

  • Judges and courts should be restricted to finding facts during a trial.

  • A defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

  • Pre-trial imprisonment and proceedings should be short and efficient.

  • Torture should not be used to procure confessions.

  • A defendant should not be convicted on the evidence of a single witness alone.

  • Punishments should not be vindictive, but act as a rational deterrent.

  • All punishment should be applied equally, no matter a defendant’s income or social origin.[55,56]

In theory, this meant that even people struggling with poverty could receive equality before and under the law. In practice, it was not that simple. The eighteenth century was not a straight line of progress for jurisprudence. Beccaria’s ideas received much praise from the philosophes and enlightened leaders throughout Europe. Heads of state from Catherine the Great of Russia, to Frederick II of Prussia, to Leopold II of Lombardy attempted to make judicial reforms based on the ideas of Montesquieu and Beccaria, but almost everywhere monarchs and reformers “found it easier to praise Beccaria than to put his program into action.”[57] Most laws still favoured the propertied and wealthy people of society.


Life was not easy or particularly comfortable during the eighteenth century. It was doubly difficult if one happened to be poor. The population was rising and resources were stretched. Poverty was the lot of the majority of people in Europe at this time. Rural peasants and the urban working-class lived in soul-crushing squalor and were frequently reduced to anti-social behaviour to survive. Along with these realities came a spike in the prosecution of property crimes. Attitudes towards poverty and crime in this era had a broad range, as they do even today. The ideas of Smith and Hume advocated that free markets would help solve the poverty problem by creating employment. As a result of less government intervention, they argued, an acceptable standard of living for the highest number of people could be attained. Other philosophers, such as Rousseau and Diderot, pointed to inequality and active social exclusion as the causes of poverty and prescribed tackling this instead of championing newfangled capitalist economic principles. Neither of these approaches taken as a whole solved the issues of poverty.

The rising crime rate alarmed and terrified the rich and the governments of Europe that they influenced. Crime was still widely thought of as a moral failing on part of the criminal instead of a response to their daily material and economic reality. The work of Montesquieu and Beccaria were the basis for governments to reconsider their laws and conceptions of justice. Their ideas did make an impact, between the choices of repression and leniency, most legal codes in Europe showed a trend towards liberalization of judicial punishments. Overall, the eighteenth century marked the point when public welfare and justice increasingly became the prerogative of the centralized nation-state.



1. Cited in Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1969), 518. 2. Benjamin Sexauer, “English and French Agriculture in the Late Eighteenth Century,” Agricultural History 50, no. 3 (July 1976): 496. 3. Sheilagh Ogilvie, The European Economy in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 95. 4. Isser Woloch and Gregory S. Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789 (New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2012), 151. 5. Ibid., 154-55.

6. Olwyn Hufton, “Life and Death among the Very Poor” in The Eighteenth Century: Europe in the Age of Enlightenment, ed. Alfred Cobban (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), 3.This is mentioned as a cause by Olwyn Hufton and is also given credibility in Andrew B. Appleby, “Grain Prices and Subsistence Crises in England and France, 1590-1740,” The Journal of Economic History 39, no. 4 (December 1979): 865-887. He quotes the work of Jean Meuvret, Pierre Goubert, Franqois Lebrun that has “shown that France suffered severe subsistence crises in the harvest years of 1630, 1649-51, 1661, 1693, and 1709. In those years grain prices rose rapidly to three or four times 'their normal level, and even higher. When the price of grain climbed so, too, did the number of burials recorded in the parish registers, for the poor, unable to buy the grain which was their basic food, died of starvation or of diseases linked to malnutrition. At the same time that mortality increased, baptisms and marriages declined, as food shortage reduced fertility and forced the postponement of marriages.” 7. Measles, smallpox, typhoid fever, and typhus to provide a few examples. 8. People had to leave their homes, show up to a factory or place of work at a specific time, and produce what they were ordered to produce. 9. Hufton, “Life and Death among the Very Poor,” 6. 10. Henri Sée, Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century (Batoche Books: Kitchener, 1927), 29. 11. Oscar Sherwin, “Crime and Punishment in England of the Eighteenth Century,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 5, no. 2 (January 1946): 170. Statistics taken from London’s Bills of Mortality in 1730, put the burials of infants at 190, 200 (aged 0-2 years), 44,887 (aged 2-4 years) the equivalent of 74.5% of births. By the end of the century, that number decreased to 117,070 (aged 0-2 years), (42,051) the equivalent of 41.3% of births.

12. Woloch & Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 153. 13. Ibid., 151. 14. Ibid., 152. 15. Sée, Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century, 27-8. 16. Ibid., 27. “The basic foods were bread, soup, dairy products, and butter. Wheat bread was quite rare; only bread of rye and oats, and that frequently of poor quality, was known. In the poorest regions, the peasants ate biscuits and porridge of buckwheat, or even of chestnuts or maize. Wheat and even rye served largely to pay the taxes or farm rent.”

17. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 174. Agricultural laborers, tenant farmers, artisans, and merchants could not hunt legally. The penalties ranged from “a [£5] fine (the equivalent of one-third of the annual wage of an agricultural labourer) or three months in jail. Killing a deer could bring as much as a [£30] fine or a year in prison and, in some circumstances (such as hunting at night) the death penalty.”

18. Ibid., 176.

19. Ibid., 153. The militia in France or a press gang in England could conscript men for military service.

20. Ibid., 152.

21. Hufton, “Life and Death among the Very Poor,” 11.

22. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 152.

23. Hufton, “Life and Death among the Very Poor,” 13.

24. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 152. (Isser Wolloch 2012) (Gay 1969) (Hufton 1969)

25. Averill Earls, Elizabeth Garner-Masarik, Sarah Handley-Cousins and Marissa C. Rhodes. “Seduction, Prostitution, Bastardy, and Child Abandonment in Georgian London.” Podcast Audio. Dig: A History Podcast. March 31, 2019, The meaning of 'seduction' had a wider connotation in the eighteenth century than it does today. It could mean anything from a consensual romantic encounter to the coercive wearing down of a woman’s reluctance to have sexual relations—which was not considered rape at the time.

26. Ibid. If a young woman did happen to become pregnant as a result of a liaison, the outlook was not rosy. If she had a somewhat kinder employer, who wanted to prevent himself, his son, or one of his other servants from facing the full brunt of his actions, he may give her a small severance and a reference letter for her baby to be put into a foundling hospital or for charity relief. If her employer was on the cruel side, he would simply turn her out with little compunction, no money, and no prospects.

27. Dan Cruickshank, The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital (New York: Random House, 2009), 17.

28. Hufton, “Life and Death among the Very Poor,” 9.

29. Earls, Garner-Masarik, Handley-Cousins and Rhodes. “Seduction, Prostitution, Bastardy, and Child Abandonment in Georgian London.” It was not uncommon for a woman’s obvious poverty to be synonymous with sexual availability during this era.

30. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 157. Governments adopted increasingly punitive policies towards vagrants and beggars that stigmatized them as the ‘undeserving poor.”

31. Patrick Colquhoun, A Treatise on Indigence (London: J. Hatchard, 1806), 59-61. In England, the cost of poor relief to the government was £400, 000 at the beginning of the century, £700,000 in 1750, £1,500,000 in 1776, £2,000,000 in 1786, and in 1803 over £4,267,965. Private and public charity almost doubled this sum.

32. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), 105-6.

33. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776), 676.

34. Steven Wallech, “The Elements of Social Status in Hume's Treatise,” Journal of the History of Ideas 45, no. 2 (April- June 1984): 207.

35. This brings to mind governments which have attempted to be pure communist economies.

36. Smith, Wealth of Nations, 66.

37. Charles Lipton, “The Social Thought of Diderot,” Science & Society 8, no. 2 (Spring, 1944): 127.

38. Meaning natural differences in age, health, and bodily strength between people.

39. Jean-Jacques Rousseau refers to the “prejudice [esteem or respect] of others, such as being wealthier, more highly honored, more powerful, or even getting oneself obeyed."

40. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, book II, n. II, 1762. In The Social Contract, Rousseau writes “no citizen should be so rich that he can buy another, and none so poor that he is compelled to sell himself."

41. Lipton, “The Social Thought of Diderot,” 127.

42. The tradition of Christmas caroling was a form of legitimized begging. Working-class people would go door to door singing for a few coins to supplement their paltry wages and pay for extra food or wood to get them through the cold winter.

43. Tim Hitchcock, “Begging on the Streets of Eighteenth‐Century London,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 3 (July 2005): 483. Easter, Hocktide, the duke of Cumberland’s birthday, Rogation, Whitsun, Midsummer’s Day, Bartholomewtide, the Lord Mayors’ Procession, and Guy Fawkes Day on the fifth of November were all public holidays on which begging was allowed and people gave alms to the poor.

44. Hitchcock, “Begging on the Streets of Eighteenth‐Century London,” 487-88.

45. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 155.

46. Magdalene Houses/laundries usually run by nuns, but sometimes as an extension of a workhouse. They were used to curb prostitution and to reform the women engaging in the sex trade, but they also took in unmarried mothers. They would teach women employable skills such as spinning, sewing, and the principles of domestic service so they would not have to return to being prostitutes. Magdalene Houses were not particularly compassionate places: the daily routine was grueling, they frequently shaved women’s heads as punishment, and pregnant inmates were pressured to give up their babies for adoption. Although some nuns would help place women in domestic service positions after their training was complete or the birth of a baby. Nuns would even be discreet about a woman’s past with potential employers which would help them secure a job to support themselves. Surprisingly, the last Magdalene House in Europe was in Ireland, and closed in 1996.

47. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 155.

48. Robert M. Schwartz, Policing the Poor in Eighteenth-Century France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 171.

49. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 158.

50. Rhian Harris, “The Foundling Hospital,” BBC History, accessed March 28, 2020,

51. Turgot was the intendant (tax collector) of Limoges from 1761-1774 and Controller-General of Finances for all of France from 1774-1776.

52. Woloch and Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 158.

53. Ibid.,172. This trend is backed up in the work of Manuel Eisner, “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime,” Crime and Justice 30 (2003): 83-142.

54. Ibid., 170. “By 1800, almost 200 different crimes could bring the death penalty” including, but not limited to: arson, forgery, cutting down trees without permission of their lord, stealing horses or sheep, destroying roads, stealing from a game warden (poaching), pickpocketing goods worth a shilling or more (roughly £30 today), being out at night with a blackened face, being an unmarried mother concealing a stillborn child, stealing from a shipwreck, or tampering with/destroying a fishpond.

55. Ibid.,167. Torture was abolished in England in 1641, Prussia gradually diminished used of torture during the 1740s and 1750s, Sweden abolished it in 1772, Austria and Poland in 1776, and France in 1780.

56. Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, 444. Beccaria did not believe that the death penalty was an effective deterrent to crime. The punishment of the criminal was over so quickly and the executions that were meant to make them an example to the public, began to lose their impact and did not instill the fear the government believed they did.

57. Ibid, 446.

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