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The Law, by Bastiat
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"The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards .. "

-- Samuel Adams

Lesson 114 - The Industrial Revolution - The Sadler Report Print E-mail


In England, among those who seized upon Godwin's arguments were any number of social and political theorists who shared his views of property ownership being an extension of political evil.

Among these was a man named Michael T. Sadler.

In 1830, Sadler and his associates approached the British Parliament in London, charging that the mill and factory owners as well as other industrialists, were virtually sub-human in their greed.

These industrialists, argued Sadler, would to anything to obtain a shilling of profit.  These businessmen he said, were forcing their workers to labor in unhealthy and dangerous factories.  They were taking in children, beating them, and chaining them to their benches.

According to Sadler, wages were far lower than they should have been, and kept low through a conspiracy among all employers. 

Hours were so long and the work so hard that men and women and even the children were being crippled and maimed, with their hopes of life shattered by the cruelty, thoughtlessness, and greed of their employers.

Sound familiar?

The British Parliament listened aghast to these charges.  In response, they appropriated a sum of money and called for an investigation of child labor in the factories and mills of England.

Sadler was placed in charge of this money and the investigation, since it appeared that he had access to special knowledge and information in this area.

Straightaway, Sadler sent for people to come to London to "report" on conditions that existed in the factories to their knowledge.

As it turned out, many of those called in to testify had indeed been former employees of various industries.  However, there were also others including a number of ministers and a few doctors.

The inquiry went on through the entire summer of 1830.  By fall the appropriation had been used up.  Oddly enough, everything Sadler had originally charged was confirmed!

Sadler then quickly gathered his reports and had them published, causing a major sensation. 

The published report clearly described that the factories and mills were "hell holes", where slave labor was employed and where men, women, and children were brutalized, with wages kept low through conspiracies among all of the industrialists, who sought merely to maximize their own personal profits.

It wasn't until the Sadler report was published that the factory owners and managers learned that they had been made the target of an investigation, in which not a single one of them had been called in his own defense or to present their side of the matter.

The industrialists then approached Parliament and raised their own voices in protest against the charges leveled against them by Sadler.  As British subjects they argued, were they not entitled to their day in court?

The controversy reached the ears of King William IV, who ordered a royal investigation of the whole matter.  Such a crown inquiry had the weight of a blue-ribbon grand jury in the United States.

A second appropriation of money was made, but this time it was not turned over to Mr. Sadler, or even to an industrialist.  Instead, a carefully organized investigation began with qualified men chairing an objective inquiry, which covered all of England divided into various manufacturing districts.

Nor were witnesses asked to come to London.  Instead, investigators went out into the towns where the factories were, examined the conditions themselves, and took testimony from those who were actually working at that time in the factories and mills.

It was quickly uncovered that during the original Sadler inquiry, the use of an oath had been completely by-passed.  Former employees were given free rein to state anything they wished regarding their previous employers, without risking perjury or (significant for the time) divine retribution for making false witness.

The royal inquiry lasted for the better part of two years and the results published in three supplemental reports.  They included the expert testimony of ministers and doctors, the latter often the same doctors used by employers to treat the ailments and accidents of the workers.

The findings from this supplemental report did serve to confirm some of what Sadler reported, but only in minor and not substantive ways.

It was true for example that wages were never as high as the workers would have liked, but there was absolutely no evidence that there was any conspiracy among employers to keep wages down.

The hours were certainly long, especially if there was a rush order or during the summer months when additional daylight added to the available working day.

It was also true that working conditions were not necessarily ideal, and the work was hard, but nearly all of those testifying indicated that they would far prefer to work the hours they were than to work shorter hours if that curtailment of hours meant a reduction in pay.

Contrary to charges that work was ruining the health of the workers, it was found that the health of those in the factories and mills was every bit as good as that of those not working in the factories. 

It was further found that employers were concerned about accidents and were trying to reduce them, leaning to box in the machinery and institute other safety measures.  Only rarely was anyone found to have been struck or beaten.

It was even found that in some places were putting in schools and playgrounds at their own expense.  The children themselves were found to be in good condition, in fact flourishing as the children in pre-industrial England had never flourished.

In short, the worst charges of the Sadler report were either completely refuted, or placed in a context that provided a much more balanced and positive view.

Unfortunately, these supplemental reports received little of the attention received by the original Sadler report, perhaps reflective of facts of human nature that remain unchanged to this day. 

The report that industrialists were just as human as their employees is hardly sensational, whereas Sadler's accusations painting industrialists as a special breed of subhuman brute played into the all too human tendency to want to believe the worst of our fellow man, especially if our fellow man is doing well, or somehow better than we perceive ourselves to be.


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