Discuss With Reference To Edwin Chadwick History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Dependent upon which historical field of study one has worked within, the image of Edwin Chadwick has, in past historiography, been somewhat polarized. Within the context of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, we are given an insight into the ‘evil’ Edwin, the villain of poor-relief. His part in the creation of a deterrent system that focused upon indoor relief within the ‘dreaded’ workhouse as its focus, made him unpopular contemporaneously, and historically. However, on the flipside of this coin, as one might expect, is an image of a man of morality. This Chadwick, unlike his earlier guise, has been heralded by historians as one the great figures and proponents of public health. His Sanitary Report (1842) was and is, seen as the pioneering piece of reformist literature that ignited the flame of public health in England. 
Here I have shown the two sides of Edwin Chadwick. These two seemingly separate entities have been analysed by historians.  Yet, it seems that until recently, Chadwick within the public health context has avoided the scrutiny that the earlier poor law associated Chadwick has suffered. This can be attributed to a great degree to the early historiographical appreciation (or rather a lack thereof) of the ‘new’ poor law. This image of the cruelty and amorality of the Amendment Act and the negative appraisal of the poor law post-1834 began with Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Their famous, and numerous, volumes on English local government have largely been discredited by current historians as somewhat ahistorical. It is sometimes far too easy to place upon a contemporaneous historical context modern attitudes and ideals. Early historical attitudes surrounding the new poor law suffered from this contemporary grafting.
In the same vein, the historiography of public health in relation to Chadwick can be viewed as teleological. If not teleological, then it certainly suffered from a lack of questioning of Chadwick’s public health ideals, especially those expounded in his Sanitary Report. The limitations of this historiography are being remedied by a current crop of historians, including Christopher Hamlin, Mary Poovey, and slightly earlier by Anthony Brundage.  The veneer of the Sanitary Report is being wiped away to expose the complexity of Chadwick’s intentions hidden within the grain. Historians such as Hamlin have emphasised the political nature of Chadwick’s Report. This new appraisal of the Chadwick of public health has narrowed the gap between the Chadwick of the poor law. There is only one Chadwick. This essay will hopefully disprove this duality of Chadwick, and emphasise the similarities between Chadwick’s attitudes within a poor law context and those within the Sanitary Report. There are politically charged threads that link his work within the Royal Commission for the poor law, between 1832 and 1834, to that of his 1842 Sanitary Report.
Both the poor law and sanitation were components of Chadwick’s wider reformist vision not only for England, but for “Great Britain”.  Chadwick’s national picture of social organisation and improvement through centralised governing bodies, self-supervision, surveillance and discipline was based upon the assemblage of a mass of evidence and information. Centralisation, discipline, and statistics are the key threads to understanding Chadwick the ‘politician’, if he was such at all. Integral to an understanding of Chadwick’s political persuasion is the influence of Jeremy Bentham and his Utilitarian principles.  This is a thread that shall run through and alongside the other threads; it is certainly a significant aspect of the politics of Chadwick. Some historians suggest that Chadwick was a product of Benthamite principles. 
Therefore, a study of Chadwick without the inclusion of Jeremy Bentham would be a considerably diminished understanding of Chadwick’s politics. The themes of Utilitarianism run throughout the work of Chadwick. His ideas on the makeup of the English or even British state are based largely upon the teachings of Bentham.  The Poor Law Commission within Chadwick’s conception of administrative bodies was along very similar lines to that of Bentham’s Indigence Relief Minister. Furthermore, the later General Board of Health for which Chadwick can be attributed, was similar in many ways to the Minister of Health posited by Bentham. It is certainly clear that Bentham’s principles had a significant impact on Chadwick’s ideas of central organization and administration.  Historians such as John Roach and Anthony Brundage have attributed this shaping of Chadwick’s mind to Bentham’s Constitutional Code. This period of Chadwick’s life, when living with Bentham, and helping him draft the Constitutional Code, is posited as one of the most significant and influential periods in moulding his political, social and structural outlook. Yet, as Helen Benyon has suggested, after Bentham’s death, his pupil can be seen to depart somewhat from his code.  This divergence can be seen throughout Chadwick’s career. For example, Bentham considered a royal commission to be “an instrument of monarchical tyranny”.  Yet as is well documented, Chadwick was heavily involved in such commissions, including his part in the Royal Commission on the poor law, for which he played a significant role. He even headed the Royal Commission on factories, and played an ‘encouraging role’ in the commission that resulted in the passing of the Public Health Act in 1848. This divergence is not necessarily negative. In many respects, a royal commission was a fashionable tool of the Victorian period which engendered reform. Therefore, we can see Chadwick as merely using the political avenues that existed to promulgate his own reformist ideals. In addition, much of what Chadwick created out of these commissions, in administrative and organizational terms was relatively utilitarian. This theme of centralisation and will be detailed in the proceeding section.
One sticking point can be seen in Chadwick’s opposition to universal political enfranchisement, something which Bentham certainly advocated towards the viability of democracy. This shift from Benthamism is certainly significant for later analysis of Chadwick’s conception of social organisation within his Sanitary Report. This should not detract from the far-reaching effect that Bentham’s ideology had upon the later work of Chadwick. He was not a complete product of Bentham, his own past and ideological makeup mixed and fused with the latent Benthamite principles, the most significant of which can be seen in Chadwick’s wholly national picture of reform and improvement towards intervention, and inspection through centralisation.
Following this train of thought, we move into a key area of Chadwick’s ideology. Centralisation was a significant aspect of the Chadwick model of organisation. It has its origins in Benthamism; of a considerably national and uniform system of institutional organisation.  An important factor in this is the Whig government from the 1832 Parliamentary Reform Act throughout the 1830s. As Brundage has suggested this Whig government ‘presided over the most extraordinary periods of government growth in British history.’  Reforms in areas such as the factories, the poor laws, education and police, all involved the growth of central government. There is a definite Benthamite flavour to this reformism. And this influence could be seen not only in the figure of Chadwick, but in moderate positions of power. Yet Chadwick is, for the purposes of this essay the most significant individual. His centralising vision is certainly along utilitarian lines. This was Bourne out of an abstract and conceptual definition of paternalism which could be grafted onto his model of centralised government. However, the Whig government’s idea of paternalism was along the more traditional lines of maintenance of the dominance of local government. The Whigs were open to government growth, yet only to uphold and strengthen this traditional paternal hierarchy.  In this respect one can see Chadwick’s visions of central organisation as perhaps being moulded by his contemporaneous reality. ‘England was more an agglomeration of counties, parishes, and common law courts than a state.’  For his centralised vision to be accepted, he would have to make concessions. The structure of organisation and administration for which he provided for the poor law is a prime example of such a concession. He created the central body of the Poor Law Commission, the inspectorial and supervisorial enforcer of uniform relief, whilst keeping the local organs. However, these local unions presided over much larger geographical districts than under the ‘old’ poor law, amalgamating several parishes together. Along with this example under the poor law, the earlier Factory Act, or Althorp’s Act passed in 1833 is probably a more significant indicator of the central interference of Chadwick. It was the ‘first piece of legislation in Britain based on a major inquiry by experts entailing inference by the central government, supervised by agents of central government.’  This centralised and uniform state driven ideology can even be identified within Chadwick’s Sanitary Report. His vision of a national network of pipes, pumping fresh water into the homes and flushing out waste gives a very vivid image of state uniformity.  Furthermore, for the enactment of such a large scale task, he emphasises the need for a centrally organised system of expertise and authority. In 1848 the General Board of Health was set up. One can identify within Chadwick’s work an overarching reformist vision. Within both the poor law (for which Chadwick has been negatively appraised) and the creation of public health (for which he is the patron saint) one can identify a continuity of his administrative vision of centralised institutions based upon authority, supervision and uniformity. In this respect, the gap between the Chadwick of the poor law and the Chadwick of public health converge to create Chadwick the reformist; a man with a national vision of improvement and Benthamite tendencies.
Here a brief example of the importance of Bentham’s influence upon Chadwick’s ideology might shed some light on Chadwick’s policies. Anthony Brundage suggests that Bentham’s Panopticon plan is a physical representation of the concept of the tutelary State which Chadwick championed during the 1830s and 1840s. It resembled the Panopticon in its thoroughness, tidiness, and also its intrusiveness.  This design was intended for use in prisons or even workhouses, as an optimized system of surveillance. Yet here it brings to life, if only in image form, the importance of uniformity, and central authority in Chadwick’s vision of the state. An important fact was that from the viewing tower all cells could be viewed, yet from the cells the central tower was not visible. This is an interesting aspect to consider in the context of Chadwick’s vision, especially that of social improvement.
Another significant thread of Chadwick’s social vision is its disciplinary thrust. Both during his time within the poor law and public health domains there can be seen a subversive attempt by Chadwick to create an improved social body. The most troublesome of which was the labouring class. To understand the political nature of Chadwick’s work, one needs to place it in its historical context.
The most significant context is that of the Chartist movement. Emerging in the early 1830s and then re-emerging in the late 1840s, they were perceived as a very real threat to the Whig government of the time. The Chartist movement emerged out of the London Working Men’s Association set up in 1836 by William Lovett. He later produced the People’s Charter with Frances Place. They called for universal male suffrage. For the Whig government there was a very real fear that revolution could occur at any moment.  France was not so far away, and their recent history still lived fresh in the memory. There were several bouts of protests and marches by the Chartists, especially within urban areas. Some of which ended in violence, and the deaths of several Chartists. The Chartists movement was a rally point of sorts for the poor and disenfranchised labour population. Within this context one can understand the political nature of Chadwick’s Sanitary Report in particular through his moulding of public health which incorporated a social preponderance. In addition to this context is that of the earlier disappointment at the inadequacies of the 1832 Parliamentary Reform propounded by Charles Grey’s Whig government. Along with this was the creation of the ‘new’ poor law in 1834; the poor harvests during 1836 and 1837.  This context set the scene in which Chadwick’s social and disciplinary ideas can be situated.
Mary Poovey identifies Chadwick’s attempt, through sanitary reform, to organise and control the labouring classes.  I use ‘control’ here in the loosest sense of the word. Perhaps, as used earlier, ‘discipline’ may be a more apt term. Chadwick, within the Sanitary Report, narrows ‘public health’ to sanitation. Here one can identify Chadwick’s divergence from the alternative attitudes towards ‘public health’ such as existed in France, or even those attitudes of his British contemporaries, mainly within the medical sphere. He follows an environmental cause of disease through ‘filth theory’. This however, does not only constitute the physical illness, but Chadwick also incorporates psychological and social disease as being caused by this accumulation of “filth”. 
His main focus is upon the labouring or working class, especially those within slums and residences of particular “depravity”. In a sanitary context these areas were identified by Chadwick as areas with the highest mortality rates. The other focal point is that of the importance of domesticity, and the cleanliness of the labourer’s domestic sphere not only towards the prevention of disease but also towards his social improvement.  Using rather selective evidence, (an issue that will be further elaborated upon in a later section), Chadwick identifies place and ‘class’ as the most significant determinants in the causation of disease. In this way he ‘proved’ that the most important factor in the spread of disease was not only material “filth”, but where you lived.  Chadwick discounted completely the workplace.
With the aforementioned political (Chartist) context in mind, one can identify the disciplinary thrust to Chadwick’s Sanitary Report. The politicisation of the labouring classes was to both Chadwick and the Whig government a significant concern. Within the Sanitary Report Chadwick discourages those same labouring men from homo-social activity within any sphere, but particularly that of the public house. Chadwick links the frequenting of such places of ‘vice’ as a product of the “depraved” condition of the domestic sphere which was its self a consequence of filth and disease.  As aforementioned, many middle-class commentators were concerned with the working classes use of public space, especially that of public houses. These were not only associated with alcoholism and disorderly behaviour, but more significantly as places for radical labour organisation especially that of trade unionism.  In emphasising the importance of the domestic sphere Chadwick links the labouring man’s individual identity to his family over any homo-social association.
The growing urbanized and capitalist formation of England should be borne in mind. The industrialization of England during this period brought with it the emergence of the capitalism and the importance of the free market. In such a context the middling-classes also emerged and gained a foothold within this new state.  Furthering this idea of discipline and social ordering it is clear through the Sanitary Report that Chadwick’s ‘ideal’ for which the labouring class should aspire to be was certainly that of the middling class: the class who best fitted into the formation of Britain as an industrialising and capitalist nation. The middling class were seemingly more civilised than the labouring class, and more importantly they enjoyed lower rates of mortality. However, unfortunately for Chadwick, they were politically enfranchised.  This final issue as has been mentioned was significant. And within Chadwick’s own work it creates a certain paradox. 
Throughout his Sanitary Report Chadwick emphasises the importance of the respectability of domesticity, and ‘improvements’ of the labouring class through the investment in institutions of savings, schooling, respectability and religion. Chadwick generalises the domestic values of the middle class to represent the whole of English society. Emphasising the importance of appropriated behaviour and their distinction from the frugality of the aristocrats and the ‘licentious’ working-class, Chadwick establishes the “naturalness” of middle class living habits and the superiority thereof in both health and longevity.  Yet whilst placing this carrot of ‘improvement’ in front of the labouring man, Chadwick’s emphasis upon ‘improvement’ is kept within the domestic sphere, thus allowing for sanitary and social improvement. This domestic emphasis limits the working man, actively avoiding and denying the political collusion that the middling classes enjoyed. In this way Chadwick allowed the labourer only part of the carrot of improvement.  Chadwick, therefore, denies ‘members of the labouring population the opportunity of establishing the kinds of relationships with each other that facilitated the consolidation of the middle class as a political entity.’ 
In this respect one sees the attempt by Chadwick to discipline the labouring class through guidance and their own self-discipline. What is more significant here is how Chadwick is able, in the climate of a reluctant-to-reform government, to get sanitary reform passed. This can be attributed to a number of factors; most importantly, Chadwick was able in his report to incorporate the social into sanitation. Chadwick attributed filth theory not only to the causation of physical disease, but also to the causation of alcoholism and more significantly the labouring man’s potentially revolutionary behaviour.  Chadwick addressed the political issue of the day whilst explicitly avoiding overtly political rhetoric. He made political unrest a sanitary issue. By masking those social issues with the sweeter taste of health and sanitation, Chadwick makes his vision easier to swallow for a reluctant government. This as Hamlin rightly points out is the true nature of Chadwick’s Report. It was essentially a political piece of work, with social reorganization hidden behind the guise of disease prevention and public medicine. 
This material and domestic focus allowed for Chadwick to avoid the issue of poverty as a determinant of disease. Chadwick discounted issues such as adequate food, clothing and sufficient wages as consequential to health. Although seemingly avoiding the issue of the poor law, Chadwick is inadvertently addressing the problem. His vision of sanitary improvement was intended to improve the very class for whom poor relief was a viable option. If through sanitation their physical, and psychological state could be improved then they would be less depraved, less inclined to drink and perhaps less likely to need to be relieved.
Statistical information was not only a phenomenon of the Victorian period; it was also a powerful reformist tool, pioneered by the social reformist James Phillips Kay.  Information and evidence are significant factors in the understanding of Chadwick’s work both within the Royal Commission for the poor law and within his Sanitary Report. Chadwick was quick to utilise the power of information to further his reformist plan. This is evident throughout his work on the Royal Commission of the poor law, and of the Factories, and certainly within his Sanitary Report.  Influenced by his contemporary James Phillips Kay, Chadwick embarked upon the use of statistics and evidence for reformist purposes. This would seem a noble endeavour, classically associated with the reformist movement, in work such as the aforementioned Kay, and many others seeking to ‘improve England’. Chadwick was shrewder with his statistical evidence. Many historians suggest that he used only those statistics which would further his preconceived notions and aims. This is certainly evident mostly starkly, as Christopher Hamlin among other historians have identified, within the Sanitary Report. 
Chadwick’s narrowing of public health to that of sanitation is the prime example. Chadwick ignores completely the medical aspects of public health, refusing to include the medical profession into his vision. Furthermore, his emphasis upon the environmental cause of disease through filth completely ignored not only substantial evidence from physician such as Alison who exampled a complexity of issues to disease causation, but also his contemporary and friend James Phillips Kay. This narrow focus and selective evidence can be seen as a way of Chadwick avoiding certain issues for which he was reluctant to attribute to the health of the labouring class; that being poverty and the new system of poor relief. Chadwick’s focus upon the physical moved the focus away from claims by Poor Law medical officers that harsh Poor Law policies were the cause of illness and disease  Thus, for Chadwick to avoid confirming in writing that his already hated poor law was also a cause of disease; he had to change tact and use statistics to prove otherwise. ‘If hardship produced illness, a PL founded upon disincentives to seek relief was counterproductive and morally indefensible.’  Chadwick took the same attitude with the compilation of his evidence within the poor law commission. He used and selected the right evidence that would bolster his policy. There was opposition, yet Chadwick seemed, and did, amass voluminous amounts of evidence that supported his claim.  Chadwick throughout the period applied statistics to bolster his preconceived cause. He was so successful that he not only managed to enact his reforms, but also, made those reforms seem like the only viable reality.
Chadwick was certainly an active reformist during this period, and even before.  With regards to whether Chadwick was a politician in disguise, is certainly nuanced and complex. He was not a political figure; he was a reformist, and a civil servant of sorts.  Yet he certainly played the political game. He was active in much of the policy making that occurred during this period and had a significant role in the two most significant areas of reform; the poor law; and public health, for which he essentially established in England, if on somewhat narrower definitions than that of his French counterparts.  This in itself is an example of his attempts at creating a new social picture of England. His national vision extended from a centralised institutional authority to a mass social body. Everything Chadwick attempted was on a national scale. His vision of the improvement of Great Britain is evident in most of his works. And he was determined to have this vision become a reality. His selective use of evidence, the focus of his Sanitary Report, the Royal Commission on the poor law, certainly sways one in the direction of politician in disguise. Much of his work in contemporaneous context had subtle and subverted political agendas. The poor law was based on a deterrent system, which aimed at the reduction of expenditure. This is a more explicit involvement. Yet the Sanitary Reports is a prime example of a politician in disguise. The overarching focus upon the health of the labouring poor is punctuated by the inclusion of discipline and social organisation.
Yet for all these aspects, Chadwick was certainly more a product of his Benthamite roots. A man heavily influenced by Bentham’s Constitutional Code, but with his own individual drive and aspirations. In this way, improvement and reform were his true aims. He had a vision for the makeup if Britain and was determined to see that his ideas were realised, even if that meant making certain concessions to make it more appealing to government, and at times to cover his own back. One could suggest, especially within the Sanitary Report, that Chadwick chose sewers and water in a narrowing of public health because of their political innocuousness. He can be seen to actively avoid any explicit association with the politics of this area. Chadwick, unlike many of his Utilitarian contemporaries, was seemingly more inclined to diverge slightly from his Benthamite past if it meant the success of his policies.
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