Chapter 1: The Background
The chapter traces the origin of welfare practices and caring for the needy from primitive times to the Elizabethan Poor Laws. References include Hammurabi, a Babylonian ruler who included protection of the vulnerable a part of his code in 2000 BC and the ancient Greeks and Romans (including Aristotle, 384-322 BC) who considered giving to charity a virtue.
Perhaps more important to American welfare, were ancient Jewish doctrines which established that giving and receiving were duties. Those who could give were obliged to do so, while those who were in need were obliged to accept help. The Talumd codified these tenants, and later, the Decretum, established similar laws and traditions among Christians. Neither the Talmud nor the Decretum considered poverty a crime. Mutual aid was sufficient to meet the needs of the poor in ancient times.
Feudalism also provided social insurance, since feudal lords provided for the needs of serfs. During the Middle Ages, hospitals were important centers to poor relief, and their practices extended far beyond providing assistance to the ill. The church was the most important source of aid administration during medieval times. The church was a public institution and instituted a compulsory tax.
The dissolution of feudalism and the transition to a capital and industrial-based economy resulted in greater social disorder and job uncertainty. The introduction and gradual replacement of earlier forms of work with wage labor created unemployment and made sustenance dependent upon the market. When combined with factors such as the bubonic plague of 1348-1349 and the Protestant Reformation of 1536, which dissolved the church and left those previously cared for by the church to fend for themselves, the transition to a market economy resulted in social and economic upheaval. By the mid-14th century, the state had to