This article examines the circumstances that led to the passage of the Statute of Charitable Uses of 1601, whose preamble unintentionally created a definition charity that resonates in the law today. The Statute was part of a legislative package of poor laws passed by Parliament to deal with an economic and political crisis that threatened the Tudor regime. The Statute’s primary purpose was to provide a mechanism to make trustees accountable for the appropriate administration of charitable assets, which in turn would encourage increased private charity for the relief of poverty, lessoning the tax burden of poor relief. Certain charitable beneficiaries were favored and others disadvantaged to spur private sector resources to resolve public problems, an approach used in times of crisis in the United States through tax incentives.
The article discusses the evolution of the laws regulating the poor, which culminated in the Poor Law Legislation of 1601, a process that developed attitudes toward the poor, concepts of need and of charity that remain with us today. A number of questions concerning the Statute are explored: why were some things included and others equally charitable, such as hospitals, not? Why does the wording of the Preamble paraphrase a part of the fourteenth century epic poem, The Vision of Piers Plowman? How did the Statute fit within the broader state effort to control the poor? What was the impact of the Statute on improving charitable accountability? Did the Statute encourage increased giving? Is there anything we can glean from the Tudor experience of dealing with an economic and social crisis to apply to disaster relief assistance and philanthropic giving today?
Fishman, James J., "The Political Use of Private Benevolence: The Statute of Charitable Uses" (2008). Elisabeth Haub School of Law Faculty Publications. 487.