This project tackles an entrenched belief in Victorian economics and social policy: that “less valuable” human lives could be justifiably disposed of in the name of social stability and free market capitalism. This theory had material consequences in the nineteenth century as Britain embraced an increasingly laissez-faire version of capitalism. The government repealed the former welfare system, forcing the unemployed to choose between the humiliation of the workhouse, the risks of emigration, or starvation. However, the working-class people these policies sought to discard were not passive victims. Risking imprisonment, they utilized an illegal, “unstamped” newspaper culture to highlight the cruelty of these policies and argue for the value of their own lives. In these newspapers, the affected population characterized the New Poor Law as a form of murder, described emigration as forced “transportation” or “disposal,” and argued that their lives were more valuable than the “idle” wealthy who grew rich off of the products of their labor. The recent digitization of these unauthorized newspapers enables us to uncover these voices. Examining early Chartist resistors to later Socialist writers, we investigate the rhetorical strategies of Victorians who stood against this logic of disposability. The questions this research raises remain vital in our current political climate. As we continue to debate who belongs in the nation and the value of different human lives, this research illuminates the historical roots of those debates and the strategies that our predecessors used to argue against the disposal of human life.
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