This paper contributes to a genealogy of the discourses and government of poverty. It offers a statement of what might be understood by a genealogical perspective and method, and then focuses on the emergence of a ‘liberal mode of govemment, of poverty in the early nineteenth century, of which the reformed poor law in England is emblematic but not exhaustive. The emergence of this mode of government is followed through a series of related transformations of the older systems of the relief and administration of'the Poor’, best understood as a dimension of'police’ in its archaic sense. The conditions of the problematization of this older system of governance are discussed as are transformations in the language and practice of government in matters of population, economy, police, and so on. This emergence has implications for the formation of a national labour market, notions of self-governance and responsibility, forms of patriarchy and household, and issues of morality, philanthropy, administration, and the state. Above all, it is within this liberal mode of government that we can witness both the constitution of poverty as a field of knowledge and intervention, perhaps for the first time, and also the various surfaces of emergence for what will become ‘the social’. The implications of this liberal mode of government for our present are far from exhausted.