Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XIX. Certain Passages in Dr. Brown's Estimate which deserve the serious Consideration of all who would oppose the Subversion of a free Constitution by Corruption of Manners and Principles, and by undue Influence. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XIX. Certain Passages in Dr. Brown’s “Estimate” which deserve the serious Consideration of all who would oppose the Subversion of a free Constitution by Corruption of Manners and Principles, and by undue Influence. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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Certain Passages in Dr. Brown's “Estimate” which deserve the serious Consideration of all who would oppose the Subversion of a free Constitution by Corruption of Manners and Principles, and by undue Influence.
Few books have been more popular than Brown's Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times. He wrote with sincerity and ability; but his unfortunate end, occasioned by mental disease, had a very unfavourable influence on the circulation of his book, and his posthumous fame. Nothing can, however, be more unreasonable, then to depreciate a book, allowed by all, at its first appearance, to contain indisputable and important truth, because of the misfortune, or even misconduct of its author, subsequent to its publication. I confidently recommend the following passages to the consideration of every true lover of that free constitution which renders our country conspicuously happy and honourable among the nations which surround it.
“The restraints laid on the royal prerogative at the revolution, and the accession of liberty thus gained by the people, produced two effects with respect to parliaments. One was, that instead of being occasionally, they were thenceforward annually assembled; the other was, that whereas on any trifling offence given they had usually been intimidated or dissolved, they now found themselves possessed of new dignity and power; their consent being necessary for raising annual supplies.
“No body of men, except in the simplest and most virtuous times, ever found themselves possessed of power, but many of them would attempt to turn it to their own private advantage. Thus the parliament, finding themselves of weight, and finding, at the same time, that the disposal of all lucrative employments was vested in the crown, soon bethought themselves, that in exchange for their concurrence in granting supplies, and forwarding the measures of government, it was but equitable that the crown should concur in vesting them or their dependents with the lucrative employments of state.
“If this was done, the wheels of government ran smooth and quiet; but if any large body of claimants was dispossessed, the public uproar began, and public measures were obstructed or overturned.
“William the Third found this to be the natural turn, and set himself, like a politician, to oppose it; he therefore silenced all he could by places and pensions, and hence the origin of making of parliaments.”
“This making of parliaments, I contend, is fundi nostri calamitas, the origin of all our present political evil; it defeated the good purposes of the revolution, and tended to introduce the despotism of the Stuarts, under the mask of liberty. It arose from the corruption of the people; and has gone on augmenting it to this very day.
“Vanity, luxury, and effeminacy,” proceeds Dr. Brown, “increased beyond all belief within these thirty years; as they are of a selfish, so are they of a craving and unsatisfied nature. The present age of pleasure and unmanly dissipation hath created a train of new necessities, which in their demands outstrip every supply.
“And if the great principles of religion, honour, and public spirit are weak or lost among us, what effectual check can there be upon the great, to controul their unwarranted pursuit of lucrative employments, for the gratifications of these unmanly passions?
“In a nation so circumstanced, it is natural to imagine that next to gaming and riot, the chief attention of the great world must be turned on the business of election jobbing, of securing counties, controlling, bribing, or buying boroughs; in a word, on the possession of a great parliamentary interest.
“But what an aggravation of this evil would arise, should ever those of the highest rank, though prohibited by act of parliament, insult the laws, by interfering in elections, by soliciting votes, or procuring others to solicit them, by influencing elections in an avowed defiance of their country, and even selling vacant seats in parliament to the best bidder.”
Would not this be treason against the constitution? a more dangerous and heinous political crime than any that have been prosecuted by attornies-general? Does not this directly destroy the democratical part of the system, and establish a power independent both of the monarch and the people? Are not both, therefore, interested in putting a stop to such gross violations of law and equity?
“What,” continues Dr. Brown, “can we suppose would be the real drift of this illegitimate waste (among the great) of time, honours, wealth, and labour? Might not the very reason publicly assigned for it be this: ‘That they may strengthen themselves and families, and thus gain a lasting interest (as they call it) for their dependents, sons, and posterity?’ Now what would this imply but a supposed right or privilege of demanding lucrative employs, as the chief object of their views?—We see then how the political system of self-interest is at length completed.
“Thus faction is established, not on ambition, but on avarice: on avarice and rapacity, for the ends of dissipation.
“The great contention among those of family and fortune will be in the affair of election interest: next to effeminate pleasure and gaming; this (for the same end as gaming) will of course be the capital pursuit; this interest will naturally be regarded as a kind of family fund, for the provision of the younger branches.
“In a nation so circumstanced, many high and important posts, in every public and important profession, must of course be filled by men, who instead of ability and virtue, plead this interest (in elections) for their best title.
“Thus, in a time when science, capacity, courage, honour, religion, public spirit are rare, the remaining few who possess these virtues will often be shut out from these stations, which they would fill with honour; while every public and important employ will abound with men, whose manners and principles are of the newest fashion.
“Is not the parliamentary interest of every powerful family continually rung in the ears of its branches and dependents? And does not this inevitably tend to relax and weaken the application of the young men of quality and fortune, and render every man, who has reliance on this principle, less qualified for those very stations, which by this very principle he obtains. For why should a youth of family or fashion, (thus he argues with himself,) why should he submit to the drudgery of schools, colleges, academies, voyages, campaigns, fatigues, and dangers, when he can rise to the highest stations by the smooth and easy path of parliamentary interest?
“Where effeminacy and selfish vanity form the ruling character of a people, then those of high rank will be of all others the most vain, most selfish, most incapable, most effeminate.
“Such are the effects of the prevailing principle of self-interest in high life. But if we take into the account all that despicable train of political managers, agents, and borough-jobbers, which hang like leeches upon the great, nor ever quit their hold till they are full gorged, we shall then see this reigning evil in its last perfection. For here, to incapacity and demerit, is generally added insolence. Every low fellow of this kind looks upon the man of genius, capacity, and virtue, as his natural enemy. He regards him with an evil eye; and hence undermines or defames him; as one who thwarts his views, questions his title, and endangers his expectations.”
In another place, the same author very plainly deduces the corruption of the youth of the nation, the young nobility and gentry in particular, from parliamentary corruption.
“Notwithstanding the privilege vested in the commons of commanding the purses of their constituents, it is not difficult to point out a situation where this privilege would be nothing but a name. And as in the last century the regal and democratic branches by turns bore down the constitution, so, in such a situation as is here supposed, the real danger, though hidden, would lurk in the aristocratic branch, which would be secretly bearing down the power both of the king and people.
“The matter may be explained in a small compass. Cannot we put a case, in which the parliamentary interest of the great nobility might swallow up the house of commons? Members might be elected, indeed; and elected in form too. But by whom might they be really elected? By the free voice of the people? No impartial man would say it. It were easy to suppose thirty or forty men, who, if wanted, might go nigh to command a majority in the lower house. The members of that house might seem to be the representatives of the people; but would be, in truth, a great part of them, no more than the commissioned deputies of their respective chiefs, whose sentiments they would give, and whose interests they would pursue.
“Thus, while power would, in appearance, be centering in the lower house, it would in reality be lurking in the higher.
“This state of things might not perhaps result from any design in the aristocratic branch to destroy the constitution. They might have no farther views than those of gain, vanity, or pleasure. Notwithstanding this, their conduct might have those effects which their intentions never aspired to. Let us consider the most probable effects.
“The first fatal effect which offers itself to observation is, that the consciousness of such an increasing and exorbitant power, which the lords might acquire in the house of commons, would destroy all honest ambition in the younger gentry. They would know, that the utmost point they could hope to arrive at would only be to become the deputy of some great lord in a county or borough. All the intentions of such a post can be answered by ignorance and servility better than by genius and public spirit. People of the latter stamp, therefore, would not naturally be appointed to the task; and this, once known, would check the growth of genius and public spirit throughout the nation. The few men of ability and spirit that might be left, seeing this to be the case, would naturally betake themselves to such private amusements as a free mind can honestly enjoy. All hope, and therefore, by degrees, all desire of serving their country, would be extinguished.
“Thus honest ambition would naturally and generally be quenched. But even where ambition continued, it would be perverted. Not useful, but servile talents would be applauded; and the ruling pride would be, not that of freemen, but of slaves.”
The above remarks were made long before American independence was established, the French revolution thought of, or the discussions on the subject of parliamentary reform became general. The author wrote the pure result of impartial observation; and what he wrote deserves the serious attention of all honest men, all good members of the community. I will make no comments upon it, but leave it to operate on the mind with its own force.