Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXI. On choosing rich Men, without Parts, Spirit, or Liberality, as Representatives in the National Council. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XXI. On choosing rich Men, without Parts, Spirit, or Liberality, as Representatives in the National Council. - 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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On choosing rich Men, without Parts, Spirit, or Liberality, as Representatives in the National Council.
It has been long observed, that none are more desirous of increasing their property than they who have abundance. The greatest misers are those who possess the greatest riches. None are fonder of the world than they who have engrossed a large share of it. If they should acknowledge that they have enough money, yet they cannot but confess, at the same time, that they think themselves entitled, in consequence of their property, to civil honours, power, and distinction. They have a kind of claim, in their own opinion, to court favour; especially as they are ready to use the influence, which their riches give them, in support of any minister for the time being, and in the general extension of royal prerogative. Are such men likely to be independent members of a senate, honestly following the dictates of their judgment or conscience, and consulting no interest but that of man in general, and the people in particular, by whom they are deputed? There are no men greedier of gain than such men, and none more attached to those vain honours, which a minister bestows in order to facilitate the movements of his political machine. None will rake so deeply in the dirt to pick up a penny as a rich miser; none will contend more eagerly for a feather in the cap, than those whose minds are weak, empty, and attached to the world by the consciousness of being, in great measure, its proprietors.
But what is it to me, as an elector, that the man who solicits my vote has, by great cunning, sordid arts, and insatiable avarice, accumulated great riches? Has wisdom, has virtue, has knowledge, has philanthropy increased with his increasing fortune? Enormous wealth, acquired in the short space of half a human life, may be taken, without any want of candour, in most instances, as presumptive evidence of little principle in the means of acquiring, and as little generosity in the modes of giving or expending it. Perhaps he inherits his unbounded riches. In this case, he has not to plead the merit of industry. His ancestors have left him vast sums of money; when perhaps his own talents would scarcely have earned him a penny, or kept him out of the parish poor-house.
Nevertheless, because he is rich, though totally destitute of parts and virtue, he stands forward boldly as a candidate to represent a city or a county. He finds thousands ready to clamour on his side, and to give him their vote. He can treat bountifully, open houses, and give away ribands plentifully. Therefore he is constituted a senator, a national counsellor, commissioned to vote away the people's money, and to decide on the most important questions of constitutional liberty.
What can he do but put himself into harness, and be driven his daily stage, by the political coachman, the prime minister? He cannot go alone. He has not sense enough to judge for himself in the smallest difficulty. He has not spirit enough to preserve his independence; therefore he will consider himself merely as a puppet, to be moved by the higher powers, at their will; a stop-gap, to fill up a place which might be occupied by an abler member, whose virtues and talents might serve the public indeed, but would render him troublesome to those who gladly dispense with all virtuous interference.
Let us suppose, for argument sake, four such poor creatures (such I call them, though rich in gold) chosen to represent the city of London, the grand emporium of the world, and, from its number of inhabitants, claiming a fuller representation than any part of the nation. I own the supposition is most disgraceful; for it can never happen, one would think, that such a city should not supply men of the first abilities, for a trust so important and so honourable. But let us suppose the city, from a system of manners favoured by, and favourable to, ministerial corruption, so far degraded as to choose four men of very moderate abilities and characters, merely because they happen to be rich contractors, and of sycophantic dispositions, likely to pursue their own interest by servilely obeying the beck of a minister.
Suppose them once in for seven years. The taverns are now shut up, the advertisements, the canvassing all forgotten, and they commence as arrant courtiers as the meanest tool in power, put, by a paltry patron, into a rotten borough of Sussex, Wiltshire, or Cornwall.
But mark the mischief. As they nominally represent the first city in the world, the measures which they vote for, (because they are bidden, and hope for contracts and baronetages,) are supposed, by foreigners at least, to have the concurrence of the most important part of the British empire. Though the minister may despise them from his heart, personally, yet he avails himself of that weight which the place they represent gives them in the eyes of strangers. “The great city is with him,” in (the only place he pretends to know it,) the house of representatives.
Their ignorance, their meanness, and their sycophancy, have another effect, highly injurious to all plans of constitutional reformation. “Here” (says the courtier) “are four men sent by the first city in the world. Are they better senators, or more respectable men, than those who are sent from Old Sarum, or any of the boroughs inhabited by beggars, and purchased by lords, as a lucrative speculation?” The probability is, (he will say of them,) that, with more greediness after gain, from the sordid habits of their youth, they have less of the accomplishments and liberality of gentlemen. Their eagerness to raise their families, renders them more tractable tools, in the hands of a skilful minister, than those whose families are already raised, and who, however they may place themselves under the guidance of the peerage, have had an education which ought to have given them enlarged minds and sentiments of honour.
Thus the friend to despotic principles, and the opposer of parliamentary reform, draws an argument from the meanness of rich men, (sent by great cities to parliament merely because they are rich,) against all improvement of the representation. The boroughs, he alleges, send at least gentlemen and well-informed men, though in circumstances comparatively indigent; whereas these great commercial bodies, placing all excellence in the possession of superior wealth, depute men as senators, who are unqualified for any department beyond the warehouse or the countinghouse, whose views are confined, and purposes habitually sordid and selfish. He urges, that, from the specimens afforded by great cities, there is no reason to conclude that the extension of the right of suffrage would render the representative body more virtuous or enlightened. He doubts whether it would be favourable to liberty. If great bodies depute men only for their property, since they who have most usually want most, none will be readier to sell themselves and their constituents to a minister, for a feather or a sugar-plum, than the representatives of great bodies, delegated to parliament merely because they have inherited or acquired excessive riches, with scarcely any ideas beyond the multiplication-table.
Men deputed to parliament should certainly be far above want; but I contend that riches, independent of personal merit, can never be a sufficient recommendation. It is the most important trust that can be reposed in man. It requires a most comprehensive education, strong natural abilities, and, what is greater than all, a just, honest, upright heart, with a manly firmness, and an enlarged philanthropy.
Can there be any difficulty in finding, at any time, four men of such character in the city of London, or two such in any county of England? Certainly not; especially when the corrupting idea shall be exploded, that property is the best qualification for a national counsellor and lawgiver. Able and honest men are not the most inclined to thrust themselves forward, and to obtrude themselves, much less to enter into competition, when all the influence of riches and ministerial favour will be exerted to traduce their character, to frustrate their endeavours, and send them back to private life with their fortunes injured, and their tranquillity disturbed. The electors must search for such men, and draw them from their virtuous obscurity. Thus honoured, they will go into the senate with the pure motives of serving their country and mankind, and return with clean hands, sufficiently rewarded by the blessings of the people.
The city of London, and all great cities, as well as counties, are to be most seriously exhorted, to consider the importance of the trust they delegate at an election, and to choose men of known abilities, and experienced attachment to the cause of the people. They should beware of men, however opulent and respectable in private life, who can have no other motive for obtruding on public life, for which they are unqualified, but to raise themselves and families to fortune and distinction, by selling their trust to a minister. Such men can never be friends to liberty and the people. They contribute, by means of their property, to the general system of corruption, and, perhaps without knowing it, (for they know but little,) promote, most effectually, the spirit of despotism.