Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXII. Of the despotic Influence of great Merchants over their Subalterns, of Customers over their Tradesmen, and rich trading Companies over their various Dependents, in compelling them to vote for Court Candidates for Seats in Parliment, merely t - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION XXII. Of the despotic Influence of great Merchants over their Subalterns, of Customers over their Tradesmen, and rich trading Companies over their various Dependents, in compelling them to vote for Court Candidates for Seats in Parliment, merely t - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of the despotic Influence of great Merchants over their Subalterns, of Customers over their Tradesmen, and rich trading Companies over their various Dependents, in compelling them to vote for Court Candidates for Seats in Parliment, merely to serve private interest, without the smallest regard for public Liberty and Happiness, or the Fitness or Unfitness of the Candidate.
The rottenness of corruption, originating from ministers, intoxicated with the love of power, and greedy after the emoluments of office, is sometimes found (especially under the influence of false alarms) to pervade the whole mass of the people, and to infect the very heart of the body-politic. The vitals of liberty become tainted, and, without great efforts, a mortification may be justly apprehended.
In this corrupt state, little despots, aspiring to court favour, hoping to draw the notice of the minister on their faithful endeavours to serve him, arise in almost every town and village of the country, and in every street of a great city. They claim and exercise a jurisdiction over certain vassals, as they think them, their tradesmen, their tenants, and all others, who derive emoluments from them in the way of their business, or expect their custom and countenance. If the vassals presume to act for themselves as men and freemen, they lose their business, their dwelling places, their farms, and all chance of acquiring a competency. The vengeance of the little despots pursues them; and frequently quits not the chace, till it has hunted them down to destruction.
Even in the city of London, opulent as it is, and independent as it might be, a city which used to be the first to stand up in defence of liberty, an over-bearing influence can find its way to the obscurest district, and insinuate itself into the blindest alley. The great merchant or manufacturer, who is necessarily connected with many subordinate traders or workmen, considers the influence he gains from extensive connections in business, as a very valuable and vendible commodity at the market of a minister. Naturally wishing to make the most of his trade, he resolves to treat this connection as a part of his stock, and cause it to bring him an ample return. At least he will adventure. It may be a prize to him, as it has been to many. Much depends on his own prudential management of the commodity. It may lead to a valuable contract, especially if kind fortune should kindle the flames of war; it may open the path to court favours of various kinds; it may ultimately confer a seat in the house, and perhaps a baronetage. This last honour is highly desirable, as it removes at once the filth that naturally attaches to the very name of citizen, dealer and chapman.
In the city of London, the majority of electors, who send the few members of parliament allotted to it, are of the middle, and indeed of the inferior rank of shopkeepers, rarely rising to the dignity of merchants, who reside at the houses with great gates, or rather in the new squares, two or three miles northwest of the polluted and polluting city: for such is the insolence of little city despots who are in a very great way, that they commonly despise the freedom of the city where their counting-house stands, and where they gain their plums. They do not condescend to be free of the city. They would consider it as a degradation from their gentility to be liverymen and members of a city company. Liverymen, indeed! What! great men, as all bankers are, East India directors, usurious money-lenders, living magnificently in Portland-place or Portman-square, or the grand avenues to them, to be livery-men! Horrid degradation! The very idea is shocking to the spirit of despotism. It is time enough to take up their freedom of the city, when it is necessary, as candidates, to possess that qualification. There are too many votes to make it worth while to be a voter. These great men, therefore, view the electors as subordinate persons, whom they may send on an errand to Guildhall to vote for the minister's candidate, just as they would despatch a clerk or porter to the Custom-house to take a Custom-house oath, or to do any job connected with the low trade or manufacture which enables them to associate with the fine folk of St. James's.
The elector who goes to the hustings must, indeed, vote upon his oath, that he has received and will receive no bribe. He does not consider the lucrative employments and the emoluments arising from the great man's custom, which would be lost on disobedience, as a bribe, and therefore votes against his judgment, conscience, and inclination, without a murmur; especially as his daily bread may perhaps depend on his obsequiousness, and very likely the comfort and security of a wife and a large family.
This conduct of the great men is not only unconstitutional and affronting to the city, but as truly despotic in principle as any thing done by the Grand Seignior. It is mean also and base to the last degree; for the great men usually exert not their influence from friendship to the minister, or to a candidate, or from any regard to a cause which they think connected with the public good; but solely to serve themselves, to provide for poor relations, to enrich or to aggrandize an upstart family, already rendered wretched and contemptible by fungous pride.
The glorious rights and privileges of Englishmen, of which we read and hear so much, are then to be all sacrificed to serve a man, who perhaps went out as a writer to the East Indies, and returned in five or six years, laden with riches; the injured widow and orphan in vain lifting up their hands, and uttering their lamentations over the deaf ocean, while the spoiler is hastening to Europe with that treasure which, as it was gained by extortion, is to be expended in corruption.
Malè parta male dilabuntur.
A prodigious recommendation this, as a representative in parliament of industrious citizens, who have toiled all their lives at the counter, or in the manufactory, for a bare competence!
When nabobs, as they are called, perfect aliens, recommended only by riches and court influence, can seat themselves for great cities and counties as easily as they used for Cornish boroughs, there certainly is reason to fear that the spirit of despotism has rapidly increased, and is proceeding to destroy all remains of public virtue among the people. The question naturally arises, if a nabob, a perfect alien, should ever be elected for the city of London; whether, in so large a body as the free-born citizens, and among the livery of London, a man is not to be found who has served a regular apprenticeship, gone through all the gradations of successful trade, and become a member of the corporation, worthy to represent the first commercial body in the universe? Is it necessary to import members, as we do tea and muslins, from China and Bengal? Honesty, virtue, independence, and abilities, must indeed be rare qualities, from Temple-bar to Whitechapel, if not enough of them can be found to constitute a representative in parliament. Must the English oak be neglected for exotics raised rapidly in warm climates; and from the hasty growth of which, very little is to be depended upon, when the wind and weather assail them? A sad encouragement this to the young merchants, traders, and manufacturers who enter regularly on business, and become freemen and liverymen, to find that the most industrious and successful trader, and the best character, cannot secure the honourable appointments and important trusts, in the gift of their fellow-citizens! to find, that persons, who never served apprenticeship, never carried on trade, never became free, never were connected in the city companies, perfect strangers to the corporation, and avowed despisers of them all, shall be made, by the influence of a minister, and the overbearing weight of oriental riches, legislators for the emporium of Europe! If such an event were ever to happen, it would discourage all virtue in the rising generation of merchants, traders, and manufacturers; and teach them, that every thing bows to almighty money, however obtained, and to court influence, always ready to favour overbearing and overgrown property. It would be a melancholy symptom of degeneracy among the people. It would show that the manly spirit begins to fade and wither, as it has long done in Turkey and Egypt, under the spirit of despotism.
It is truly alarming to all true Englishmen to see great trading companies using the influence which riches bestow, in seconding the views of a minister, without the least attention to the public good, the preservation of liberty, and the happiness of the human race. It is certain, that men united in corporate bodies will act in a manner which they would be ashamed of in their private capacities; because, when so united, the responsibility appears to be thrown from individuals on the aggregate, and so attaching to every one, can be fixed on none. Such bodies may be truly dangerous, when, from the hope of titles and other favours, the members who compose them, are servilely devoted to the minister; not indeed to the man, but to the favourite at court, who, from his office, has in his hands the means of corruption, contracts, loans, places at the various public boards, appointments in all the professions, and, above all, titles.
Such monopolizing fraternities attack liberty with the club of Hercules. They rise with gigantic force. Reason, argument, the law and the constitution yield to them, as the chaff before the wind. If they should not receive a powerful check from the people at large, who have not yet fallen down worshippers of gold, they must go on to establish, on the banks of the Thames, oriental despotism: and it would not be wonderful to see the two sheriffs riding up Cheapside on elephants, with the lord mayor borne in a palanquin, on the necks of liverymen, hastening to prostrate themselves at the feet of a prime minister, now become as great as the emperor of China: it would not be wonderful to see bankers erecting an oligarchy; the great house in Leadenhall-street a temple, and a golden calf the god.