The province of reward is the last asylum of arbitrary power. In the early stages of society, punishments, pardons,and rewards, were equally lavished without measure and without necessity. The infliction of punishment has already in a measure been subject to regulation: at some future time rules will be laid down for the granting of pardons; and last of all, for the bestowment of rewards. If punishment ought not to be inflicted with out formal proof of the commission of crime, neither ought reward to be conferred without equally formal proof of desert.
It may be allowed, that in point of importance, the difference between the two cases is great; that punishment inflicted without trial excites universal alarm, whilst reward conferred without desert excites no such feelings. But these considerations only prove that the advantage of formal procedure in the distribution of reward is limited to the prevention of prodigality, and of the other abuses by which the value of reward is diminished.
At Rome, if certain travellers may be believed, it is the custom, when a saint is about to be canonized, to allow an advocate, who in familiar language is called the advocate of the devil, to plead against his admission. If this advocate had always been faithful to his client, the calender might not have been so full as at present. Be this as it may, the idea itself it excellent, and might advantageously be borrowed by politics from religion. L'Italico valor non è ancor morto: there are yet some lessons to be learned in the capital of the world.
It is reported of Peter the Great, that when he condescended to pass through every gradation of military rank, from the lowest to the highest in his empire, he took no step without producing regular certificates of his qualifications. We may be allowed to suppose that even with inferior recommendations to those produced by the great prince, he could have succeeded. There was no advocate for the devil to contest the point, and even had there been one his fidelity would have been doubtful: but had the qualifications of the Czar been as imperfect as, according to the history, they were complete, his submitting to produce them would have offered a noble lesson.
In England when a dormant peerage is claimed by any individual, the attorney-general is constituted the advocate for the devil, and charged to examine into and produce everything which can invalidate his title. Wherefore is he not thus employed when it is proposed to create new peers? Why should he not be allowed to urge everything which can be said against the measure? Is it feared that he would be too often successful?
In the distribution of rewards, were it always necessary publicly to assign the reason for their bestowment, a restraint would be imposed upon princes and their ministers, to which they are unwilling to submit. There formerly existed in Sweden a custom, or positive law, obliging the king to insert in the patent conferring a pension or title the reason for the grant. In 1774, this custom was abolished by an express law inserted in the Gazette of that court, declaring that the individuals honoured by the bounty of the king should be idelity would have been doubtful: but had the qualifications of the Czar been as imperfect as, according to the history, they were complete, his submitting to produce them would have offered a noble lesson.
In England, the remuneratory branch of arbitrary power has begun to be pruned. Except in particular cases, the king is not allowed to grant a pension exceeding £300 per annum, without the consent of parliament. Since the passing of the act containing this restriction, the candidates for pensions have been but few.
When M. Necker undertook the administration of the finances in France, the total of the acknowledged pensions, without reckoning the secret gratuities, which were very considerable, amounted to twenty-seven millions of livres. In England where the national wealth was not less than in France, the pensions did not amount to the tenth part of this sum. It is thus that the difference between a limited and an absolute monarchy may be exhibited, even in figures.
In Ireland, the king upon his sole authority, in l783, created an order of knighthood; thus profiting by what remained of the fragments of arbitrary power. No blame was imputed to him for establishing this tax upon honour: had he levied a tax upon property, the nation might not have been so tractable. Those who hoped to share in the new treasure were careful not to raise an outcry against its establishment: those at whose expense this treasure was established, did not understand this piece of finesse; they opened their eyes widely but comprehended nothing. The measure could not have been better justified by circumstances. Every day the crown found itself stripped of some prerogative, justly or unjustly the subject of envy; it was therefore high time to avail itself of the small number of those, in the exercise of which it was still tolerated. Become independent of Great Britain, the honour of the Irish nation seemed to require a decoration of this kind: for what is a kingdom without an order of knighthood?
To enter into the consideration of the details requisite for the establishment of a system of remuneratory procedure, comes not within the present part of our design: a very slight sketch of the leading principles on which it might be grounded, is the utmost that can here be given. The general idea would of course be taken from the system established in penal and civil cases. Between these systems, the most striking difference would, however, arise from the interest and wishes of the agent whose act might be the subject of investigation, with respect to the publicity of the act. In the one case, the consequences of such his act, in case it were proved, being pernicious to him, all his endeavour would be to keep it concealed: in the other, these consequences being beneficial, his endeavour would be to place it in the most conspicuous light imaginable. In the first case, his endeavours would be to delay the process and if possible make it void: in the latter to expedite it and keep it valid.
The most striking point of coincidence is the occasion there is in both cases for two parties. In the civil branch there can hardly be a deficiency in this respect; there being commonly two individuals whose interests are opposite, and known and felt to be so. But in the penal branch, in one very large division of it, there is naturally no such opposition; I mean in that which concerns offences against the public only. Here, therefore, the law has been obliged to create such an opposition, and has accordingly created it by the establishment of a public prosecutor. In the remuneratory branch of procedure, there is a similar absence of natural opposition, and accordingly the grand desideratum is the appointment of an officer whose business it should be to contest on the part of the public, the title to whatever reward is proposed to be granted in this year. He might be entitled, for shortness, by some such name as that of Contestor-general. Without a prosecutor-general, in the large and important division of cases above mentioned, there would not, unless by accident---I mean when an individual is engaged in the task of prosecution by public spirit, or what is the more natural, by private pique---be any suit instituted, any punishment inflicted. For want of a contestor-general there is not unless by a similar accident any check given to the injustice of unmerited remuneration. Upon the whole, then, the penal and civil branches of procedure, but particularly the penal, may in all cases serve either as the models, or, if the term may be admitted, as the anti-models of the remuneratory branch of procedure.