We have already seen that a salary may be employed as a means of insuring the responsibility of an individual, and as a moral antiseptic to preserve him from the influence of corruption. By the sale of offices, it has been seen that the actual expense of a salary may be diminished, and even reduced to nothing. It is therefore evident that the important circumstance is, that the individual should possess the requisite portion of the precious matter of reward, and not that it should have been given to him. If he possess it of his own, so much the better; and the more he already possesses, the less is it necessary to give him. In England, such are the attractions of power and dignity, that the number of candidates for their possession has been found so large, that it has been thought desirable to limit the selection to the number of those who possess the required quantity of this moral antiseptic; and this circumstance has given birth to what have been called qualifications.
The most remarkable and important offices to which these pecuniary qualifications have been attached, are those of justices of the peace and members of parliament. A justice of the peace ought to possess at least £100 per annum of landed property. There is no reasonable objection against this law. The office is one of those for which an ordinarily liberal education is sufficient. It is at the same time such an office, that the individual invested with it might do much mischief were he not restrained by powerful motives.
As a qualification for the more important office of member of parliament, the law requires of the member for a borough or city a similar qualification of £300 per annum, and of the member for a county of £600 per annum. This case differs widely from the other. Sufficient talent for carrying the laws into execution is possessed by a multitude of individuals; but few are able to determine what laws ought to be framed. The science of legislation is still in its cradle---it has scarcely been begun to be formed in the cabinets of philosophers: among legislators in name, scarcely any other practice can be found than that of children, who in their prattle copy what they have learned of their nurses. That a science may be learned, a motive is necessary; that the science of legislation may be learned, or rather may be created, motives so much the more powerful are necessary, as this science is most repulsive and thorny. For the pursuit of this study, an ardent and persevering mind is required, which can scarcely be expected to be formed in the lap of ease, of luxury, and of wealth. Among those whose wants have been forestalled from their cradle---among those who become legislators to gratify their vanity or relieve their ennui---there can scarcely be found one who could be called a legislator without mockery How shall he who possesses everything without the trouble of thinking, be led to subject himself to the labour of thought? If be desirable that legislators should be men of enlarged and well-instructed minds, they must be sought among those who possess but little wealth---among those who, oppressed with their insignificance, are stimulated by ambition, and even by hunger, to distinguish themselves; they must besought among those who possess the habits of Cyrus and not of Sardanapalus. Among the children of luxury, of whom the great mass of senators chosen by a rich people will always be composed, there are but few who will undergo the fatigue of studying the lessons which, at the expense of so much labour, have been furnished them by Beccaria and Adam Smith! If it be expected, then, that from among it number the rivals of these great masters should be found? Qualifications in this case tend to exclude the individuals endowed with the greatest moral and intellectual capacity.
The reasons, however, in favour of qualifications are plausible. It is alleged, that the possession of a certain property tends to guarantee the independence of its possessor, and that in no other situation is independence more desirable than in that of a deputy appointed to watch over and defend the interests of the people against the encroachments of the executive power, supplied as that power almost necessarily is with so many means of seduction. To this it may be replied, that it is not the poor alone who are liable to be seduced: multitudes possessing property exceeding in value the qualifications required, are biassed by the seductive influence of places and pensions, whilst the poor remain unmoved.
A law of this nature, whose effect, were it strictly executed, would be to exclude the most capable, is made to be evaded, and in fact has constantly been evaded: among those who have acted the most conspicuous parts in the British House of Commons, many have been able to enter there only by an evasion of this law. Means might be provided which would afford a perfect guarantee against such evasions; but happily, upon this, as upon many other occasions, the veil that hides from human weakness the distant inconveniences of bad laws, hides also the means necessary for rendering such laws efficacious.
Some years ago, a member, the honesty of whose intentions could not be doubted, proposed to augment the qualifications for cities and boroughs from £300 to £600 per annum. The proposition, after having made considerable progress, fell to the ground. I know not whether this happened from a conviction of its trifling utility, or from one of those accidents which in that slippery path equally befall the most useful and most mischievous projects.
When the greatest possible freedom is given to popular suffrage, and even when no corrupt influence is used, the popular employment of wealth, being of all species of merit that of which people in general are best qualified to judge, and most disposed to esteem, there naturally exists an aristocracy of wealth. Is it desirable that this aristocracy should be rendered necessary and complete.?