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ART. IV. - CIVIL-SERVICE REFORM.
“In the government of this Commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them ; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them ; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.” The Massachusetts Bill of Rights, which contains this article, inimitable for grasp and conciseness, adds elsewhere the warning that among the precautions absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a free government is a frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Laying aside, therefore, the usual arguments in favor of civilservice reform,- arguments drawn from finance or from administrative convenience,- this essay will attempt to show that the soundness and vigor, nay, even the purpose of the reform movement, must depend upon its recurrence to the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
When President Grant took the oath of office, he held in his hands a greater power than any President chosen for many years past or likely to be chosen for many years to come. Turn which way he liked, it was supposed that a majority of the people was ready to lend him its support. Whatever might have been said of his abilities or character as a whole, it was still universally believed that in the two essential qualities of honesty and obstinacy he enjoyed a considerable superiority over any candidate that the country could hope to see pass the ordeal of a political caucus. If there was one quality expressed in General Grant's face, it was that of dogged resolution. If there was any moral in his career, it was to be found in the example of silent perseverance. The most careful search could not have produced out of the whole population of the United States a single man who had offered more proofs of a stubborn will, nor one from whom the public might expect a more resolute adherence to a purpose once fixed.
It was commonly supposed that the new President had determined, even before the inauguration, on his course in regard
to the civil service. His non-partisan character, his military training, his inheritance of an administrative system in which the two great parties divided the patronage, and, above all, his open and frank expressions of opinion, publicly reported and undenied, all seemed to point towards a very moderate exercise of executive power. The public, outside the ranks of the trifling proportion of citizens who are directly engaged in managing party machinery, accepted this foregone conclusion with a sense of relief and almost of joy. The press was resigned to it, and as a body was ready if not actively to support, at any rate to abstain from actively opposing the conservative tendencies of the President. A stranger who looked at the national institutions with the old assumption that the voice of the people guides the course of the government, would have thought nothing more easy than for the President to lift his administration, by a single touch, out of the mire of political corruption.
Perhaps the President himself shared in this belief. At all events, the most natural explanation of his first proceedings is to be found in some such idea. He selected a Cabinet which seemed to have but one bond of sympathy, and this one bond the common freedom from political entanglement. The wish to escape party dictation was more evident than the means of doing so were well chosen. The attempt failed, and the President yielded to political pressure so far as to make a new selection ; but even after this partial check, the Cabinet contained only one member who was distinctly a representative rather of the Republican party than of the Republican sentiment of the country.
The Cabinet once formed, it became necessary to establish a rule in regard to inferior appointments. Here too the popular expectation turned out to be well founded. Instructions were duly given to the effect that there should be no sweeping and partisan changes. Removals from office might indeed be made in cases of incompetence or misbehavior, or for reasons of economy, or even where extreme partisanship had compromised the loyalty due to the government, but no general proscription on account of political opinions was to be authorized. This was the principle laid down by the President to the mem
bers of his Cabinet for the rule of the departments, - a principle sound, just, and popular, which deserved and in the end would probably have received universal applause.
How was it that this rule was not carried into effect? Upon whom does the blame rest that this opportunity, which was so rare and so promising, was thrown away? That the President's intentions were defeated here even more decisively than in the arrangement of the Cabinet, is only too evident, but that the blame for this defeat rests on him or on his advisers is an assumption that the public is not justified in making. However strongly one may be prejudiced against General Grant's final capitulation, it is only his due to say that he did not surrender with a good grace. No distant observer can judge fairly of the difficulties to which a President is subjected when he attempts to maintain such a position in face of the party organization which supports him. Nothing could be easier than to announce that faithful and competent servants of the government should not be disturbed, but nothing was more difficult than to maintain the promise. In the struggle which followed, the President stood alone. The great mass of his friends, who cared nothing for office or patronage, could neither see what was going forward, nor could they lend him encouragement or support. They only knew that General Grant, penned up in the White House, was surrounded by a hungry army of political adventurers whose trade was an object of popular odium or contempt.
Had the army of office-seekers marched alone against the White House, General Grant would probably have routed it, large as it was, with the utmost ease. Such men might fret him, but they would have found him a difficult instrument to play upon. They came, therefore, supported on one side by all the personal influence, on the other by all the political power, they could control, and day after day the whole phalanx flung itself upon the President. Escape was impossible. There are many things that a President cannot evade, and among the first of these is the duty of listening with patience and replying with courtesy to the leading men of his party. A senator may be tedious, ill-mannered, and a notorious rogue, but the double majesty of State and Senate speaks from his lips and commands a hearing.
Nor was it possible for the President to say that the remonstrances and the complaints of office-seekers were without foundation. The practice of removing officials, in order to appoint political or personal friends to their vacant posts, was one which custom had firmly established. Whether good or bad, it existed, and President Grant had been nominated and elected without having given any public warning that this custom was to be changed. To act upon the new rule without suitable notice was unfair to his friends; for however just the reform might be in the abstract, in practice it would be considered a refusal of confidence to individuals, and would tend to discredit them in the eyes of their constituents. A friendly appeal of this sort was difficult to resist. The applicant was perhaps a soldier, a comrade of the President, a man who had suffered in the national cause. His spokesman might be a member of Congress, a consistent Republican, and a cordial supporter of General Grant in days when his supporters were few; as a member of Congress his value might be all the greater because he came from a district which no other Republican could control, and where even he thought the executive patronage essential for his re-election. He would urge that the principle of rotation in office was a necessary element in the organization of parties; it held them together, stimulated their activity, and could not be suddenly abandoned without a shock, the only possible result of which would be that the President must lose a devoted friend in Congress in order to substitute a Democrat in his place, and this for the mere purpose of retaining Andrew Johnson's officials. Or if the President held firm against reasoning, there remained the earnest appeal to personal friendship, far more difficult to resist or evade than any weapon in the whole armory of logic. Even when this bad failed to affect a muscle of the President's dogged and imperturbable features, there were expedients in reserve which might smooth away every difficulty. There are few things to which politicians will not descend, and one favorite method by which to rid themselves of their enemies, as it is the most dishonest and the most insidious, is generally the most successful. The duties of a government officer are such as very commonly make
trouble between him and the persons with whom he is obliged to come in contact, and it frequently happens that men who imagine themselves ill-treated are ready to believe, and active in spreading, any charges against a government officer whose only fault is perhaps too great activity or too sharp a tongue. To put these charges on paper is an easy task, and to obtain a list of signatures extensive enough to call for attention is not very difficult, if the affair is carefully managed. If the treasury could tell the secret history of the many attempts made, not only by the famous whiskey ring, but by the more dangerous and powerful political ring, to drive old and tried servants from the public service, no one could fail to see that even in the best times the department is often deceived and with difficulty maintains its ground against outside pressure. There seems to be no limit to the elasticity of respectable men's consciences when their interests and their pride are involved. Thus the provision that government officers shall not be removed except for cause may be practically evaded, and the President or the Secretary, wearied out by incessant annoyance, is happy at last to yield the point and to cover his conscience by the “ charges” which he has never investigated.
All this, however, is but child's play. The President might perhaps have yielded to these incessant personal appeals or to the small intrigues which backed them, but he would have yielded in this case to individual influence, not to political combinations; he would have lowered his personal authority, but he would not have deserted his official trust. To show that the heart of the evil is here, and that, until reform can reach this height, reform must be imperfect and may be mischievous, it will be necessary to look back for an instant on the past history of the government.
The early administrations, from the time of Washington to the time of Jackson, were, in spite of all political differences, practically one continuous government; that is, the President, whoever he might be, stood as regarded the legislature and the political parties as merely the temporary head of a permanent executive system, which was meant to furnish, and did in fact furnish, the necessary solidity and continuity without which no government can last. The President represented,