The New York Times/Mr. McKinley and the Civil Service

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Mr. McKinley and the Civil Service
From The New York Times of July 30, 1897.


MR. McKINLEY AND THE CIVIL SERVICE.

The spoilsmen asked Mr. McKinley for bread and he has given them a stone — “in the neck,” as their own choice phrase is.

Here, for instance, is Senator Gallinger of New Hampshire, one of the narrowest and bitterest of his sect. He started in at the very opening of the recent session to make a furious attack on the merit system, and on Mr. Cleveland's relations to it in particular. Unquestionably there was grave occasion for severe criticism of Mr. Cleveland's Administration in some respects with reference to the civil service. In the Treasury Department, where the Secretary turned over all questions of appointment to his amazing son; in the State Department, where the Secretary allowed Mr. Quincy to carry on a most discreditable traffic in Consulships; and to a less degree in various other offices the principles of the reform, which are simply those of honest public administration, were evaded or violated.

Curiously enough, these were not the things that excited the indignation of Mr. Gallinger and his immediate associates. What angered them was that in the early part of the year 1896 Mr. Cleveland had extended the merit system in such a way as to narrow very much the field within which the spoilsmen could work their will. What Senator Gallinger plainly desired was some ground on which this change could be reversed, and President McKinley could commit on a larger scale the very faults which Mr. Cleveland had allowed. A few weeks since Mr. Gallinger's plans had proceeded so far that The Tribune felt authorized to announce that “by the 20th of July” the President would revoke the extension of the merit system made by Mr. Cleveland and would open wide the doors to the spoilsmen in the Government Printing Office, in the bureaus and divisions of all the departments at Washington, and in the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. McKinley not only has not opened wide the doors; he has deliberately put a lock on them. He has made some not very important changes in the rules as to the internal revenue offices, but he has extended the merit system to over sixty Custom Houses not included in Mr. Cleveland's order and he has adopted as to removals the following sweeping and strict rule:

“No removal shall be made from any position subject to competitive examination except for just cause and upon written charges filed with the head of the department, or other appointing officer, and of which the accused shall have full notice and an opportunity to make defense.”

The only possible criticism to be made on the rule is that it goes, perhaps, too far. Our own judgment has long been that the best practicable restraint upon the abuse of the power of removal, apart from the fact that vacancies cannot be filled for political reasons, would be a rule requiring the reasons for removal to be placed on record, and, at the option of the person removed, to be made public. The privilege of “full notice and opportunity to make defense” given to the person removed is open to two objections. One is that it breaks the force of strict discipline; the other is that, as the rules have the force of law, occasion may be taken by the courts to adjudge, first, whether the cause of removal is “just”; second, whether the “written charges” are sustained, and thus introduce confusion in the service.

But the inconveniences that might thus arise can at any time easily be remedied by a change of the rules. The significant, the important thing in the action of Mr. McKinley is the deadly blow it deals to the spoils reactionists in his own party. He not only refuses their demand that they shall again be admitted to the favors they so greedily seek and so shamelessly insist upon. He openly condemns and, in effect, defies them. He declares in an act more telling than any words that under his Administration, as under every other since 1883, whatever change is made in the merit system shall be to strengthen and extend it. To those of us who have been, as The Times has been, earnest in the support of this system since Mr. Jenckes of Rhode Island first took up its advocacy a generation since, this latest of its triumphs is particularly gratifying. It is another proof that the sober good sense and love of decency in the American people are, in the long run, invincible.


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