Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz/Inviting a Deluge

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Advices from Washington authorize the belief that the non-introduction of a bill for the appointment of a commission to consider and frame a plan of monetary reform for submission to Congress is not owing to any unwillingness of President McKinley to have such a measure brought forward, but to the questionable attitude of some of the Republican leaders in Congress itself. It is said that President McKinley sincerely desires to address a special message to Congress recommending the immediate adoption of such a measure, that the principal, if not the only consideration which holds him back is the apprehension that the present temper of the two Houses would make it alarmingly uncertain whether such a measure would pass, and that a failure of it would leave matters in a condition much worse than that at present existing. That a failure of the measure in Congress would have a disastrous effect is undoubtedly true. But that such a failure in Congress should be among the possibilities is hardly conceivable, if the Republicans in the national legislature are in a sane state of mind.

The more sagacious among them cannot but have arrived at the conclusion by this time that since the Presidential election the affairs of the party in power have been managed with singular improvidence. When last winter, during the short session of the late Congress, the Committee of Ways and Means of the House invited manufacturers and others interested in productive industries to appear in Washington for a hearing, they ought to have known that such an invitation was equivalent to the opening before the whole country of a big grab-bag into which every one desiring to get an advantage through tariff legislation would be at liberty to thrust his hands. The effect was what the effect of similar hearings always has been — to create a rush of greed which would sweep irresistibly over the original intentions of the legislators, and produce a tariff far higher, far more irregular, far more regardless of the general interests of the country, than the legislators would ever have been tempted to make had they turned away instead of inviting the ruthless invasion of private cupidity. The ulterior effect will also be the same it always has been. The favored interests have had their hearing in the committee-rooms of Congress; the consumers, the great mass of the people, will have their hearing at the polls.

But however great this mistake was, far greater is the blunder which consists in delaying proper action on the monetary question. No sensible person will regard the sending out of those amiable gentlemen in search of international bimetallism as a step in that line. Could not that aimless missionary venture be looked upon as a mere perfunctory compliance with the words of the Republican platform, it would appear as a mockery of the efforts and hopes of those who in the late Presidential campaign honestly fought for sound money. The failure to do anything serious during all these months, after a victory won by a combination of forces formed on this very ground, has not only a pungent flavor of faithlessness about it, but, if much longer continued, it will gravely imperil the possibility of doing anything valuable in the future, and thus doom the party in power to merited disgrace and defeat. It cannot be too often repeated that those Republicans who think that a mere raising of tariff rates will be sufficient to restore to this country its business enterprise and prosperity are egregiously mistaken — not as if the American people could not prosper under a higher tariff, for they have in the past actually prospered more or less under any sort of tariff — but because they cannot have real and enduring prosperity, whatever their tariff, so long as that confidence which is necessary for the expansion of business enterprise is prevented from reviving by that threatening condition of our monetary system which of late years has so grievously distressed us.

There is much less of that confidence now than there was immediately after the late Presidential election. Whoever wishes to satisfy himself of this fact need only listen to the reasoning of those who have capital to put into business ventures, and who, under more reassuring circumstances, would be willing and even eager to do so. Abroad as well as at home the feeling and the talk are the same. Immediately after the election everybody was inclined to think that the movement for free coinage and repudiation had received its death-blow, that the American people had successfully stood the crucial test of their honesty and good sense, and that the party raised to power would instantly take up the problem of currency reform with intelligence and fidelity. The conduct of the Republicans in Congress last winter gave this hope the first shock. And now the utter neglect with which the monetary problem is treated after the assembling of Congress in special session makes people believe, here as well as abroad, that the American people may be sensible and honest enough, but that they have fallen under the control of politicians who either do not know what to do with the victory they have won, or who wantonly run after strange gods; and that therefore the free-coinage and repudiation movement, far from having been killed at the last election, may turn up again far more formidable and dangerous than ever. So long as such opinions prevail among investors and business men generally there will be no confidence. And so long as there is no confidence there will be no real revival of prosperity. And if by the time the next Congressional election comes on confidence is not restored in a sufficient degree to permit a perceptible revival of prosperity, the Republicans will be beaten and lose their majority in the House of Representatives. If they lose that, their power over legislation and currency reform will be gone. They will then approach the next Presidential election with nothing to show except a tariff likely to provoke a violent reaction by itself, and a record of broken pledges as to the money question and perhaps some other things. The result will be their utter discomfiture. This is as certain as fate and as plain as the multiplication table. What the consequences of such a defeat would be, nobody can now foretell.

Even if the Republicans in Congress cared nothing about those consequences, if they had nothing in view but the prosperity of their party, can they be blind to the inevitable effects which their trifiling with the monetary problem will have? Are they not aware of the impression produced upon the popular mind by the spectacle presented by the House of Representatives in its systematic idleness? Do they not know that the people are looking on with constantly growing astonishment and disgust as the House recklessly squanders day after day and week after week while the most important problem the country has had to deal with for a generation waits in vain to be taken up? Are they so obtuse as not to see how the silver Democrats chuckle over the pit the Republicans are digging for themselves, and how slyly the opposition is helping the majority party to walk into it? Should not the Republican leaders, even if impelled only by motives of mere party selfishness, strain every nerve to remove the obstacles there may be, if there be any, to the passage of a monetary-commission bill, and thank President McKinley with their whole hearts for his willingness to give the matter forthwith a good start by a special message?

And what is the favorite use made by members of Congress of the time thus withheld from the most urgent public business? To besiege the President in the White House for the purpose of torturing him into giving offices to their hangers-on, and thus to keep him from doing a President's real business; to rush from department to department for the purpose of persuading the cabinet ministers and their bureau chiefs that certain classes of places must be withdrawn from the civil service rules, to give Congressmen facilities for unloading their friends and clients upon the public purse. And it is reported that they have actually succeeded in beguiling or dragooning one or two department chiefs into accepting the belief that the classified service must be mutilated and that the solemn pledges of the party must be dishonored, apparently to enable the department chiefs to select their own “confidential” men, but in reality to give places to men whom members of Congress wish to dump upon them. Thus the time of Congress is not only lost to what is necessary, but it is also employed for what is hurtful to the public interest and dishonorable to the party. Do members of Congress think that such things can pass without public observation, and that broken pledges will fail to turn up in the reckoning to come? Surely, unless they have entirely forgotten the political record of the last twenty years, they cannot still indulge in the silly delusion that in our days a political party can strengthen itself by grabbing patronage, especially when this is done by a breach of plighted faith. Taking it all in all, it will be difficult to find in our political history party men that invited crushing defeat so systematically as the Republicans in Congress are inviting a deluge now.

Carl Schurz.    

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.