The Writings of Carl Schurz/Hayes versus Tilden
HAYES VERSUS TILDEN
Fellow-Citizens:—We may congratulate the American people upon the steady growth of a public sentiment which demands the correction of existing abuses and the conduct of Government upon honest principles and enlightened methods of statesmanship. That sentiment has become powerful enough to extort respect from both political parties, and on both sides have its demands become more or less the battlecries of the contest. This is in itself a hopeful sign, and if this drift of public opinion be kept alive and wisely directed as the propelling force in our politics, it may accomplish a lasting reformation of our public concerns. But just such a situation, while full of promise, is also full of deception. We are naturally eager to achieve the desired result; but in that eagerness we may be in danger of sacrificing real and lasting reform to mere apparent or temporary change, leading only to a repetition of the same conflicts, but then under the disadvantage of disappointed zeal and an exhausted energy of popular movement. Under such circumstances it is therefore especially necessary that all good citizens, who have the welfare of the country sincerely at heart, should determine their political course with more than ordinary calmness and judgment and circumspection. Indeed, I do not remember a single Presidential campaign in which so many patriotic men seemed inclined to take sides only after the maturest reflection, and to despise the ordinary cant of party. To that class—in other words, to the independent voters—I shall particularly address my remarks, and I can do so with all the more propriety, as I am one of them.
In my opinion it would have been a fortunate thing for this Republic could the reformatory spirit now alive have been embodied in a new party organization strictly devoted to its purposes. Why this appeared impossible, I will not now consume your time in discussing. The fact is, we have no other choice than between the candidates of the two old parties, and that choice we are compelled to make. We find ourselves confronted with a confusion of issues, but it turns out that two problems are uppermost in the minds of most intelligent citizens: the problem of administrative reform is one, and the currency problem the other. You could not repress them if you would, and you ought not to repress them if you could. I, for one, am glad that we have at last reached the point when living questions claim and maintain their just right to public attention. With regard to the successful solution of both those problems, it is my deliberate opinion that the true interests of the American people demand the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the Presidency of the United States. That conclusion I have formed, after careful consideration of all the circumstances surrounding us, as an entirely independent man, who is neither governed by party discipline, nor biased by party prejudice. In giving you my reasons for it I shall address myself in the simplest possible language, not to your passions or predilections or resentments, but to your sober judgment; and if I should be fortunate enough to bring any one of a different way of thinking over to my own, it shall not be said that it was done by any artifice of oratory. This is a time for calm reasoning and very plain speech. That plain speech I shall give you, no matter whom it may please or displease.
My remarks to-night will be devoted exclusively to the subject of administrative reform. The financial question, as it appears in this canvass, I intend to discuss in another speech at an early day.
Not long ago civil service reform was treated by many as an idle fancy of theorists; to-day every sensible and patriotic man in the country will recognize it as a necessity. Extreme partisans may still attempt to belittle the evils that have befallen us and to whitewash the present condition of things. It is in vain. The people understand the truth, and it is well that they do. Only then can they act wisely. The truth is that our political machinery, irrespective of party, has grown very corrupt. Scarcely a single sphere of our political life has remained untouched by the disease. Listen to what an eminent member of the Republican party said when opening the case for the House of Representatives in the impeachment of a member of the President's Cabinet:
My own public life has been a very brief and insignificant one, extending little beyond the duration of a single term of Senatorial office, but in that brief period I have seen five Judges of a high Court of the United States driven from office by threats of impeachment for corruption or maladministration. I have heard the taunt from friendliest lips that, when the United States presented herself in the East to take part with the civilized world in generous competition in the arts of life, the only product of her institutions in which she surpassed all others beyond question was her corruption. I have seen in the State in the Union foremost in power and wealth four judges of her courts impeached for corruption, and the political administration of her chief city become a disgrace and a byword throughout the world. I have seen the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs in the House, now a distinguished member of this Court, rise in his place and demand the expulsion of four of his associates for making sale of their official privilege of selecting the youths to be educated at our great military school. When the greatest railroad of the world, binding together the continent and uniting the two great seas which wash our shores, was finished, I have seen our National triumph and exaltation turned to bitterness and shame by the unanimous reports of three Committees of Congress, two of the House and one here, that every step of that mighty enterprise had been taken in fraud. I have heard in highest places the shameless doctrine avowed by men grown old in public office, that the true way in which power should be gained in the Republic is to bribe the people with the offices created for their service, and the true end for which it should be used when gained is the promotion of selfish ambition and the gratification of personal revenge. I have heard that suspicion haunts the footsteps of the trusted companions of the President. These things have passed into history. The Hallam or the Tacitus or the Sismondi or the Macaulay who writes the annals of our time will record them with his inexorable pen.
The man who spoke thus (Mr. George F. Hoar, of Massachusetts) was not a political opponent of those in power, not a constitutional grumbler and faultfinder, ventilating his spleen. He is a man who would have been always ready and glad to repel any unjust aspersion upon the Government of his country; but he spoke as he did speak impelled by his sense of duty to speak the truth. And he might have said much more. He might have pointed to the penitentiaries inhabited by revenue officers, who with one hand robbed the Government and with the other the business men whom they ruined by tempting their avarice, or sometimes even forcing them into fraudulent practices; have mentioned the host of defaulters and embezzlers, not only officers of the National Government, but in all possible public positions, and of both political parties, who have run away with the people's money. But why elaborate this picture? It would be difficult to tell you more than you already know, and those deceive themselves who attempt to deceive you by telling you less. It is useless and unwise to mince matters. The actual condition of things is so bad that the people have become justly alarmed, and the cry has risen that there must be a change. Yes, I want a change, you want a change, as every honest and patriotic man in the country wants it. But what every honest and patriotic man in the country ought also to insist upon and be careful to bring about, is a change that will be an improvement, a real reform, as thorough and genuine and lasting as possible. Let us see what we stand in need of.
In the first place we want to get rid of the corrupt men and the incapables who still infest the public service. Every officer who has done dishonest things must be held to a strict account. Every officer who has abused his powers or been lax in the performance of his duties, or has permitted his subordinates to be so, must be removed. Every corrupt ring must be broken up, and its members prosecuted and punished without mercy. “Let no guilty man escape” is a good word of command, and it must be carried out. It indicates a duty so plain that only those who in high place fail to understand their responsibility will fail to appreciate and fulfil it.
This is undoubtedly a serious task, the importance of which will not be underestimated. But there is one more important still. It is that by an organization of the civil service upon honest and rational principles, not only the punishment of corrupt men be secured, but a higher moral spirit be infused into our public concerns, and thus corruption be prevented. It is a word of wisdom that an ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure. There is an ever-flowing fountain of corruption in our public life, and, if we are to have a change that means lasting reform, that fountain must be stopped. We are frequently told that no Government has ever been entirely pure in all the details of administration. That is undoubtedly true. There have been some dishonest men in public employ and some dishonest practices under the best Governments, in all countries and at all times. That may be unavoidable. But where corruption develops itself during a long period of time and on an extensive scale, we may be sure that it must be the fault of the existing political system.
Let me tell you an anecdote. One day Abraham Lincoln, while overwhelmed with the cares which the rising tide of the rebellion was loading upon him, pointed out to a friend the eager throng of officeseekers and of Congressmen accompanying them in his ante-room, and spoke these words: “Do you observe this? The rebellion is hard enough to overcome, but there you see something which, in the course of time, will become a greater danger to this Republic than the rebellion itself.” Abraham Lincoln was not only a good, but also a wise man, and with the instinctive anticipation of genius, he foresaw that the poison of demoralization working through a vicious civil service system would at last bring more serious peril to the Republic than all the hostile guns then threatening the National capital. He was right. Have you ever calmly thought of it what our civil service system really is? It is one of the wonders of the world. Had it not gradually grown up among us, little by little, in the course of many years, so that we have become accustomed to the unique spectacle, we should scarcely be capable of believing in the possibility of its existence among people endowed with ordinary common-sense. I am sure, if, in the early days of this Republic, a public man had proposed to introduce it as a system, just as we now witness it, there would have been a universal cry to shut him up in a mad-house for the rest of his life.
Imagine, in this year of the great Centennial anniversary some of the wise Fathers of this Republic—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton—rising from their graves in order to ascertain by a tour of inspection what has become of their work in these hundred years. Of course, we would have to show them our civil service—and would it not make them stare? We would have to explain to them how, nowadays, things are managed; how, on the accession of a new President, the whole machinery of our Government is taken to pieces all at once, to be rebuilt again out of green material in a hurry; how sixty or seventy or eighty thousand officers are dismissed, without the least regard to their official merits or usefulness, simply because they do not belong to the party, to make room for a “new deal”; how several hundred thousand hungry patriots make a desperate rush for public place, to get their reward for party service; how the new President and the new Cabinet Ministers, still unused to their complicated duties, and needing time and composure to study them, are fairly swept off their feet by the stormtide of applications for office; how our Congressmen, the National legislators, are transformed into office-peddlers, and forget everything else in their frantic run from Department to Department, to see their local supporters and tools provided with official bread and butter, thus paying off their political debts at the public expense; how hundreds and thousands of individuals, without the least possibility of sufficient inquiry into their morals or capacity, are fairly thrust into places of responsibility in a mad hurry, merely because they have “claims” on the party, or only on a Congressman, as adroit packers of caucuses or manipulators of votes; how, then, when the Administration is going at last, men of meritorious character and conduct are arbitrarily removed because they do not belong to the dominant faction of the party, or do not dance nimbly enough to the whistle of some powerful favorite; how others, notoriously unfit, or even corrupt, are protected in their places by their “friends” in power, because they are useful political tools; how thus the civil service is transformed into avast party machinery, a standing army of political mercenaries, paid out of the Government treasury; how officers, by the insecurity of their tenure and by party taxes levied upon them, are tempted to make hay while the sun shines, in whatever way they can; how corrupt practices of the most alarming kind are not seldom anxiously covered up or “whitewashed” by men appointed as the guardians of the public interest and virtue lest the exposure injure the party and disturb the efficiency of the “machine”; how thus, now and then, corruption is placed under the protection of party spirit and influence; how, finally, the civil service as a party agency is, even during the term of an Administration, continually organized and reorganized, modeled and remodeled, at the request of Congressmen or according to the changing political exigencies of the times, to control conventions, to govern State politics, to elect this man or to defeat that man, and how in all this an honest and efficient transaction of the public business is treated as a matter of only secondary consideration, if of any consideration at all. This we would have to show the Fathers of the Republic, could they now appear among us—and what would they say? Would they not stand fairly aghast at the aspect of the monstrous abortion, and exclaim with scornful disgust: “Is it this you have made of the fair fabric of government which we formed and transmitted to your hands to be the embodiment of true liberty, wisdom, honesty and justice—is it this you have made of it”? And well might they say so, for never was there a civil service system invented so utterly absurd and barbarous in conception, so ruinous in operation and so universally demoralizing in effect.
Is there a sensible man who believes that the corrupting influence of such a system can be remedied by merely sweeping out one set of officers and putting in another set in the same way? Every honest citizen cordially applauds and honors the efforts made by brave men of either party to expose corrupt officials and to bring them to justice. But do not deceive yourselves. As long as the smell of “party spoils” is attached to public office, as long as the civil service remains a partisan agency, as long as officeholders understand that they receive their places for party services already rendered or still to be rendered, and not on account of their fitness for public trust, as long as they have reason to believe that usefulness to the party entitles them to party protection as officers of the Government, just so long will they be under the strongest temptation “to milk the cow” as long as they are in the stable, no matter what may become of the animal, and just so long you may send one set of thieves to jail and the system will inevitably raise up another.
Now, do not understand me as meaning that there are not many honest men left in our civil service. Thank heaven, there are very many, and for having kept their integrity intact we should honor them. They deserve more than ordinary credit, for, considering how well the spoils system is calculated to deaden official conscience, the thing which should surprise us most in our civil service is not that among its officers it should have developed so many rascals, but that it should have left among them so many honest men. But, while this circumstance is ever so honorable to those concerned, we must not forget that since the day when the principle “to the victors belong the spoils” was proclaimed, the number of rascals in the service as well as the extent of their rascalities have grown constantly and in most promising progression.
There are people who console themselves with the idea that the corruption we now deplore is simply to be accounted for as one of the natural consequences of our great civil war. Undoubtedly the war, with its confusion and seductive opportunities offered to the rogues a rich field of plunder, and thus stimulated all the thieving instinct there was in the country to extraordinary enterprise. But as to the civil service, the war only gave strong impulse to the vicious tendencies existing in it. Had not the spoils system already demoralized the service, the war would have developed far less corruption.
Moreover, there was plenty of corruption before our civil conflict, and neither party was exempt from it, least of all that to which the spoils system owed its origin and development. I dislike very much to hurt the feelings of our Democratic friends, since they treat me with such distinguished consideration, but my respect for historical truth compels me to say that it was a Democratic President who, for the golden rule that ability, honesty and fidelity should be the only decisive qualifications for public employment, first substituted the whims of arbitrary favoritism; first used the places of trust and responsibility as a means of partisan reward, and the power of removal as a weapon of punishment; first made the civil service a partisan engine, and thus left to us that terrible Pandora-box of evil from which so much demoralization, disaster and disgrace has come upon us. It was a Democratic baby, that spoils system, and it must be admitted that the Democratic party has very faithfully nursed it. It grew under that maternal care with all its peculiar virtues, until the last Democratic Administration just before the civil war became more arbitrary and despotic in the use of appointments and removals, as a means of partisan reward and punishment, and also more corrupt than any that had preceded it.
But my respect for historical truth compels me also to say, that the terrible legacy which in such a development of the spoils system the last Democratic Administration left behind it, has, under Republican rule, borne abundant fruit. I have deemed it my duty, on every proper occasion, unsparingly to denounce the abuses which have grown and spread under the last two Administrations. That duty remains the same. Of what I have said on this subject I have nothing to retract. Those abuses have injured the country in the opinion of mankind and alarmed the American people. Neither can those who were guilty of corrupt practices, or those who, in high places, permitted them to grow up, be excused as the mere victims of a vicious system. If the plea of temptation were always held valid as a justification of sin, there would soon be scarcely a temptation without a victim and such victims would have a pleasant time of it. No. I believe in personal responsibility. I have to admit that at no period in our history the conduct of some of those highest in power has exercised a more demoralizing and degrading influence upon all the spheres of public life below than it has within the last few years. I doubt whether the arbitrary use of the power of appointment and removal as a means of favoritism and reward and punishment has ever been carried to a more alarming extent. I said so years ago, and when I repeat it to-day, I do so with the assurance that a large majority of the Republican party have in the meantime come to the conclusion that I was right. I go further in saying that the resolution in the National Republican platform expressing indiscriminate approval of General Grant's Administration was a weak concession to the established party usage of courtesy at the expense of truth, and misrepresentation of public sentiment, felt to be such by a large majority of those who assented to it. While General Grant's great services in the civil war will always be held in the grateful remembrance to which they are justly entitled, I can tell my Republican friends that they can scarcely afford to equivocate about such things in the pending campaign. Let them have the manhood to say what they think; let them call things by their right names, and they will not only relieve their own souls, but stand in a better attitude before this generation as well as posterity.
And yet, in spite of all the unfortunate peculiarities of General Grant's character, which fitted him so little for the complex duties and responsibilities of civil government, even under his Administration not half of the mischief would have occurred which now stands recorded had not the vicious traditions of the spoils system furnished the means and pointed out the opportunities. If, when he came into power, nothing had been known with regard to the conduct of the civil service than the principles and practice of the early Administrations, even his arbitrary impulses might have accommodated themselves to the wholesome restraints of established usage. His Administration might, indeed, not have been as pure nor as wise as those of Washington, Adams or Jefferson, but how much misfortune would have been averted, and what crop of scandal remained unsown!
One great merit General Grant's Administration may claim. It has demonstrated the vicious tendencies of our present civil service system so strongly that even the dullest mind must perceive them. We have clearly seen how that system will endanger the integrity of good men by its temptations, and stimulate bad men only to become worse. We have been forcibly made aware of the necessity not only of a change, but of a thorough and lasting change, and that such a thorough change cannot be put off much longer without danger.
We have been in the habit of speaking with pride and exultation of the vitality and recuperative power of the American people; and justly so, for a people who can endure such a civil service system as we have had for the last forty years without utter ruin, moral and National, must, indeed, have a wonderfully tough constitution or amazing good luck. As a young people, and under extraordinarily favored circumstances, we have endured it so far. But it will scarcely do to test the robustness even of the American people too severely. The most vigorous constitutions must at last sink under constant debauch. There will be one of two things: either thorough reformation, or inevitable and perhaps rapid decay. What, then, is to be done? If it is true, and I am profoundly convinced of that truth, that under the spoils system it is simply impossible to keep up a reasonably efficient and honest civil service, and that the service will grow the more corrupt the longer the spoils system exists, then nothing can be clearer than that we must have a change which is genuine—thorough reform, including the abolition of that system. What is civil service reform? Let me tell you first what civil service reform does not consist in: It does not consist in the removal of all the officers belonging to one party, and the filling of the offices with members of the other party, according to the old methods of a “clean sweep” and a “new deal.” For instance, almost from time immemorial New York merchants have complained of bad practices in the customhouse of that city—a few years ago more than now. The demand for a change was always in order. To what cause were those bad practices assigned? That the customhouse is “run” as a political machine; and that a great many of the places are filled by low political hacks, who are kept there, not to secure an honest collection of duties, but to serve as party tools, and were put there for that purpose by the influence of party politicians. Now let me tell the merchants of New York that they may indeed get rid of those identical political hacks now in office by a change in party and a “new deal”; but that they will not get rid of the bad practices they complain of, if in the new deal the same customhouse offices are filled with party hacks of the Democratic persuasion to build up another political machine under the influence of “Boss” Kelly or the Hon. John Morrissey. That would be a change, but it would not be reform. It might turn out to be jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire. And this applies not only to the customhouse of New York, but to the whole civil service throughout the country.
What, then, is necessary? Let your common-sense speak. When a merchant wants a bookkeeper, he will select a man whom he has ascertained to be honest, and to understand bookkeeping; he will not take one on the ground that he can play the flute, or that he is a good hand at poker. If you want a good customhouse officer, or postmaster, or revenue collector, you must select a man of whom you have ascertained that he is honest and possesses that capacity and those business habits which will enable him to perform the duties of customhouse officer, or postmaster, or revenue collector satisfactorily; but you must not prefer a man irrespective of his character and business qualifications, on the ground that he has “claims” for party service rendered, or as a good political wirepuller who knows how to pack primaries.
Secondly, if you want your postmaster, or customhouse officer, or revenue collector to remain honest and to do his whole duty, you must make him understand that the performance of his official duties is the only thing he is paid for; that he is the servant of the Government and the people, and not the agent of a political party; that he is required to stick to his official business, and will be liable to removal if he uses his official power or influence for partisan purposes; that as long as he performs his official duties honestly and efficiently he will stay in his place and no longer; that continued good service or extraordinary efficiency will entitle him to promotion; but that if he indulges in dishonest practices he will be severely held to account, and that no consideration of party service rendered, or to be rendered, and no party influence can save him. This is the way to keep men in office efficient and honest.
Now, how are you to insure the selection of fit persons for office? Let me tell you first how you will not insure the selection of fit men. You will not do it by turning out all, or nearly all, the officers, good as well as bad, at the incoming of a new Administration, in the way of a “new deal,” rendering necessary some 60,000 or 70,000 new appointments in a hurly-burly, when the President and heads of Departments have just dropped into their places, and are still bewildered by the variety and complication of new duties suddenly overwhelming them; it is simply impossible to use the necessary care under such circumstances. You will not insure the selection of fit men if the appointments are governed by the recommendation or dictation of party leaders, and particularly of Congressmen, who, in many, if not in most, cases care less for the interests of the service than for the building up of their own home influence or party machine, by which to keep themselves in place, and who, to that end, use the offices to reward their political agents and tools with pay out of the Government treasury, or to secure the services of useful political workers for the future, thus turning the offices into means of bribery. In that way you will not only fail to insure the selection of honest and efficient men for office, but you will keep in the halls of Congress itself a class of men who have neither superior character nor ability to commend them, relying only upon a shrewd management of the patronage to carry their nominations and elections. That, then, is the way how not to do it.
But you can insure the selection of fit persons for office if, in the first place, the rule is established that officers shall not be liable to removal for party reasons, but only upon grounds connected with the discharge of their official duties, as it was tinder the early Administrations. This will prevent the occurrence of a very large number of vacancies at the same time, and enable the Executive Department in filling those vacancies to proceed with care and deliberate circumspection. Secondly, the Executive Department, which is responsible for the administration of public business, must, in making appointments or nominations to the Senate, remain independent of the dictation of Congressmen, many if not most of whom want to use the offices for the promotion of their own political ends. Thirdly, the qualifications of candidates for office must, whenever possible, be ascertained according to well regulated public methods, either by officers of the Departments themselves, or through competent men appointed for that purpose.
The establishment of such principles and the regulation and perpetuation of the corresponding practices, wherever possible, by legal enactment, that is the civil service reform, which will not only purge the service of corrupt and incompetent officials, but which will take from it its partisan character, remove from the offices of trust and responsibility the odious attribute of spoils, stop the most prolific source of corruption and demoralization in our political system, take away from the public officer the most dangerous temptations now surrounding him and inspire him with an honorable ambition; relieve our political life of the regular army of paid party mercenaries, which threatens to subjugate all the movements of public opinion, and eliminate also that numerous class of National legislators who rely for their election and influence merely on a shrewd manipulation of the public plunder. That, then, is genuine civil service reform.
What patriotic man is there who will not recognize that the evils from which the body-politic suffers absolutely require so thorough a measure of change, and who will not eagerly embrace every opportunity to secure it? Now, let us see what prospects the two parties which ask for our votes open to us with regard to this most important subject.
The platforms, as well as the candidates of each, promise what they call “reform.” I will confess at once that I have lost my faith in the professions and promises made in party platforms. They have at last become, on either side, one of the cheapest articles of manufacture in this country, and that industry continues to flourish even without a protective tariff and in spite of the general depression of business. But civil service reform is not produced in that way. If we desire to ascertain by the success of which party that reform is most likely to be promoted, we must look to the character and principles of the candidates as well as to the component elements and general tendencies of the parties behind them. I am firmly convinced that one part of the necessary change, the driving from the public service of the corrupt officials who now pollute it, will be amply secured by the election of either of the two candidates for the Presidency. Governor Tilden has won his reputation as a reformer mainly by the prosecution of the canal ring in the State of New York. I will not follow others in questioning his motives, but readily admit that prosecution to have been an enterprise requiring considerable courage, circumspection and perseverance, for which he should have full credit. Should he be elected President, he will undoubtedly eject from their places, and, if possible, otherwise punish, all the dishonest officers now in the service; making a “clean sweep,” he will eject them, together with the good ones. Nor have we any reason to expect, with regard to the cleaning process, less from Governor Hayes, should he be elected to the Presidency. It is well known that Governor Hayes was not my favorite candidate for the Presidential nomination, and I am not in the least inclined to extol him with extravagant praise. What I shall say of him will be simple justice to his character and record. You, citizens of Ohio, have had the best opportunity to form your judgment of him, from a near observation of his official and private conduct, and as far as I know, that judgment, whether expressed by friend or foe, is absolutely unanimous. Three times he has been elected Governor of your State, against the strongest candidates of the opposition. True, he has had no occasion to break up canal rings, or other extensive and powerful corrupt combinations, for the simple reason that in Ohio they did not exist. But it is universally recognized not only that Governor Hayes is a man whose personal integrity stands above the reach of suspicion, a man of a high sense of honor, but that his administrations were singularly pure, irreproachable and efficient in every respect. If he had no existing corruption to fight, he certainly did not permit any to grow up. Nobody suspects him of being capable of tolerating a thief within the reach of his power, much less to protect one by favor or even by negligence. It is also well known that, while a party man, he always surrounded himself with the best and most high-toned elements of the organization, and kept doubtful characters at a distance. He is esteemed as a man of a very strong and high sense of duty and that quiet energy which does not rest until the whole duty is faithfully performed. The endeavor to purify the Government and to keep it pure will, therefore, with him not be a matter of artificial policy, but of instinctive desire, one of the necessities of his nature. He is honest and enforces honesty around him simply because he cannot be and do otherwise. In saying this I have only given the verdict of his opponents, and when here and there the assertion is put forth that Governor Hayes's Administration of the National Government would only be a continuance of the present way of doing things, it is one of those empty and contemptible partisan flings which prove only to what ridiculous extremities those are reduced who are bent upon inventing some charge against a man of unblemished character and a most honorable and pure record of public service.
The first cleaning-out process, then, seems well enough assured in any event. But the more important question occurs, in what manner that cleaning-out process is to be accomplished, and what is to follow. Where have we to look for that greater and lasting reform which is to insure an honest and efficient public service and a higher moral tone in our political life for the future? On this point both candidates have spoken in their letters of acceptance, and their utterances are entitled to far greater consideration than the party platforms. Look at the letter of Governor Hayes first. It is explicit, and remarkable for the clearness and straightforwardness of its expressions. Here are his words:
More than forty years ago a system of making appointments to office grew up, based upon the maxim “to the victors belong the spoils.” The old rule, the true rule, that honesty, capacity and fidelity constitute the only real qualifications for office, and that there is no other claim, gave place to the idea that party services were to be chiefly considered. All parties in practice have adopted this system. It has been essentially modified since its first introduction. It has not, however, been improved. At first the President, either directly or through the heads of Department, made all the appointments, but gradually the appointing power, in many cases, passed into the control of Members of Congress. The offices in these cases have become not merely the rewards for party services, but rewards for services to party leaders. The system destroys the independence of the separate departments of the Government. It tends directly to extravagance and official incapacity. It is a temptation to dishonesty; it hinders and impairs that careful supervision and strict accountability by which alone faithful and efficient public service can be secured; it obstructs the prompt removal and sure punishment of the unworthy; in every way it degrades the civil service and the character of the Government. It is felt, I am confident, by a large majority of the Members of Congress to be an intolerable burden and an unwarrantable hindrance to the proper discharge of their legitimate duties. It ought to be abolished. The reform should be thorough, radical and complete. We should return to the principles and practices of the founders of the Government—supplying by legislation, when needed, that which was formerly the established custom. They neither expected nor desired from the public officers any partisan service. They meant that public officers should give their whole service to the Government and to the people. They meant that the officer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal character remained untarnished, and the performance of his duties satisfactory. If elected, I shall conduct the administration of the Government upon these principles, and all Constitutional powers vested in the Executive will be employed to establish this reform.
Then he pledges himself to the “speedy, thorough and unsparing prosecution and punishment of all public officers who betray official trusts.” And finally, “believing that the restoration of the civil service to the system established by Washington and followed by the early Presidents can be best accomplished by an Executive who is under no temptation to use the patronage of his office to promote his own reëlection,” he “performs what he regards as a duty in stating his inflexible purpose, if elected, not to be a candidate for election to a second term.”
This is the clearest and completest program of civil service reform ever put forth by a public man in this Republic. Not a single essential point is forgotten,—and what is more, there is in it no vagueness or equivocation of statement or promise. No back door is left for escape. Each point is distinct, precise, specific and unmistakable. It covers the whole ground with well-defined propositions. If this program is carried out, the reform of the civil service will be thorough and genuine; and if the reform is permanently established, the main source of the corruption and demoralization of our political concerns, the spoils system, will be effectually stopped. It will be the organization of the service on business principles. Even the opponents of Governor Hayes will be compelled to admit this. Some of them have indeed attempted to find fault with one or the other of his propositions, but their objections are easily disposed of. A few Democratic papers argue that if officers are kept in their places as long as their personal character remains untarnished and the performance of their duties satisfactory, the result will be “a permanent aristocracy of officeholders.” Is this so? Look back into the history of the Republic and you will find that under the early Administrations down to John Quincy Adams, public officers were kept in place as long as their character remained untarnished and the performance of their duty satisfactory. Where was the “aristocracy of officeholders” during that period? The officers of the Government were then a set of quiet, industrious, modest and unobtrusive gentlemen who did not try to control party politics, and did not steal, but did, as a general rule, studiously endeavor, by strict attention to their official business, to win the approval of the Government which employed them, and an honorable name for themselves. But no sooner was the good old custom supplanted by the system which transformed the offices of the Government into the spoils of party warfare, and made appointments and removals depend not upon the question of integrity and competence, but upon party service and claims to party reward, than a remarkable change occurred in the character as well as the pretensions of the officeholding class. No longer did they remain the quiet, unobtrusive and dutiful public servants they had been before, but they gradually attempted to control party politics in the different States, and transformed themselves into a regularly organized force of political prætorians employed by ambitious leaders to override the public opinion of the country. If there ever was anything that might be called an officeholding aristocracy in the worst sense of the term, it did not exist under the early Administrations when good official conduct was considered a valid title to continuance in place, but it was created by the spoils system which stripped the officer of his simple character of a servant of the Government, and made him a party agent, or in case of those of higher grade, a party satrap, obsequious to those above him and insolent to the people, over whom they thenceforth considered themselves appointed to exercise power and influence. If the civil service reform proposed by Governor Hayes reduces them to their proper level as servants of the people again, it will not be the creation, it will be the destruction of that odious sort of an officeholding aristocracy. Besides, the idea that a letter-carrier, or a customhouse officer, or a revenue agent, or a Department clerk, will become a member of an aristocracy, if left in office as long as he behaves himself well, has something so intensely ludicrous that it need scarcely be discussed. We might as well speak of an aristocracy of railroad conductors or hotel waiters.
Another very curious objection to Governor Hayes's reform plan is put forth by my esteemed friend Mr. Godwin in his recently published letter in favor of Governor Tilden, which has deservedly attracted much attention. He thinks that if officers are to be secure in their tenure as long as their character remains untarnished and the performance of their duties satisfactory, this principle will “give all the present incumbents an indefinite tenure, perpetuate their hold of the trusts they have so many of them abused” and be “in its practical operation an act of indemnity for all the felons and rogues who now infest and pollute the public offices.” The critics of Governor Hayes's letter of acceptance seem indeed to be in terrible stress for an objection. When the principle is laid down that the tenure of an officer shall be secure as long “as his character remains untarnished and the performance of his duties satisfactory”—can that be interpreted as meaning that the tenure of an officer shall also be secure, when he has become a bad fellow, so that his character is tarnished and the performance of his duties unsatisfactory? When Governor Hayes pledges himself to a “speedy, thorough and unsparing prosecution and punishment of all public officers who betray public trusts,” does that mean that those who have betrayed official trusts shall go unprosecuted and unpunished? Is that an act of indemnity to all felons and rogues who now infest and pollute the public service? Oh, Mr. Godwin, lifelong friendship for Governor Tilden may carry even a man of ability and great attainments beyond the point of safety in criticizing his opponents. The most charitable explanation of Mr. Godwin's objection is, perhaps, that he never read Governor Hayes's letter of acceptance. He can now, even after his criticism, read it with profit as a study on true civil service reform. No, the plan put forth by Governor Hayes is nothing more, and nothing less, than the revival of the principle and practice which prevailed under the early Administrations, whose elevated tone and purity are still the pride of American history; the principles and practice of the men whose wisdom and virtues we have exalted in the Centennial year with glowing eulogies; the men who, could they now appear among us, would say: “If you want truly to honor our names, do it a little less by praising our virtues, and a little more by following our example.”
Now, let us see what promise of civil service reform the Democratic candidate, Governor Tilden, holds out to us. In order to be perfectly fair to him I will quote the whole text of that part of his letter which refers to that subject:
The Convention justly affirms that reform is necessary in the civil service, necessary to its purification, necessary to its economy and efficiency, necessary in order that the ordinary employment of the public business may not be “a prize fought for at the ballot-box, a brief reward of party zeal, instead of posts of honor assigned for proven competency, and held for fidelity in the public employ.” The Convention wisely added that “reform is necessary even more in the higher grades of the public service. President, Vice-President, Judges, Senators, Representatives, Cabinet officers, these and all others in authority are the people's servants. Their offices are not a private perquisite; they are a public trust.” Two evils infest the official service of the Federal Government: One is the prevalent and demoralizing notion that the public service exists not for the business and benefit of the whole people, but for the interest of the officeholders, who are in truth but the servants of the people. Under the influence of this pernicious error public employments have been multiplied; the numbers of those gathered into the ranks of officeholders have been steadily increased beyond any possible requirement of the public business, while inefficiency, peculation, fraud and malversation of the public funds, from the high places of power to the lowest, have overspread the whole service like a leprosy. The other evil is the organization of the official class into a body of political mercenaries, governing the caucuses and dictating the nominations of their own party, and attempting to carry the elections of the people by undue influence, and by immense corruption-funds systematically collected from the salaries or fees of officeholders. The official class in other countries, sometimes by its own weight and sometimes in alliance with the army, has been able to rule the unorganized masses even under universal suffrage. Here it has already grown into a gigantic power capable of stifling the inspirations of a sound public opinion, and of resisting an easy change of Administration, until misgovernment becomes intolerable and public spirit has been stung to the pitch of a civic revolution. The first step in reform is the elevation of the standard by which the appointing power selects agents to execute official trusts. Next in importance is a conscientious fidelity in the exercise of the authority to hold to account and displace untrustworthy or incapable subordinates. The public interest in an honest, skilful performance of official trust must not be sacrificed to the usufruct of the incumbents. After these immediate steps, which will insure the exhibition of better examples, we may wisely go on to the abolition of unnecessary offices, and, finally, to the patient, careful organization of a better civil service system, under the tests, wherever practicable, of proved competency and fidelity.
When you have read this somewhat elaborate paragraph and pondered over it a while, you still ask yourselves: How far does he mean to go and where does he mean to stop? There is plenty of well-expressed criticism; but what is the tangible, specific thing he means to do? The difference between these utterances and those contained in Governor Hayes's letter is striking and significant. There are none of the precise, clean-cut, sharply-defined propositions put forth by Governor Hayes, indicating how the spoils system with its demoralizing influences is to be eradicated and what is to be put in its place. When we try to evolve from this mountain of words the practical things which Governor Tilden promises to do, we find that they consist simply in the appointment of new men, according to an “elevated standard,” whatever that may be, and in holding officers to account for their doings, of course. When the offices are filled with new men superfluous offices are “wisely” to be cut off, and finally the “patient and careful organization of a better civil service system” is to be proceeded with “under the tests, whenever practicable, of proved competency and fidelity.” It seems, then, when we boil it all down—and I think I am doing Governor Tilden's language no violence in saying so—that, first, the offices are to be filled with good Democrats in the way of a “clean sweep” and a “new deal of the spoils,” and that afterwards it shall be “patiently and carefully” considered how and where “tests of proven competency and fidelity” can be established, so as to fill the offices with good men. But, first of all things, “the offices for the Democrats, the spoils for the victors.” Does any candid man pretend that it means anything else? Governor Tilden is a profuse writer, having an infinite assortment of words at his command. If he meant anything else, would he not have been able to say so in a precise form of expression? For the short allusion to subsequent systematic reform, to be “patiently and carefully” approached, is even more studiously vague and shadowy than the many paragraphs in party platforms, with the valuelessness of which we have in the course of time become so justly disgusted.
Or is there any sensible man in the land, even among Governor Tilden's independent friends, who expects anything else than simply a new distribution of the spoils? If there is, let him read the Democratic newspapers, let him look round among the leaders as well as the rank and file, and he will soon become aware of his mistake. Who does not know that the principle, “To the victors belong the spoils,” was first inaugurated by the Democratic party; that the spoils system of the civil service was developed by that party in all its characteristic features; that for the last forty years it has been its traditional and constant policy and practice, and at this moment their struggle for success is in a great measure inspired by the hope of an opportunity to precipitate themselves upon the public plunder? Is Governor Tilden the man, in case of his election, to constitute himself a breakwater against the universal tendency, the unanimous, impatient will of his party? Or is there, I ask you candidly, and especially those of my independent friends who, although animated with the desire of genuine reform, are inclined to aid the Democrats, is there in the Democratic party any influential element that would urge a Democratic President to advance thorough measures of civil service reform in a non-partisan sense, or that would earnestly support him if he did? If there exists such an influential element, where is it? Is it in the rich men's Manhattan Club, or in Tammany Hall or anti-Tammany in New York, among the “swallow-tails” or the “short-hairs”? Or is it among the old State-rights Democrats, East and West? Or among the Confederates in the South? Or among the Irish population or the Roman Catholic Democrats generally? If there is in any section of the Democratic party any desire for a genuine reform of the civil service, anything but a demand for a new deal of the spoils, show it to me. I shall certainly be the last man to deny that there are many good, honest, patriotic, well-meaning and able citizens in the Democratic organization and among its leaders. I count among them not a few valued and trusted personal friends. But where are the advocates of genuine civil service reform among them? As far as I know, we have heard only the solitary voice of Senator Gordon, who submitted in the last session of Congress a commendable proposition for the reform of the revenue service; but the commendation it received in the organs of public opinion came almost exclusively from the Republican or independent side. And now will Governor Tilden, if elected, without support in his own party, at the risk of his popularity with his own friends, brace himself up against the furious onset of hungry patriots, and say: “The interests of the service, the cause of reform, demand that the offices of the Government be no longer looked upon as the spoils of party victory; I shall, therefore, keep in office all faithful and efficient officers no matter whether they are Republicans, and turn out only the unworthy ones; go home, my Democratic friends, that I may judiciously discriminate at leisure”? Or will he tell Democratic Congressmen: “The principles on which the civil service is to be reformed demand that I should not permit any Congressional interference with the responsibilities of the appointing power; therefore put your recommendations of your friends in your pockets and let me alone, my good fellow-Democrats”? What man in his five senses expects Governor Tilden to do this? Has he ever promised anything of the kind? Certainly he has not. Is he not too inveterate a Democrat and too closely wedded to the traditions of his party to think of it?
Well, then, what sort of reform will be brought about by a Democratic victory? I assume even that Governor Tilden and the men he may put into his Cabinet will sincerely desire to put only the best available Democrats into office, and will employ every honest effort to that end. But what will be the result? The accession of the Democrats to power will be signalized by the most furious rush for office ever witnessed in the history of this Republic. For years and years hundreds of thousands have been lying in wait, eagerly watching for the opportunity. You find them not only in the North, East and West, but still more in the South. The Southern people have many good qualities, but it is a notorious fact that among them the number of men thinking themselves peculiarly entitled to public place has always been conspicuously numerous. Now they have been on short fare for many years, and long waiting has sharpened their appetite. They will also be quick to remember that Democratic success could be brought about only by a united Southern vote, and that above all others they have claims to reward. Our brave Confederate friends have won renown by many a gallant charge during the war, but all their warlike feats will be left in the shade by the tremendous momentum of the charge they will execute upon the offices of the Government. It will be a rush of such eagerness, turbulence and confusion that men of this generation will in vain seek for a parallel. And now amidst all this, urged on by a universal cry of impatience from all sections of the Democratic party that every radical must be driven from place at once, do you think it for a moment possible that the President and the members of the Cabinet will breast that storm and sit down with cool deliberation, to gather evidence about the character and qualifications of every applicant for the seventy or eighty thousand places to be filled, so as to keep improper men out of office? Is it not absolutely certain that the offices will be filled helter-skelter, as so often before, and that of the applicants those, as a rule, will be the most successful who are the most intrusive and persistent in elbowing their way to the front? Can it in the nature of things be otherwise? And what will become of the cause of reform?
We have had a specimen of that on a small scale when the Democratic party took possession of the House of Representatives, and had to dispose of a number of more or less desirable places. What happened? A score of applicants for every position; a “clean sweep”; a “new deal”; neither honesty, nor indispensable experience, nor usefulness, nor character was spared; the offices for the Democrats! And what Democrats! Do you remember the Fitzhughs and Hambledons and the general ridicule and indignation that followed their prompt exposure? Do you remember the hasty endeavors on the part of some new dignitaries to make out of their opportunities what could be made? Do you remember the expressions of alarm and disgust coming even from the better class of Democrats? Do you remember the haste with which some of the newly-appointed officers had to be dismissed again, that the scandal might not become too great and damaging? And such things happened when, in view of the coming Presidential election, the Democratic party was on its good behavior, and had every reason for an effort to make a favorable impression on the country. What would happen if it should succeed in grasping the National power and then act without such restraint? What a glorious time it will be for the Fitzhughs and Hambledons when places are thrown open to them by the tens of thousands! What wonders of reform they would accomplish! True, together with the good officers now in the service, the rogues polluting it will be driven out. But may the Lord protect us against those which the general rush for the spoils will bring in.
But it is not only in obedience to the universal clamor of the party—there is still another reason why under Democratic rule the spoils system, with all its characteristic features, will be continued. That party is seriously divided in itself with regard to some of the most vital and pressing problems of the day; for instance, the financial question, especially since Governor Tilden, by the dark and equivocal utterances in his letter of acceptance, gave so much new encouragement to the soft-money wing of the party, and thus caused a fresh and vigorous effort and advance along the whole soft-money line. Why, even Tom Ewing is happy in his belligerence, and Old Bill Allen beings to smile, believing to have found in Tilden the Moses to lead them out of the wilderness.
This you observe all over the West and South. By all sorts of deceits the managers succeed in holding the party together, in spite of this division of sentiment, for the pending campaign at least, in order to render success possible. But suppose that success achieved, the war of conflicting tendencies will break out inside of the organization with new virulence. Then, the party, once in possession of the Government, will naturally strive to fortify itself in that possession so as to remain in power. And what means will there be to hold together the warring elements? Then oracular utterances and equivocal promises as we find in Governor Tilden's letter of acceptance, offering on paper all things to all men, will no longer avail. Practical measures of unification, a tangible bond of cohesion, will be required. And what will, what can they be? Governor Tilden is now exhibited to us in the character of a reformer, and I have already said that I shall not deny to him in that respect what credit he deserves. But it must not be forgotten that Governor Tilden, long before he disclosed himself as a reformer, had become, in the not altogether virtuous school of Democratic New York politics, the adroitest manager, the most accomplished political machine-master of our days. He is that now, and I think I do not wrong him when I say that to this accomplishment his nomination for the Presidency is largely due. Now suppose him President, and under him the broil of conflicting factions in his own party, threatening to disrupt the organization and endangering the continued possession of power so long worked and hoped for—will not, necessarily, the arts of the manager, the party machinist, so well understood, and so long and successfully practiced, be again resorted to, in order to avert the disaster of a rupture? Let me say to you that, in my whole political experience, I have never known a man who was profoundly versed in the tricks of machine management, and had grown strong through their employment, that was willing to throw them aside when by them he could carry an important point. And what means will present itself to the man at the head of the machine in such a case? One but too well in accordance with the traditions, instincts and constant practice of the Democratic party—“the cohesive power of the public plunder.” Ask yourselves whether that will not be necessarily so. Is it not inevitable that a party so torn by internal dissensions will demand that cohesive paste so as not to fall to pieces? Will not the memories of the Douglas and Buchanan feud, with its disastrous consequences, stare the managers in the face as a warning example? Is it not certain that they will eagerly use the means already at hand? This office will be used to silence the opposition of this man, that office to purchase the support of another, and bread and butter generally to stop the clamor of factions by filling their mouths. As the war between Tammany and anti-Tammany, between Boss Kelly and John Morrissey, in New York, will be pacified by giving the adherents of one the customhouse to reform and permitting the adherents of the other to infuse virtue into the post-office or the revenue service, much to the relief and delight of the business community, will not in the same way, by a skillful distribution of the Government plunder, the soft-money and the hard-money Democrats East and West be made to understand that they belong together, and that the table will be spread for them all only as long as they live together like good boys! And the result? In spite of all the pious wishes now entertained and expressed by some Democratic leaders and some independents who follow them, “the cohesive power of public plunder” will rule the hour; the spoils system, that most dangerous fountain of demoralization and corruption, will flow more richly than ever—and then farewell, a long farewell, to the great reform that is to make and keep the public service once more honest and pure. Is that what you, my independent friends, desire and strive to accomplish? Nay, we shall be in a more deplorable condition than ever, for the spoils system naturally grows worse and worse in its effects the longer it is permitted to exist. That will be the inevitable consequence of Democratic success as I foresee it. A change, yes; but a change making the necessity of a wiser change more pressing than ever.
Let me return to the other side. No sensible man will deny that the reform which the exigencies of our condition demand can be accomplished only if the program be carried out which we find in Governor Hayes's letter of acceptance. But is Governor Hayes the man to put through such a program? Will he possess courage and persistence enough to withstand and overcome the adverse influences in his own party which have shown themselves so powerful? This is a legitimate and important question. I shall endeavor conscientiously to answer it. That Governor Hayes has a very clear conception of what genuine civil service reform means, he has abundantly demonstrated by the specific propositions in his manifesto. Neither are these ideas new with him, or put forth merely to produce a momentary effect. You will find the same views stated, partly in the same language, in inaugural addresses and speeches delivered by him years ago, long before he was thought of as a candidate for the Presidency. They are, therefore, the offspring of deliberate and well-matured conviction. But has he the courage necessary for such a task? Courage as a candidate entitles him to the presumption that he will have courage as a President. It would seem to be the natural interest and desire of a candidate to keep at least all the organized and strong influences in his own party in the best possible humor with him, by creating the impression that he will be all things to all men, so as to insure the hearty coöperation of all. Mr. Tilden seems to understand that. Now, have you considered how much strength of conviction, how much honest courage in a candidate it requires at the opening of a canvass to go before the people with a manifesto like Governor Hayes's letter of acceptance, which, in its comprehensive and sharply defined demands for reform, contains the most unsparing criticism of abuses tainting his own party? This candidate tells Congressmen that if he is elected President they must expect no patronage from him. He tells the officers of the Government that from them no party service is desired. He tells party workers that party service will not be regarded by him as a claim to reward; and in the face of the fact that the President of the United States now in office had himself elected twice, and would not have recoiled from a third term had it been within reach, he frankly declares his inflexible purpose not to be a candidate for reëlection, on the ground that a sincere reformer should not expose himself to the temptation of using the patronage for the promotion of his personal interests. Is not that courage,—the honest courage of true conviction? Show me in the whole history of this Republic a single candidate for the Presidency who, in the face of uncertain chances, had the courage to issue so defiant a manifesto as this? You will find none. I ask you, my independent friends, to compare the manly, straightforward, unequivocal declarations of this manifesto with that artfully constructed tangle of words, Governor Tilden's letter of acceptance. Hard money appears soft, and soft money hard, presenting a full dish of spoils for the Democrats, with a reform sauce for the independents, so that Judge Stallo is pleased. General Tom Ewing is pleased still more, and John Morrissey's manly bosom swells with pride at the profound statesmanship of his candidate. Compare the two, and then tell me on which side you find true moral courage! Let it not be said that Governor Hayes was fearless only because he did not see the bearing of his utterances. Before his letter of acceptance was published he read it to a friend, and that friend observed: “It is not unlikely, Governor, that what you say there may very much displease some very powerful men in your own party.” And what was the answer? “Yes, that may be so; but this is RIGHT.” And the letter came out as it was written. I think I can support a reformer who has the courage thus to feel and thus to speak.
I have gone into this campaign advocating the election of Governor Hayes with my eyes open. I have certainly not forgotten or thought lightly of the duty I owe to the cause of reform which I have served so long; and thus, standing as I do here before you, mindful of my responsibility, I declare this to be my sincere conviction, and predict with as much assurance as things still to come can be predicted, that Governor Hayes, if elected to the Presidency, will employ every Constitutional power of that great office to its fullest extent to carry into practice his program of civil service reform to the very letter. He will organize his Administration with unswerving devotion to this great end. He will, whatever influences he may have to encounter, pursue with untiring watchfulness all officers of the Government who have betrayed official trust or failed to perform their duties according to the best standard of efficiency. He will keep faithful public servants in their offices, against all attempts to have them replaced by the political tools or the personal favorites of party leaders. He will tell those who claim office on the ground of mere party service that “honesty, competency and fidelity” will be regarded by him as the only decisive qualifications for public employment. He will tell Congressmen who attempt to dictate appointments that such interference with the appointing power is destructive of the independence of the separate departments of the Government, degrading the character of the service, and will no longer be permitted. He will make all Government officers understand that the civil service must cease to be a party machinery, that from them partisan service is “neither expected nor desired,” and that they will have to confine themselves to their official duties as servants of the Government and the people. He will establish well regulated and public methods, in every practicable way, to ascertain the fitness of candidates for places. He will employ every legitimate means in his power to induce Congress to perpetuate this reform by legislation in whatever way it may be possible and necessary.
This is what I am sincerely convinced Governor Hayes will do if elected to the Presidency.
I do not pretend to call Governor Hayes, as Mr. Tilden is called by some of his over-poetic friends, “the wisest man in the world.” I do not put him in point of courage above all the heroes of antiquity and modern times. I do not predict that, if elected President, he will cure in three months all the ills human society is heir to, and plunge us straight into the millennium of ideal existence. But he is a man who has nobody to fear, because he has nothing to cover up. He has nobody to reward, because he did not seek the Presidency, and promised nothing. And he has no future favors to ask for, because he has no ambition to serve except to make, as President, his one Administration a blessing to the country and an honor to himself. His reform plan is the product of experience wisely turned to account, of mature reflection and of an unselfish desire to benefit the people. Behind that plan stands a clear, solid, cultivated intellect, the unostentatious but firm force of quiet, persistent energy and the inviolable pledge of a born gentleman. And I repeat, that plan, as far as the power of the Presidential office goes, he will carry out. I speak with confidence, for that confidence I possess. I have his word for it, you have his word for it, the whole American people have his word for it, and, as Governor Hayes is a man of honor, that word will be kept.
But you may say, “Granting all this, will he be able to carry out his good intentions, in the face of the adverse interests and influences in the Republican party which will combine to defeat the contemplated reform?” This also is a legitimate question. Let us fairly examine it.
All those who understand our Constitutional system will admit that the President, himself and alone, can do many things toward that end by a simple exercise of the powers of his office. He can, for himself and for the heads of Departments, establish the rule that not party service, but honesty, competency and fidelity shall be regarded as the only qualifications for nomination or appointment to be considered. He can keep every officer in place who has performed his duties with integrity and efficiency. He can make the officers of the Government understand that the civil service is not to be a party agency, and that they will have to conduct themselves accordingly. He can refuse to be governed by the recommendations of Congressmen who come to him, or to the heads of Departments, to dictate appointments. He can, if need be, even without appropriations from Congress, adopt certain methods for ascertaining the fitness of candidates for office, and have them carried out through competent officers in the Departments. All this the President can do in the exercise of the Constitutional powers of his office. The only effective resistance possible, but only with regard to new appointments of a certain class, may be offered by the Senate in refusing to confirm his nominations. But whether a systematic opposition of that kind can long continue will in a great measure depend upon the spirit animating the elements composing the Administration party, as well as the drift of public opinion generally. Of that, more hereafter.
It is evident, then, that in the work of inaugurating a genuine reform of the civil service the President is the natural leader, and that much of it he can accomplish, for the time being at least, without the aid, and even against the opposition, of Congress. It may be objected that General Grant once desired to reform the civil service in this wise, but that he had to succumb to the opposition of his own party in Congress.
I answer, no; he had not to succumb. If President Grant had strongly desired to reform the civil service within the reach of his Constitutional powers, he could have done it. I go further, and say, had he insisted upon that reform, in good faith, he would have found a strong force in Congress to support him, and, if that had been insufficient, he could have appealed to the intelligent masses of the Republican party and the patriotic opinion of the country generally, and they would have sustained him. The true cause of his failure was that he never seems to have appreciated what a genuine reform of the civil service consists in; that he had other things far more warmly at heart than that reform, and that with no small degree of alacrity he availed himself of the opposition of the politicians in Congress to drop the whole scheme. That is the truth of history and I venture to say there is scarcely a well-informed man in the country who questions it.
Do not understand me, however, as underestimating the strength of the influences inside of the Republican party, which, in case of the election of Governor Hayes, will conspire and coöperate to defeat the success of genuine reform. I know them well, and indulge in no delusion with regard to them. No sooner will the new President begin his work than many of those who used the spoils, either for their own support or as a means of political management, will rally in force to hamper and cripple him. The force will be strong and very determined. The pressure brought to bear upon the President to swerve him from his purpose will be tremendous. It will be represented to him that no party can live without public plunder, and that the abolition of the spoils system will lead to the downfall of the Republic. From flattery to threats, from private appeals to open demonstrations of hostility in Congress, every means will be employed to induce him to break his word. And that opposition will be directed by able leaders, experienced in all the resources of political warfare. No, I do not underestimate it, for I know it but too well.
And what will the new President have to oppose to such an onset? In the first place, the good faith and firm resolution of an honest purpose. To the politicians, high and low, who will come to cajole or to coerce him, he can present his letter of acceptance, and say: “This I have solemnly promised to the American people, and as a man of patriotism and honor, who is mindful of his duty to render his best service to his country, and who will not leave a disgraced name to his children, this promise I can and shall not break. It will be fulfilled to the letter.” And this, fellow-citizens, is what I am convinced that Rutherford B. Hayes will do. But his own good faith will not be his only bulwark of resistance. No sooner will he have pronounced the word of honest resolution, than it will become evident that the President does not stand alone. The very conflict surrounding him will raise up for him a host of friends. The best elements, the intelligent and patriotic masses of his party, will at once be at his side. Do you doubt it? Let me address a question of some importance to you, and especially to my independent friends, and ask you to answer it candidly: When you think of a great effort like this, which runs straight against the lower instincts of the politician and appeals to the enlightened intelligence and moral sentiment of the people for aid, to which side will you look for the men of that enlightened intelligence and moral sentiment to fight for such a reform in good faith and with unselfish devotion? Let your own experience speak. You, my independent friends, most justly condemn the abuses that have crept into the Republican party, as I certainly have very frankly and unsparingly condemned them heretofore and mean to do so hereafter.
And yet, looking calmly at things as they are, you will be obliged to admit that an overwhelming majority of the men who with head and heart would aid in the establishment of such reforms are in the Republican and not in the Democratic ranks. It was that element in the Republican party which first put forth the demand of civil service reform, and obliged even the present Administration to make an apparent attempt in that direction. It is true, that element has been overshadowed in the party by official influence and the despotic power of mercenary organization. But it is there now, as it was there in the old anti-slavery days. Will not that element at once rally with renewed strength around the President, as soon as he lifts his hand for the work of reform, to support him with its whole power? Aye, and it will be stronger than ever, not only as the advocate of a good cause before the patriotic public opinion of the country, but stronger also in working efficiency, because it will march under the open, honest and powerful leadership of the Executive head of the Republic. But still more. Not only will the President have the strong aid and support of that great element in his party, but his very effort to establish thorough reform will strip the opposing forces of their most dangerous influence.
Let the word go forth from the Executive chair that the civil service shall and will no longer be a party machine; that the officers of the Government are desired by the President to attend to their official duties only, and not to serve as party tools; that the tenure of the officer will depend upon his official conduct alone, and no longer be at the mercy of this or that Congressman or party leader; that the offices in this or that district or State will no longer be wielded by this or that party satrap, to rule local politics as with an iron rod, but that they will be given or taken away by the Government itself for the sole benefit of the public interest—let that word go forth from the highest place, so that all the people, including the postmasters and customhouse men and revenue officers, and all who want to become such, can well understand it—and I ask you soberly to consider what the effect will be. What will become of that power of local leaders whose greatness consisted only in their possession of the Government patronage; whose influence was formidable only because at their very frown every placeman within their reach had to tremble; because their very nod could make the head of every officer not subservient to their will fly into the basket; because every applicant for place, every seeker of favor, had to inquire about their very whims with fawning anxiety? The terror of their thunderbolts will quickly pass away. Every honest public servant will remember that he has a conscience, a manhood of his own; that he is no man's man, and that his honor, as well as his prosperity, will be best promoted by being no man's man, but a faithful and efficient servant of the Government and the people. It will be like a second emancipation of the slaves. The civil service will no longer be what it now is in many places, an organization of obsequious courtiers and trembling sycophants, but of men who dare to respect themselves, and whose moral aspirations will be lifted up by that very self-respect. Every honest and efficient officer will, in his own interest, become an ardent friend of the reformed system himself. Then those party influences which oppose true reform will be stripped of their most dangerous sting. Congressmen and party leaders, no longer able to use the patronage to build up their power, will have to fall back upon their character, their principles and their ability to sustain themselves in public life, which, on the whole, will vastly improve the breed; and it will turn out, also, that political parties can live without the spoils, and be all the better for it.
That such a policy will displease many Republican politicians, I have no doubt; so much better will it please the honest Republican masses. That it will be bitterly opposed in the Congress to be elected this year is not improbable; but that will not defeat the reform. Let the first Congress under the new Administration ever so insidiously endeavor to hamper it, let it ever so stubbornly refuse all friendly legislation, yet there is not the end. I have already shown how much the President alone can accomplish by the exercise of his Constitutional powers. And if then Congress refuses to aid and perpetuate the reform by such legislative measures as may be necessary, let the President appeal to the good sense and patriotism of the people. In an election held without the civil service as a party agency, such an appeal will scarcely remain without a response.
I, therefore, declare this to be my honest conviction, not only that Governor Hayes, as a man of patriotism and integrity, will, if elected to the Presidency, be true to his word, in using all the Constitutional powers of his office to carry out to the letter the program put forth by himself, but that, powerful as the opposition he will have to encounter may be, the chances will be strongly in favor of the success and lasting establishment of the reformed system, sustained as it will be by the best elements of the Republican party and a patriotic public opinion.
Indeed, when examining the relative positions taken by the two candidates for the Presidency, and the prospects they open to us, the opponents of Governor Hayes seem to be utterly at a loss to discover a flaw in the systematic reform he proposes to establish. They find themselves forced back upon the small expedient of discrediting his intentions. “Governor Hayes,” they say, “cannot be in earnest with this plan, for if he were believed to be in earnest there would be a multitude of Republican politicians who would rather see their candidate defeated than such a reform succeed.” There may be such Republican politicians. But Governor Hayes's own word, publicly spoken, warrants me in telling you that he is in earnest, and uncompromisingly in earnest. If there were Republicans who would try to defeat him for that reason, I am confident it would not change his position. Governor Hayes will ever be proud to have stood up for so good a cause, and would rather be defeated as its faithful champion, than succeed by betraying it. But now I ask you, my independent friends, if that cause is so good that the spoils politician would fear its success more even than the failure of his party, is not there, for you, as sincere friends of reform, every reason to desire and work for its triumph? Considering with candor every circumstance surrounding us, carefully weighing every probability and feeling the necessity of thorough and lasting reform, is it possible that you should hesitate in your choice? Can you fail to see that here is a battlefield worthy of your efforts, here the line of advance towards the objects which, as true reformers, you must hold highest? A change! is your cry. Yes, a change! is mine. But do you not, with me, insist upon a change that opens the prospect of lasting improvement? Is a change of parties all you want, whatever the consequence? If you are in earnest, you will want more; you will want a change in the very being, in the nature of parties.
That is the great thing needful. But in the success of Hayes, not that of Tilden, will you find it. Can you doubt, then, that a change to Hayes will be a greater and much more wholesome change than that to Tilden? What is a change to Tilden? A change from Republican to Democratic spoils in politics. What is a change to Hayes? A change from the spoils system to a true reform of the civil service and the overthrow of machine politics. That is the prediction I make, and with confidence I look into the future to see it verified. Can the duty of sincere friends of reform be doubtful? I at least see mine as clearly as ever, and to the last will I perform it.
An effort is being made to convict these independents, and especially the members of the May conference in New York, who think and act as I do, of inconsistency because we support Governor Hayes, although that conference did at that time not consider him a desirable candidate. Those efforts trouble me little. I do not belong to that class of great minds who think that the cosmic order will relapse into chaos if they are damaged in their appearance of personal consistency. In my poor opinion, the most important question is, not whether I appear strictly consistent, but the question is, How are we to act in order to render the best service we can to the country? But it so happens in this case that neither myself nor that overwhelming majority of the May conference who to-day support Governor Hayes will be called inconsistent by candid men. I speak with perfect frankness to you. Things have not developed themselves as I and many others desired three months ago. We hoped for the nomination of Mr. Bristow, who stood before the country as the recognized leader of the reform movement. And I may say here, if other gentlemen, with whom in many things I agreed, proclaimed the alternative, “Bristow, or Tilden,” I never agreed with them on that. Some of the reasons I have already given. I may add that Governor Tilden's untiring, extensive and complicated efforts to obtain the nomination for the Presidency were not calculated to increase my confidence in his mission as a reformer, and in the results which would develop themselves after his election. Well, our hope for the nomination of Mr. Bristow was disappointed. Why had we desired it? Not because of personal friendship for Mr. Bristow, but because his nomination itself would have been a triumph of the reform idea, and because his public conduct guaranteed a policy in accordance with it. Of the policy represented by him a thorough reform of the civil service and a speedy return to specie payments formed the principal features. These were after all the true ends we had in view, and their realization the real object of our endeavors. And now, when a candidate stands before us whose nomination was indeed not in itself a conspicuous triumph of our ideas, but who opens to us in the most courageous and positive manner a clear prospect of the attainment of the same great ends of which Mr. Bristow had appeared as the representative,—shall we then refuse him our support? Would it be consistent to run away from the cause of true reform, merely because the name of its representative is not Bristow? Are we little children to abandon our great ends in the most serious struggles of life as soon as their accomplishment appears, although the same in essence, in a garb different from that which we had imagined?
But you say Governor Hayes was included in a class of candidates whom the conference pronounced in its address unfit for support. Aye, and what now? I have more than once addressed to the conscience of dissatisfied independents, without ever receiving an answer, this question, Had the May conference been asked, Can we support a candidate who, known as an honorable man, will show after his nomination the courage to issue a manifesto which in its demands for reform contains the sharpest criticism of existing abuses, solemnly pledges the candidate to the best reform program that can be devised and defies by its precise propositions all the vicious party influences we condemn, in every way giving the surest guarantee of good faith—if that question had been put to the conference, what member of it would have said: “We can not support him?” Probably not one. Certainly not I. True, that case was not foreseen, but it has happened. There it is, and we have to deal with it. Shall we now again, like little children, say, because that case was not foreseen, therefore it does not concern us, although it may offer an opportunity to attain our real objects? What consistency is that?
I appeal to your consciences, my independent friends who have gone to the other side. If you should succeed, by combining with the Democrats, in defeating Governor Hayes and true reform, and after the triumph of your combination, that fountain of evil, the spoils system, continues to send forth its stream of demoralization and corruption, and a strengthened soft-money majority in the House of Representatives subjects the country to more years of harassing uncertainty and distress—what then? This is sad, indeed, you will say,—but we have been consistent! Oh, how great you will feel in your glory of consistency! But no, gentlemen, you will NOT have been consistent. As independents, you professed devotion to great objects, among which stood first true reform and a sound financial policy.
You will have abandoned those great objects when you had an opportunity effectively to serve them. True consistency it is, always to will the right, zealously to seek the right and under any name and any change of circumstances, faithfully to stand by the right. Here we have a candidate at last who openly before all the world and with defiant courage occupies the platform we have so long, and almost hopelessly, been struggling for; and now should we turn our backs upon him, should we now betray our cause when a faithful, united effort can make it triumph?
I speak with feeling, for I have been long and with earnest sincerity in this struggle. It has been said of me that I have done something to wake up the popular conscience against the prevailing demoralization. If that be so, I am proud of it.
It was the object of my endeavors. But that duty is not all fulfilled. Now is the time to lift up our judgment to the level of the awakened conscience. Let us take care that the reformatory spirit now alive and capable of greater achievement does not run out in a mere change of parties and persons, to stand still before the citadel of the evils which have so long afflicted and degraded us. Who knows when it will rise again from the gloom of a new discouragement if now it exhausts itself in misdirected and fruitless efforts! We have, indeed, a great opportunity before us, an opportunity to shake off the disgraceful abuses which the demoralizing habits of forty years have loaded upon our political life; an opportunity to lead our Government back to the noble principles and practice of the great and wise founders of the Republic, whose virtues we are so eloquent in praising, and whose example we have been so slow to follow.
This is the year of great memories. In magnificent palaces we have laid before the world the wonders of our wealth, the fruits of our inventive genius and the astounding results of our skill and industry. And certainly we have gained the admiration of all beholders. But, great and lasting as the admiration thus gained may be, far greater still in the esteem of mankind, and far more lasting in the gratitude of our own prosperity, will be an honest and decisive blow now struck for the restoration of that virtue and purity of Government which, after all, is the only security and the highest glory of a free people. The year of the great anniversary cannot be more truly honored than by the triumph of so noble an effort.
- Speech in Cincinnati, Aug. 31, 1876.