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The Year's Work in Civil-Service Reform.


AT the last annual meeting of the National Civil-Service Reform League two resolutions were unanimously adopted, which announced the special objects to be sought by the league and the friends of reform during the year now ended. One of the resolutions recommended to all the reform associations in the country to make strenuous and unceasing efforts to secure the repeal of the laws of the United States which fix the tenure of certain administrative offices at four years. The other resolution urged the associations to spare no efforts to procure the passage of laws extending the principles of the reform bill to the Civil Service of the States and cities of the country. It is now my duty to report to you what progress has been made in accomplishing these results.

The limitations imposed by the law of 1820 and by the subsequent acts upon the term of certain offices was an abandonment of the practice that prevailed during the first thirty years of the government, and the change was introduced for the purpose of vacating the offices that they might be filled by the appointing


power. It was intended to facilitate the prostitution of the public service to personal and party ends, and the result has fully proved the sagacity of the political schemers who designed the law. Six years after the law was passed a special committee of the Senate declared that it defeated its own professed object by turning out faithful officers instead of retaining them. That is to say, it defeated its professed purpose by accomplishing its real purpose. It did not improve the public service of the country, but it greatly benefited the private service of the politicians who controlled the patronage. The law of 1820 and the subsequent acts vacate during every presidential term the offices upon which the vast multitude of minor places in the public service depend, and, as reappointment is not necessarily secured by official fidelity and efficiency, but is determined by personal and political favor and intrigue, the public employé is naturally engaged in propitiating the influence which can retain him in place. This is one of the most obvious ways in which the spoils system strikes at the self-respect of the public employé, and at the same time influences the zeal of the office-seeker to cultivate a still stronger influence to thrust the incumbent from his position.

In accordance with the recommendation of the National League, the reasons of the proposed action were submitted to the country. When Congress met in December, a bill repealing the acts in question was introduced in both Houses, and petitions signed by eminent citizens were presented from various States asking the passage of the bill. The appeal was pressed before the


committee of the House with ample knowledge, eloquence, and ability by committees of the League and of local associations who went to Washington for the purpose, and the passage of the bill repealing the four years' tenure was unanimously recommended to the House by the Committee on Reform in the Civil Service.

Meanwhile signs of some reaction of feeling upon the subject naturally appeared. At the opening of the session of Congress both Houses, in filling the minor positions in their service, utterly disregarded the fundamental principle of the reform bill which they had passed a year before. This action was followed early in the session by two propositions introduced in the House of Representatives to repeal the law, and at the same time Mr. Pendleton, whose name is honorably associated with the reform bill, was defeated in the Legislature of Ohio for re-election to the Senate of the United States. His advocacy of reform was one of the objections which were warmly urged against him; and his successful competitor, in a public speech after his election, showed his utter want of sympathy with the reform spirit, as well as his total ignorance of the practical methods and scope of the reformed system. Such reactionary tendencies, however, are not surprising, nor are they discouraging. There are always bats and owls overtaken by the rising sun, but, despite their blinking and hooting and fluttering, the sun "goes marching on."

It was on the 21st of April that Mr. Mutchler of Pennsylvania moved in the House of Representatives to suspend the rules to take up the bill to repeal the four years' law, which was unanimously recommended


by the Committee on Reform in the Civil Service. Mr. McMillin of Tennessee opposed the repeal on the ground that the tenure-of-office act requiring the consent of the Senate for the removal of an officer would create a life tenure, and Mr. McMillin deprecated a life tenure as intolerable, arguing that if an officer be faithful it is but little trouble to reappoint him; but if he is not faithful, he thought that his term of service should be allowed to expire, and that then, without any executive act, he should be dropped from the service. It seemed not to have occurred to Mr. McMillin that, if it be little trouble to reappoint such an officer, it is still less trouble to leave him undisturbed until there is some proper reason for disturbing him. Nor did Mr. McMillin appear to see clearly that the executive oath honestly to enforce the laws requires, not that an unfaithful officer should be allowed to serve out his term, but that he should be peremptorily dismissed as soon as his unfaithfulness is known. The abuse of the four years' law is not that inefficient officers are suffered to drop from the service at the end of their terms, but that efficient officers are dropped when their terms end, and although it is but little trouble to renominate them, they are not renominated, because their places are wanted, not for the public advantage, but for party or personal profit. And it is for the very reason that this wrong is effected without any executive act of removal that the repeal of the law is sought, in order that the responsibility for the removal of faithful officers shall rest, in the eyes of the country, where it belongs, upon the appointing power. The present laws serve the purpose for which they were


designed, namely, to place all the officers at the disposition of the President, and to enable him, for any political or personal purpose, noiselessly and without an order of removal, to dismiss any officer, however faithful, capable, and experienced he may be. There is no more ingenious device than the four years' law for promoting, as Mr. Jefferson said, intrigue and corruption and the constant and demoralizing greed of place. Having earnestly protested against the repeal and warned the House against life tenure, Mr. McMillin concluded by declaring that nobody was more anxious for a true Civil-Service reform than he.

Mr. Willis of Kentucky, who introduced the bill and who has taken a conspicuous and effective part in reform legislation, replied forcibly to Mr. McMillin that the theory of a life tenure was wholly chimerical, and that, even were it not so, it was an objection inapplicable to places in the service which are not political. He showed that all the offices affected by the repeal are entirely non-political, and that nobody was able to say, and never had anybody been able to say, why honest, capable, and faithful public servants should be turned adrift at the end of four years. No reason, indeed, could be given except that, under the abuses of the spoils system, such ministerial places have been regarded, not as public trusts, but as bribes to secure partisan service. Mr. Willis stated the simple truth that the repeal does not reverse the settled policy of administration. On the contrary, it removes flagrant abuses that have destroyed the original constitutional practice, and restores the policy of Washington and of the founders of the


government. Mr. Springer of Illinois opposed especially the provisions of the bills which authorized the judges of the supreme court in the Territories to hold during good behavior or until the Territory shall be admitted as a State. Mr. Springer's speech was evidently only a partisan appeal, and was of no weight whatever. Mr. Dibble of South Carolina argued that the patronage of the executive now placed in the hands of one man power too great for a republican form of government; but he opposed the repeal of the four years' term, although it necessarily increases the danger of that power by facilitating its abuse. He thought, however, that a term of seven years would promote genuine Civil-Service reform. But the argument for a term of seven years, which is that it would tend to prevent mere political removals, is a stronger argument for the repeal of all fixed terms for merely ministerial places. Mr. Holman of Indiana saw no hope for reform in the Civil Service until the salaries of public officers are made to correspond to those which are paid in private employments. Mr. Holman's chief argument, however, was that upon which the four years' bill was originally justified; namely, the desirability of the stated closing and public scrutiny of all public accounts, and the moral effect upon the officer of the knowledge that his reappointment and continuance in office will depend upon the proof of his perfect integrity and capability and promptness in the administration of his trust. Mr. Holman was apparently unaware that, six years after the passage of the law, the select committee of the Senate reported that the results which Mr. Holman described as those which the bill


would secure were not secured, and that the expiration of the term had already come to be regarded as the creation of a vacancy to be filled by a new appointment. Nine years later, in 1835, Mr. Webster declared the evil results of the law to be much greater than any advantages which had been derived from it, and with Clay, Calhoun, Benton, Ewing, Southard, White, and other eminent leaders of both parties, he warmly advocated its repeal. Mr. Holman also deprecated a life tenure, and was followed by Mr. Finalay of Maryland, who read an admirable letter from George S. Cole, secretary of the Civil-Service Reform Association of that State, and on behalf of the executive committee, urging the general argument in favor of reform.

The debate was fitly closed by Theodore Lyman of Massachusetts, the first member of Congress ever elected upon the distinct issue of Civil-Service reform. In a brief speech he argued cogently that, having provided that merely ministerial places shall be filled by proved fitness, it was now necessary to make chief appointing officers strictly responsible and accountable. This result is effected by giving them the power of removal, and taking from them the temptation to abuse the power. But the four years' act interferes with this power, because under that act it is held, as Mr. McMillin argued, that a man shall be allowed to serve out his prescribed term unless his conduct is absolutely intolerable. The repeal would restore the practice of the early administrations, and, instead of establishing a life tenure, it would provide the utmost freedom of removal with the most rigid responsibility to the people for the


exercise of the power, Mr. Herbert of Alabama asked whether the tenure-of-office act does not enable a hostile Senate practically to prohibit a President from removing officers. Mr. Lyman replied that he thought it did, but he stated amid applause that it was proposed soon to repeal the tenure-of-office act, and that this was the stepping-stone to the repeal. A little wrangle arose upon a remark of Mr. Bayne of Pennsylvania, that those who voted against the bill voted for the spoils system, and those who voted for it voted for good government. The altercation took a party tone, which was happily closed by Mr. Willis of Kentucky in saying, "The whole system is un-Democratic and un-Republican both." The vote was then taken upon the motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, which was lost by 146 yeas to 99 nays.

So the bill to repeal the statutes limiting the term of certain officers was lost, after a unanimous report in its favor, and after a very short and, so far as the opposition was concerned, a wholly unimportant, debate. It was not asserted that the constitutional want of limitation had shown any necessity for the act of 1820 and subsequent acts of the same kind. It was not denied that the limitation was imposed for a political purpose under pretence of the public welfare, and that the professed objects of the limitation had not been accomplished, but, on the contrary, that it had produced an immense abuse. The only semblance of argument in opposition to the repeal was that the tenure-of-office law would enable the Senate to thwart the President, and that to repeal the four years' term is to create a


life tenure. The conflict between the executive and the Senate, however, is inherent in the Constitution, which has associated them in the appointing power. The Senate can always practically thwart the President's power of removal by refusing to confirm the nomination of a successor to the incumbent of an office, thus throwing upon the President, unless the reason for removal be flagrant and notorious, the responsibility of leaving the office unfilled and the public service in that office undone. The tenure-of-office act was the formal assertion in law of a power which great constitutional authorities have strongly asserted, and the claim to which the Senate has never relinquished. It is a conflict which, in the nature of things, will be constantly renewed; but, whatever form it may take, it does not seriously affect the question of the repeal of the four years' law. For if, at the expiration of the four years' term, the President should renominate an honest and efficient officer, and the Senate should refuse to confirm the nomination, it would justly incur the odium of preventing a fit appointment. If, on the other hand, the President, for partisan or other improper reasons, should seek to eject an honest and efficient officer from the public service by nominating a successor, and the Senate should refuse to authorize the outrage, the odium of the attempted wrong would be properly thrown upon the President. This would be true whether the attempt were made at the expiration of a four years' term or at any time when the President might deem a change desirable, and, as the repeal of the four years' act would not affect the attitude of the Senate towards


executive nominations, and would restrain the abuse of the executive power of nomination by making the President, and not the law, responsible for an attempted change, the objection founded upon the tenure-of-office act disappears.

The objection which is expressed in the cry of "life tenure" and "a privileged class" is one of the most ancient and familiar appeals of the spoils system to ignorance and prejudice. Whenever it has been proposed to recur to the constitutional principle and the early practice by treating the public clerk as the private clerk is treated, by ordaining that the public business shall be transacted upon business principles, and that filching politicians shall be forbidden to turn the public service to their private profit, we are told that a life tenure and a privileged class are odious and un-American; as if anything were so odious as a system tending to destroy the self-respect of public officers, or anything so really un-American as turning out an honest, efficient, and experienced agent because somebody else wanted his place. There can, indeed, be no life tenure in an offensive sense so long as the power of removal is unchecked, except by a sole consideration for justice and the public service; and the retention of a faithful, capable, and tried public servant confers no privilege which every such servant of every great corporation and of every great or small business house and of every well-ordered department of human industry does not already enjoy. Of all the familiar tricks of the American demagogue none is more amusingly contemptible than the effort to show that a system which tends to promote a degrading loss of


self-respect and a cringing dependence upon personal favor is peculiarly a manly and American system. It is a cry raised most vociferously by those who most despise and distrust the people, and, as the sure and steady progress of reform plainly shows, it no more deceives and alarms an intelligent public opinion than the ridiculous assertion that Civil-Service reform is a system which requires that a man shall pass a satisfactory examination in astronomy and the higher mathematics in order to be eligible to appointment as a night-watchman in the custom-house. In the familiar story the young lawyer was reminded by the judge that the court might be supposed to know some law. The American demagogue is incessantly taught by the experience of this country that the American people may be supposed to have some common-sense.

While thus the efforts of the League under the first resolution, although not successful, have accomplished much in procuring a unanimous report in favor of the repeal of the four years' law, the results in carrying out the objects contemplated by the second resolution are still more gratifying. The New York reform bill, which was passed on the 4th of May, 1883, was to take effect on the 4th of January, 1884, and in the meantime the public service of the State was to be classified and the working scheme prepared to carry out the law. This wholly new and peculiarly delicate and difficult task was accomplished to the entire satisfaction of the commission by the chief examiner, Silas W. Burt, one of the most sagacious and experienced friends of the reformed system. In September the classification of the State


service, now made for the first time, was completed, and it was promptly approved by the governor. In the same month the mayor of New York, whose action under the provisions of the bill as they then existed was discretionary, declared himself in favor of the reformed system, and invited consultations with the State Commission, and the mayor of Brooklyn adopted rules for the enforcement of the reform in that city. In November the mayor of New York announced the rules that he had approved, and the character and ability of the examining boards that he appointed attested the intelligence and good faith with which he entered upon the work. The mayor of Buffalo introduced the reform system in that city, and early in December the rules and regulations adopted by the New York State Commission were approved by the governor, whose fidelity and courage in promoting the reformed system are among his most conspicuous public services. In order to perfect the New York law, the State Commission, upon consultation with the New York Reform Association, proposed to make the reform system obligatory, and not discretionary, in the larger cities of the State. The governor approved the proposition and recommended it in a message to the Legislature accompanying the report of the commission, and in May the amended bill became a law.

The result is that by the active co-operation of intelligent citizens of both parties, who are neither dismayed nor in the least degree disturbed by any form of hostility whatever, the Civil-Service reform acts of the State of New York are now almost complete, and the reformed system is established by law with the consent and desire


of the best citizens in the State in which the abuses of the spoils tyranny have been most flagrant and degrading. All the admissions to the State service are now determined by the competitive system with the exception of elected officers, of officers confirmed by the Senate, of laborers, and of fifty-two special cases excepted by the commission for wholly satisfactory reasons. But further than this, and in strict accordance with the recommendations of the resolution of a year ago, the reformed system is now also introduced by law in the twenty-three incorporated cities of the State. The mayor of each city is required to enforce it, and the police, fire, and law departments are not exempted from the operation of the law. Admissions to the city service are determined by competition, and soldiers and sailors of the civil war are given precedence over competitors of equal merit. The exceptions are elected officers, subordinates to superiors who are financially responsible for the subordinates, officers in charge of public moneys and accountable for them, and officers of elections. Rules and changes of rules adopted by the mayor are subject to the approval of the State Commission. No recommendation or certificate except concerning character or residence can be received from any member of the Legislature, from any officer confirmed by the Senate, or from any judge. Political assessments or solicitation to give money for party objects, and promises of influence to secure appointments as partisan rewards are forbidden, and every form of such venal coercion is defined and punished as bribery. This extension of the reform system to the State and municipal


service of New York is a prodigious achievement. It has been accomplished primarily, of course, by an intelligent public opinion and by the patriotic agreement of leading men of both parties. But it is the reform associations, in which happily party politics are unknown, which have enlightened public opinion and warned and guided legislative action. The expense of these associations is insignificant and their intelligent activity comprehensive and untiring, and the results of that activity are extraordinary and of the highest public advantage. I doubt if there are any purely voluntary associations in the country which have produced so noiselessly and so effectively results at once so great and so beneficent to political morality and the public welfare as the modest associations which compose the National Civil-Service Reform League.

How thorough and complete is the work done by these associations is well illustrated in the report of the committee of the New York Association upon Civil-Service Examinations, which was requested by the State Commission to inquire into the applicability of the reformed system to the police and fire departments of the city of New York. The report made in obedience to this request is a comprehensive statement of the general method of applying the principles of open competition to those branches of municipal service. Its clearness, simplicity, and good sense are conclusive; and, although the report is addressed to specific application of the reformed methods, it is in itself an admirable illustration of the practical spirit of reform. As I stated last year, Mayor Low of Brooklyn, whose effective


conduct of municipal affairs upon the principles of this reform has given the city an enviable distinction, has recently held a prolonged conference with the State Commission upon the general subject, and the State Commission and the good cause have the great advantage of the experience of one of the ablest of municipal executive officers, whose faith increases with his works, and whose works would quicken with saving faith the mind of the most incredulous scoffer at reform. Meanwhile in Massachusetts, where a committee of the State League was appointed last year to consider the application of the reformed system to the municipal service, a State bill was introduced in the Legislature early in the session, which was finally passed and approved on the 3rd of June, and the commission which the governor has appointed is the earnest of a faithful and intelligent enforcement of the law. The act empowers the commissioners to prepare rules to govern the selection of officers and laborers both for the State and city service. This is a very comprehensive authority, and it devolves upon the Massachusetts Commission the immediate consideration of a branch of the subject which has not yet been satisfactorily treated, namely, the application of the reformed system to the selection of laborers. This is an important and interesting question upon which the views of the Commission will be eagerly awaited. But as the principle is easily applicable to messengers and orderlies in public buildings and to guards in prisons, it will be doubtless found not less applicable to laborers. For the essential point is not to find coal-heavers who can scan Virgil correctly, but coal-heavers who, being


properly qualified for heaving coal, are their own masters and not the tools of politicians.

The first annual report of the United States Civil-Service Commission was submitted to the President on the 7th of February, and on the 29th he transmitted it to Congress with a special message, in which he congratulated Congress and the country on the good results already achieved by the reform, and declared his conviction that it would henceforth prove to be of still more signal benefit to the public service. In November of last year the President forbade the choice among eligible candidates to be made for political or religious reasons, and in concluding their report the commissioners state that in every stage of their work they have had the constant and unwavering support of the President. There is no reason to doubt that within the range of the fourteen thousand places to which the national law applies the reformed system, it has been honestly enforced both in its letter and its spirit. But it is not evident that the reformed spirit has generally prevailed beyond that range. Heads of departments and subordinate officers who are not sincerely friendly to reform will naturally perpetuate the old abuses whenever it is possible to perpetuate them, and there is little doubt that, in contravention of the purpose and the principle of reform, office-holders and the power of patronage in some of the States largely controlled the selection of delegates to the recent national conventions. For this abuse, however, no single individual can fairly be held responsible. The plain and honest declaration of the President five or six years ago that no public employé need feel obliged to pay a political


assessment did not avail to prevent a general payment. The word of the President was not doubted, but the evil system was felt to be stronger than any officer, and there was then no law which protected the public employé from the plundering politicians. This has been now secured, and the enforcement of the law is guaranteed by public opinion. Should endeavors be made to evade the prohibition and to pick the pockets of the public servants, this League, and every association of which it is composed, stands ready to obey that opinion, and in both the national and the State service to hold the hand of the robber and to bring him to the judgment of the law and to the just scorn of the country. Public opinion is now thoroughly alive to the iniquity of robbing by political assessment, and it is plainly determined that politicians shall not sell the public service to the highest bidder.

This abuse and kindred abuses which spring from the old system have been greatly ameliorated. But they will disappear wholly only when the national administration is thoroughly renewed and reinvigorated at every point by the spirit of reform at the head. Reform is accomplished, not by those who acquiesce in it, but by those who believe in it. Congress passed the reform bill, not because Congress desired the reform, but because the country demanded it. It is the young men who are represented in these associations, the young men in whose hearts and consciences lies the future of America, who supply the conviction and the energy which Congress does not dare to disregard, and who, succeeding in their turn to executive and legislative


authority, will complete the work which has been so well begun. President Arthur came to his great office with no prepossessions for reform in the Civil Service. But his honorable treatment of the new policy is one of his chief titles to public regard. Under the forms of law he could readily have baffled its operation and defeated its purpose. But his candor and good faith secured the fair trial of the new system within the prescribed limits, and the conspicuous and honorable fact that during his term and with his friendly co-operation the radical reform by law of the monstrous abuses of the American system of appointments and removals in the Civil Service began will be the chief historic distinction of his tranquil and conservative administration.

Gentlemen, the immediate duty of the year before us is to urge to completion the repeal of the four years' laws, to secure the passage of other State reform bills, and to carry the reformed system still further into the municipal service. Unprecedented progress has been made in all these directions, but, until this reform of administrative methods has become as much the irrevocable national and State policy as the personal freedom and equality before the law of every citizen, the work of this League and of the associations is not finished. Much has been done and much remains to do; and, in congratulating you upon the extraordinary success in the accomplishment of the objects of the League during the last two years, I cannot forbear to mention one other service, but of another kind, that we have been able to render. It is an inestimable service in popular government, and it is the more conspicuous at


this moment because we are now involved in the bitter controversy of a presidential election. It is the time in which party spirit rages uncontrolled, and in which, therefore, the fact which I mention is all the more impressive and significant, that the greatest and most beneficial reform in methods of administration which has ever been proposed in the country, a reform of abuses which were subjugating legitimate party action, destroying the moral authority of elections, demoralizing the public conscience, degrading official character, excluding able and upright men from public life, and disgracing the American name, has been begun and has been thus far effectively accomplished, not by party but by patriotism, by men in office and out of office, of different political convictions, strongly attached to different parties, anticipating political careers, yet co-operating with sincerity and enthusiasm, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but solely as Americans; before all, proud of their country; above all, resolved that the national name should be unstained and national politics raised to controversies of principle and policy. In all the proceedings of our associations and of this League, in all our appeals and arguments, there has been no word and no thought of party. Both Houses of Congress passed the national reform bill with practical party unanimity. A Democratic legislature in New York, a Republican legislature in Massachusetts, passed a State reform bill; a Republican President, a Democratic governor, have been the two most conspicuous and effective executive agents in enforcing the reform. If in the mad tumult of party passion, in the storm of hatred, falsehood,


and malignant injustice which a presidential election whirls over the land, some appalled citizen should be ready to despair of his country and to be ashamed of his kind, let him take heart again and be prouder than ever that he is an American, and anticipate with surer confidence the greater glory of his country, as he reflects that Civil-Service reform, thus far, has been the triumph of patriotism in the midst of party conflict and despite the ferocity of party spirit.