IN speaking of the Civil Service of the United States — by which is meant all of the public service that is not military — you will do me the justice to remember that I am criticising a system, not individual persons. There are many men of the utmost honor, ability, and fidelity in that service — some of them well known to us, some for whose appointment I am glad to say for my part that I have zealously labored — and it is in their name, it is that we may adopt a system by which the appointment of such officers may be made more probable than it ever can be under our present practice, that I shall now attempt to expose to you the folly and the peril of our system of the Civil Service.
If Dean Swift had described a revenue service in Brobdingnag by which a quarter of the whole sum collected was carried off by thieves or lost by incompetency, we should say that the extravagance of the satire destroyed its point; but the satirist would only have described exactly our situation. Or, if we should hear of a town that had made a man surveyor of highways because he played sweetly upon the French horn, or of a merchant who had selected a book-keeper because he
4was a Seventh-day Baptist, or of a railway company, a conductor because he had an aquiline nose, the country would roar with laughter. But now would all this be more absurd than that a thrifty and intelligent people, whose self-imposed taxation annually demands an immense sum of money to be collected by a vast body of special officers, should totally disregard the knowledge and fitness of the officers for that service, and ask only evidence of their unscrupulous party zeal? Such a system is the most wasteful, the most awkward, the most destructive, possible. It fosters personal and official corruption, it paralyzes legislative honor and vigilance, it poisons the spring of moral action, and so, vitiating the very character of the people, it endangers the permanence of the nation.
And yet, however plain the peril, because the ship bored by a thousand worms has not yet sunk, there are those who tell us that worm-eaten wood is as safe as sound timber. I certainly would not exaggerate the importance of this or of any danger. The ship may have pumps, there may be plenty of sailors, there may be the necessary skill and resolution to secure the common safety. But nevertheless the springing aleak is the beginning of shipwreck. What the ship wants is not only to float, but to sail, and not only to sail, but to sail prosperously. "All I claim," said Edmund Burke, in proposing economical reform in Parliament, "all I claim upon the subject of your resources is this, that they are not likely to be increased by wasting them." But our system of the Civil Service courts waste. We despise the very elements of national efficiency. We
5violate the fundamental principles of thrift and economy. We furnish the exact internal condition that would feast the greedy eyes of an enemy. It is not by money and arms only that great States are defended and great causes maintained. With a glance of jealous sagacity across the Channel Burke again exclaimed, "Principle, method, regularity, economy, frugality, justice to individuals, and care of the people are the resources with which France makes war upon Great Britain." Yes, and these are the resources with which national honesty makes war upon dishonesty, and patriotism upon mere party spirit. And when it is gravely urged that in a republic it is a necessity that the retainers of the dominant party shall be supported by the public treasury, it is alleged that economy and frugality, efficiency and honesty are incompatible with republican government. If they are so, republican government is incompatible with permanence, and will swiftly perish with the just and hearty contempt of every generous mind.
Fortunately this was not the view of the men who formed the government, and in the action of the first President our history refutes the theory and the practice which our common-sense repudiates. Massimo d'Azeglio, one of the best of men and of Italians, truly says of Washington that when he wrote from Mount Vernon to those who were at the head of the government, "Choose gentlemen for your officers," he did not mean, as his own administration showed, a particular social or political class; he meant self-respecting, responsible, and intelligent men. The whole number of officers in the
6Civil Service during Washington's administration was indeed, as he said, "a mere handful"; but he declared that nothing would procure an appointment but evidence of ability, integrity, and fitness. He had, indeed, been unanimously elected, and when his administration began party divisions did not exist. But this does not affect the justice of the principle of his appointments to office. When a friend made a personal appeal to him to appoint some one who did not seem to Washington competent, he replied: "My personal feelings have nothing to do with the case. I am not George Washington, but President of the United States. As George Washington I would do this man any kindness in my power; as President of the United States I can do nothing." They are words that should blaze in gold over the doors of the White House.
President Adams removed but nine subordinate officers, and none for their political opinions. Then came President Jefferson, riding a whirlwind of party passion which he honestly hoped to control. "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans," said he blandly, as he entered the Executive Chamber. Party spirit, however, demanded its victims. The pressure, he declared, was like that of a torrent, although the whole number of officers then in the customs service of the United States was three hundred less than those to-day in the New York Custom-house alone. Indeed, the whole number in the Civil Service was then less than five thousand, while to-day it is more than sixty thousand. But Jefferson said firmly, "Of the thousands of officers in the United States a very few individuals only — probably
7not twenty — will be removed, and these only for doing what they ought not to have done." Mr. Jefferson also removed some of the midnight appointments, as they were called, of Mr. Adams, which he thought Mr. Adams ought not to have made. "I shall correct the procedure," said Jefferson, "but that done, return with joy to that state of things when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be, Is he honest? is he capable? is he faithful to the Constitution?" And he kept his word so faithfully and was so wisely followed by Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams that the Congressional Committee upon Retrenchment report that, having consulted all accessible means of information, they have not learned of a single removal of a subordinate officer except for cause from the beginning of Washington's administration to that of Jackson.
But even during this first and, in this respect, best period of the government the evils of the want of a proper organization of the Civil Service had become apparent. Office was held at the will of the appointing power, not by any tenure of capacity, fidelity, and industry; and although continuance in office for those reasons was the practice, it was not the law.
The demoralizing sense of official insecurity, therefore, was not unknown even in the early administrations. Mr. Jefferson, as we have seen, resisted the pressure to remove. But then we must remember that he hoped to destroy the Federal party, by absorbing in his own party so many of its members as to leave it what he called a "monarchical faction." The threatening
8excitement of his election in the House of Representatives had brought many Federalists to his side, and he wrote to Monroe that he feared "deprivation of office, if made on the ground of political principles alone, would revolt our new converts." Moreover, it is not clear that to secure his election Mr. Jefferson had not made pledges not to remove. While the balloting for the Presidency was still proceeding, he wrote to Dr. Barton of Philadelphia that, in case of his election, "no man [in office] who had conducted himself according to his duties would have anything to fear from him." He said frankly, however, that his own party friends had "a reasonable claim to vacancies till they occupied their due share." Mr. Bayard of Delaware, a Federalist, whose action in the House elected Mr. Jefferson, made an affidavit in 1806 that at his request General Samuel Smith of Maryland spoke with Mr. Jefferson, who authorized him to say that, if he were elected, subordinate officers should not be removed on account of their political character, but only for official misconduct. Mr. Jefferson, in his Diary, says that Mr. Bayard's statement is absolutely untrue; and General Smith, while admitting that he talked with Mr. Jefferson at Mr. Bayard's request, denied that Mr. Jefferson authorized him to make any reply. It may be safely presumed, however, that Mr. Jefferson was much too shrewd a politician not to understand, under the circumstances, the exact significance and intention of General Smith's inquiries. And these facts show how early the tendency to prostitute the Civil Service to party purposes developed itself, and how imperative even then was the necessity of some
9reasonable system of appointment in place of the wild scramble for office.
In 1811, during Madison's administration, Josiah Quincy, with the bitterness of a partisan, indeed, but with picturesque and sturdy vigor, speaking of the sycophancy and servility of the pressure for office that followed the death of an incumbent, exclaimed: "Why, sir, we hear the clamors of the craving animals at the Treasury trough here in the Capitol. Such running, such jostling, such wriggling, such clambering over one another's backs, such squealing because the tub is so narrow and the company so crowded! No, sir, let us not talk of stoical apathy towards the things of the national Treasury either in this people or their representatives or senators."
This sounds like a satire of Martial's upon the decline of Rome. It was more than fifty years ago. Does it not seem like the disgraceful story of last spring and of every inauguration? Yet you will observe that enormous as the pressure may have been for offices vacant by death or resignation, plain as the necessity was for some system by which fitness for office might be secured, universal removal with the change of party ascendency had not yet become the practice.
But a new era was at hand, and on the 4th of March, 1829, amid a tremendous hurrah for Jackson, it began. "A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigor of the game: this," says Charles Lamb, "was the celebrated wish of old Sarah Battle, now with God." Andrew Jackson would have been a partner after Mrs. Battle's own heart. During the first forty years of the government the removals
10from subordinate office were not more than seventy-three. During the Presidency of General Jackson they were counted by thousands. Yet in 1816 he had forcibly written to Mr. Monroe that the President should not be a partisan; in Tennessee he had required of candidates as a condition of his support that they should be opposed to the extension of executive patronage, in resigning his seat as senator he proposed an amendment of the Constitution which would sever the relations which even then enabled that patronage to paralyze Congress, and he prophesied fatal corruption and tyranny if it were not ended. Now that patronage had fallen into his own hands, and he announced his intention to correct the abuse by which it interfered with the freedom of elections, no words could be finer. They were full of lofty promise. But they were immediately interpreted in plainer language, in what may be called the vernacular of the Jackson administration, by Mr. Samuel Swartwout, a friend and conspicuous partisan of the President. You remember Mr. Swartwout, who wrote to his friend Mr. Jesse Hoyt, in New York: "I hold to your doctrine fully that no d—d rascal who made use of his office or its profits for the purpose of keeping Mr. Adams in and General Jackson out of power is entitled to the least lenity or mercy save that of hanging. Whether or not I shall get anything in the general scramble for plunder remains to be proven — but I rather think I shall." Mr. Swartwout guessed correctly, as we all know. He got a great deal of the plunder. He not only got, but he gave. He got an office and he gave a new word to the language. He became collector and
11he "Swartwouted"; that is, he put the money in his own pocket instead of in the Treasury.
The new principle had not yet been openly avowed; but by and by Mr. Van Buren, the especial friend of President Jackson, was nominated as Minister to England. The debate upon his confirmation is memorable. He was opposed by Webster, by Clay, the great Whigs, and by Calhoun. He was accused of persuading the President to adopt the New York system of party removals. "It is a detestable system," cried Henry Clay, with long, pointing finger and flashing eye," it is a detestable system, drawn from the worst periods of the Roman republic, and if it were to be perpetuated — if the offices, honors, and dignities of the people were to be put up to a scramble and to be decided by the results of every Presidential election — our government and institutions, becoming intolerable, would finally end in a despotism as inexorable as that of Constantinople." Mr. Marcy, the friend of Mr. Van Buren, replied. He defended the politicians of New York. "They boldly preach what they practise," he declared. "When they are contending for victory, they avow their intention of enjoying the fruits of it." And then elevating Mr. Swartwout's truthful description, "the general scramble for plunder," into a statelier metaphor, he first used the famous phrase, "They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy."
That phrase described the system which President Jackson introduced and which all his successors of all parties have followed. Its motto is Vae victis, woe to the conquered, and, whichever party is the victor, the
12country is always the victim, and its interest, honor, and character follow chained and captive the chariot of the conqueror.
Nor have we had from any President a single word of manly protest against this monstrous system, until now President Grant says, in words which in spirit are worthy to stand with those of Washington: "There has been no hesitation in changing officials in order to secure an efficient execution of the laws; sometimes, too, when in a mere party view undesirable political results were likely to follow. Nor has there been any hesitation in sustaining efficient officials against remonstrance wholly political." At last, thank God, we have got a President whom trading politicians did not elect, and who is no more afraid of them than he was of rebels. And these manly and simple words are as full of cheerful promise as the bulletins of his advance upon Vicksburg. Our Hercules killed the Hydra of the Rebellion. Let him also cleanse the Augean stable of the Civil Service.
Do you ask what is the need of this work? You remember Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph in St. Paul's, Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice. If you seek his monument, look about you. Every four years the whole machinery of the government is pulled to pieces. The country presents a most ridiculous, revolting, and disheartening spectacle. The business of the nation, the legislation of Congress, are subordinated to distributing the plunder among eager partisans. President, secretaries, senators, representatives are dogged, hunted, besieged, besought, denounced, and they become
13mere office-brokers. The heads of departments, who are virtually the appointing power, can have no personal knowledge of applicants. They have also their own hopes, ambitions, and designs. They must depend upon the Congressional brokers, who have also their purposes. They, in turn, must rely upon local committees and partisans at home — all intent upon profit. Swift's contemptuous and familiar lines irresistibly repeat themselves:
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum."
They all worry and bargain and buy and plot. The country seethes with intrigue and corruption. The time is short. No man is sure of to-morrow. Make hay while the sun shines, and the devil take the hindmost. Economy, patriotism, honesty, honor, seem to become words of no meaning. You know an incompetent do-nothing who is always shiftlessly going behind in his business, and presto! he plunges into politics. He gets up clubs, meetings, processions, transparencies; becomes the active worker of the campaign, running about to post placards and procure speakers and rouse the country for Jones and Justice or Jenkins and the Rights of Man. It is really refreshing to you to behold a little pristine patriotism and devotion, and to see an honest man taking an active interest in politics. Alas! the moment the election is over he presents his little bill, and will take out his patriotic devotion in the biggest office he can get!
And what is the consequence? What would have been the consequence if Mr. Cooper, who built this hall, had managed his business in this way? He would have been not only despoiled, but ruined. The consequence is that the public service is more wretchedly performed and at a higher price than any private work. Officers, appointed not from considerations of fitness, but merely as a reward for the boisterous and busy idleness of politics, who know that there is no promotion, no reward, for zeal or efficiency, and that they are removable at the whim of others, have neither pride nor hope in the fulfilment of their duties. Taught by the system to regard the office as a prize, and warned by the same system that their tenure depends neither on industry, fidelity, nor efficiency, the officer seeks only to make the most of it in the shortest time, both to pay himself handsomely for his struggle in procuring it, and to provide against his early removal either by the victory of the other party — in which case all the trimmers and camp-followers of the victors will enter upon the spoils — or by the victory of his own party, in which case the great principle of rotation in office will roll him out and whirl a needy fellow-partisan in. Meanwhile, as a part of the vast scheme of patronage, the officer is judged, not by the manner in which he does his duty, but by the zeal with which he serves the party and the appointing power. He must devote himself to the management of meetings and elections. He must do what is called the hard work of a campaign. He must pay a heavy tax from his salary for the expenses of the party. I knew a case in which a tax of nearly seventeen per cent.,
15or a sixth of his whole salary, was demanded of a civil officer of the United States by his party committee for a mere State election. And when he gave what he thought proper as a citizen and not as an officer to give, which was two per cent, of his salary, his check was returned to him with the remark that the tax was only two per cent, upon the ascertained profits of his office. He quietly replied that if any incumbent of his office had made such profits, he had defrauded the government of nearly eight times the amount of his lawful salary, and he was unwilling to believe that the committee would take a dishonest profit as the basis of their tax. His letter was returned to him without an answer.
Thus the party in power — yes, my friend, my party as well as yours, if you are a Democrat — demands the public money paid to the public servants, in order to keep the party in power; and so curiously sophisticated has the public mind become upon this subject that an officer of the Civil Service recently gravely wrote to a newspaper that it was asking too much of private citizens to attend to the details of politics; that they do their share when they give sympathy, money, and, at the proper time and under proper directions, their votes. But the preliminary work must be left, he says, to those who are the recipients of the legitimate reward of office, and therefore we have such service as Mr. Samuel Swartwout and the writer of this letter choose to give us.
Of course, the reputation of the Service is long since ruined. It appeals to no man's pride. It touches no man's patriotism. The boy's quaint blue-coat in London
16hardly more surely marks him as a charity-scholar than the name of office-holder with us covers a man, however able and industrious he may really be, with a certain vague taint of shiftlessness and incapacity.
I am not saying, nor will you so understand me, that there are not many men of the highest honor, industry, and ability in the Civil Service of the United States. I am speaking of the system, and they know as well as we do that they are exceptional. They know, also, that all those credentials give them and theirs no security of their positions. They know, as we do, that a position procured without qualification and lost without fault, a post without honor or promotion, does not and cannot appeal to the desire and ambition of worthy men. How can a faithful, modest citizen, who would gladly serve the country for a moderate and permanent salary, and who is therefore the very one that the country needs, be attracted by a competition not of excellence, but of impudence and ignorance, and which Swartwout truly described as follows to his friend: "The great goers are the new men, the old troopers being all spavined and ring-boned from previous hard travel. I've got the bots, the fetlock, the hip-joint, gravel, halt, and founders, and I assure you if I can only keep my own legs I shall do well; but I'm darned if I can carry any weight with me"? If this had been a true description of the manner in which the military and naval service of this country had been entered, we may be very sure that no Grant with the bots would have emerged from the Wilderness, no hip-jointed Thomas would have pounded away at Chattanooga, no broken-kneed
17Meade have hurled back the Rebellion at Gettysburg, no halting Farragut have forced his way to New Orleans, no spavined Sherman have marched to the sea, no foundered Sheridan have scoured the Shenandoah, nor gravelled Winslow in the Kearsarge have sunk the Alabama.
The perversion of the Civil Service to a mere party machine is pitilessly cruel. Lately there was an officer in one of the departments, faithful, industrious, valuable. Misfortune fell upon his home, and from his lean salary he scraped a shred to buy comfort for a sick daughter. One day he was politically assessed, but he honestly stated his utter inability to pay. He was reported and condemned. To remove him was impracticable because of the influence that appointed him — so he was "cut down." Against this inhuman blow he struggled as he could, seeking extra work at night, fighting to keep himself and his family honestly alive. The struggle was too severe. He had been indeed "cut down," and he died. By the charity of his fellow-clerks he was decently buried and his family were helped to their Western friends. That man was our officer, doing our duty, doing it well. And how many lives are hanging at this moment in agony of terror by that single thread of patronage. It is an unspeakable cruelty. I do not hold the immediate appointing power responsible for this tragedy. It is the crime of the system. And when we, fellow-citizens, we who might put an end to it by supporting a simple, reasonable reform that would leave the poorly-paid officer to do his duty and to be sure of his place while he did it and to take his equal part in politics
18tics with the rest of us without fear and without favor — when we, who are the government, "cut down" these officers, we are guilty of their death.
But in a country like ours the evil consequences of such an organization of the public service cannot be limited to it. Such a system depreciates the moral standard of the country. When a poor fellow comes in good faith and asks to be made an officer of the customs because he has done all the dirty work of the party, and we allow the justice of his claim, we must not be surprised to find conspicuous citizens ostentatiously professing personal respect, esteem, and friendship for those appointed to high office whom they would not welcome to their homes. Dirty work is always of one nature. It is contemptible or it is criminal. But when it is not only tolerated but honored; when to the lower offices of a nation dirty work is an acknowledged recommendation, we must expect that to the higher offices a notorious and shameless life will be no barrier. What, then, is to be done? When the neighborhood of a Yankee village was infested with bears and wolves, did the people feebly wheeze, "Dear me! Nothing can be done"? No; they turned out and hunted the beasts and trapped and shot them. Let the people turn out and hunt and snare and destroy this foul beast of patronage! Do you ask why the President does not do it? Why does not the Pope reform the Church? Our Hercules is strong, but his strength is the people. He has a will; let them supply the force. Why did not President Lincoln issue his Emancipation Proclamation when
19Sumter fell? Because he knew that public opinion would not sustain him. He would not pluck the fruit until it was ripe, and he knew that the fierce heat of war would ripen it fast enough. He wisely waited. But when he raised his hand it was the people moving. When he spoke it was the people speaking. At his word the lovely genius of Liberty, strong with the strength of a people, confronted the ghastly giant of Slavery." At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead."
What we want is to intrench the principle and practice of Washington in the law. Theoretically the President and secretaries are responsible for the manner in which these offices are filled. Practically, the number of such offices makes it impossible that the appointing power should personally know the qualifications of applicants. Those who appoint must depend upon the representations of those who are interested not to tell the truth, or upon the certificates of those who are too weak to dare to tell it. I knew a distinguished public man who signed everybody's petition for every office, and then wrote privately to the appointing power that no attention should be paid to his recommendation; and I have myself been constantly asked by persons whom I never saw or heard of to sign their certificates because of the signature of this very gentleman who, as I knew, publicly recommended the appointment and privately protested against it. So entirely false and meaningless have recommendations to office, even of the highest kind, become that when
20the nomination of a foreign minister was recently rejected by the Senate it was found that five senators who voted against the confirmation had warmly urged the appointment.
The Civil-Service Reform therefore begins with the assertion that there is no reason in the nature of things or of our form of government that the United States should not manage its affairs with the same economy, ability, and honesty that the best private business is managed; and that to do this it must take the most obvious means not incompatible with the Constitution, with a popular government, with experience and common-sense. It therefore proposes a system of examinations and probations open to all citizens; the appointments to the subordinate offices to be made from those proved to be best qualified. Mr. Jenckes of Rhode Island, who has made a thorough and thoughtful study of the subject, appealing to Congress and the country with unanswerable facts and arguments, has introduced a bill providing for this reform. I do not discuss its details, both because objections are made to the principle and because the efficacy of the most sagacious plan depends upon the general perception that qualification and not patronage is the true principle of the public service. The value of the kind of system proposed by Mr. Jenckes, namely, selection by competition, has been thoroughly tested in other countries and especially in Russia and England. In 1855 the civil-service tribunal in England was established; but the bill does not provide for open competition of all applicants, but for the examination
21of those only who have been previously nominated. The logic of a good system, however, is so imperative that, after an experience of five years, a committee, of which Lord Stanley was chairman, recommended that competition for the junior offices should be open to all subjects, and, simultaneously with the introduction of Mr. Jenckes's bill to Congress, Mr. Fawcett moved in Parliament that all appointments to the civil and diplomatic service should be obtained by open competition. This principle has not yet been fully adopted; but it will be a happy day for England when no lord of the bedchamber can nominate a favorite to be clerk in the Treasury, as it will be a day of thanks-giving in America when the mere party politician in Congress shall no longer quarter his bottle-holders and runners upon the purses of the American people.
The objections which are urged against this imperative reform show rather a desire to oppose than any reason in opposition. Thus, it is urged that the examination would only determine knowledge, but could not ascertain either practical ability or moral quality. Very well, here are three qualifications — knowledge, ability, and morality. Now, if the examination secured only one of them, it is at least one third better than the present system, which does not secure any. This objection merely asserts that the reform would not satisfy an ideal standard. But what then? Shall we have no sanitary system, because it will not abolish small-pox and cholera? Shall we have no police, because the artful dodger will still pick pockets? Shall we have no bench as judges, because there may
22sometimes sit upon it a Jeffreys or a — anybody you please who makes justice a byword and law a stench? Shall we maintain the worst conceivable system of public service, because we may not at once improvise the best? A man who showed by examination an average ability would easily prove by a brief probation whether it could be specially applied to advantage. So with moral qualifications; if it be hard to test a man's essential morality, yet vice and ignorance are none the less allied, and certainly inquiry and testimony are more likely to secure honesty than irresponsible certificates of party service.
Then it is said that the reform would establish a circumlocution office and restore the great official practice of how not to do it. Now, I think it would be an extremely clever circumlocution office that would practise that principle more zealously than the present system does. What is the argument of this objection? It is, that if you make a lazy blacksmith a custom-house appraiser of laces because he is a party bully, and tell him that he will lose his office when his superior wants it for some one else; that he must take care of the next election, and will go out if the opposition comes in; and, if his party wins, that he will have had his share of the booty and must expect to give way to some other bully — the argument is that if you do this, the man will probably be an honest and efficient officer; but if you tell him that he shall keep his place as long as he does his duty properly, then he will turn out a lazy and idle do-nothing, and the whole service will be a circumlocution office. What is the foundation
23of the circumlocution office? Patronage, which is the very corner-stone of our present system. And it is against patronage, or a system under which noblemen and politicians gave public offices as rewards to their adherents, that Dickens shot his flashing and stinging satire. Even after the civil-service commission was appointed in England, Lord Malmesbury, the foreign secretary, nominated a candidate to a clerkship who had to undergo a pass-examination merely. But he utterly failed, and the commissioners would not give their certificate. Lord Malmesbury angrily remonstrated. "But, your lordship," replied the commissioners, "your candidate cannot spell the simplest words in the language." "Very well," replied his lordship; "I don't think such an accomplishment at all necessary." My lord insisted, the commissioners insisted and they conquered. My Lord Malmesbury was exactly the airy young Barnacle of Dickens's circumlocution office. "Look here," said the young Barnacle, putting his glass in his eye, "upon my soul, you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know." The reform abolished the circumlocution office. Its very principle is how to do it, by ascertaining who knows how and providing for the removal of those who are proved neither to know nor to care how.
Or, it is alleged that the reformed civil service will create a favored class and end in a haughty aristocracy. Is this indeed true? If we put capable men into public clerkships upon moderate salaries and turn them out when they become inefficient, shall we be encouraging the growth of a race of Italian tyrants and
24of Norman conquerors? Will these proud lords of fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars a year despoil our estates and crush us with taxes and send us to bed at the sound of the curfew? Will they defy the laws and make themselves judges and dispose of our daughters at their pleasure? This impending aristocracy of clerks upon small salaries is as fearful as Bottom's lion. "To bring in, God shield us! a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing; for there is not a more fearful wild-fowl than your lion living."
Of course, it is not seriously urged that such a system leads to an aristocracy, for to the idea of an aristocracy some kind of privilege or special political power is essential. Now, a clerk in the public service neither gains nor loses by that fact any political power; while, if it be a privilege that a clerk who is fit for his office may retain it as long as he does his duty, as the reform proposes, it is certainly much more a privilege that a clerk who is unfit for his office may retain it for life, as he may under the present system. Moreover, if it be an obnoxious privilege that honest efficiency shall be the tenure of the subordinate offices, it is no less a privilege that one man should fill a clerkship even for four years when every other man in the country has as good a claim to it. The present practice admits to office the unqualified party favorites of a few politicians. The reform throws open these offices to every citizen of proved qualification. Which is the privilege, which is the aristocracy?
"But anyhow," says the same objector, your new system is taken from monarchical governments and is
25not suited to the genius of our institutions. We'll have nothing from Europe." This objection would probably have reminded Mr. Lincoln of a little story of the hot election of 1829. An anti-Jackson partisan fell into the water, and, when nearly drowned, was seized by the hand and drawn to the surface, while his excited rescuer, delighted to save him, expressed his joy in the familiar phrase, "Hurrah for Jackson!" "What d' you say?" asked the drowning man thickly, but not so far gone that he could not hear the obnoxious name — "what d' you say?" "Hurrah for Jackson!" replied the other. "No, I'll be darned if I'll be saved by a hurrah-for-Jackson man," said the first, shaking off his hand and sinking back into the water. The truth is that a nation not yet a hundred years old would find itself seriously perplexed if it scornfully rejected whatever is approved by foreign experience. If our sense of the fitness of things is so exquisite that we cannot adopt a system, however excellent, because it is found to be compatible with good government elsewhere, what are we to do? Upon this principle the only truly American hen, of course, is one that laid the egg from which she was herself hatched; and exactly in the same way, but in no other, a truly American policy is that which disdains learning from the experience of other nations. If to secure intelligence, industry, and fidelity in the public service by methods which the experience of other countries has approved is not according to the genius of our institutions, and ignorance, incapacity, incalculable waste, and incessant knavery are according to that genius, then it is an evil genius, and our eagle is no eagle, but a
26buzzard. He does not soar to the sun, he stoops to carrion. But it is a slander to suppose it. The genius of our institutions is reason and common-sense, and therefore we will have anything from anywhere that may be of service. The Chinese wall shall not be high enough to keep tea from the cabin on the prairie, nor the Persian gulf deep enough to hide pearls from the neck of beauty. The deserts of Arabia shall not cozen us of her berry, nor the remotest Himalayan valley of the precious fabric of its skill. If France or Germany or England opens a new path in physical or political science, we will walk in it. If they offer a new invention, we will test it. If they announce a new thought, we will consider it. If in any pursuit or art they propose another method than ours, and, testing it, we approve, we will adopt it. It is blank barbarism to wrap ourselves in mere nationality and to suppose that we monopolize what is best and fairest in human nature. St. Simeon Stylites upon his column renouncing human affections and spurning social relations is not a more pitiful figure than a nation cherishing a morbid conceit of its own superiority and disdaining fraternity with other nations. Beyond the mountains, says the German proverb, there are men also. Beyond the ocean, let us reply, are men as good as we and many a better system. If genuine modesty becomes a man, not less does it adorn a people. When Newton was wisest he said, "My knowledge is small." Now that we have vindicated our character, let us not belittle it by bragging. For the boasting of the nation is just thirty million times more ridiculous than the boasting of a
27single citizen. Remember with what complacent folly a few years ago we derided the effete despotisms of Europe, and pitied Silvio Pellico and Maroncelli because they were doomed to the Spielberg for preaching liberty under Austrian rule; and lo! at the very moment that we pitied and sneered, the most venerable and honorable citizen of one part of our own country could not soberly plead in the courts of another part for the bare observance of the laws without being silenced by a mob and menaced with worse than the Spielberg if he persisted. Let us never forget that those who boasted loudest had the meanest conception of America, and that it was slavery which vociferously called its conquests extending the area of freedom. Despite the roar of conventions on every hand pandering to prejudice and conceit, to class-hatred and to foreign jealousy, despite the assertion that masses of men are ignorant and, if you would move, you must flatter and humor them, let us never forget that what is best in the national character, not what is worst, is most truly American.
To that better sentiment I appeal; to the consciousness that a demoralized nation is a perishing nation, and that the demoralization resulting from our present civil-service system is well-nigh universal, is appalling, almost disheartening. In public opinion, in your opinion, in the opinion of good citizens everywhere, alone lies the hope and the remedy. Let us understand that the time has come when the people of this country must grapple with the trading politicians, the men who trade in politics for their own advantage, the vampires
28who suck the moral life-blood of the nation. They will scornfully and desperately resist. The rings, the demagogues, the Swartwouts, the pretorian guards, all the minions of prejudice, passion, and selfish interest, will cry to heaven. Let them cry; our business is to rout them.
"Did you hear that fearful scream?" asked a Union soldier of his comrade in the early days of the war, as they pressed on in the deadly assault up the bloody slope.
"Yes, what is it?"
"It is the rebel yell. Does it frighten you?"
"Frighten me! Frighten me! It is the music to which I march."
And they planted the starry flag of victory upon the rebel rampart.
Let the roar of our opponents be the music to which we march, and we too shall march to victory!