Harper's/Republicanism and the Civil Service

Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz
by Carl Schurz
Republicanism and the Civil Service
505273Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz — Republicanism and the Civil ServiceCarl Schurz


It is reported from Washington that certain Republican members of Congress are preparing for a grand rush against the civil service law; that they will seek, in the first place, to prevail upon President McKinley to rescind the executive order by which President Cleveland largely extended the operation of the rules; and that, having thus set the ball rolling, they expect to overthrow the whole civil service reform system without further difficulty. Rumor also has it that the Hon. Charles Henry Grosvenor, who represents the Eleventh District of Ohio, will lead the assault. This is hard to believe.

To be sure, Mr. Grosvenor has been opposed to civil service reform in the common acceptation of the word. He has frankly said so on various occasions. He has made no secret of it that he prefers, and would like to revive, the so-called spoils practices which prevailed in all departments of the government in the “good old time” before the civil service law was enacted. To judge from the vivacity of his language, his feelings on that subject are strong. And yet it cannot be that he should lead an attack upon civil service reform with intent to kill or maim. This belief is based upon the best of reasons.

Mr. Grosvenor is a Republican of Republicans. There is not the slightest flavor of mugwumpery in his composition. He would despise himself if there were. He prides himself upon being a party man, thorough and loyal in the strongest sense of the term. To him a resolution contained in the party platform is the expression of the will of the party; and the will of the party involves to him a moral obligation of a force no less binding than any of the ten commandments. He will not tolerate any deviation from it, upon penalty of excommunication. On the 26th of February last he rose in the House of Representatives and solemnly laid down the law thus: “Mr. Speaker: Important declarations in political platforms are never the result of accident, but are always the result of design. They are always born of conditions existing in the constituents of the party that gives the utterance. The Republican convention at St. Louis was a representative body of a great party in the country, and the men who went there and represented their several constituencies understood the conditions at home. They did not go to St. Louis to declare a platitude, nor to make a declaration that was not demanded by existing conditions, and that was not in consonance with the opinions of their constituents. . . . It was an occasion that will be a warning to a great many men in this country that they must obey party dictation and follow party standards, or cease to be members of that party.” And when, after this solemn announcement, another Republican member, perhaps of uneasy conscience, ventured to ask, “What does the gentleman mean by that?” Mr. Grosvenor sternly replied, “I mean exactly what I say.”

The declaration thus put forth by Mr. Grosvenor was general in its nature. It did not merely refer to the subject under discussion, but to all articles of the party creed; for Mr. Grosvenor is not the kind of Republican who would permit any one to pick out from a party platform one mandate that he would be pleased to obey, and another that he would feel at liberty to reject, and still claim recognition as a loyal, regular party-man. To question either the general meaning or the sincerity of so unequivocal and emphatic an utterance would be doing Mr. Grosvenor gross injustice. No doubt he “meant exactly what he said.” All that is necessary, therefore, to determine Mr. Grosvenor's attitude with regard to civil service reform is to inquire what the Republican platform says about it. Fortunately its language is clear. On the 16th of June, 1896, the Republican National Convention spoke as follows: “The civil service law was placed on the statute-book by the Republican party, which has always sustained it, and we renew our repeated declarations that it shall be thoroughly and honestly enforced and extended wherever practicable.”

Orthodox and loyal Republican that he is, Mr. Grosvenor will unhesitatingly bow to this commanding deliverance. He will spurn with contempt the suggestion which some frivolous person might make, that this was a hasty, ill-considered, accidental utterance smuggled into the platform by some “faddist.” He will remember that it was only a repetition of what every Republican National Convention has invariably declared during a quarter of a century; for since 1872 there has been no Republican national platform without this clear and emphatic pledge. It may therefore, in the language of Mr. Grosvenor, well be said that this declaration for civil service reform was “never the result of accident, but always the result of design, born of conditions existing in the constituents of the party that gave the utterance.” Nor will he forget that when the Republican party, through its national convention in St. Louis, made the promise thoroughly and honestly to enforce the civil service law, and wherever practicable to extend it, the order of President Cleveland, of which some Republicans complain, was fully known to it, as it had been nearly six weeks in operation as part of the system. And not only does the Republican party through its platform stand pledged to enforce all this honestly and thoroughly, but even to go beyond it by further extension of the operation of the law wherever practicable. Nor will Mr. Grosvenor lose sight of the significant fact that Mr. McKinley, the Republican candidate for the Presidency, emphatically acknowledged his obligation. “The pledge of the Republican National Convention,” said he, in his letter of acceptance, “that our civil service laws shall be sustained and ‘thoroughly and honestly enforced and extended wherever practicable,’ is in keeping with the position of the party for the past twenty-four years, and will be faithfully observed.”

Can it be imagined that Mr. Grosvenor, in flagrant defiance of the repeated declarations and pledges put forth by the Republican platforms, would lead or even countenance an assault upon the civil service law? Impossible! If he thus refused to “obey party dictation and to follow party standard,” he would, according to his own words, “cease to be a member of the Republican party.” He would be obliged with his own voice to pronounce the sentence of excommunication upon all Republicans who might follow his leadership. He will, therefore, as a true Republican party man, bravely subdue his belligerent impulses, loyally recognize and “obey party dictation and follow party standards,” and faithfully co-operate with the Republican President in honestly and thoroughly enforcing the civil service law, and in extending it wherever practicable.

To be sure, when doing so, he will have to disavow some hot words pronounced by himself in unguarded moments when a rebellious temper ran away with his Republicanism. His friends and well-wishers, of whom there are many, will no doubt be willing to forget them. But when he has recovered his cool Republican state of mind, he will soon find that the things which irritated him are not as bad as he once thought. He will remember that, while the extension of the civil service rules made by Mr. Cleveland covered a number of Democrats who had during his term been put in office, only Republicans were in office when President Arthur signed the civil service law, and a great many Republicans had just been put in office when President Harrison extended it. He will remember that at the beginning of President Harrison's administration about 1800 railway mail clerks were removed to make room for Republicans just before the railway mail service was placed under the rules. He will remember that when, subsequently, the Democrats having returned to power, an attempt was made to open their places again to the persons so removed, the civil service reformers, who are by strict party men usually classed as mugwumps, with one voice protested against such a measure. And if he will take the trouble to inquire, he will doubtless find that to-day the number of Republicans in the classified service is vastly greater than that of Democrats. He will find, moreover, that if any of the places covered by Mr. Cleveland's order are occupied by persons unfit for their official duties, there is nothing in the civil service law to prevent their removal. Of course such vacancies will then have to be filled, not with persons selected by political patrons, but according to the result of competitive examinations open to all. But Mr. Grosvenor, once firmly planted on the Republican platform, will easily come to recognize this as a public benefit.

The honorable gentleman, it is to be hoped, will not object to this application of the Republican party creed by one who is given to independent action in politics. Mr. Grosvenor has laid down his own law; and nobody can complain of injustice who is judged according to the standard set up by himself.

Carl Schurz.    

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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