The point of attack is the national treasury. The cry is, "On to Washington!" The new foray is not the sudden dash of a scouting party; it is literally the charge of an army. The brazen throats of the bugles and the buglers ring out the inspiring slogan, "Pensions for all!"
Is there no moral resistance in the people? Must the guardians of the public money throw up their hands, while the foragers carry off the national cash-box? Or must they buy off the raiders as once upon a time the Romans bribed the Gauls?
A comprehensive pension system corrodes the heart of government and beguiles a people into servitude. A caste composed of pensioners is always the defender of existing wrongs. It believes that all reforms are assaults upon its own privileges and that public honesty is dangerous. It can always be depended on to support the pensioning power. The history of England shows how worthless ministries have retained office for years by a judicious distribution of pensions. National alms-giving weakens public spirit as it conquers private virtue.
In the United States we have converted civil offices into gifts called patronage, and pensions will share the same fate. Where public offices are legal tender in payment for party services, pensions will become so too. To a dangerous extent they are used as political currency now. By a skillful use of pensions the party in power can bribe one portion of the people with the money of the other.
With the warnings of all history before us, we submit to the corruption of our politics by a pension system heavier than was ever laid upon any other people since governments began. No monarchy, no hierarchy, no oligarchy ever had the daring to put so many idlers under public pay as we have placed there by our pension laws. Some of us think that consequences do not follow causes in republics as in the "effete monarchies," and that we can dignify our people by an alms-tribute that would debase the people of those benighted lands across the sea. With much vehemence we exclaim: "Pensions are not a king's prerogative here; they are the free gifts of a free people. Pensions can not corrupt us. The Asiatic cholera is harmless here, because it is not an American disease."
It has never been suspected that the warriors who subdued the great rebellion, who marched and counter-marched over half a continent and fought a thousand battles, were a puny, sickly race of men. Yet this is the inference we must draw from the official testimony of the Commissioner of Pensions. In his report for 1888 he says, "It thus appears that in the aggregate 1,166,926 pension claims have been filed since 1861, and in the same period 737,200 claims have been allowed."