The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Cleveland, April 10th, 1893


“Solitude,” April 10, 1893.

Your letter of the 6th inst. is in my hands. I need not remind you that since the beginning of your great career I have been your devoted friend and that you always could count upon my cordial and active support when ever there was any call for it. What my motives and purposes were, you know best. I may have troubled you with criticism and remonstrance, but only in behalf of the public interest and your own success and honor. I say this merely to emphasize the fact that I cannot possibly wish to find fault with your Administration and that nobody can be more delighted than I am to find unfounded an unfavorable impression I may have conceived.

The figures I mentioned as to the removals of fourth-class postmasters were based upon the newspaper reports which were my only source of information. I am sincerely glad to know that the number of removals has not been as large as supposed. But the question of numbers, is after all, not the important one. If Mr. Maxwell's doings differ from those of Mr. Clarkson only in the quantity of mischief, the difference is unessential. Some papers report that postmasters who have served four years, or nearly so, are selected for removal. If this is true, they will all have been changed before the Administration is over, and nothing substantial will have been gained. It will only be an additional reaction of that four-year law which has done more harm to the public service and to our political life than any other legal enactment. With a change of party in power, the scandal of the clean sweep will be repeated and we shall be where we were before. But if you declare it to be your policy and purpose, to divide the postmasterships about equally between the two parties, and make only removals for cause, of which there will probably be plenty, with a view to that end, it will not be very difficult to carry a measure through Congress regulating the appointment of fourth-class postmasters upon sound civil service principles. Then the back of the spoils system will be broken forever. What still remains to be done will easily follow.

I know you have never made any specific promise to do this. But what you have said on various occasions about the evils of the spoils system and the remedial policy to be adopted, fairly implies it, and there is no doubt that it is expected of you. Your enemies have expected, no less than your friends, that you would never permit the Clarkson scandal to be repeated in any degree. Anything that works in the direction of a clean sweep, whether rapid or slow, under your Administration, is a very serious disappointment. As your sincere friend I am in duty bound to tell you this. It is not the impatience of the reformer that speaks out of me, but calm and candid observation when I say that there is a very general disgust with the old nuisance, and an equally general feeling that the time for abolishing it and for putting a decent and civilized system in its place has now come. If this feeling is crossed, you may be sure that as the bulletins from the General Post-Office come day after day, you will never hear the last of it. The public mind is now fixed upon this point, and you must not be surprised if your action with regard to just this matter is taken as the measure of your practical fidelity to the principles you possess. If you turned the patronage of New York State to Murphy, Hill and Sheehan, the sensation would be more painful than that created by the continuance of old abuses in the post-office although, in a less degree. I think I am not going too far in predicting, that a clean sweep, or anything approaching it, would sufficiently discredit your Administration to defeat the Democratic party in 1896.

As an ardent friend of tariff-[reform] and currency-reform I need not be told that civil service reform is not the only concern of your Administration. But it is certainly not the least important one. On the contrary, you have a chance of doing the country a more lasting service and of gaining greater renown on this field than on any other. Moreover, it is my honest opinion that by such a measure of civil service reform you will immensely strengthen yourself in carrying the reform of the tariff and of the currency, for you will have the most potent opinion of the country more strongly on your side and wield a much greater moral authority over Congress. It cannot be repeated too often that your peculiar power consists in your standing with that public opinion and nothing else. When we spoke at the Reform Club banquet about the “moral forces in politics,” we meant just this. You cannot try to carry your points by making concessions to the spoils politicians without being ultimately beaten, for you leave the ground on which you are strong. To the enlightened opinion, to the moral sense of the country, to the confidence of the most patriotic and public-spirited part of the people you owe all your personal successes. With these forces at your back you can do anything. Without them, you will be at the mercy of your enemies, for a man like you can never successfully play with them at their own game.

Pardon my frankness and my persistency. As a citizen I wish to serve our common cause, and you as a friend. This I can do in no better way than by telling you without reserve what I think. I am now engaged in preparing the annual address for the reunion of the National Civil Service Reform League. It would make me a very happy man, if, instead of expressing in that address merely the hope that you would stop the old scandal in the Postal Department, I were able to thank you for having declared your determination to do it.

I enclose an article from the Springfield Republican, one of your friends, showing the run of public sentiment.

I am, dear Mr. President,

Faithfully yours.