The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Cleveland, May 13th, 1893


Pocantico Hills, May 13, 1893.

Before leaving Washington I had a conversation with Secretary Carlisle about the financial situation, in the course of which he expressed himself as more and more inclined to think that the earliest possible calling together of Congress—earlier than September—would be advisable. I am very much of the same opinion. The financial condition of the country is becoming more critical every day. The failures and restrictions of credit which have already occurred are only a premonitory symptom. Whatever measures the Executive alone can take will only be palliatory, temporary makeshifts. I fear you take too great a responsibility upon yourself for what may happen if the meeting of Congress is put off unnecessarily long. As to the chances of getting the required legislation, they would probably be as good now as they may be four months hence.

My conversation with Mr. Carlisle also drifted upon the Sturtevant case, and Mr. Carlisle gave me the same reasons for the removal that I heard from you. You probably had them from the same source. After I had seen Mr. Carlisle I met several newspaper correspondents, some of whom I know to be very honorable and responsible men. The story I heard from them was very different; that Mr. Sturtevant was a man of moderate fortune, “well off” for a Government clerk; that he had acquired his means by economy, prudent management and a few fortunate investments; that the charge of his supplying [?] newspaper men with stationery etc., was utterly unfounded and absurd; that he was much esteemed as a citizen; that if the fact of a Government clerk's getting into good circumstances by legitimate means were to subject him “ex ipso to suspicion” and tell against him, it would probably have a bad effect upon the morals of the force; that Mr. Logan Carlisle, the appointment clerk, was boastingly proclaiming his purpose to clean out the Republicans from the Department as far as his power would reach, very much in the Eugene Higgins style; that he professed to be especially after those who were said to have made themselves indispensable; and that he would see them removed simply because they were Republicans.

I heard these things from several different sources which I have reason to consider trustworthy, and I must confess that I believe them to be substantially true. This seems to be “a case of a young man” whose head is turned by the possession of power and who wishes to show what he can do. His performances are attracting the same kind of attention that Eugene Higgins's antics attracted eight years ago. You will certainly stop this some day. Would it not be well to stop it promptly before more mischief is done?

I am by no means of the opinion that there should be no removals at all. I think the removal order by Secretary Lamont to clear his Department of incapables will be approved by every fair-thinking man. The manner in which he proceeded was admirable. Why should not a similar method be adopted in every Department? If after such an inquiry a man like Sturtevant is found unworthy to remain in the service, nobody will have a right to find fault. But when the same thing is done, or caused to be done, by a young appointment clerk attempting to run a great Department, it has a very different look.

I spoke with Secretary Carlisle about putting the division chiefs under the civil service rules. He expressed himself heartily in favor of it; the sooner it were done the better. I would again submit to you, whether it would not be well to do this now. I had a talk with Mr. Roosevelt about it, who assured me that the Commission had ample machinery for it and the measure could be immediately executed without the slightest difficulty. If it had been done at the beginning of the Administration it would already have obviated a good deal of criticism and I am sure the sooner it is done now the better it will be for the service and the more it will relieve you of trouble. It will not in the least interfere with the necessary cleaning out of the Departments, for the power of removal will remain intact. But it will put the reason for which removals are made, above suspicion. Besides, the adoption of the measure would silence much of the criticism now heard.

In connection with this I would suggest that it would be very desirable to have the Civil Service Commission put in permanent working order. I know you have been too much overrun to get to it, but it would probably not consume much of your time if you took it up. From all I can learn, General [Joseph E.] Johnston is really a mere obstruction to good work in the Commission, not much better than the late Edgerton. He seems to be at present studying how to prevent a further extension of the rules, and how to secure to the postmasters, whose offices have recently been put under the rules, an opportunity for making a clean sweep of their subordinates before the rules go actually into force. This would be like the scandal caused by the ravaging of the railway mail service at the beginning of the Harrison Administration, and ought certainly to be prevented.

Will you pardon me for confessing that something you said to me last Wednesday after dinner has really alarmed me? It was that I would be one of the first to blame you if you failed to get the necessary financial legislation through Congress by the “want of a little tact.” I have thought of it since a good deal and I cannot refrain from expressing again my conviction that the employment of tact in the shape of patronage, for the purpose of carrying the desired legislation through Congress would be an utterly ruinous course. I have been in public life thirty-five years, part of the time in official position and all the time an attentive observer. I know of no attempt by a President thus to put through an important and warmly contested piece of legislation without arousing violent animosities and without ultimate disaster. Usually it has proved entirely useless too, as to the immediate object in view. Congressmen ask for places to strengthen themselves with their constituencies. Those who do this will not cast votes which they think will weaken them with their constituencies after having taken the places. But in your case such a policy would amount to the forfeiture of the greatest of your opportunities. You have those problems before you—the financial question, the tariff question and the abolition of the spoils system. With regard to the first two, your success is uncertain, for it depends upon Congress. As to the third, your success is in your own hands. And that success, if fully achieved, will send your name to posterity with immortal honors. If you proclaimed now, in addition to what you have already declared, that your recent experience has more than ever convinced you of the viciousness of the spoils system, that you are inflexibly determined not to make a removal and not to refuse a reappointment without conscientiously ascertained cause, and to make appointments only in the interest of the public service, and thus to put an end to spoils politics, you would not lose a single vote on your financial and your tariff policies that you otherwise would get, and you would array a public opinion on your side that would come to your aid with tremendous force. You would be recognized as one of the greatest benefactors of the American people. You might lose some partisans, but you would win a much larger number of a much higher character and make your party stronger than it ever was before. You have the most enviable opportunity of this generation, and I pray that it may not be lost. Pardon these warm words of a faithful friend. I have taken the liberty of addressing a letter to you introducing Mr. Francis E. Leupp, the editor of Good Government, the organ of the National Civil Service Reform League. He may be of good use in presenting his conceptions and promoting a just understanding between the Administration and the League.