The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President McKinley, June 4th, 1897


16 East 64th St., New York, June 4, 1897.

My dear Mr. President: Mr. McAneny, the secretary of the Civil Service Reform League, will present to you a memorial from a committee of that body which speaks for itself. The permission you kindly gave me at our very pleasant interview here to write to you whenever I thought I had anything pertinent to say, encourages me to add a few words.

The triumph of the Republican party at the last election seems to have had the effect of exciting in its spoils politicians the hope of upsetting what has been gained for the cause of civil service reform by a hard struggle of many years. This fact in itself cannot but be in the highest degree mortifying and humiliating to every conscientious Republican who remembers the solemn pledges of the platform of his party. You are no doubt aware of what has happened in this State. You will, I am sure, not think it unnatural that the class of citizens to which I belong should find it hard to see the victory to which they have more or less contributed used by some of its beneficiaries to the end of undoing a great work to which we had devoted the best efforts of our lives, and to be, in addition, assailed with gross personal abuse for defending what the Republican party had solemnly promised to maintain and extend.

It is needless to say that I have the fullest confidence in your good faith, and this confidence inspires me with the hope that you will not take amiss a respectful suggestion which I venture to offer to your consideration. It seems to me that this whole reactionary effort might be checked by you with a few calm words to this effect: that you have always considered and do now consider the merit system a good thing in itself and in its effects a vast improvement upon former methods; that the Republican party has constantly declared itself to be of the same opinion; that it has solemnly pledged itself in its platform to maintain the reformed system and to extend it wherever practicable; that you as the official head of the party have confirmed that pledge and promise to make it good; that as a faithful chief magistrate and an honest man you feel yourself bound to redeem that promise in good faith; that no Republican ought to ask a President of his party to break his word to cease being an honest man and to disgrace the party itself by dishonoring its pledges; and that if any Republican asks you to do this thing, that is, to take any step backward and to refrain from extending the reformed civil service system wherever practicable, all you have to answer is that as a conscientious man, as a good Republican President, you cannot do it.

I am quite confident that such a simple and calm declaration coming from you would stop the whole hue and cry at once. And if they tried in Congress to force your hand by inserting in appropriation bills provisions exempting this or that class of employees from the civil service rules, and you returned such bills without your approval on the ground that legislation of that kind does not belong in appropriation bills and is an improper interference with the Executive power, aside from the fact that it conflicts with the Republican platform, I have not the least doubt that the bills would at once be repassed without those provisions, and that such things would never be heard of again. On the whole, I am convinced that such steps on your part would instantly arrest the reactionary movement, save you from no end of trouble, and be received with enthusiastic applause by the whole country—an applause which would completely silence the noisy shouters and put them to shame. I need not tell you how the people admire and love courageous honesty.

Neither do I think that the investigation by the Senate Committee at present going on should be regarded as standing in the way of such a declaration. That investigation is, it appears, so conducted as to show that the civil service law and the rules have not been fairly and impartially executed. Assuming this to be shown, the remedy would not be the total or partial abolition of the law and the rules, but a fairer, more impartial and more efficient enforcement of them.

Will you pardon the freedom with which I have written to you? My heart is in the cause, and I feel I can serve it, as well as your Administration, in no better way than by speaking to you with entire candor and sincerity.