The Conservative (Nebraska City, Neb.) 1898-1902, February 23, 1899, Page 4, Image 4

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4 'Cbe Conservative *
ILJelivort'd itl the dinner of the Massachusetts
Reform Club , in Boston , Mass. , on February
11,1S8 ! , by Hon. Sherman S. Rolens , of Buf
falo , Now York. ]
GENTLEMEN : A somewhat extended
perusal of the literature furnished by
the Fifty-fifth congress in the columns
of the Congressional Record has awak
ened in iny mind u powerful desire to
find something concerning the subject of
my discourse tonight that may be re
garded as settled. Possibly , that desire
may not be gratified.
I did think that the spoils system was
so generally and so thoroughly discred
ited that no man who claimed the right
to influence anybody else by his opinion
or who cared to be thought either intel
ligent or patriotic , or both , would have
the courage to defend it in the congress
of the United States or elsewhere. I
have to confess frankly that , no greater
mistake could have been made.
There seems to be a chivalric conten
tion in the house of representatives as to
who shall declare in loudest tones and
with most applause from the galleries ,
"Mr. Chairman , I am a spoilsman. "
I confess , too , that I had a strong im
pression that the republican party , one
of whose humblest members I claim to
be , was so fully committed to the civil
service reform that no one who recog
nized party obligations in their true and
honorable sense would raise his hand
against a law which it was the party's
boast had been "placed on the statute
book" by itself , and against a reform
system that it had solemnly declared
should be extended to all the grades of
the service to which it is applicable.
But here again I found myself mis
taken. It is true that I do not find
many of the responsible leaders of that
party avowing open hostility to the law ;
but of the minor members , so to speak ,
there has been such an outcry against
this system as to make its more timid
friends fear that the entire pack was
upon it , and would pull down and de
vour it bodily. The rhetoric of all the
spoils orators of past years has been re-
aired and supplemented ; and the party
has been threatened with destruction ,
with being "torn and scattered by a
cyclone of public indignation , born of
justice and love of liberty , " unless it re
linquishes its worship of what , in the
language of one of the most perfervid of
these declaimers , "has done and is doing
more to debauch our politics and destroy
the efficiency of those in the civil service
of the United States than all the other
influences combined since the organiza
tion of the government the so-called
merit system. "
But , gentlemen , let mo say at once
that , while I do not underrate the
strength of the spoilsmen in congress , I
do not fear them. Their assault , how
ever , justifies a consideration of the pre
sent condition of the civil service reform
and a presentation anew of its claims
upon the people.
A very brief re ume of the history of
the reform , therefore , may not be inap
When the men who led in the move
ment for the reform of the civil service
in the United States began their work ,
they entertained no light opinion either
of its importance or of the difficulty of
achieving success. They knew that the
pernicious system whose overthrow they
sought was intrenched in every election
district in the land ; that the great body
of the people had grown up under it ,
and regarded it as essentially a part of
the American system of government.
They knew that its home was in the
public offices , and that the setting on
foot and administration of the reform
must be entrusted mainly to officials
who had been nurtured from their earli
est infancy in applied politics , iipou
ideas and practices to which the new
system was radically hostile.
It was in 1867 that Mr. Jeuckes , of
Rhode Island , from the joint committee
of congress on retrenchment , submitted
his memorable report , accompanied by a
bill to regulate the civil service of the
United States and promote its efficiency.
In their report the committee said of
the bill :
"It is conceded that this will work an
entire change in the mode of appoint
ment to and the tenure of office of the
subordinate civil service of the govern
ment. "
These notable words may be com
mended to the members of the Fifty-fifth
congress who profess to believe that
under the present law the classified
service has been extended far beyond its
original intent.
Before the great bill which makes the
name of Mr. Pendletou immortal was
passed , there had been ample opportu
nity to test the situation. In March ,
1871 , a brief section was inserted in the
appropriation bill authorizing the presi
dent "to prescribe such regulations for
the admission of persons to the civil ser
vice as might best promote its efficiency ,
and appoint suitable persons to institute
inquiries touching the matter , and to
establish regulations for the conduct of
appointees. "
Mr. Jenckes , the earliest champion of
the reform , had prepared a bill , in con
nection with his report of 1807 , in which
a competitive system of appointment
was carefully outlined , and made it
compulsory ; but this could not pass , and
the brief provision in the appropriation
bill of 1871 , to which I have just alluded ,
was all that could oven at that time bo
obtained from congress.
It was under this authority that Pres
ident Grant appointed George William
Curtis and six other gentlemen to con
duct inquiries and report regulations for
the president's approval ; in other words ,
to prepare and report a working plan
for the establishment of administrative
The next ten years were years of edu
cation. I have no time to speak of them
with much detail. Looking back upon
them , wo can see that they were years
of needful preparation. They disclosed
the reluctance of politicians of all par
ties to treat the attempt to regulate and
promote the efficiency of the civil ser
vice with fairness or even with respect.
They presented the spectacle of a house
of representatives refusing a meagre ap
propriation to carry on the work of the
commission , so that President Grant ,
who was the sincere and had been the
pronounced friend of the reform , be
came convinced that congress was op
posed to it , and ceased to urge its claims.
They disclosed , however , such a
growth in popular sentiment that both
of the great political parties in 1876 vied
with each other in the strength of their
platform declarations in favor of civil
service reform. Then followed the ex
citement of the Hayes-Tilden campaign
and the election of Mr. Hayes. His four
years witnessed a slightly lessened
though more complicated scramble for
spoils , but in the federal offices in New
York experimental tests were success
fully made of the reform system. Mr.
Hayes was loyal to his pledges , but con
gress was still hostile to the reform.
Mr. Garfield was elected iipon a plat
form that in terms adopted the declara
tion of Mr. Hayes , that the reform
should bo "thorough , radical , and complete
" and which demanded "the
plete , co
operation of the legislative with the ex
ecutive department of the government. "
It. cannot be doubted that the assassi
nation of the president aroused the
country to the dangers attending the
distribution of the federal offices and
rightly too. The scramble had become
wild , almost insane , dominating the en
tire political life of the time. In the
party quarrels of the day , which had no
substantial foundation but personal jeal
ousies and the distribution of the offices ,
the president was thought to incline
favorably toward one of the great repub
lican factions and the vice-president to
the other. It did not seem to occur to
the people that it was possible that in
this conflict a president's life might not
be sacred , no matter how desirable his
removal might be to many more or less
dangerous citizens who were seeking
office ; but I myself remember hearing a
prominent politician in my own city ,
speaking of a recent and unlooked-for
appointment to our principal federal
office , declare with emphasis that the
president "ought to be shot" for malting
it. The speaker was not a bad man ,
and what ho said was intended only as a
rough figure of speech ; but it fairly