The Conservative (Nebraska City, Neb.) 1898-1902, June 08, 1899, Page 4, Image 4

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[ Written for THK CoNSUUVATivu by H. C.
Ninvcomb. ]
The term "civil service reform" has
emerged from the discussion of civil ser
vice methods that was forced upon the
people by the evils resulting from the de
velopments of the spoils system , particu
larly in connection with the Federal
government , with a definite , historical
meaning that is more restricted than the
words might otherwise imply.
In its historical sense the term refers
to a systematic attempt to secure the
greatest possible beneficial return to the
public for the expenditure involved in
the maintenance of its civil establish
ment. The element of competition is
necessarily implied as it is whenever
personal services are purchased by pri
vate employers. To secure the utmost
practicable return the public must em
ploy the best qualified man whose ser
vices can be had for the salary offered
and not the man who is merely qualified.
Similarly the qualifications regarded in
making selections for public employ
ment must relate to the duties to be per
formed and all conflicting considerations
must be rigidly excluded. The implica
tion in favor of making tenure of office
solely dependent upon the continuance
of efficiency is equally unquestionable.
It will be observed that while the at
tempt to secure full return for the ex
penditure for civil service must bo "sys
tematic , " no particular system is indi
cated. If the name "civil service re
form" is assumed by anything that does
not fill the requirements enumerated it
is without justification and should not be
permitted to mislead anyone. Therefore ,
while none will forget the present exist
ence of a more or less completely elab
orated system it will not bo necessary or
desirable to enter into any discussion of
the law and regulations now in effect or
to consider the wisdom or integrity of
their administration. At the proper
time there will be much to say in behalf
of the present law and the manner of its
execution while whatever defects can be
discovered in either will be found to be
considerably extenuated by the tentative
character of the statute and the political
obstacles to its execution. The duties
imposed upon the Civil Service commis
sion are not those most essential to the
enforcement of the law and if wo except
that body and its employees the civil ser
vice law has mainly been administered
by its enemies. To continue these ob
servations would , however , lead us far
from our consideration of the ethical
principles which are the basis of genuine
civil service reform.
Thou Shalt Nut Steal.
These principles are epitomized in the
command : "Thou shalt not steal. "
"Thou shalt not steal" opportunity.
The man who will undertake to educate
his faculties , to cultivate his mind , and
train his physical powers , in order to
follow a particular career , who in so do
ing joins energy with patience , persist
ence with integrity , and intelligence
with the primary and fundamental re
quisites of mind and body should be
welcomed to that career by society
which he will best servo through its
It is clear that in following this policy
society secures its own economic inter
ests while permitting the largest free
dom in the development of the individ
ual and offering to the latter the maxi
mum of mental satisfaction and of physi
cal well-being. The attractions of the
civil service arc not numerous , its re
wards are grudgingly given and infre
quent , its disadvantages apparent and
substantial , yet there are persons of
ability and integrity to whom its draw
backs seem less than its compensations.
Exclude the baneful effects of spoils-
mongeriug and this class will be more
numerous and will contain proportion
ally more persons of superior intelli
gence. The republican national conven
tion of 1876 declared in favor of this
principle and incorporated in its plat
form a resolution recognizing "the
right of all citizens" regardless of their
political opinions and affiliations [ 'to
share in the honor of rendering faithful
service to the country. " This right is
denied by the spoils system which lim
its appointments to those who through
personal or political services can obtain
the favor of those who can influence the
place-distributing power. Equality of
opportunity is thus denied in favor of a
small faction of partisans constituting
but an insignificant fraction of the
party temporarily in power. It is un
necessary to describe at length the rigor
with which this limitation is enforced or
the hopelessness of the candidacy of the
most honest , capable , and fittest appli
cant , who , no matter how earnestly he
has striven to advance the cause that
has been successful at the polls , has
been so unfortunate as to incur the per
sonal dislike of the senators or repre
sentatives from his state , or who finds
that the incompetent , or possibly the
vicious relative of some one of political
or perhaps of merely social prominence ,
is a rival candidate. There is no greater
fallacy than that involved in the notion
that the spoils system continuously or
consistently imposes a partisan test for
entrance to the civil service. To do so
would bo bad enough but what is done
is inexpressibly less desirable. Places
are treated as personal perquisites , the
right to distribute them as a valuable
addition to the emoluments of high of
ficial position or prominent political
standing , and it is usually exercised
with a view to the maintenance of the
authority of the dominant individual ,
to reward his friends or placate his ene
mies ; rarely to advance the larger inter
ests of the party.
Favors granted to members of the
party not in power illustrate this phase.
Every public office has its quota of use
less individuals who , secure throughout
all political changes in the incumbency
of positions in which they are incapable
of rendering valuable services , owe
their continuance in office to the recog
nition of such claims by officials who
probably believe that in the mutations
of politics their complacence may be
reciprocated. It was declared in an
official report that under this system :
* * * "Persons of influence
systematically foisted their incompe
tent and unfortunate relatives upon the
public service. Pressure , menace , sel
fish influence , and sympathy were used
to overcome the scruples of n reluctant
officer and to gain a government salary
for an unsuccessful cousin or an unem
ployed friend. * * * The spoils
system was tending more and more to
convert the departments into something
like asylums for incompetents. "
Gnrilcld'H Opinion.
President Garfield , who became a
martyr to a disappointed officeseeker ,
said :
"The present system * * *
degrades the civil service ; it repels from
the service those high and manly quali
ties which are so essential to a pure and
efficient administration , and finally it
debauches the public mind by holding
up public office as the reward of mere
party zeal. "
On the other hand , the merit system ,
which it is the aim of the civil service re
form to establish , opens wide the door
of opportunity to every citizen who will
prepare himself to excel as a civil ser
vant and will consent to demonstrate
that ho has done so. What right has
anyone who is unwilling to abide by
such a test to receive a salary to which
the poorest must contribute ? What
justification can be found for excluding
anyone who can and will so demonstrate
his superior qualifications ? To do so is
to rob the excluded individual of an
opportunity and society of its right to
the best attainable governmental ad
ministration. Those who despoil an
individual of opportunities to which he
is justly entitled steal rights that are
much more fundamental than those of
"Thou shalt not steal" independence.
Public office should not come as the
grudging or as the generous gift of a
patron ; not , in the current phrase , as
"patronage" but as the suitable recog
nition of pre-eminent fitness. Its emol
uments should be the reasonable and
just return for services faithfully and
meritoriously performed and should
neither exceed nor fall below the
amount so determined. The public
servant should , like the village black-