Page images
PDF
EPUB

CIVIL SERVICE REFORM AND DEMOCRACY.

An Address delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Na

tional Civil-Service Reform League in New York City, April 25, 1893.

By Hon. CARL SCHURZ.

When I was honored with the request to deliver this annual address, I accepted the charge with very serious misgivings. For I remembered that many successive years, on occasions like this, you have been wont to listen to a voice the exquisite charm of which still lingers in our ears and will never cease to echo in our hearts. No man can succeed George William Curtis here without being oppressed by the consciousness of inability to fill his place. It would be a vain attempt to rival his annual addresses in their abundance of knowledge and illustration, their ripeness of thought, their strength of reasoning, their delicacy of humor and their literary grace. They were so complete an arsenal of facts and arguments that it is almost impossible to speak on the same subject without repeating him, and the repetition will always fall short of the original. And no one succeeding him at the head of this National League can hope to be so naturally, so spontaneously accepted as the ideal leader of an organized endeavor for purity, justice and honor in politics. It may be said without in the least straining the sense of words that George William Curtis and the cause of Civil Service Reform were made for one another. All that the Reform aspires to was illustrated and exemplified in his personality.

Who can speak of him in other than tones of eulogy? It is a consoling satisfaction to the soul of a friend to do so. We, members of the League, who have worked with him so long, are fond of recalling the many titles he held to leadership among us; his sincerity, unselfish devotion, and singleness of purpose; his profound understanding of the subject and large experience; his fearlessness in the defence and in the application of his principles ; his keen discernment of opportunity; his absolute freedom from small jealousies; his cheerful and generous recognition of the merits and services of others; his gentleness in meeting adverse opinions; his sense of justice and his fine tact in composing differences; the inspiration flowing from his very being in the common endeavor for high aims. All these things gave him without question the first place in our councils. The leadership, therefore, fell to him by a general consent, the absolute unanimity of which, never broken, proved that we all felt it to be due to our cause and due to him. Thus the death of Mr. Curtis is to us, in the truest meaning of the word, an irreparable loss. He could not bequeath to us his genius nor his virtues. He could leave us only his teachings to remember, the inspiration of his zeal to quicken our own, and his noble example to follow as best we can.

But if he were now here to dictate my speech, he would call it away from himself and direct it to the cause which he cherished so much, and which was in so large a sense his own. Indeed, the ultimate victory of this cause will be the fittest monument of this great citizen whom we who knew him well so warmly loved, and whose memory the American people can never too highly honor.

It is a comfort to his surviving friends to know that, although he did not witness the full consummation of his endeavors, he lived at least long enough to see his cause rise from small beginnings to a measure of success promising complete triumph at no very distant day. The question is only what President and what political party will carry off the greatest honors of the achievement.

I speak of this with so much assurance because Civil Service Reform has grown and flourished in spite of the bitter hostility of an overwhelming majority of the professional politicians in both parties. They have exultingly proclaimed its death and burial a hundred times. It has survived an endless number of obituaries. They have derided it, and reviled it, and plotted for its destruction in a hundred ways. Without knowing it, by their very enmity they have advanced its progress. Men have begun to respect and to love it for the enemies it has made. We have not far to seek for the reason. What is Civil Service Reform? It is the application of common sense and common honesty to the public service. And the American people are in the main a sensible and an honest people. It is the restoration to full power of honorable and patriotic motives in our political life. And the Americans are, in the main, an honorable and patriotic people. Therefore they will insist upon the general appli. cation and enforcement of Civil Service Reform principles in the same measure as they recognize how sensible and honest and patriotic those principles are. In the acquisition of this knowledge they are at times powerfully aided by striking object-lessons. Recently they had one of them.

The Fourth of March last a new Administration went into power. Untold thousands of men poured into the national capital clamoring for office; not for offices that were vacant, but to be vacated in order to make room for the clamorers. No matter whether he was ever so good a public servant, the man who was in was to be kicked out, to let him in who was out, no matter whether he would be not half so good a public servant. The office-hunting throng swept into the White House and into the Departments like a cloud of locusts. The President, sturdy as he is, could hardly stand up before the impetuous onset. The Cabinet ministers, all new men in their places, who felt the urgent need of studying somewhat their Departmental duties, were hunted down so that they had hardly time to eat and to sleep, much less to study. When their cry for pity availed nothing, they at last barricaded their doors with strict regulations. They went into hiding in order to save some hours for the business of the Government. The Post Office Department was not only overrun by the crowd, but snowed under with written applications and recommendations for office which in huge heaps covered the floors of the rooms, and the whole force of the Department had to work after business hours merely to open and assort them. Senators and members of the House of Representatives ran wildly about like whipped errand boys to press the claims of greedy constituents or mercenary henchmen. It was what Mr. Cleveland calls the madness for spoils in finest efflorescence.

And what are these claims for office that are so vehemently urged? I know them well from long and varied experience. Special fitness for the duties of the office is the one thing which even the most daring claimant but seldom dares to claim. He does indeed claim that he can do one thing as well as another if he is only permitted to try, like the Yankee who, when asked whether he could play the violin, answered, he guessed so, but he had never tried. So the office-seeker is ready to try his hand at administration. In most cases the claim to office is based upon party service, the payment or collection of money for the campaign chest, the making of speeches, or other political work deserving reward. And this claim is fortified with all sorts of reasons appealing to sympathy. Here is a patriot who has a large family to support and needs a postoffice to help him along. There is another who wants a consulship abroad because he himself or his wife is in bad health and a change of climate would do good, or his daughter has a fine talent for music which should be developed in Europe. There is still another who wants the prestige of official recognition in the shape of a collectorship or a marshalship to enable him to exercise still higher political authority over the minds of his fellow-citizens. A man in Kansas, so the papers report, recently urged the appointment of his daughter to some place in the postal service in connection with the World's Exhibition at Chicago, on the

« PreviousContinue »