To the rule that Presidential messages are usually excellent studies in the art of saying nothing unforeseen or unexpected we have not found the late message of General Grant an exception. Every one is in favor of amnesty; so is the President. Every one is in favor of monogamy; so is the President. Nobody doubts the necessity of a reduction of taxation; neither does the President. The glorious termination of the Alabama difficulty and the reduction of the debt delight every one, including the President; nothing puzzles the country at large so much as the question of free-trade and protection ; it is exactly so with the President. And finally, though the President’s enemies say that he is still intent on his scheme for the annexation of San Domingo, the message indicates nothing of the kind; and though they maintain also that he cares nothing for a reformed civil service, the message says the exact reverse. On the whole, the message, as a message, is as near perfection as anything human can be. It has received the unanimous commendation of the best portion of the press throughout the country as a manly, straightforward, and simple address, and it has left the public quite as clear (to say the least) as to General Grant's motives and political aims as they have been for the last three years.
The reports of the heads of departments, and especially that of the Secretary of the Treasury are documents of a different kind. Mr. Boutwell emerges from the obscurity which all administrative officers naturally seek, and discloses to the world a full, true, and particular account of his financial proceedings. These proceedings, of course, include those of the far-famed Syndicate, a name which but for these disclosures might perhaps have been handed down to future generations with the fabled Gerrymander, - a mystery for all time, but Which we now find to be the European equivalent of the familiar American word "ring.''
The long and the short of Mr. Boutwell’s explanation is that he has succeeded in funding two hundred millions of United Slates bonds, by means of violating the Funding Bill. A great deal of fault has been found with him for this; but when we reflect how many laws are every year broken by officers of government, - how many sheriffs take illegal fees, how inane constables make illegal arrests, how many consuls and ministers do queer things., and in how many cases they make handsome fortunes by their violations of the law, - Mr. Boutwell may well maintain that a secretary who violates the laws of the country for the country's good and not for his private emolument is not as other men are.
To make a very brief resume of the reports of the other departments, with one or two additional facts easily accessible to all the world, we may say that the State Department, in common with the rest of the world, rejoices in the honorable settlement of the Alabama difficulty, and in common with the rest of the world, excepting Russia, in the return of M. Catacazy to the country which sent him forth. The American army has been occupied in checking the inroads of the Indians and curbing the excesses of polygamy on the Plains, and in the less remote West in protecting the city of Chicago against her licentious inhabitants. The navy is chiefly engaged in maintaining the department at Washington and the various navy-yards throughout the country. The protectorate of San Domingo is still being waged with relentless vigor but that is an old story. The Post-Office announces that it desires to assume the business of telegraphy.
The debate in the Senate on Mr. Trumbull’s motion for the reorganization of the Retrenchment Committee developed an unexpected strength among the ranks of those who do not agree with Mr. Morton that we have the best civil service in the world. It is singular that Mr. Morton and his friends should oppose an investigation into its condition, since the investigation could only redound to the credit of the service and of the administration which makes it what it is. But Mr. Morton and those who voted with him, no doubt, had the best possible reasons for voting as they did, though the reasons be different from what, on their own theories, they ought to be. The result of the vote showed that two fifths of the senators were of the opinion that a searching investigation into the affairs of the executive part of the government was necessary. The significance of the vote was at once perceived at the White House. The report of the Civil Service Commission was immediately sent to Congress, with the announcement that its regulations were adopted by the President, and would be applied for the future to the service.
The appearance of this report marks an important epoch in the history of the country. The recommendations of the Comission are in substance that competitive examination shall determine the qualifications of all applicants for admission to the service, and that partisan tests shall not be allowed in any case. Of course the reform does not apply to the higher offices, but to the great army of clerks, postmasters, and officers of the revenue, who now obtain their appointments as the reward of party zeal. Admissions are to be only to the lowest grades; promotions are to take place according to merit. When this plan is once in effective operation, the career of politics, formerly considered among Americans so honorable, but latterly so much the, reverse, will once again resume its old position, and, indeed, more than its old position. It will have all the characteristics of a respectable and powerful profession, founded on merit and the interest of all its members in the work to which they have devoted their lives.
A survey of the rest of the political field cannot fail to fill the most despondent with cheerful thoughts. To be sure the war its Cuba still continues, if that can be called a war which consists of brutal outrages on one side and submission on the other. The volunteers hold the island, and also the governors of it, as sufficiently appeared the other day after the riot occasioned by the affair of the medical students. The government were willing enough to give the unfortunate students fair play, but the volunteers demanded their blood, and the sacrifice was accordingly made. Meanwhile two vessels seem to be stationed off the island by our government to render assistance to refugees. Cruel as the volunteers are, however, we cannot find in their excesses any reason why the United States should buy Cuba.
But the dangers of the Cuban question are trifling. Meanwhile, in New York, the work of purification goes on, and it in evident now that the defeat of the Ring at the polls was but the first step of a triumph which will end only in the complete restoration of the citizens to their long-lost political rights. There is every reason to believe that the few creatures of Tammany who still remain in power will be driven from their offices by the incoming Lcgislature. Barnard, Cardozo, and McCunn, if they do not follow the example of their employers, and seek safety in flight, will, perhaps before this paragraph meets the eyes of our readers, be suffering the penalty of their crimes. A very short time, and they will appoint receivers and referees no more. The curtain has fallen upon the play which Tammany has so long kept upon the political boards, and will rise again under a very different management. With Tammany will also fall the Erie Ring. The municipal government of New York was so closely connected with the management of the Erie Railway, that the downfall of one involves the ruin of like other. The suits of the English stockholders furnish a point d’appui for the movement against Fisk and Gould, to say nothing of the recent disclosures made by members of a jury in a cause in which they were interested. The new Attorney-General, Mr. Barlow, is a very different kind of man from those who have of late years held the position; indeed, his election is perhaps, looking to the future, the most important single result of the reform movement.
Among the Mormons there is a lull in the fierce storm of indictments, charges, and convictions, and the opportunity afforded by the meeting of Congress will probably be used to secure the passage of a law establishing Utah on a moral and monogamic basis. It is proposed that the system of polygamy shall for the future cease, that the children of past polygamous marriages shall be legitimated, and Utah be admitted as a Stale. There is no sort of objection to these terms, and they are by far the best the Mormons are likely to obtain. This solution of the Mormon problem will also have the advantage of putting a stop to the so-called judicial proceedings which have been recently instituted in the Territory, and which have reflected anything but credit upon those engaged in them. There are, we believe, some kind-hearted people who think that what they are pleased to call the principles of American society militate against any interference with polygamy, because it is a religious custom. And this argument is supposed to be strengthened by the fact that the Mormon marriages are purely voluntary, and therefore concern only the men and women who make them. There is no similarity, it is said, between polygamy and such religious customs as those of the Thugs, which are enforced very much against the will of those chiefly interested. But this argument wholly overlooks a vital point in the case. Marriages do not merely concern the parents. They concern the offspring of the marriage, and it is for this very reason that the state interferes and enforces monogamy. The state is bound to protect the interests of its future citizens; and to treat polygamous marriages as if they concerned no one but those who voluntarily make the contract is to ignore a plain duty. All civilized modern countries consider that, in the interest of their future citizens, it is necessary to break up organized concubinage; they cannot in the nature of things treat it as a question of religion.
Perhaps the most romantically interesting thing that has lately happened, if not in the world of politics, at least in a world very much affected by politics, is the fall of gold to 109. The history of the precious metals is evidently yet to he written. The ablest financiers in this country have been for a long time agreed that the natural price of gold is about 150. The ablest financiers have been also agreed that it could never go down to par without contraction on the part of the government. It is easy to see that with four hundred millions of irredeemable paper afloat, gold must remain permanently depreciated in value. The government has not contracted the currency since the war, except to an infinitesimal extent during Mr. McCullough's administration of the Treasury. Gold therefore must remain at about 150. But it will not remain at 150; on the contrary, it is going down steadily and surely as if all these calculations had never been made; and some day, before very long apparently, the country will awake to find that its irredeemable currency is not irredeemable any longer, and that gold is at par. Mr. Sumncr's much-derided and certainly heretical maxim that "the way to resume is to resume," seems, after all, to have been quite a valuable contribution to the science of political economy as the most orthodox calculations made by his antagonists. The explanation of the continued fall of gold now current is that it is due to the material progress of the country in wealth and population, and this certainly seems a very good theory. But for ourselves, we prefer to regard gold as a mystery. It is a consoling thought that after making a fetish to ourselves for so many years of the almighty dollar, we should find the ways of our divinity, though beyond our comprehension, still only paths of pleasantness and peace. It is certainly a benevolent god.
There are, in fine, few clouds on the political horizon; and the happiness of the hour is only marred by the sad and solitary debate still maintained by the Governor of Illinois on the usurpation of authority by the President in Chicago. There is only one difficulty with it as a constitutional discussion, - it is carried on entirety by one side. Governor Painter thinks that the stationing of four companies of Regulars in the city after the fire was a high-handed act, which indicates a desire on the part of some one to break down the bulwarks erected by the Constitution, and open the floodgates to license and tyranny. The President says, in reply, that whatever other persons' aims may be, he, at least, has no intention of this revolutionary character and under such circumstances, what can Governor Palmer do? It is absolutely necessary in affairs of this kind to have an antagonist, or at least to have an audience. Governor Palmer has neither. What constitutional objection there is to the presence of four military companies in Chicago it is hard to see. On Governor Palmer's principles, the presence of the President himself at Long Branch would seem to be an invasion of the merest rights of the State of New Jersey. One commander-in-chief, in the eye of the law, is just as unconstitutional as four hundred privates.
The duty of calling a Constitutional convention devolves this winter on the Ohio Legislature, and one of the most important subjects which will come before that body will be minority representation. The chief objections urged against this system are that it is new, and that it requires more honesty and intelligence of government officials than can be fairly expected of them. The charge that the system is a new one is not strictly correct, as the Andrae" system has been in operation in Denmark for fifteen years; the cumulative vote has been adopted in Illinois; the "three-cornered" constituencies exist in England, and minority representation has been applied in New York to the election of judges. It must be remembered that representation itself is a comparatively modern invention. As to the other objection, it can be made, indeed has been made, against almost every improvement in the political or social art. It can be easily proved a priori that the management of railroads requires a high degree of fidelity and intelligence that no one will ever dare to trust himself inside a railroad-car. On the same grounds it can be shown that no one will ever send an important message by telegraph. A priori the money-order system is out of time question, and the registration of land-titles a dream. The administration of justice and the government of parliamentary law are just as impracticable a priori as Hare system of the liste lubre. It may be taken as an axiom that in discussions of this kind there is honesty and intelligence in the world to make any improvement that is worth having. It is not the business of those who arc interested in minority representation to make all the inspectors in the country honest before they have the right to introduce their scheme. It is enough for them to show that the scheme is better than the present plan. It is the business of society to provide means for carrying it into effect.
One curious fact has been brought to light by the experience gained by those engaged in the minority representation experiment at Harvard College. It has always been supposed that counting the votes under the new system would take a great deal of time. An ingenious calculation was made that under the Hare system it mould take several years to count the voles for the Massachusetts Legislature. The Hare system has been in force in the nomination of Overseers at Cambridge for two or three years, and it has been found that less time is Occupied in counting the votes than under the old system.
One of the strongest arguments against a protective tariff is the impossibility of estimating what the indirect effects of it may be. No one--not even those in whose interest it in passed--can predict the result. Modern commercial relations are so intricate and multifarious, there are so many hidden and yet important connections between different occupations, that the wisest protectionist cannot foresee how a tax laid upon one import which he wishes to exclude from the domestic market may affect the production or consumption of some other which he has not the least desire to touch. We do not mean such indirect effects as that produced by the present tariff in Chicago, where it is calculated that the taxes on imports enhance the damage caused by the fire to the extent of thirty-one millions:-
On iron: $11,000,000 On lumber: 5,000,000
On window-glass, paint, putty, varnish, stoves, door-latches: 5,000,000 On carpeting: 2,500,000
On furniture: 3,000,000 On crockery and glassware: 1,633,000
On bedding and blankets: 1,500,000 On clothes and clothing: 1,666,000
Cases like this are beside our present purpose.
But it was certainty never the intentino of Congress to kill American ship-building. Yet it has done so by a tariff on materials necessary for the construction of ships. Nobody ever desired that the tariff should prevent the manufacture of American wallpaper. Yet a branch of this industry wais suddenly taxed out of existence by an impost which had no more apparent connection with wall-paper than the tariff on iron had with ships twenty-five years ago. The history of the Lake Superior copper-mines furnishes a curious illustration of the impossibility of predicting the effect a tariff. For years since the proprietors of these mines, which were producing coppcr under great disadvantages, determined to apply to Congress for a tariff of three cents on copper. This they thought would keep out foreign copper and yield them a profit. The tariff was passed; the lobby congratulated the miners and the miners thanked the lobby for its efficient assistance. There was little reason, however, far congratulations. The price of copper, instead of rising, fell; almost every mine in the Lake Superior country stopped work, and the Calumet and Jec;a mine, which had previously done nothing at all, now produces, two thirds of all the copper that is mined. The fluctuations in price have meanwhile closely followed those of the English market. The tariff had no effect whatever. We do not undertake to explain these facts. Protectionists may if they will. Perhaps they will say that the tariff was too small.