Two Years of President Hayes
“He seems to be a man striving to do well an onerous duty, not courting the immediate applause so much as the ultimate justice of his countrymen.”
The record for two years of President Hayes’s administration is made up. What judgment the historian, regarding these years as part of a distant period, and perceiving, as it is impossible for us to perceive, the just relation of their events to things before and after, may pass upon this administration cannot be anticipated with certainty. But we who live now are compelled for our own guidance to form such opinions as we can on current affairs.
The cardinal and controlling incident of recent politics is the war of the rebellion. For fourteen years our task has been to adapt ourselves to the changed conditions of national life, and it is yet unaccomplished, because two reactionary powers constantly baffle progress: one the political traditions in which a generation still surviving and participating in public affairs was educated; the other the unquenched passion engendered by the war itself.
President Andrew Johnson, always a democrat, although elected to office by the republican party, sought his own party as soon as it was reunited after the war, and insisted that the Southern States should be restored to their former place and power in the Union without probation, without reconstruction, and without guarantees. In the effort to carry out his policy, Congress dissenting, he used the executive patronage scandalously to strengthen the political influence of the administration. When Mr. Pendleton, aspiring to the democratic nomination for president, proclaimed that the public debt should be paid in greenbacks, and enough greenbacks should be printed to pay it, Johnson, seeking the same prize, proclaimed that whenever the sum of the interest payments should equal the principal the debt would have been paid in full. Thus the three leading issues of our politics since the war—the Southern question, the prostitution of the civil service to personal and party ends, and the heresies of inflation and repudiation—were all before the country at the end of Johnson’s term.
Then came the administration of General Grant, lasting eight years. An obligation of gratitude made him president. The Union party, which Johnson had disappointed, turned with confidence to Grant, believing he would be true to the new national idea and rather careless of what he might be besides. The glory of the conqueror of Lee will be safe with posterity; but the generation which suffers on account of what he did, what he tolerated, and what he neglected while chief magistrate cannot overlook his errors. The military protectorates he maintained in the Southern States after their rehabilitation were repugnant to the spirit and the forms of constitutional liberty in America. Moreover, their failure condemned them. Beginning with right general notions of the nation’s financial duties, his unintelligent wavering gave inflation a foothold in the republican party. The conduct of the treasury department, until near the end of his term, wanted firmness, consistency, and largeness of purpose. In the effort to impose his San Domingo policy on the country, he resorted to means as reprehensible and essentially of the same nature as those by which his predecessor attempted to impose a personal policy. He was reëlected, not because it was judged that he had done well, but because the alternative presented was even more unsatisfactory. The demoralization of the party which had to bear the responsibility and the odium of his course was accelerated, and in the middle of his second term the republicans could elect but few more than one third of the house of representatives. The measures, the methods, the tone, the associations, of the administration were so offensive that even the democratic party could raise the cry of reform in 1876 without seeming altogether shameless to sober and reflecting men.
This was the situation when the republican party nominated for president Governor Hayes. Compared with other candidates for the nomination, he had no record in national politics. Ohio had honored him in many ways, and the year before had chosen him governor for the third time, after a campaign in which the chief issue was resumption or inflation. What he thought about other urgent issues nobody could say. The party platform contained some well-worded resolutions, but party platforms mean no more than the men elected by the party interpret them to mean. The country waited for his letter of acceptance, but did not wait long. it is sufficient to say that it bettered the best professions of the platform. It shirked no question about which his opinion was desired. It did not palter in a double sense. It revealed a man clear in his purposes and courageous in his avowal of them. That letter of acceptance, and not Blaine’s rhetoric, confusing the issues, nor Mr. Secretary Chandler’s levies upon office-holders, nor Conkling’s eulogium of the republican party, secured the support of a majority of those republicans who were bent on making an end of “Grantism,” and without whose support there was no question of democratic success.
But there were some who, while approving the principles he had proclaimed, and admitting that an administration faithful to them would be honorable and beneficent, had little confidence in his sincerity, and none at all in his grit. The public letters of Parke Godwin and Professor Sumner, and the essay of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., in the North American Review, are not forgotten. Undoubtedly they expressed the sentiment of many and the fears of more. Was Hayes, men argued, a person of stronger will than Grant? or had he a greater personal popularity to make him less dependent on the favor of the party leaders? But Grant talked reform once as fairly, and probably as sincerely, as Hayes does now, and how long did he hold out against the machine politicians? How long did he retain Judge Hoar and Governor Cox in his cabinet? Did not Don Cameron give Hayes his nomination by the timely transfer of Pennsylvania’s vote? Is not Chandler managing the campaign for him, raising the funds from the office-holders? Was not Blame the favorite of nearly half the delegates to Cincinnati? In conformity to a usage which no president could safely ignore the counsels of these men must be deferred to. They know it, and they make no profession of respect for his reform notions. Schurz may have all the confidence in Hayes he pretends to have, but he will find that he has been duped, and so will Evarts, and all the reformers who expect that Hayes will dare consort with their kind, even if he wishes to, after he becomes president. The other set have every advantage, and it is practically impossible that any president in the circumstances that will environ Haves, if he is elected, can go counter to their determination. How artfully and cogently that line of argument was pressed, and how difficult it was for anybody to make a conclusive reply to it, or one that would quiet his own misgivings!
The election was held; the long-doubtful issue of it was at last authoritatively declared, and the whole nation waited for the president’s inaugural address with deep and eager interest. Next to the curiosity to discover how he was affected by the unprecedented circumstances attending the counting of the electoral vote was the curiosity to learn whether he had yielded any of the principles he proclaimed when a candidate. The representatives of the old régime had been conspicuous in the strenuous conflict intervening. On their theory of politics they had accumulated new claims to his personal favor, and put him under fresh obligation to recognize and defer to their political importance. The number of those who now believed he would refuse to order his administration by the counsels of the machine politicians was fewer than before the election. But the inaugural address reaffirmed in all their breadth and positiveness the principles of the letter of acceptance—calmly, as if they were self-evident propositions of politics; confidently, as if he anticipated no serious antagonism. Those who hated reform notions smiled ironically at his simplicity, not yet doubting that he would be manageable. Those who wanted reform would hardly trust themselves yet to believe that a president had been elected who had no disposition to repudiate or explain away the significance of pledges made when a candidate. When the nominations for the cabinet were communicated to the senate, there was no more ironical smiling, but downright and unconcealed exasperation in the senatorial group. The liberal republicans would have been very well contented with one representative in the cabinet, and one was more than the other kind were willing to have there, if his name was Schurz. But Evarts for secretary of state instead of Blaine or any friend of Blaine, and Schurz for secretary of the interior instead of Chandler, and a democrat, an ex-Confederate at that, for postmaster-general, and Cameron supplanted in the war department, and Conkling without a representative, and not a relic of the old Grant ring anywhere! The politicians discovered, with chagrin, that when they consented to nominate Hayes to get rid of Bristow they blundered. But the announcement of that cabinet seemed to the country at large a rescue of the republican party from the moral quagmire in which it had been helplessly floundering for eight years, and so it was. Between the old administration and the new there was the difference between disease and health. The body politic began to thrill with convalescence.
With such good faith and earnestness the president began his administration. The occasion for a fresh test of his mettle did not delay. The Southern question in its most difficult and perplexing shape pressed for immediate decision. For months two hostile executives and legislatures had been maintaining rival governments in South Carolina and Louisiana. General Grant had declined to decide between them, but detachments of the army were stationed in Columbia and New Orleans, with instructions to keep the peace and not suffer the republicans to be dispossessed by violence. Four years before he had summarily determined a similar situation in Louisiana by military intervention in behalf of the republicans. He had grown wiser since, and when Governor Ames, of Mississippi, who had a much better claim than Kellogg, who had in fact been in undisputed possession of his office for a good part of his term, got into difficulty and called on the president for military support, General Grant refused it, for the specified reason that it was not wise for the general government to maintain in office state administrations which could not command the support of the people of the State. What he did in these new cases was to maintain the status quo without prejudice to either claimant, and leave the responsibility of action to his successor. This duty devolved upon President Hayes under peculiarly embarrassing circumstances. The courage and firmness of the republicans of the South had prevented the triumph of the “bull-dozing” and “shot-gun” electioneering methods of the democracy. But for their resolution and fortitude the party would not have secured the national administration, and therefore, it was reasoned, the president could not do less than recognize their claims and defend them. The beleaguered governors and legislatures had the sympathy of the republican party of the country, but they wanted more: they wanted the administration to espouse their cause as its own, and order its battalions to disperse their adversaries. A large majority of the influential leaders of the party—and perhaps a majority of the whole party—thought the president ought to do just that. The president thought the time had come to make an end of a policy which had not borne good fruit in the past, and which had to be completely relinquished before another policy could be undertaken. He withdrew the army which was keeping the peace in South Carolina and Louisiana, on assurances that the peace would not be broken; and it was not broken. The republicans in these States abandoned a contest they could not maintain alone, and the democratic state governments established themselves and became solely responsible for the conduct of affairs.
It does not follow, because the president removed the troops and left the rival governments to stand or fall, as might be, without military intervention, that he did not himself believe the republicans had a clear title de jure. It is probable, indeed, that his convictions and his sympathies were entirely on their side. But whatever his personal opinion may have been, he did not consider it to be his duty, as president of the United States, to compel States at the point of the bayonet to accept it. His action would not seem less patriotic or honorable to right-minded men if it were known that he was painfully conscious the immediate consequence would be a victory of injustice. Certain smart politicians have fancied that they convicted the president of dishonor in this proceeding by constructing a dilemma like the following: “If Hayes was elected Packard was elected, and if Packard was not elected Hayes was not elected.” Now this may be true in the very terms stated, but what bearing has it in determining the president’s official duty in the premises? He may be as firmly persuaded as Senator Blame or General Butler that Packard is entitled to be governor of Louisiana; but neither by the constitution of Louisiana nor the constitution of the United States is he made the official judge of that matter, any more than he is made the judge of his own election. Certainly, the constitution of the United States does say, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government;” but it does not say, the president shall guarantee to every State a just decision of contested elections. If it is difficult to hold that a State where the rightful officers are not permitted to perform their duties has a republican form of government, it is also difficult to suppose that would be a republican form of government, within the meaning of the constitution, which was not sustained by the people of the State, but to which submission was enforced by an army not of their raising nor responsible to them.
If the hopeful expectations that were entertained concerning the results of leaving these States without military guardianship have not been fully realized; if the Southern leaders have not made good their assurances of preserving order, doing justice, and respecting the rights of all classes; if oppression and outrages of the blacks by the whites are not wholly prevented or justly punished; if the democratic party still resorts to intimidation and fraud to carry elections, it is but saying that the things which eight years of military occupation did not suppress, two years of “home rule” have not cured. There is no reason in past experience to suppose that the same evils would not exist in at least an equal degree if the republican state governments had been in authority, with the army at their beck. On the contrary, the condition of the garrisoned States would probably have been worse than it is. There might have been more negroes in politics, but neither negroes nor white republicans, as a class, would have been more secure. Will any one attempt to gainsay the statement that during the past two years the Southern States have been more peaceful, more prosperous, and on the whole more tolerant in spirit than for any other two years since the war? During these two years the South has gone its own way, unawed and unvexed by the national administration. If the condition is not actually worse than before, it is essentially better. It may appear to some that the occurrences in Congress this spring do not support the view taken; but, in fact, they confirm it. The democratic party, having a majority in Congress, demanded the repeal of certain statutes authorizing the use of the army to keep the peace, and providing for a supervision of elections of members of Congress by special officers appointed by the courts, to guard against fraudulent registration, voting, and counting; and its leaders threatened that unless the president assented to this demand they would leave the government without means of supporting either the army or the executive, legislative, and judicial departments, which was a threat of bringing the government to an end. Is it not apparent that the democratic party, having this bullying temper, would have had a far greater advantage if able to allege, as a pretext for extreme measures, so plausible a grievance as the subjection of States to governments which could not stand an hour but for the military protectorate maintained by the president? If it was not a sagacious stroke of statesmanship, it was certainly a fortunate one, that put the republican party in a commanding and impregnable position to meet the assault that came and was to have been expected. With surprising promptness, time and events are vindicating the president from the aspersions of the short-sighted and too zealous partisans, whose lead, if it had been followed, would have lost for the republicans and given to the democracy the sympathy of the conservative, thoughtful, and independent class, whose favor is the augury of success. The late vetoes, able and reasonable as they are, derive the largest measure of their effectiveness from the action of the president in 1877.
The record of this administration in financial and currency matters is so conspicuously honorable that it needs only the briefest comment. The supporters of Governor Tilden, those of them who were not inflationists, never tired of vaunting his superior wisdom in political economy and public finance. They did not conceal their contempt for the republican candidate, and for all who thought the national pledge to resume specie payments on the 1st day of January, 1879, could be kept. The repeal of the resumption act because it was an obstacle to resumption was the demand of the democratic platform, and Governor Tilden took the same view. When that had been done, wise measures of preparation for resumption at some far-off day, which it would not be safe to fix in advance, might be undertaken cautiously. President Hayes believed that the nation’s pledge could be kept, and that it should be kept. Without additional legislation, with less than the anticipated hardship to business interests, and with no shock, specie payments were resumed at the date previously fixed by law. It is demonstrated that the indefinite postponement recommended by Governor Tilden was unnecessary, and would have been a blunder. The refunding at four per cent. interest of the whole interest-bearing debt which the government can now call in has been accomplished in a manner worthy of high praise, and is a signal testimony to the ability and energy of the conduct of the treasury department. The veto of the Bland silver bill, carried through Congress by overwhelming majorities, was a protest which no president who held his principles as conveniences rather than convictions, or was infirm in courage, would have made. But besides exercising a zealous care for the national honor and the national interests in his official capacity, the president has exerted a consistent, enlightening, and powerful influence upon public sentiment in behalf of a right understanding of the conditions of financial soundness. To his stalwart faith in absolute national integrity it is largely due that the republican party all over the land is becoming more and more solid in its hostility to every heresy of finance, while the democratic party is becoming more and more identified with the clamorers for inflation, depreciation, and repudiation.
It remains to be considered what the president has accomplished in the first half of his term for civil-service reform. Unfortunately, the most obtrusive trait of many earnest reformers is their impatience. Because we have not yet traveled all the way from Grant’s administration to the millennium, they are discouraged. In petulant moods they assert that nothing has been done, that nothing will be done. Some of them who gave their votes to Tilden complacently add, “As I expected.” Listening to their fretful criticism, an unsophisticated person might suppose that if one of their kind had been president of the United States, in place of Hayes, all the hoary abuses which have grown strong in the civil service during fifty years of toleration would have been reformed before sundown of inauguration day, and from the next morning the nation would have moved on in an ecstasy of perfect and satisfying performance.
It must be confessed that the president has effected no such prompt and radical revolution. But he has done a good work, which will be mentioned to his honor when his captious critics have ceased from their labors and are at rest. He has wrought a great improvement in the quality of the service, and confined it, to an extent not known before for two generations, to its proper business. True, no laws have been enacted to make the reforms permanent. But how can he be blamed for that? He is not responsible for the neglect. Neither the republican senate nor the democratic house would heed his recommendations, and he could not discharge them and appoint a new Congress. Sometimes complaint is made that the president has not conciliated congressmen and won them to support his reform policy. By what means could he have done it without yielding the object itself? General Grant secured a strong support for administrative measures in Congress; but what became of civil-service reform? It is not less, but more praiseworthy that in default of law, with nineteen twentieths of Congress hostile and the rest not earnest, with so many who ought to have been allies and helpers preferring the safer role of critics, he has persisted in the ways open to him to redeem his pledges. The case with regard to any actual measures of reform is much as it was with regard to actual measures for the resumption of specie payments. Those who agree that the end is desirable cannot agree upon the means to compass it. As soon as any one suggests a scheme the rest set about showing that it will prove inadequate. Each has a plan of his own, which he is bound to maintain is the only sovereign panacea. But the man in authority who makes an attempt to correct abuses is a more meritorious reformer in his failures than all those who waste the time discussing schemes which cannot be tried. Probably there are many ways of attaining the object, or of making advances toward it, and it is something to be glad of when anybody makes a beginning of doing. General Grant waited for Congress, and supposed that there was great virtue in commissions to formulate rules. President Hayes has begun the work without waiting for others. He will not complete it; he will not establish what he does beyond peril of overthrow by the next president; but he has done some arduous fighting for the cause, and achieved some handsome results, notwithstanding scoffing foes, exacting friends, and his own mistakes.
Already reference has been made to his selection of the cabinet, and to the shock his action gave to the “hummer” element of the party; but the cabinet officers, one and all, have recommended themselves to the approval of the country by their fidelity and success in managing the public business, and by their refusal to use the civil service as a party machine in the interest of the administration. They have their vanities, their idiosyncrasies, their ambitions; but they have not presumed to obstruct freedom of action in the party, or to suppress freedom of criticism. If any of them are not in full sympathy with the president’s purposes affecting the civil service, they have given no encouragement to the bitter and violent course of senators, nor attempted in their own departments to thwart his reforms.
Early in his administration the president issued an order with the purpose of putting an end to the practice of compelling subordinates in the civil service to serve the political aims of their superiors as might he required. The storm of protest was furious and defiant. Those who believed the people would certainly go wrong, unless every man under government pay understood that the condition of keeping his place was unquestioning obedience to the will of his patron in all political contests, were outraged by this edict of emancipation, and bluntly condemned the administration as a failure and an offense. Ingenuity was exhausted to make it appear that the order said what it did not say, or did not mean what it said, to get it rescinded, or amended, or explained away, but in vain. Sundry officials of high degree, who imagined that their senator was stronger than the president, and that under his protection they could safely disobey the regulation, have had cause to revise their judgment. The promulgation and enforcement of that order would give this administration an honorable distinction, if it had done nothing else to improve the civil service. It is not the whole gospel of reform, but it is one of the commandments, and it accomplishes for the time being one of the chief objects of an organic amendment of the method of appointments.
The New York custom-house has long afforded a heinous example of all that is vicious and scandalous in a partisan civil service. Having a controlling influence in the machine politics of New York, and, it was believed, a controlling influence in Congress, gained and held by appointment favors to senators and members, it defied the president. Collector Arthur and naval officer Cornell cared for nobody’s approval but Senator Conkling’s, and they were confident that so long as in their management they served his political interests successfully, it made little difference how they served the government or the people. The enemies of reform boasted that whatever outworks the administration might force to succumb, this central bulwark of the old system was impregnable, and would continue to flaunt the banner inscribed with the motto, “To the victors the spoils.” Nothing accomplished elsewhere counted for success while the New York stronghold held out. The demand of many zealous reformers that this headquarters of rebellion against the authority of the government should be assailed and reduced at the outset was like the “On-to-Richmond” enthusiasm in 1861. Some of the same men who called for the immediate capture of Richmond were afterwards ready, as may be remembered, to make a peace without capturing it at all. So the zeal of not a few once gushing reformers ran dry before this Richmond fell. They gave up the cause as lost, and made terms with the mighty senator. But in the fullness of time (a Bull Run intervening) the hour of its downfall struck, and the ensign of the spoilsmen went down. For months the interest of no senator, or congressman, or other politician, has availed to secure removals or appointments as before. Reforms in the efficiency and economy of transacting the public business, long demanded in vain, have been made. Employment in the government service there, which for ten years had been practically conditioned upon fidelity to Senator Conkling, and upon no other qualification, has been opened to competition with reference solely to the best conduct of the proper business of a custom-house.
These examples from the record furnish clear and ample testimony to the earnestness of the president’s purpose, and the firmness of his execution of it. The purging of the Boston custom-house is another case in point, and the country is full of similar ones. There is no room to doubt that as a whole the civil service is in better condition than under any administration for a long time before this one. There is great gain in devotion to the nation’s work, and conspicuous and welcome forebearance to do the party’s work. The tone of the public service through all grades, from chief magistrate to tide-waiter, has been elevated. The rings, the corruptions, the scandals, the official interferences with the political action of the people, are no longer the grievances they but lately were. A change has been wrought in the right direction, so manifest that those who would deny it impeach their own candor.
It is certain that appointments have been made in every department of the service which are not ideal appointments, and some which the general judgment pronounces unworthy. There have been removals which seem to offend against the true principles of a reform policy, but they are exceptional; and perhaps if all the circumstances were as well known to the whole people as they are to those having the responsibility, many of them would no longer appear to be exceptions. It should not be hastily inferred, because no cause for removal is publicly stated, that the removal is not for cause, and for good cause. As to appointments, a president must always labor under some disadvantages, and is liable to he imposed upon by interested parties whose motives are not quite unselfish. It is very clear, however, that in this particular things are not worse, but better, than when appointments were made by advice of the person most interested, — the congressman from the district.
There is, however, one charge against the president’s integrity in this particular which challenges attention. He has appointed to office several of the politicians who were officially or voluntarily active in the determination of the electoral votes of Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana, and the substance of the charge, stated plainly, is that these appointments were made in compensation for corrupt political services by which he profited, and in pursuance of a bargain. The charge assails the president’s honor as a man, as well as his course as a magistrate. It comes in this bold shape from the disappointed partisans of Governor Tilden, who acknowledge no irregularities in the election, except in the proceedings by which the fraud and intimidation controlling the suffrage were balked. These proceedings they have denounced as fraud. They have been desperately anxious to fix responsibility for them upon the president, because his just and patriotic course toward the Southern States left the democracy without a substantial grievance. Their efforts to establish by convincing proof the fact of fraud, and to involve in the guilt the president and his advisers, have been singularly unsuccessful. It is still a malicious presumption and nothing morel and a presumption without force except among those who have an interest in asserting it. One of their arguments is of this sort: —
A president who had obtained his office by fraud would reward the perpetrators of the fraud.
Hayes obtained his office by fraud.
Therefore it is as a reward for perpetrating the fraud that he has appointed members of the returning boards to office.
Sometimes the argument takes another shape, as follows: —
A president who had obtained his office by fraud would reward the perpetrators of the fraud.
President Hayes has appointed to office members of the returning boards whose official action resulted in his becoming president.
Therefore he has appointed them as a reward for perpetrating fraud, and the appointment is an admission that they did commit fraud, and a confession that his title to the presidency is fraudulent.
Refutation of such reasoning is but a waste of time. Merely stripping it of the rhetoric with which it is commonly confused reveals how rickety it is. Only one thing would be more satisfactory to the democracy, and they blame the president for not giving them that advantage. If he had refused to appoint any of these persons to office on the ground that they were scoundrels who had done a great wrong, he would have given himself bound hand and foot into their power, and it would not be necessary for them to denounce him on a presumption that they cannot establish. So that, whether he appointed them or did not appoint them, he could not have avoided judgment from that quarter, it being a party necessity to represent him as dishonest.
But if it be granted that the president may believe himself to have been legally and rightfully entitled to the electoral votes of the disputed States, and that no wrong was done by the decision of the returning boards, then the question concerning these appointments is not different from that concerning others. If he thinks, as he well may, that the republicans of the disputed States are victims of gross political injustice, it is not unnatural that he should desire to make their misfortune as tolerable as may be. The principles of a reformed civil service have suffered a strain in some of these appointments; but it ought to be taken into consideration that it is not easy to find in the Southern States altogether satisfactory men to take office under a republican administration. The party there does not abound in first-class material. The experiments made in appointing democrats have not been encouraging in the way of securing unpartisan and faithful devotion to the interests of the national government. The president’s duty in this particular has been difficult and embarrassing, and it is not at all likely that he would himself defend his course in every detail on any other ground than that he had done what at the time, and with the information then available, appeared to be the best thing practicable.
What, then (to sum up), has been accomplished in the first half of President Hayes’s administration? The practice of determining the issue of state elections by the authority of the national administration, and enforcing that determination by the army of the United States, has been definitely abandoned. It was high time. The practice was essentially unrepublican, was destructive of the rightful independence and dignity of States, was subversive of liberty, and was potentially, if not in experience, a wrong worse than that it was invoked to correct. The honor of the nation in respect of financial obligations has been vindicated in every point dependent on the action of the executive, a great burden of taxation has been lifted, the credit of the United States is as good as that of any nation in the world, and an era of sound prosperity has dawned. The civil service has been purified and invigorated. The executive has resumed the prerogative and responsibility which had been relinquished to enable party leaders to strengthen their personal influence. More than at any other time for two generations past, character, intelligence, and fitness for doing well the government’s work are the qualifications regarded in appointments, rather than zeal in party service. The people are delivered from the domination of office-holding agents of the administration in the conduct of their political affairs. The business of the government, whether affecting our foreign relations or our domestic peace and prosperity, is efficiently managed, with supreme regard to the commonwealth, and not with supreme regard for the political fortunes of those in power. But already the president’s aphorism, “He serves his party best who serves his country best,” is verified. In the congressional elections of 1878 the party in power held its own as the party in power is seldom able to do in an “off year,” and was more successful than there is any ground in reason or experience to suppose it could have been if the old grievances had not been removed. Had the president failed to do the things for doing which he is so rancorously blamed in some quarters, the republican party in this Congress might not be stronger than it was in the forty-fourth Congress. The party is in a better position either for attack or defense than it was in two years ago. The change in the republican position has compelled the democracy to unmask its purposes, and to take ground where it is terribly exposed. For this incalculable advantage on the lines of party conflict, as well as for the obvious improvement of all national concerns, the administration of President Hayes more than Congress, and the president more than any other republican, is entitled to praise and gratitude.
This administration wants something of the contemporary éclat which is more apt to pursue self-assertion, daring ambition, or carefully devised clap-trap than sincere and modest performance of duty. The party clique has been engaged by those who more need the stimulation of immediate applause. The president wants a personal quality, sometimes defined as magnetism, which interests and captures men’s sympathies even in spite of their judgment, enabling a wise and patriotic man to prosecute his work with approbation and glory, and often enabling a charlatan to do infinite mischief with the substantial support of men who ought to know better. But the president has qualities which in a chief magistrate are more useful and safer, — patriotism, integrity, and firmness. Some politicians, who would like to have it thought they are the truly and exclusively stalwart, have insinuated that the president wants firmness and courage. They talk about doing this and that to stiffen his backbone. The action of the president for which these men affect to think him weak showed a more stalwart courage and a stiffer uprightness than the record of most of his critics can match. his firmness is of a kind few politicians understand, and still fewer exhibit. It is nobler than that which nerves a man to stand up in the senate to arraign the other party and gibe its representatives. It is loftier than that which depends, as General Grant’s famous obstinacy so plainly did, on the support of a vindictive impulse. It is not the sort of firmness which would compromise a fundamental principle of our national life to court the favor of men who have a prejudice. It is that superior and admirable trait which enables a man to obey his conviction of duty when he knows that those with whom he has acted hitherto, and whose confidence he desires, will impugn his motive, forsake him, and thwart him if they can, and knows also, what is quite as disagreeable to an honest man, that those with whom he can have little sympathy and with whom he cannot ally himself will scandalize him by their praises.
When General Garfield, in the house of representatives, described the president as an optimist, he was probably right. The president takes the hopeful view, and trusts largely to the operation of the better motives of men’s hearts. He thinks what ought to be will be, if not immediately, then after a while, when the right will more clearly appear to be also the expedient. He pursues the course he has marked out for himself openly, steadfastly, and confidently, but not as if he regarded himself as the only or the chief apostle of political righteousness in America. He seems to be a man striving to do well an onerous duty, not courting the immediate applause so much as the ultimate justice of his countrymen. When the nation has outgrown and is ashamed of the fierce sectional temper which now deforms patriotism, hinders perfect union, and vexes liberty; when industry and commerce, nourished by an honest currency, again spread contentment through all our borders; when the public service has ceased, as some time it must cease, to be the spoil of parties, a delivered people will refer with honor and gratitude to the administration of President Hayes as the beginning of the republic’s better day.