When the nominating convention of the Republican party met in Cincinnati in 1876, the country was still agitated by the disclosures of corruption in office which had given the administration a bad notoriety, even in comparison with the most scandalous periods of other days. Public sentiment had been so grossly outraged, that politicians who kept their heads knew perfectly well that some promise of reform was necessary, if the party was to have any chance for success in the approaching presidential election. Few people doubted that the shameless “whiskey frauds” were connected with the third-term movement, and this movement had collapsed before the convention assembled. Mr. Blaine was in the natural order of succession, if actual leadership in party politics were to determine it; and he would probably have been nominated with little opposition had it not been for the investigations of the last Congress into the private uses made of public power. His prestige among the active politicians who controlled the party organization was nevertheless so great that it was plain it would be “Blaine against the field,” and that he would still be nominated unless all the elements opposed to him could be concentrated upon some one else. All these elements were by no means reformatory. The delegates in the convention who really meant reform were a mere handful, led by Mr. Curtis, and the contest would have to be pretty close before they would hold the balance of power. The machinery of party, as everybody knows, is not set up to give expression to notions of reform. Delegates are chosen with other ends in view. To gain these ends, however, the elections must be carried, and therefore the fear of defeat may make the engineers give some recognition (usually in the platform) to a vigorous and persistent minority in the party, who might go into opposition at a time when circumstances indicate a close vote. A similar recognition may be given, by way of seductive influence, to independent organizations and to bodies of disaffected men in the opposite party. No politician takes these things seriously. They are either mere “tubs to the whale,” strictly for campaign use, or at most are concessions to a demand which cannot safely be ignored, and must be followed by an effort, more or less honest, to redeem the pledge by legislative or executive action. It is of the essence of current American politics that the education of public opinion and the creation of an effectual demand for reform shall be conducted outside of the brotherhood of workers in a party, by men who consciously sacrifice political advancement in doing so. Our good fortune comes when, in the lottery of nominating conventions, a man who means to redeem his party’s promises, and who has the courage and ability to do it, is put into a place of power.
The candidates opposed to Mr. Blaine were Bristow, Conkling, Hartranft, Hayes, and Morton. Each of these had the backing of a nomination by his own State, and none of them were unknown men. They entered the contest with all the accustomed forms, and the rivalry was confined to them to the end. Mr. Bristow was distinctively the candidate of the men who felt most deeply the need of systematic reform in the civil service. His unflinching prosecution of fraud in the revenue service had been in the face of influences which few men would have had the nerve to resist. Personal attachments, official comfort, party advancement, and public ambition all combined to warn him off from the course of duty. His experience in the Treasury Department had quickened and broadened his sympathy with the civil-service reformers, so that his nomination would have been in itself an assurance that positive progress in the right direction would be made.
Neither Mr. Conkling nor Mr. Morton could be said to stand for anything specific in doctrine or in practice which should distinguish their candidacy from that of Mr. Blaine. Both were veterans in public life and leaders in their party. Both were responsible for their full share of the influences which had made party politics synonymous with selfish ambition, yet both were free from any suspicion of seeking pecuniary profit for themselves in their official action. That they did not require equal self-denial of their followers was notorious enough; but, as times were, it was no small advantage that their own hands were clean. They had long been rivals of Mr. Blaine in party leadership, and if he had outstripped them in the race, they still had each a strong following. The selection of either of them as a candidate would have meant the continuation, as nearly as possible, of the methods and influences in government which had marked the past eight years. Both were members of the “senatorial group” which was popularly regarded as omnipotent in controlling appointments and in the details of party policy.
Hartranft and Hayes were men whose careers had also a similarity to each other. Both had been brave and devoted soldiers during the civil war. Both had risen by merit from subordinate places in regiments to the rank of general of division. Both had distinguished themselves on hard fought fields and won honorable places in the military history of the country. Colonel Bristow had also a good military record, but his actual position in the Cabinet and the recent incidents of his service there so filled the public eye as to make these the distinguishing marks of his candidacy. Hartranft and Hayes had been governors of their respective States, and both gave evidence of more than ordinary popularity at home. Neither of them had reached any prominence in national politics, and they were free from connection with or responsibility for the causes of depression and of division in their party. They were thus in the list of those who had been sufficiently tried in public affairs to be acknowledged capable of filling reputably the office of President, yet were unaffected by the quarrels and jealousies with which more prominent national politicians were burdened. This constitutes political availability in our recognized American sense, but it is an honorable form of it and not one that implies anything to be ashamed of.
Disinterested observers of the convention noted the fact that there was little interest manifested in the platform. It was a typical example of the colorless expression of generalities supposed to represent the demands of different groups of voters, whose support might be necessary to success. The ruling purpose was, of course, to keep the government in the hands of the party as organized. Apart from the cohesive power of office-holding, which was most powerful among the active politicians who held places or hoped to do so, the common sentiment which held the masses of the party together was still the patriotic desire to carry to fullest legitimate results the principles which had animated the national side in the civil war. The habit of united action was still strong, and was a genuine if somewhat transformed party spirit. The war issues were still potent rallying cries, but among thoughtful people a doubt had been rapidly growing whether these cries had any longer a practical meaning, except to keep power in the hands of managers whose abuse of it now threatened the defeat of the party.
It was vain to try longer to shut one’s eyes to the fact that the Stevens-Sumner experiment of ruling the South by means of the freedmen’s vote had failed. The so-called carpet-bag governments, with their legislatures, had been a distinctly retrograde movement away from civilization. A saturnalia of corruption and plunder threatened to bankrupt the several States and to make democratic institutions an impossibility. The natural leaders of opinion in the North began to unite in the demand that property and intelligence should be restored to their legitimate influence in Southern society, as a necessary safeguard for order and the reign of law. Yet the violence and intimidation which had been the natural counterpart of disfranchisement and corruption were equally shocking to the moral sense. The Cincinnati convention recognized in a mild way both these elements of discontent by resolutions in favor of pacifying the South and of protecting the freedmen.
In financial matters the party was still committed to the reduction of the war tariff, and had not yet accepted Mr. Blaine’s plan of substituting high protectionism for the war issues as the vital contention with its adversaries. His Twenty Years in Congress was published some years later, and became the basis of a new departure. For the moment, the resumption of specie payments was the nearest approach to a financial issue. A majority of Republicans favored resumption, and a majority of Democrats favored at least a postponement of it. The platforms therefore indicated this divergence without committing either party to a sharply defined policy. The Republicans contented themselves with declaring in favor of continuous and steady progress to specie payments.
In regard to the reform of the civil service, the eloquence and ability of Mr. Curtis in leading the reform element in the convention was rewarded by the adoption of resolutions recognizing the “quickened conscience of the people concerning political affairs,” calling for the swift punishment of officials who betray public trusts, and declaring that Congress should have nothing to do with appointments; honesty, fidelity, and capacity being the criteria to be used by the executive. The explicitness of the last declaration of principles was anything but agreeable to party lenders, as was demonstrated afterward. The triumph was therefore the greater, and it marked a positive step in the progress of the reform. It would be of inestimable aid to a President who meant to purify the administration of public affairs, and it was one of those committals from which a party cannot retreat without suffering the punishment of its insincerity.
The balloting in the convention soon showed that the earnest supporters of Bristow and Hayes numbered hardly one third of the whole, whilst the Blaine forces were almost one half, and were disposed to adhere steadily to their candidate. The problem, therefore, was whether the friends of the other candidates preferred to unite upon one person, or would, by division, allow enough to go over to Blaine to secure his nomination. To understand their action, it is necessary to recall something of the history of the reform movement. The Independents of 1872 made both the reduction of the tariff and the reform of the civil service cardinal points in their creed. The illogical absurdity of the result by which, in their mass convention, Mr. Greeley, the veteran champion of high protection, was made their candidate, foredoomed the movement to defeat. It was too plainly the mere capture of a public meeting by those who had other ends in view. Had Mr. C. F. Adams been nominated, as was expected by the real leaders in the reform movement, it is not improbable that a new organization of permanent parties would have followed. As it was, the disbanding of a distinctively reform organization in such a critical time, and the later drift of the Republican party into ultra-protectionism, seemed to make it a foregone conclusion that the politics of the country would be worked out within the old party lines.
This, however, was not definitely accepted in 1876, and a considerable body of the most intelligent and earnest men in the country were determined to make a new effort at an independent organization, unless the Republican party should give some guaranties of real encouragement to “reform within the party.” A call for a conference was issued in April by William Cullen Bryant, President Woolsey, Ex-Governor Bullock, Horace White, and Carl Schurz. The meeting was held in New York in May, and in it were the most earnest of those who had started the movement of 1872. They put forth an address in which they said, “The country cannot now afford to have any man elected to the presidency whose very name is not conclusive evidence of the most uncompromising determination of the American people to make this a pure government once more.” Looking to the probability that the coming convention would be quite willing to offer them a reformatory resolution in the platform as a cheap consideration for their support, they further declared that “not mere words are needed, but acts; not mere platforms, but men.” Their purpose was explicitly stated. “We shall support no candidate,” they said, “who, however favorably judged by his nearest friends, is not publicly known to possess those qualities of mind and character which the stern task of genuine reform requires.”
Thus it happened that the Cincinnati convention met, with full knowledge that the nomination of either of the most prominent party leaders would certainly be followed by the open opposition of all who were represented in the New York conference. The condition of public sentiment was such that he would be a very sanguine partisan who could hope that this opposition would not prove fatal to party success. The result of the election proved that it would indeed have been decisive. No doubt the attachment of Mr. Blaine’s followers was so strong that they would have preferred defeat with him to success with another; but the supporters of Conkling and Morton were inclined to vote for some other candidate as soon as it should be probable that they could not succeed with their own. It soon became evident that their choice must lie between Bristow and Hayes, and upon the seventh ballot the concentration was complete, and Hayes was nominated, receiving thirty-three more votes than Blaine. At the critical moment, the Morton vote, led by R. W. Thompson of Indiana, was withheld from Bristow, to whom it was supposed it would be given, Michigan was transferred to Hayes, and the rest made haste to follow.
From the opening of the convention the crucial question had been, whether the reform organization would support General Hayes if he should be nominated. It was plain that the party managers did not desire the nomination of Bristow, who was too distinctively the reform candidate; and if the reformers could be induced to support another, it would be a compromise of the kind that is always attractive to a politician. The address that had been published by the New York conference had been so explicit in its unwillingness to support an unknown candidate, or to take his character on trust, that opinion for a time trembled in the balance. The summing-up was on this wise. General Hayes as a soldier had been a modest one, but his courage had been tested, and had shone more nobly with the demands upon it. He had in civil life been a strict party man, but in his votes in Congress, and in his acts as Governor, he had solved his doubts in favor of the purest principle and of the most honest course. He had avoided collisions and had followed acknowledged leaders, but he had never allowed party devotion to compromise his personal integrity. He had never been willing to break out of party lines, but he had given countenance and assistance to reform in every way short of this. His whole life had been one of unostentatious but pure morality, and no one could come very near him without learning that he was a man to whom no corrupt proposal could be made, and who would not tolerate corruption.
The reform delegates in the convention had inquired as to all these points with intense solicitude, for they knew they did not hold the balance of power, and could not dictate a nomination. Had it been only a question who would most fitly represent their principles, and who, in intellect, in cultivation, in character, in knowledge of public business, in power to commend the right to the minds and hearts of others, would most nobly fill the great office of President, they had on that floor, in the person of George W. Curtis, one of whom every American might well have been proud. But no one knew so well as Mr. Curtis that his championship of reform made him ineligible, in the sad condition of politics, for high political office, and that his work must be done with conscious self-renunciation and as a private citizen. He and those who acted with him were not impracticable, and they welcomed the evidence that among the recognized available party candidates there was one whose character and career gave so much ground for confidence as that of General Hayes. They bore willing testimony that if only the honest and intelligent administration of the laws were considered, Hayes, as The Nation expressed it, was “precisely the kind of man for which the presidency calls.” They needed, however, his own declarations, and withheld their final decision till his letter of acceptance was published. It was known in advance that this would be no mere perfunctory gloss upon the convention platform, but would be an indication of the candidate’s principles and policy, by which he would firmly abide.
In accepting the nomination, General Hayes selected for special mention four of the topics contained in the platform. These were, first, the reform of the civil service; second, the return to specie payments; third, unsectarian common schools; and fourth, the pacification of the South. The first and the last were treated with considerable fullness; the others very briefly. He traced the abuse of the distribution of public offices as a means of political advantage, and showed that, during the preceding half century, the offices had become “not merely rewards for party services, but rewards for services to party leaders.” He enumerated some of the most glaring evils of the spoils system. He intimated that it made office-brokers of members of Congress, instead of statesmen. He declared that every department of the government would be elevated by the reform, and that this “should be thorough, radical, and complete.” He pledged himself, if elected, to use all his constitutional powers to establish this reform. He went further, and stated his inflexible purpose not to be a candidate for election to a second term. He put this emphatically upon the ground that the reform to which he pledged himself could “be best accomplished by an executive who is under no temptation to use the patronage of his office to promote his own reëlection.” This was something more than words: it was “an act” such as had been spoken of by the New York conference. It was an explicit and original withdrawal from the list of future candidates, and the adoption of a position which was in itself a progress in reform. The abuse of the appointing power and of executive authority to secure a second or third term was the subject upon which the country was exceedingly sore, yet it was one of such delicacy for a party candidate, that General Hayes’s solution of it must be regarded as both wise and significant. His action was itself a condemnation of the wrongs in the past, and the surest pledge as to the future. A declaration in favor of a constitutional amendment limiting the President to one term would have been mere “words;” for experience had shown how little chance there was for early action upon it. His directness and sincerity of purpose was better shown in this act than it could have been by reams of disquisition.
In dealing with the subject of Southern pacification, he was by the necessity of the situation limited to generalities; yet his letter, read in the light of the actual history of the Southern States, is full of intentional significance. Peace on the basis of the supremacy of the law was his theme, and “an intelligent and honest administration of government” he recognized as the “first necessity.” He pledged himself to organize his administration so as to “regard and cherish their truest interests, — the interests of the white and colored people both and equally,” and to “wipe out forever the distinction between North and South in our common country.”
The letter removed all misgivings from the minds of most men of the reform wing of the party, and from a strong probability of defeat gave to the Republicans a fair chance of success. If it shall seem that I have given too much space to things which were only preliminary to the administration of President Hayes, my apology is that the character of the administration was determined by these events. It is sometimes said that the contest over his election led him to conciliate the South, and to try to calm public agitation by making his administration acceptable to all parts of the country. The fact rather is, as it seems to me, that he was only carrying out, with logical consistency and with personal singleness of purpose, the principles and the policy to which he was committed by his nomination, and by the avowed convictions which had made him an acceptable candidate to the men who thoroughly meant “to make this a pure government once more.”
The controversy over the election of 1876 is much more easily understood now than it was at the time. Excited political discussion is always full of reckless assertions, and the easy credulity of party men accepts as truth all that is claimed by the party. The returning board question amounted to this. The returning board of Louisiana rejected the vote of election precincts in which the elections had been undisturbed on election day, upon the ground that a general condition of intimidation existed among the negroes in consequence of violence practiced during an indefinite previous time. If such rejected votes had been counted, the electoral vote of the State would have gone to Tilden, and he would have been elected. There were, of course, disputes as to the fact of intimidation, its connection with this election, and its extent. Those who admitted it offered excuses found in the revolutionary condition of affairs in the South and the intolerable character of the first local governments after the close of the war. The returning board had no claim to public confidence, for it was a partisan body, the members of which refused to fill a vacancy that the law directed to be filled by one of the opposite party. It was a self-perpetuating body, whose composition had deteriorated in the changes of its membership which had occurred during several years. In justice to them, however, it must be admitted that the bold plan of ruling the State through its decisions was put in operation by prominent Northern politicians. At a previous election, when there were men of character upon it, the board had declared the election favorable to the Republicans, but had sent one of their number to Washington to represent to leading congressmen that they did so, not because the evidence justified it, but because they thought there was no fair election. They requested that the whole election might be set aside by Congress, and a new one ordered, under such federal protection as would make it satisfactory to all. They were referred to Senator Morton of Indiana, as the spokesman of the party leaders, and after some delays he informed them that the result as declared by their return was so satisfactory that it was not considered necessary to take congressional action. It may have been a mere coincidence that the Louisiana Republican Convention of 1876 indicated Senator Morton as its first choice for the presidency. The complications in Florida and South Carolina were variations of the same revolutionary conditions. The facts were more or less obscured by the fierce antagonisms and contradictions of party dispute, and the most honest man, even if he were himself a candidate, might well doubt where the truth lay. Light dawned upon the situation when a measure was introduced in Congress to appoint a commission to count the votes and to decide the election, making judges of the supreme court in their private capacity umpires of disputed points.
The merit of securing the passage of this measure belongs in no small degree to Speaker Randall of the House, who, after giving free rein for a long time to those who were determined to defeat it by filibustering, until they had thus exhausted themselves and wearied all others, at a well-chosen moment, when the temper of the House was likely to rally to him, announced the constitutional obligation to prepare to count the electoral votes to be paramount to the right of further debate, refused to entertain dilatory motions, and gave a favorable majority the opportunity of a final vote. The country was in greater peril of a renewal of civil war than most people knew or believed. The conduct of both was admirable. Both gave their whole influence to the submission of all disputes to peaceful solution through legal forms. Both earned the title of true patriots, who postponed their personal and party ambitions to the peace of the country. Senator Morton strengthened his claim to be considered the type of extremest partisanship by leading the mixed opposition to the electoral commission. Republicans who opposed it generally contended that the Republican president of the Senate had full authority to count the vote without control by either house of Congress, although the right of either house to object to any vote had been distinctly recognized by Republican Congresses. Democrats who opposed did so in the belief that an objection from the House of Representatives would prevent the vote, and if the Senate and House could not agree, the election by the electors would fail, and an election by the Democratic House would follow under the provisions of the Constitution.
The electoral commission decided that they were bound to recognize and count the votes of all electors appearing upon the face of the returns to be duly qualified. They accordingly declared General Hayes to be the President elect. The title to the office was thus lawfully and finally determined, though the question as to fraud or wrong-doing behind the returns was avowedly untouched. It was plainly one of those cases coming under an ancient legal maxim, that it is more important to the country that the law should be certain than that it should always be just. General Hayes had not been a claimant of the office, nor had he taken the position that he had the right to any vote whatever. With a mind prepared for either event, he had quietly waited for the lawfully constituted authority to declare upon whom the office devolved in accordance with the forms of law. His refusal to accept it before the electoral college had voted would only have thrown upon that body the actual choice intended to be given it by the Constitution, and could neither have dissolved it nor changed its political complexion. His refusal afterward would only have passed the office to the Vice-President elect, and to those in the legal order of succession. Fully conscious of the unwelcome incidents connected with his tenure, he modestly accepted as a solemn duty the responsibilities which both houses of Congress in due form had declared to be upon his shoulders.
The selection of his Cabinet was the next duty, and he went about it with the same directness and simplicity of motive which had marked his previous conduct. Suggestions were made to him abundantly, and he sought the opinions of those in whom he had confidence. He kept his own counsel, however, and did not indicate his purpose till he had maturely considered everything which should weigh with him. The first selections definitely made were Mr. Evarts for the State Department, Mr. Schurz for the Interior, and Mr. Sherman for the Treasury. Mr. Evarts had been the leader of the reform element in New York during the State canvass. He had always been an independent Republican, and had not only defended President Johnson professionally in the impeachment trial, but had accepted the Attorney-Generalship in his Cabinet afterward. The mantle of Mr. Seward seemed to have fallen upon him. Eloquent in advocacy, subtle in counsel, irresistible in social life, he combined in the highest degree the qualities of successful diplomacy. The fitness of the selection could not be questioned, but it was none the less significant of the new President’s judgment of the factions within the party. Mr. Schurz was more distinctively the champion and the representative of aggressive reform. Although deeply chagrined at the nomination of Greeley in 1872, he had not felt at liberty to cut loose from a movement he had done much to start. Yet he declared himself an Independent in politics, with earnest wishes that the Republican party should command the support of all such by a real committal to the civil service reform. Almost unrivaled for lucid and cogent reasoning on political subjects, his earnest advocacy of General Hayes’s election had been fruitful in votes as well as a real educational force upon public opinion. Mr. Sherman was the type of the naturally conservative but devoted party man. His great administrative abilities and his familiarity with the financial legislation of the country pointed him out as a safe and strong Secretary of the Treasury. His steady policy in his department made the most intelligent men of the community wish that a larger part of his career might have been spent in executive duties, where the temptations to yield to the shifting currents of momentary popular opinion are much weaker than upon the floor of Congress. The selection of General Devens for Attorney-General was an additional proof of the influence of great purity of character, tried ability in judicial duty, and a noble self-sacrificing patriotism in the military as well as in the civil service of the country. In putting Mr. Thompson into the Navy Department, President Hayes more distinctly recognized the claims of a wing of his party than in any other of his selections. That Senator Morton was a strong factor in our politics, every one knew. His leadership in the opposition to the electoral commission was an additional reason for conciliating him and his friends. Mr. Thompson had been the spokesman of this group in the Cincinnati convention, and was a political veteran, dating back to the times of the full vigor of the Whig party.
No part of General Hayes’s purpose had been more distinctly formed or firmly held than that of making an effort to give peace to the South. He hoped that this might be done on the basis of the mutual recognition of their rights by the two races, when assured that the Federal administration would countenance no wrong by either, and would be an impartial umpire between both. As something more than a pledge to do this, he had at a very early day determined to give a place in his Cabinet to some distinguished Southern man who would have the fullest confidence of the late Confederates. Such a man, admitted to the confidential relations of the Cabinet, would be an authoritative exponent of the broad patriotic policy of the President, and could give to the administration the most trustworthy information of the real views and desires of the Southern whites. The President’s own history and that of most of his advisers showed that the interests of the freedmen would be watched by them with friendly solicitude. A representation of the disaffected element would, it was hoped, bring about the mutual understanding which was a necessary condition of a solid pacification. To ensure the best results, it was desirable that the Southern man chosen should possess the absolute confidence of his own people, and yet be, as far as possible, free from the entanglements of an active politician. General Joseph E. Johnston seemed to unite the desired qualities, and President Hayes determined at a very early day to offer him the position of Secretary of War. Johnston was not only a very able man, with dignity of character and of perfect integrity, but he had given such proof of the completeness with which he had accepted the results of the war, and of his desire to assist in cultivating renewed loyalty to the nation, that no one could be a more fit intermediary between his section and the government. As the matter was discussed, however, there was seen evidence that in the army and among the disbanded volunteers there was a good deal of restiveness at the idea of a general of the late Confederate army becoming the immediate representative of the national commander-in-chief. Many thought it too violent an experiment, whilst recognizing the wisdom of the President’s general purpose. General Sherman had doubts of the feasibility of the plan, but he distinctly said that, for himself, he could receive the President’s orders through his own old antagonist without chafing or unhappiness. The decision was left open by General Hayes till he went to Washington to be inaugurated, when adverse influences became strong enough to lead him to modify his plan, and, at the last moment, he nominated General Key of Tennessee to be Postmaster-General, and Mr. McCrary of Iowa to be Secretary of War. It is no impeachment of the ability or high purposes of General Key to say that his appointment could not have the full significance that Johnston’s would have had, and that the President’s plan was not tried in the sense he had originally meant. Mr. McCrary had been a distinguished member of the House of Representatives, and had introduced the resolution which led to the electoral commission. By his loyal coöperation with the President, he justified the confidence reposed in him.
In the organization of his cabinet, President Hayes had consistently carried out the purposes he had formed at the time of his nomination. In his inaugural address he called his countrymen to witness that he only reiterated the principles which he had stated in his letter of acceptance. He scarcely added anything to the list of important measures he had already advocated. He recommended a constitutional amendment fixing a term of six years for the President, and forbidding a reëlection. This was a proper corollary to the personal pledge he had given the country that he would not be a candidate for a second term. He referred with dignity to the decision of the electoral commission making him President, and, recognizing the fact that for the present, opinions will widely vary as to the wisdom of their conclusions, rested his own title on the judicial determination of the tribunal to which the law referred the controversy. He rightly saw the best proof of capacity for self-government in the willingness of the people, in the height of political excitement, to submit such a contest to decision under the forms of law.
The first business which confronted the administration was embarrassing. In South Carolina and Louisiana two rival organizations claimed to be the state government. In each State two persons assumed to exercise the governorship, and two bodies pretending to be the legislature were in session. Congress had sent committees to examine the situation, and General Grant had reached the conclusion that the military forces of the United States could not properly be used to maintain local governments which would fall unless upheld by the army. Preliminary steps had been taken looking to the withdrawal of troops, and the question for President Hayes was whether he would change the policy indicated. Strong efforts were made to convince him that he condemned his own title to the presidency if he allowed the Republican claimants in the Southern States to be ousted. He showed true statesmanship in refusing to allow his own title to be considered in connection with the present dispute. To have done so would have made him the slave of a faction, and would have forfeited his claim to be the head of the nation. He determined to send a committee to represent him in a strong effort at voluntary conciliation in the States. The Republican claimants of state offices were to be informed that the administration shared the grave doubts of their predecessors as to the right to use the army as a garrison for the continuous support of a state government. The constitutional authority to use military force was limited to invasion, insurrection, and the acute rather than the chronic disturbances of the public peace. It was for the local claimants to say whether they had any confidence in a popular support which would be efficient if their opponents were not overawed by the army. If not, they were to be advised that the good of the whole country would be best promoted by their abandonment even of what they regarded as a legal right, and by awaiting the effects of peace and education to determine the political future of their States. The commission was wisely chosen, and performed its task with diplomatic skill. Enough members of one legislative organization went over to the other to remove all doubt as to the de facto and de jure quorum, the claiming governors who were unsupported by the legislature retired, and the contest was ended. That Mr. Hayes was disappointed in his hope that there would be no recurrence to fraud or force does not invalidate the truth that, in the actual state of public opinion, the cessation of war methods and the return to the ordinary ways of peace was a necessity.
The civil service question remained a burning one throughout the term of the administration. The step which was taken at the Cincinnati Convention, and to which President Hayes earnestly committed himself, did not by any means cover the whole ground. To put an end to the dictation of appointments by congressmen was a considerable advance, if it could be really done. It was open, however, to the criticism that the President could not have personal knowledge of the tens of thousands of incumbents and candidates, and that it would be practically impossible to draw the line between accepting information from members of Congress and acting on their recommendation and request. The earnest advocates of reform saw clearly that the systematic classification of the service with appointments upon impersonal and judicial examination would be the only satisfactory solution of the problem. The gist of the reform is to take the ordinary administration offices entirely out of politics, and to put them upon a purely business basis. Transferring patronage from congressmen back to the President was a step in the right direction, because concentration of responsibility tends to better selection. The President reiterated his wish to return to the practice of the earliest administrations, when removal of officers for political reasons was practically unknown. He was desirous of coöperating with Congress and of procuring efficient legislation on the subject, but he did not yet see his way clear to doing the work by executive order. Mr. Schurz introduced a system of examinations for appointment and promotion in the Interior Department; and he adhered to it with the support and encouragement of the President, despite the withholding of the money necessary to meet the cost. The Civil Service Commission had a nominal existence, and did such voluntary work as the earnest zeal of its members prompted them to do. Congress refused, during the whole of Mr. Hayes’s term, to make appropriations for the necessary expenses of the commission; and without the means to carry on the examinations with which we are now familiar, the commission could do little more than educate public sentiment.
The hostility did not stop here. Every form of pressure was brought to bear upon the President to make him retreat from his position. An informal meeting of congressmen supposed to represent the different phases of opinion was finally arranged at the house of Secretary Sherman, who consented to be the medium of conveying to the President any suggestions or requests on which they could agree. It is not quite clear how the selection for this little caucus was made, but it was probably a fair indication of congressional opinion. The large majority were men who believed that party organization could be efficient only when the offices were used for partisan rewards, and who insisted with considerable logical force that, if this were true, the members of the Senate and House were the natural distributers of the prizes; the President, through the Cabinet, being only the arbitrator of their conflicting claims. Most of them pooh-poohed the attempt at reform as theoretically pretty and even ultimately desirable, but wholly visionary and unpractical. Butler was there, professing his cynical disbelief in the honesty of the reformers, and openly denouncing the pharisaism, as he styled it, of the “snivel service reform.” There was also present a very small but determined minority, who forced the meeting to face the explicit terms of the party platform and the pledges of the President’s letter of acceptance as repeated in his first regular message. They asked which party would be likely to bear the penalties of hypocrisy and pharisaism, if, by organized effort, they should succeed in repudiating these pledges. The result was that no formal resolution or other united action was ventured on, and the secretary did not have to report to his chief any ultimatum of his party in Congress. The strained relations were perhaps a little relieved, but the urgency of individuals upon the President to abandon his purpose was not less strong than before. Whether it was that he had a period of real discouragement, or that he thought it useless to continue to press upon the two houses his views on this subject, it is a significant fact that, in his message to the second regular session of the Forty-Fifth Congress, he omitted the subject of civil service reform, though he returned to it again in his messages to the Forty-Sixth, and with a manifestly increased depth of conviction as to its necessity. A good measure of the progress since that day is found in the outspoken declaration of Mr. McKinley, so honorable to him, when, as chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means in the last Congress, he said the reformed system had “come to stay,” and that he would not be party to any effort to defeat proper appropriations for the expenses of the commission.
President Hayes’s administration was noteworthy for the number of instances in which he felt obliged to make use of the veto. On some ten different occasions he returned to Congress bills which had been passed, giving reasons for with-holding his assent. The bill to provide for the coinage of the standard silver dollar was one of these, and his objection was that, in his judgment, silver should not be made a legal tender for debts incurred before the passage of the act. The bill to restrict Chinese immigration was another. He thought this bill inconsistent with the treaty then existing with China, and that its abrogation by one party, without negotiation, would be in substance a violation of international law. In both these cases the veto was over-ridden by the constitutional majority of both houses of Congress. In another class of cases, in which the veto was effectual, some curious questions were involved. The House of Representatives, having a Democratic majority, passed several bills in succession in which a “rider” was put upon army appropriations and appropriations for the expenses of deputy marshals, declaring that no part of the money appropriated should be used to carry out provisions of statutes formerly passed relating to the use of troops at places of election, and to the employment by United States marshals of extra deputies to supervise elections. The effect of such “riders” was practically to annul laws which remained upon the statute book unrepealed. The danger of defeating the whole appropriation bill had sufficed to coerce the Senate into acquiescence, but, undeterred by this, the President interposed his veto. He did so upon the ground that it was his constitutional duty to see that unrepealed laws are faithfully executed, and that the restrictions sought to be imposed not only prevented this in the cases referred to, but were sweeping enough to cripple the executive power in matters committed to its care continuously since 1792.
The contention of the House became, in substance, the assertion of the right of the representatives to dictate to the other branches of the legislative power whenever they believed that a grievance existed and ought to be removed. Really, it implied the right to make a deadlock in the business of the government, and to use this as a sort of duress upon the Senate and the President. The common arguments in support of such action were drawn from the history of the English Commons in the well-known cases of enforcing redress of grievances by withholding grants of money. The advocates of this doctrine put themselves in the position of smatterers in history who miss its sense. The English Commons were the only direct representation of the people, and they were forcing upon the hereditary king and lords the constitutional principle that the will of the people must be paramount. The House of Commons thus became the dominant factor in government. In the United States, however, the President and the Senate also derive their power from the people by election and for brief terms. The same constitution fixes their tenure of office and their part in the government which fixes those of the representatives. To attempt to change these at the will of one of the coördinate departments is to alter the Constitution. To do it irregularly and by means of interrupting the conduct of the government is revolution. When this question has been raised, the people have never failed to stand by their Constitution. The party which has tried revolutionary methods has found itself condemned. It is popular in the United States, as well as lawful, for the Senate to assert its full share in legislation, and for the President to use freely his judgment in signing or in vetoing the bills which Congress may pass. President Hayes temperately but firmly set forth the true doctrine in returning these bills, and though he had to do it not once or twice, but seven times, he adhered to his conviction of duty and was sustained. It was a constitutional crisis of no mean dimensions. Here, if ever, was the occasion on which the right of veto would meet popular disapproval. So far was this from being the case, that viewed merely as a question of parliamentary policy, it was disastrous for the majority in the House, and made easier the unquestioned victory of the Republicans in the next presidential contest.
The detailed history of the events occurring during President Hayes’s term would have its interest as illustrating the ordinary business of the country in time of peace. It is often said that the happiest periods of a nation’s existence are those which offer the fewest exciting themes to the historian. With no wars or dangers of war, with no scandals to excite the political gossips, with no great issues to stir party organizations to spasmodic efforts, everything seemed to move on in humdrum prosperity. The public debt was rapidly paid off, specie payments were resumed, the Mormon question in Utah was brought within the control of established law and the suppression of polygamy there was made certain, the classified civil service system was applied to the most important custom-houses and post-offices and its principles took firm root, the fisheries dispute was added to the precedents which support arbitration as a better way of settling international differences than war. If the President was disappointed in his hope that the pacification of the South would be completed within his term upon the basis of the removal of the race question from politics, it was not from any lack of effort on his part. The root of the evil was found to be so deep that what had been centuries in growing could not be suddenly cured. The cessation of turbulence and organized violence was much, even if frauds remained; for it is only in a peaceful atmosphere that men can hear the voice of conscience and of wisdom in political disputes.
The experience of President Hayes proved that an administration which seeks to abolish the spoils system must expect to lose that appearance of leadership in legislation which has been sustained by the farming out of patronage. The appearance was in the main a sham, but it imposed upon a public not well informed, and gave a repute for strength to administrations that only bought votes in Congress by places under the government. In matters in which the country has an active interest, the real leadership will accompany the clearest knowledge of the public need and of the proper means to meet it. In ordinary affairs a President who will not so purchase help will find his recommendations treated with slight respect, or even ostentatiously overruled. There will be no loss in dignity for the executive nor in advantage to the country when once we are oriented to the new condition of things. The recommendations of the President will be less political and more business-like. The public necessities and advantages which are supported by a strong array of facts will command attention even from a hostile legislature. The presidential presentations of party advocacy and efforts at party control can be dispensed with, and both the country and the chief magistrate will gain by the absence.
President Hayes put himself beyond the temptation to court favors, in Congress or out of it, by his simple and honest adherence to his original withdrawal from further candidacy. He did not dally with the matter, or show the slightest wish to change his resolve. He did not encourage, but repelled suggestions that the determination was ill-advised. He put the thing behind him once and forever. We shall do well to study his administration carefully from this point of view. It is an object lesson in the essential difference there is in the whole spirit of a government when it is absolutely free from the suspicion of an ulterior purpose to aid a personal ambition. Its duties ran on from day to day in a wholesome independence and vigor. It had no need to slur the expression of duty or to soften its demand for the right. Its recommendations were known to be honest, and not warped by cunning policy. It gave those who will carefully look at it and make comparisons with that which had gone before, an opportunity to see some of the permanent benefits which would come from the adoption of the constitutional amendment fixing the single six year term. It began under a cloud of odium never paralleled in our history. Its opponents had been keyed up almost to the point of armed insurrection. It steadily silenced its detractors and gained upon their respect, till, when it ended, there was universal assent to the proposition that not only was President Hayes precisely the kind of man for which the presidency calls, but that he had given the country precisely the kind of administration that it needed. We do not need to say that he had been ideal in wisdom or in power. That was not what was called for. He was well balanced in judgment, teachable in the school of experience, single-hearted in patriotic purpose, honest in seeking only the public good, and so successful in enforcing honesty in his administration that not a breath of scandal stained it. The very quietness and modesty of it all was one of its chief merits, and should make his countrymen pray that such administrations may become the rule and not the exception. And from the time that he laid down his great office till the day of his death, he devoted himself with the same quietness, but the same untiring industry, to the good of his country. Looking to education as the best guaranty for republican institutions, he was especially active in the administration of the Peabody fund, and other endowments of popular education in the South, believing that increase in knowledge and cultivation would go further than any other influence in removing the antagonisms left by the war. Deeply impressed by his executive experience with the fact that prisons are too often the schools of crime, he gave unstinted labor and time to the work of prison reform. The hard fate of the Indians had excited his sympathy, and his aid was freely given to every effort for their civilization and their fair treatment. He cultivated true comradeship with the soldiers who had been his companions in war, though his official messages contained no recommendation for an enlargement of the pension system. From first to last his life was one of consistent and steadfast obedience to fixed principles and earnest convictions, and the more intimately it was known, the more free did it seem from all subservience to momentary influences or merely personal ambitions.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.