Colonial Civil Service

THE general demand that our new possessions shall be administered by able and competent officials, and the widespread interest shown in the methods by which modern colonizing nations have sought to insure efficient colonial service, are signs of a healthier tone of public feeling toward the problems of good government which ought to rejoice the hearts of all save confirmed national pessimists.

Mr. A. Lawrence Lowell, in his Colonial Civil Service,1 which is by far the most exhaustive book on the subject yet published in England or America, says all progressive nations have agreed that only on certain conditions can an efficient tropical colonial service be maintained. These conditions are security of tenure, large salaries, and liberal pensions.

There can be no judicious administration without knowledge of the languages and customs of the natives, and no able man will waste the time required in special preparation unless he has some guarantee that, at the end of a few years, he will not be turned out of a position where he is just beginning to be of value, with a stock of knowledge of little use to him in any other career.

Large salaries and liberal pensions are necessary to tempt men of the best calibre — men who might be reasonably sure of success among the crowded ranks at home — to enter upon a profession uncongenial to most men, on account of the sacrifices which it entails.

These are the conditions under which alone a colonial service can flourish. The qualities that it demands, by the united testimony of English, French, and Dutch authorities, are character, physical vigor, a high order of general education, and some technical training. Place an untrained man, suddenly appointed, in a position where thousands of natives are under his control, says Mr. Lowell, and he will be “ perfectly helpless, however great his natural capacity. He knows neither the language nor the customs of the people, nor does he comprehend their thoughts, and the consequences of his ignorance may be disastrous. Well-meaning but inexperienced officials could easily provoke an insurrection like the Indian Mutiny, without being in the least conscious that they were drifting into danger.” A Dutch colonial official of thirty years’ experience considers that breadth of education is of immense importance. When a man is stationed at a lonely post, away from Europeans and surrounded only by natives, he is thrown upon his own mental resources ; and if he has not broad interests, he tends to become narrow and to “ lose his civilization.” Strength of will, courage, coolness, and readiness are qualities which are absolutely essential in dealing with Asiatics, and in the tropics physical vigor is the necessary condition of mental vigor. Over and above these requirements, a colonial career should be entered young, not only because in youth languages are acquired with greater rapidity and facility, but because of the greater flexibility and adaptability to new conditions. When we come to the selection of officials, Mr. Lowell says there are but two methods possible, — arbitrary choice by the authorities or open competition. “ Either one or other of these systems, or some combination of the two, must be adopted.” After selection, the question arises, How shall the future officials be trained for their special work ? Shall they be free to study where and what they please, provided that they attain a certain standard ; shall they be required to enter a specified colonial school; or shall they go at once to the colony, and serve an apprenticeship there before entering upon their active duties ?

The system in force in England today for the Indian civil service, which for many reasons is the one most important for us to consider, is open competitive examination for candidates not under twenty-one nor over twenty-three years old.

The subjects in which the men are examined are included in the ordinary courses of a university, but the severity of the examination papers is such as might be expected in an American college for graduation honors or a Ph. D. degree. None of the subjects is compulsory, and none is connected with the future work of an Indian official.

This is in accordance with the theory of Lord Macaulay’s famous report on the subject, which is given in full in an appendix to Mr. Lowell’s book. After saying that in a competitive examination, where many must necessarily fail, it would be unfair to inquire subjects so exclusively technical that unsuccessful candidates would have a right to complain that they had wasted time in studies which could never be of use to them, the report continues : “We believe that men who have been engaged up to one or two and twenty in studies which have no immediate connection with the business of any profession, and of which the effect is merely to open, to invigorate, and to enrich the mind, will generally be found in the business of every profession superior to men who have at eighteen or nineteen devoted themselves to the special studies of their calling.”

This examination passed, the successful candidates are obliged to spend a year in special studies before going to India. These studies include Indian law and native languages. Probationers are allowed to study where they please ; but if they pass the year of probation at a university, they receive £100. At the end of the year a non-competitive examination is held, which to some extent determines rank in the service. After this the probationers go at once to India, having entered with a good salary on a lifelong career which offers great prizes. On reaching India, an apprenticeship must still be served before sufficient experience is gained to fit the young officials to fill even minor posts, and they are considered to be merely in training for two years after arrival.

The Dutch system is very different from the English, although competitive examinations are held yearly in Holland and in the Dutch East Indies. But the two great principles which govern the English examinations are lacking : first, that a high standard of general education should be required ; and second, that no technical preparation should be demanded which would be wasted in case the candidate failed.

The only guarantee of a general education exacted in Holland is a highschool diploma, and the subjects of the examination are exclusively technical, including Dutch East Indian law, Indology, and two native languages, all of which are compulsory. These subjects demand at least three years of special study ; and although attendance at the Delft Colonial School is not obligatory, it has become a practical necessity, as nowhere else in Holland are the requisite subjects properly taught. With a few exceptions, chiefly in the judicial service, every Dutch East Indian official below the rank of governor general must have passed the “ Grand Examination.” Since 1893, the requirements for the judicial service are a university doctorate of laws, and a pass examination in Indian languages held by university professors, who recommend successful candidates for appointment.

Much complaint has been made of the narrowness of Dutch colonial officials, and in May, 1899, a reform commission, composed of men of great colonial experience, brought in a report advising a complete reversal of the present system. Extracts from this report are given by Mr. Lowell, which are instructive. It complains that the present Dutch method “ does not give the slightest guarantee either of a diversity of information, or of a high degree of education or of character. Its first defect is that it lays exclusive stress upon Indian studies.” These, in the opinion of the commission, should be “ reduced to a minimum, sufficient as a foundation to build upon in active life.” The report recommends that the selection of officials should be transferred from the end of the course of special training to the beginning, so that those who have successfully completed their preparation should be certain of appointment. The suggestions of this commission have not been acted upon as yet, although they have aroused great interest in Holland.

Mr. Lowell gives an interesting account of French colonial experience, which, however, he regards as of small value to other colonizing powers, because, in the selection and training of the colonial service, as in so many other departments, “ France has been a laboratory of political experiments,” no one of which has lasted long enough to be really valuable. The French colonial service is recruited in four ways : by appointment from the army and navy, by open competition between candidates possessing certain diplomas, by promotion from subordinate clerkships, and by the graduates of the colonial school. Admission to this school depends on competitive examination, and it was originally intended that it should be the main source of supply for the colonial service ; but year by year the regulations have been modified, apparently through no fault of the school, until at present it supplies not over one sixth of the lowest grade of officials. Compared with English requirements, the French scheme of education at this school is narrow and overspecialized ; but it possesses one great advantage over the Dutch system, as it is far less technical, and therefore unsuccessful candidates do not waste nearly so much time.

The practical application of the theories which Mr. Lowell deduces from his study of foreign methods will be, to the majority of American readers, by far the most interesting part of the book. Our present system of competitive examinations, he points out, even if applied, would not serve to fill satisfactorily a colonial service. It is based on the assumption that there are plenty of men in the country whose occupations fit them to perform government work; “but there are no men in the United States whose ordinary avocation is ruling Asiatics, or whose normal occupation involves the art of administering dependencies.” Therefore a special training is necessary. The experience of England and Holland establishes the same principles, which are, first, that colonial officials should be men of broad general education ; second, that the selection should not depend upon special preparation for colonial work, but should precede such training; and third, that much technical preparation is unnecessary, before candidates go to the colony to begin an active apprenticeship on the spot. Mr. Lowell believes that it would be impossible, even if advisable, to attempt to apply the English system in the United States. A standard of examination so high that it would practically exclude all but college graduates would be considered as class legislation, and as “ un-American ” in the extreme. Also, the patronage theory is so deeply imbedded in our habits of political thought that no method of selection which left this out of consideration could hope to be permanent or safe from attack. Some plan must therefore be found which “ yields something to the desire for patronage in appointments, and to their equal distribution throughout the different states. Such a concession may violate one’s ideal of what things ought to be in a model republic ; but we live in a world of facts, and the problem before us is to find a practicable scheme which will bring the colonial service to the highest possible standard of character and efficiency.”

With these facts in mind, Mr. Lowell suggests the establishment of a Colonial Training College, like the old Last India College at Haileybury, in England, which is described at length in a chapter by Professor H. Morse Stephens. Admission to this college being secured by appointment, as is the case at Annapolis and West Point, the desire for patronage would be partially satisfied ; rigorous examinations would eliminate the bad elements, and a good degree of general education might be insured, as it is at West Point and Annapolis. Neither of these institutions has ever been considered “ un-American,” nor is there a possibility of class discrimination at such a college.

One of the benefits of a special college is that it enables the different members of a particular service to estimate the character and capacity of one another, and the esprit de corps fostered is of distinct advantage to the service. A four years’ course would be advisable, three fourths of which should be given to general education, and the remainder to technical studies, including languages, laws, history, customs, and institutions. All who graduate should be insured positions in the colonial civil service.

As it is not estimated that we shall require annually a large number of new American officials for the Philippines, such a college would be too small to produce its best results unless it could either be connected with West Point or Annapolis, or could educate men for some other career. “There would appear to be an appropriate service for this purpose. If, as is very generally believed, the United States is likely, in the near future, to increase her commerce with the East, we ought to have a numerous and wholly efficient consular service in China and the neighboring countries ; and it does not seem wholly utopian to suggest that our Asiatic consuls might be trained in the same college as the colonial civil servants. There are many points in their education which would be the same ; and in fact, whether we exclude the Chinese from the Philippines or not, some of the colonial officials there ought, in any case, to learn their language.”

There is no reason why candidates sure of appointment to the colonial civil or consular service should not pay at least something for their education. At the English college at Cooper’s Hill, where men are admitted, after competitive examination, to be trained for the Indian Forestry Department, students pay over nine hundred dollars a year, during their three years’ course: this, however, includes board as well as tuition. The French school charges about one hundred and twenty dollars a year for tuition only, and the Delft school about eighty dollars.

Of course it is impossible to select all the members of such a colonial service as we require, on any one system, at such short notice. If a colonial college were established to-morrow, it would take some time to train candidates ; and when trained, they would lack the necessary experience to hold positions of great responsibility in a country which presents grave problems, and where there is no body of precedent to follow. Until we have had time to build up a trained and efficient service we must do our best with the material available. Both England and France have found military appointments to civil offices satisfactory in unsettled and lately annexed provinces. But their experience has proved it wise to replace military administrators by trained civilians as rapidly as the state of the country permits. It goes without saying that as large a use as possible should be made of Filipinos in the civil service ; but it must be remembered that the Philippines contain eighty-four different races, and it has never been safe to trust Asiatics to rule justly over those who differ from them in language, race, and custom.

One thing is certain : we shall accomplish no lasting good in the Philippines, whatever form of government we establish, until we put our colonial service upon a permanent basis, and make it, in fact and in theory, consistent with our national dignity and duty.

Elizabeth Foster.

  1. Selection and Training of Officials for the Colonial Civil Service in Holland,England andFrance. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1900.