Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
TERM AND TENURE OF OFFICE. Term measures the period for which an office is conferred. Tenure marks the conditions upon which the office is held, whether for a fixed or for an indefinite time. The term of the president and the term of the postmasters he appoints are each for four years; but the tenure of the former can be severed only by the judgment of the senate upon an impeachment, while that of the latter exists only during the pleasure of superior officers.
—Offices may be divided into three classes. civil, military and naval. In the two latter classes definite terms are now rarely found, though we read, that, among the Greeks, generals sometimes held supreme command only for the term of a day; and Roman consuls commanded armies during their short fixed terms of office. Military and naval officers, in modern times, almost invariably hold their offices, if not for indefinite periods, at least for periods determined in reference to probable efficiency of service. Yet, soldiers are generally enlisted for a defined term. (As to the tenure of military and naval officers, in the United States, see
—Civil offices may also be divided into three classes: legislative, judicial and executive. To properly present the important considerations by which term and tenure should be determined in these three classes—in their whole range from the president to the highway surveyor, from the national chief justice to the town justice of the peace, from the federal senator to the village trustee—would require a space far-beyond that accorded to this article. Few subjects within the range of political science have been so utterly neglected as that of the proper tenure of office, and none requires a more careful study. It is not perhaps possible to refer to any chapter where the subject is treated in even the most general manner. As a natural consequence, we find not only in different states, but in the same states at different times, for the same offices, terms of diverse lengths, and tenures of miscellaneous variety. The interests of factions and the ambition of leaders, rather than sound views of public interest, seem to have often determined both term and tenure.
—On the one side, intense partisans tell us that parties can not be sustained without being able to give many places to which a long term or a stable tenure would be fatal; while, on the other, the most experienced and thoughtful citizens assure us that parties may trust to sound principles and good administration; repudiating the spoils and office mongering by which they say parties are only debauched and enfeebled. The reasons are almost obvious why the term and tenure most appropriate for one of these three classes would not be equally appropriate for the others.
—1. So far as judicial offices are concerned, the most important considerations have been presented in the article on JUDICIARY, ELECTIVE. And see
—2. Turning next to the legislative department, we find decisive reasons why the terms of those elected to represent the people should not be long. These officers represent interests, opinions and policies which are constantly changing; and, at every phase, they have an equal claim to be represented in debate; and, if sound, to be expressed in statutes. Permanency of tenure on the part of legislators would obviously tend to defeat one of the great ends of representative government. Yet, so manifest have been the advantages of that wisdom and facility which come from experience in legislation, and so deep has been the sense of peril from incompetent legislators, that a great portion of these officers—notably senators, both state and federal—have been allowed to hold their places for terms during which great changes of interests and opinions have taken place. And so strong has public opinion been in this direction of late that in many of the states, the terms of judges, senators, mayors, and school officers, as well as of various other officials, have been considerably extended within the last few years, perhaps nearly doubled since the reaction has become vigorous against the spoils system theory of rotation in office. Biennial sessions of the legislature in more than half the states are due to the same cause.
—Despite these changes, the vast volumes of crude statutes—more than a thousand pages a year in a single state—have proclaimed the incompetency of the law makers; causing needless litigation, and making justice remote and uncertain. It will be in vain that a remedy will be sought in limiting legislative power by constitutional amendments. As the statutes become more intricate and official functions more complicated, with our growing wealth and population, there will more and more be a need of larger official experience and larger official terms—to be held under a sterner responsibility—for the supreme work of legislation. Some plan may perhaps be devised for securing more experience in state legislatures, by classifying members, while increasing their terms of office, after the analogy of the national senate.
—But in the legislative department there are inferior officers, not elected by the people—the clerks and other subordinates of congress, state legislatures and municipal councils—who are in no sense representative, but are simply ministerial officers. Next to fidelity and natural capacity, the highest qualification for these places is experience, invaluable experience, in the discharge of their duties. These duties have no honest relation to party politics, or to majorities in legislatures, but are the same at all times and under whatever dominant party. The office of speaker is, within certain limits, an obvious exception. But the less he is a partisan the more fit he is for his duties. The constitution of the United States, like that of Great Britain, confers the power of selecting and removing these subordinates upon the legislative chambers, without restriction as to term or tenure. So it is also in the state legislatures. Who will deny that economy, efficiency, purity and dignity, in legislation, alike demand that those officials should hold their places so long as they fitly perform their duties, and that they should be made to feel it to be a disgrace to allow that performance to be influenced by partisan considerations?
—Before the British spoils system was suppressed by the reforms made within this generation, there had been as demoralizing contests in the British parliament, over the appointment and removal of such subordinates, as have ever disgraced our congress or state legislatures. Now, holding during good behavior and efficiency, the selection of these officials in Great Britain is by methods with which no party interferes; and the discharge of their functions is treated as having no political significance. Parliament has now more time for its great work, and its dignity is no longer impaired by ignominious contests about clerkships and doorkeepers. The most perfect representation, which in theory is sought, would be attained by the shortest practicable terms of office. Terms of six years for federal senators, of two, three and four years for state senators, of two and three years for governors, mayors and various other officers—as they now exist—can not be justified on the mere theory of representation. This theory is based on the right of the people at all times to have their interests and opinions reflected in the halls of legislation. But terms, even if for only a single year—the shortest we recognize—violate that theory. For the opinions of parties and individuals do not make an annual revolution, but often more frequently. When Rhode Island, following the example of Grecian republics, fixed the terms of her representatives at six months, and Connecticut added to those short terms semi-annual sessions of her legislature, each at a different place, for the more convenient and exact representation of the people; and when the factious spoils system spirit of Florence and other medieval republics reduced official terms, first to six, then to four, and finally to two months, they obviously enforced a term tending to a more exact representation than any now provided for in the United States.
—Our longer terms for such offices are justifiable only on the assumption, which they proclaim, that the experience secured by longer public service is more valuable than any ideal exactness in representation. This is an important truth, as bearing upon the proper term of mere ministerial and executive subordinates. It is a truth which senators will do well if they do not longer forget, when they stand up in their places, in the fifth or sixth year of their terms—perhaps long after the majority in the state and legislature which they pretend to represent has been changed since their election—and, in the name of justice and sound policy, demand rotation, removals and short terms on the part of their own subordinates, who represent nothing but the unchanging need of having the constant volume of public work well done, and done in the same way year after year, whichever party is in power, and whatever policy prevails.
—3. The executive department is affected by more complicated reasons. To approve or disapprove legislative enactments is the highest function of governors and presidents. To that extent they are both legislative and representative officers. Next in importance is the duty of those officers to carry into action, in the conduct of executive affairs, the principles and policy which the people approved in their election. This, too, is in a sense a representative function. Much the same reasons, therefore, which require the terms of legislative officers to be short, apply also to presidents and governors; and, in a limited degree, they apply to mayors also. In fixing the term of the president at four years, under our constitution, considerations drawn from his representative function plainly prevailed—must we not say unwisely prevailed?—to the extent that it made his term shorter than that of a senator.
—The constitution fixed the term of no officer in the executive department except that of the president and vice-president. It created no department; yet says "the president may require the opinion in writing of the principal officer in each of the executive departments upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices." Upon this narrow basis, and the precedents of the British cabinet, our cabinet has been reared; and while each of them are equally unrecognized in the constitution and laws (and with us the duty and responsibility are upon the president alone), the cabinet has been, in practice, in both countries, the great central council for advice in regard to all executive action. It is clear, therefore, that the heads of departments, who are to advise him as to his gravest duties, need to have faith in the principles and policy which the president is bound to enforce; and for that reason their tenure of office should depend mainly upon him. There may also be a few other executive officers—foreign ministers sent on special missions involving national policy would be examples—whose peculiar fitness will depend upon their sharing the views of administration, and in all such cases there should clearly be a tenure in the discretion of the president.
—When we go below such officers, we come upon those who not only, upon the theory of the constitution and the laws, but from the very necessities of government, are required to obey legal instructions from those above them to whom they are directly responsible. Each head of a department is clothed by law with the authority and duty of directing the official action, subject to the constitutional power of the president, of all the subordinates of that department. Among all the eighty or more thousands of subordinates standing in graded ranks, from the department secretaries down past great collectors and postmasters to the customs service inspectors, the keepers of light houses and of signal and life-saving stations, there is not one who, according to the laws or sound policy, has any right of advice as to the policy or principles of an administration; not one for whom obedience to legal instructions is not a plain duty; not one whose political opinions are material for good administration; hardly one whose active participation in partisan politics is not a public detriment, tending to neglect of public business and the oppression of the citizen. The duties of these officers are in no sense representative. They are not called upon to act upon any political theory. They perform no duties that depend upon the triumph of political opinions or the success of any party. Whichever party comes into power, whatever party they belong to, their duties are the same. They have no right to regard the political or religious opinions of any citizen in their official action, or need to known them. They do not, like legislators, or town and village officials, meet to consider changing interests and fluctuating politics, but, month after month and year after year, they do, or they should, steadily devote themselves to the same branch of that vast, unchanging public business which, from the smaller officers to the greater, moves on, like brooks and rivers, in an unbroken order and everlasting continuity. Unjustifiable as political indifference is in the citizen, the use of official authority and influence to coerce the action of the private citizen is not less indefensible. We may not, as was found necessary in England, for a hundred years, disfranchise those officials, but we should clearly see, and should make them feel, that they not only need not, but should not, as officials, interfere with party politics or regard political opinions as qualifications for their duties.
—Before considering what should be the term and tenure of this vast body of federal officials—referred to in the national constitution as "inferior officers," and to which a vastly larger number of state and municipal officials holding like relations should be added in our reflections—it will be well to notice some objections which stand in the way of treating the subject upon its own merits. It is declared that any term and tenure which prevents these officers being removed and their successors appointed at the pleasure of the majority, disastrously restricts the freedom and effectiveness of party action, and also deprives them of essential representation in the official life of the country.
—The answer is not difficult. Under our institutions, parties are inevitable and salutary. Their great functions are to arouse, embody, sustain and carry forward a sound public opinion until it finds fit expression in statutes and executive action. Under these institutions the federal and state legislators, and all who govern in municipalities and towns, are selected by the vote of the majority, which, in itself, but too generally expresses the mere will of the dominant party. In the selection of mayors, governors and presidents, that party majority is still more potential. These two classes of officers, the one wielding all legislative authority, and the other all executive authority, in their united action exert all the power which our institutions give, or a free people can safely confer, for the representation and enforcement of their will. All of these officers may be, and in our practice they generally are, within their respective spheres, the trusted favorites of the dominant party, bound in the double allegiance of gratitude and dependence. Through these two classes of officers the adherents of the dominant party practically make, enforce and repeal laws and ordinances at pleasure, instruct and require obedience from all who hold subordinate positions under them, enforce all principles and guide all policy in obedience to which the vast affairs of the nation, from the light houses and the signal stations to foreign embassies, and the great departments, are conducted. Is not this enough? Have we ever suffered because parties have needed opportunities or influence greater than these? Is not here a sphere broad and grand enough, a power and opportunity dazzling enough, to inspire the patriotism and reward the zeal of any party and of the noblest man who ever led any party in a great nation? Unless, therefore, it is claimed that a party, which can not gain or retain power by adhering to the spirit of the constitution and to common honesty and justice, may strengthen itself by using public authority to debauch and coerce the people—unless it can be shown that the term and tenure of "inferior officers" should, in the merely selfish interests of parties, be made brief and precarious, so that patronage and the appointing power may be conveniently prostituted as merchandise in the shambles of partisan politics—we may confidently declare that term and tenure alike of "inferior officers" should be determined quite irrespective of mere party considerations.
—But let us not imagine, because these inferior officers are not representative and are not given large discretionary power, that their term, tenure or relations are not very important. The facts are quite otherwise. The creation of a term of four years for about 3,500 of these offices (to the history of which we shall refer), and the subjection of nearly all of them to a tenure of favoritism and partisanship, within the last forty-five years, contrary to the spirit of the constitution and to the practice of the early statesmen, while working a disastrous revolution in the measure of filling the executive departments, have also exerted a demoralizing influence upon parties and upon all official and political life. It was the short terms and the precarious tenure thus created which made it possible for great parties to levy the expenses of their campaigns, under the name of assessments, upon the humbler officials in the executive service, and to compel them to do the most servile work. It was these political assessments which President Grant prohibited by executive order; which President Hayes declared to be either "a gross injustice to the officers or an indirect robbery of the public treasury" which President Garfield declared to be "shameful," and "the source of an electioneering fund which in many cases never gets beyond the pockets of the shyster and the mere camp followers of the party." It has been these precarious tenures and the habit of removing worthy officials to make places for clamorous favorites and henchmen, which developed the disgraceful acts of patronage mongering and office brokerage, by reason of which office seeking has been made a sort of business, and vast numbers of supernumeraries have been foisted upon the public service. It caused President Garfield to declare "one-third of the working hours of senators and representatives to be hardly sufficient to meet the demands in reference to the appointments to office," and that "with a judicious system of civil service, the business of the departments could be better done at almost one-half the cost." In the debates preceding the passage of the civil service reform bill (of Jan. 16, 1883,) for the suppression of such abuses, Senator Dawes, of one party, declared that the existing system of office getting "destroys the congressman's independence and makes him a slave," and Senator Pendleton, of the other party, said, "It has debauched public morality and made Guiteau possible. It drives senators and representatives into neglect of their chief duty of legislation, and often makes the support of an administration conditional upon obtaining office for friends."
—At the time of the formation of the federal constitution no human forecast could have taken the measure of such evils in our day. The few officials and the simple administration of the first decades hardly gave a hint of the varied complication and the vast official force we now have. There was $2,000,000 of revenue the first year, under the constitution, against more than $360,000,000 last year. Even as late as the administration of John Quincy Adams, the revenue was not one-fourth as much altogether as the surpluses now annually applied to the reduction of the national debt. The number of officers at the two periods is in about the same ratio. It is hence no matter for surprise that no adequate provisions are found in the constitution concerning the tenure of "inferior officers" in the executive service. The occasion for surprise is in the fact that with clearer lights, the later generations have created terms and a tenure which have greatly aggravated the consequences of the defects of the original constitution.
—It is by no means an easy matter to decide with precision what would be the most useful tenure in the several parts of the executive service. Many considerations must be estimated, and a broad field of facts must be kept in view. We have only to consider the great variety of officials to see, that, to most of all the general rules we may lay down there must be some exceptions. The officers in the state department, for example, range from the secretary and the ambassadors to the consular clerks and the copyists. The department of the treasury has at Washington about 3,000 subordinates; to which must be added more than two hundred collectors of internal and customs revenue, the surveyors, the naval officers, the officers of the mints—and all their subordinates—the light house, the life saving, the hospital and the revenue marine services, and many more isolated officials. In the department of the interior there are the pension and patent office service, the land office, the Indian service, the bureaus of education and agriculture, and various other officers. The war and navy departments have civil subordinates of many grades, widely separated. More than 48,000 postmasters, with all their subordinates and various others, with peculiar duties, of which the railroad and steamboat mail service and the complicated mail contract system are examples, are under the postmaster general. The department of justice, with its district attorneys, marshals and election supervisors and their subordinates, the officers of the District of Columbia and of the territories, are also to be added, before we get a general view of the vast number and variety of the officials under the executive.
—The authority to appoint the higher officers, subject to confirmation by the senate, is given by the constitution to the president, with the power, as we have seen, in congress to vest the appointment of inferior officers in heads of departments. Beyond declaring that all civil officers shall be removed on impeachment and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitution leaves the stupendous power of removal to mere implication. It has, however, been authoritatively decided, and the constant practice has been (save as qualified of late by the tenure of office acts), that the power of removal belongs to the president as an incident to the power of appointment. The constitution provides no term, and, otherwise than by implication, no tenure for any one of these inferior officers. And prior to a law of 1820, to which further reference will be made, no term or tenure was provided by law for any of them, with the single and peculiar exception of marshals. The tenure of usage had been that of combined efficiency and good behavior. (See
—Let us glance at the causes and progress of this great change as bearing upon terms and tenure of office. Aaron Burr early laid the foundations of the spoils system; and, with the aid of Van Buren, his most apt and distinguished disciple, that system had been made potential in New York, several years previous to 1820. It required short terms, and partisan tests for office. It demanded a tenure at the pleasure of the official superior, and required that superior to be a partisan leader. It made political opinions a ground of appointments and removals, and enforced servile obedience to chieftains on the part of all officials. Before 1820, Gov. Clinton, of New York, complained, in a message, "of an organized and disciplined corps of federal officials interfering in state elections." Tammany Hall was then becoming a political power. New York politics had already become so notoriously unscrupulous as to attract almost as much attention as during the present decade. Jackson, contriving how to reach the presidential chair, and affecting the character of a non-partisan, said to a New Yorker, "I am no politician, but if I were a politician, I would be a New York politician." Van Buren soon made him one.
—The spoils system spirit, thus early reduced to practice in New York, was being slowly developed in other parts of the Union. The creed of the spoilsmen had not been avowed, but the men who were first to proclaim it were leading politicians before 1820. In that year, William H. Crawford, secretary of the treasury, was a presidential candidate, and Van Buren, who was to come into the senate in 1821—even then an aspirant for the presidency—was Crawford's supporter. They were unsurpassed for their skillful use of patronage. Both were able to see that if the terms of the inferior officers were reduced to four years, there would be more patronage to dispose of, and an easier introduction of the New York system.
—On April 20, 1820, about thirty days before the adjournment of congress, a bill, drawn by Mr. Crawford, was reported in the senate, which created a term of four years for district attorneys, collectors, naval officers, navy agents, surveyors of customs, paymasters, and for several other less important officers. Mr. Adams says the object of the law was to gain support for Crawford for the presidency. The officers thus subjected to the new term are said to have become "ardent Crawfordites." This was the first fixed term for any such office. The bill further declared that the holdings of all such officers whose commissions were dated Sept. 30, 1814, should expire on the day and month of their date next after Sept. 30, 1820. The expiration of other holdings was fixed for a year later. The bill was thus retroactive, and it made the terms expire on the eve of the presidential election. There was to be a presidential election in 1824, when Crawford and Jackson were to be leading candidates. How largely and promptly this change would add to the patronage of the treasury, where Mr. Crawford presided, need not be pointed out.
—But these were hardly the most ominous provisions of the bill; for, taking the side of the partisan spoilsmen, against the approved doctrines of Madison, and the practice of every president, it declared that those officers "shall be removable at pleasure." Here was rotation legalized for the sake of rotation. Here was the first demand of surrender ever made upon the general government in the spirit of the New York spoils system. Here was practically a revolution in the term and tenure of office; an emphatic degradation of the standard according to which the fate of every one of these officers was to be determined. Without debate, in silence, suddenly, almost stealthily, this disastrous bill was carried through both houses. Mr. Adams, then secretary of state, says President Monroe signed the bill without perceiving its true character. The avowed reason, or rather the apology, for the new policy, was that it would remove unworthy officials; the speciousness of which appears in the facts that the tenures of all in office, worthy and unworthy alike, were, without inquiry, severed absolutely; and nothing but official pleasure was to protect the most meritorious in the future. There was no showing of delinquencies; no charge that the president could not or would not remove unworthy officials, not a word of discussion, not a record of votes, on this revolutionary bill!
—But there were statesmen who foresaw the disastrous consequences. On Nov. 20, 1820, Mr. Jefferson, in a letter to Madison, said of the law that "it saps the constitutional and salutary functions of the president, and introduces a principle of intrigue and corruption which will soon leaven the mass, not only of senators, but of citizens. * * It will keep in constant excitement all the hungry cormorants for office; render them, as well as those in place, sycophants to their senators, * * and make of them, what all executive directories become, mere sinks of corruption and faction. It must have been one of the midnight signatures of the president, when he had no time to consider or even to read the law." Madison replied in the same spirit. When Mr. Calhoun, then secretary of war, heard of the sudden passage of the bill, he declared it "one of the most dangerous ever passed, and that it would work a revolution." The dangerous consequences of the new policy began very soon to appear. Five years after the passage of the act of 1820, an able committee of the senate, with Mr. Macon at the head—who never aided a relative or henchman to an office—made an earnest report in favor of its repeal. But the spoils system had secretly made progress. Vain, indeed, was it to attempt to repeal a law which had already become a bulwark of the new system, in the spirit of which Jackson, the military hero of the day, and Van Buren, the partisan chieftain of New York and the greatest party manipulator of his time, were working together for the presidency.
—So rapidly did the spirit of revolution advance, that Jackson's first message declared "rotation a leading principle in the republican creed." Ignoring the true rule that every man's claim upon office is in proportion to his fitness to fill it, the same message proclaimed the communistic doctrine that every man has an equal right to office; which, by his removals and appointments, was interpreted to mean, in practice, that no man but a partisan servile to himself had any such right which a president was bound to respect. Three years later, in 1832, Senator Marcy, in the senate of the United States, expounded the spirit of the new four years term spoils system in these memorable words: "When they [New York politicians] are contending for victory, they avow the intention of enjoying the fruits of it. If they are defeated, they expect to retire from office. If they are successful, they claim, as a matter of right, the advantages of success. They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." The new system was, therefore, simply this: no term for more than four years; the tenure, removals at pleasure; office and salaries the spoils of party warfare; rotation in order to give offices to as many servile partisans as possible; appointments and removals for political reason; the duty of the official to be an obedient worker for his party and a servile vassal of its managers. (For the practical effects of this revolution see
—The attempt made in the senate in 1825 to repeal the law of 1820 was renewed in that body in 1835. Despite the weight of Jackson's administration against it, the repealing act passed the senate by a vote of 31 to 16, every distinguished name in the senate—Benton, Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Ewing, Southard and White, among them, except Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, and Wright, of New York, those states then, as of late, being pre-eminently the "machine," "spoils system" states—being recorded in favor of the repeal. The senate had not at that time come very much under the vicious influence of patronage, or of the feudal code called "the courtesy," which have in late years been so disastrously potential in that body. There had been few officers to confirm. In the debate upon the repealing act, though several senators boldly avowed the barbarous creed of Marcy, Webster said the evil effects of the law of 1820 vastly predominated, and that he was for staying the plague. Mr. Clay declared "the tendency had been to revive the dark ages of feudalism." Mr. Calhoun stated, that "the law had taught officers that the most certain road to honor and fortune is servility and flattery." Mr. Southard declared that "it had tended to make office-holders servile suppliants, destitute of independence of character and manly feeling."
—The partisan power which the four-years term had thus suddenly and vastly increased, aided by the prestige of Jackson's administration, and the forces marshaled for Van Buren's election to the presidency the next year, defeated the repealing act. The victory of the spoilsmen increased the pressure and strength in favor of extending short terms, which the partisan leaders demanded. They next laid siege to the postoffice department. The postal administration, which, when Washington became president, required only seventy-five postmasters, at the opening of Jackson's first term required about eight thousand. Practically, the tenure of postmasters had been during good behavior and efficiency, and there was no term fixed by law. The management of the postal service had been upon business principles, the postmaster general appointing and removing postmasters. There was no good reason for a radical change in that regard. Under such principles, Mr. McLean, as postmaster general under John Quincy Adams, had, with great satisfaction to the people, managed our postal affairs. He was not willing to enforce the new "spoils system" in his office; and for that reason Jackson hastened to remove him to the supreme court bench, and to put a more compliant and most inefficient officer in his place. It was very natural that the attempt should be made to extend the four-years-term theory to the postoffice. Every partisan manipulator wishing more offices for bribes, every politician desiring to be a postmaster, and every congressman seeking patronage, had an interest in favoring it. It would strengthen the four-years-term policy in the senate if a bill for enforcing it should contain provisions for increasing the patronage of senators by requiring postmasters to be confirmed by that body. Accordingly, in 1836—the year of Van Buren's election as president—a bill was passed, requiring that all postmasters whose compensation was one thousand dollars a year or upward, should be appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate, and that their term of office should be but four years. They were made removable "at the pleasure of the president."
—It is not easy to decide who was most pleased with such a law, the partisan managers whose spoils it greatly increased, the senators whose patronage it more than doubled, or President Jackson, to whose despotism it added many vassals. But what each gained was the common loss of the people; nor was there hardly a pretense that any public interest (unless a perpetual rotation of postmasters and a more universal proscription are in the public interest) would be served by this postal service revolution. Postmasters whose income was less than one thousand dollars were left to be appointed and removed by the postmaster general, and their original constitutional tenure was left unchanged, nor has a four years or other term ever yet been applied to them.
—Thus were a great number of purely business offices deliberately brought within the range of political forces, subjected to senatorial confirmation, given a term which both suggested and facilitated their being made incentives and rewards of selfish activity, and a part of the spoils of partisan victory in every presidential election. Nor was this all. New grounds of difference between the senate and the president were thus created, and great strength was added to the growing power of patronage in that body, which in later years has enabled it to usurp and exercise a controlling and dangerous influence over the appointment and removal of all the principal officers of the government. Here was the beginning of a great and lamentable change in the character and influence of that body. Naturally, true statesmen have since had less influence in the senate. No legislation beyond these two acts of 1820 and 1836 was necessary to complete the partisan revolution in the politics and official life of the country. But various other administrative officers have since been given a term of four years; and it is worthy of notice that congress, disregarding the great distinction between legislative and ministerial functions, has almost never given an officer a longer fixed term than four years. It looks almost as if it had been a settled purpose to force every officer, by a fear of losing his office, to become a henchman of party leaders in every presidential contest.
—Greatly as the country was alarmed by the manifest degradation of political life which the new system was causing, the great contest concerning slavery, becoming absorbing at this time, was fatal to any considerable effort for reform from 1835 to 1867, when Mr. Jencks brought the subject before congress. He prudently directed attention mainly to methods for entering the public service, rather than to term or tenure. It soon appeared that the first condition of success was fuller information among the people in regard to administrative affairs. For more than thirty years the methods of administration, the debates and the political literature of the country, had been misleading the people in the spirit of the "spoils system," and hardening them into acquiescing familiarity with its abuses. The new theory of short terms for the inferior executive officers had come by many to be regarded as an essential part of our original institutions. The new tenure based on favor and partisan servility had been accepted by not a few as peculiarly and essentially republican. The evils they had caused or greatly aggravated were generally regarded as the inevitable drawbacks against the blessings of our liberal institutions. A generation had grown up which accepted the doctrine of rotation in the executive offices as a rule of justice, if not an evidence of liberty. A great portion of the patriotic and honest voters of the country had been induced to think that parties could not prosper (if, indeed, they could live) without a quadrennial opportunity of using the public offices as rewards and bribes, and the right, at all times, of forcing those who fill them to do the partisan work of politics. They were consenting that the government should be plundered as an enemy by each party that captured it. These short terms rest on the false and pernicious theory that the most salutary admonition for good official conduct, in an executive subordinate, is not a sense of direct responsibility to his superior, and a right and duty on the part of that superior to remove for good cause, but the certainty of going out at once when his political opponents succeed, and of going out very soon, in order to make a place for another, however faithfully he may serve the people. It hardly need be pointed out that every time that an efficient and faithful officer leaves his place at the end of his term, or is sent away for political reasons, proclamation is made to the people that the well doing of the public work is not what the government most seeks, but effective party workers and compliant tools of party managers.
—It should be noticed that these four-years term provisions did not extend to the clerks or other inferior officers in the great departments at Washington, or to the subordinates of postmasters, of collectors, or of naval or other officers named in the statutes referred to. And, applying only to postmasters whose compensation was one thousand dollars a year or more, and who alone were made confirmable by the senate, the quadrennial terms extended to only about four hundred out of the eight thousand postmasters—or to one-twentieth of the whole number—in Jackson's time. Nor have these humbler postmasters, or any of their subordinates, or any of the subordinates of the internal revenue service, or any of the customs service clerks, yet been subjected to a four-years term. As to them the theory of the constitution still prevails. Even Jacksonian politicians dared not make four-years terms more comprehensive; only some politicians of our day propose that. Mr. Kasson, of Iowa, for example, offered a bill in the house of representatives, at the last session, creating a four-years term for such subordinates.
—The collectors nominate, and the secretary of the treasury approves the selection of inferior officers in the customs service. The secretary removes them. The postmasters, within the limits of the appropriations, both employ and dismiss their own subordinates without any overruling authority being provided by law. But when the heads of these offices and the prominent postmasters had been given the same four-years term as that of the president, the postmaster general, and the secretaries presiding over departments, and the rotation "spoils system" had become well established, the tenure of all such subordinates, and of the small postmasters as well, inevitably became almost as precarious, if their holding of office was not as short as that of their superiors. If a four-years term and a tenure conditioned on both the servility of the officer and the supremacy of his party, were best for the collector and the postmaster, why were they not best for their clerks? If best for the postmaster, whose compensation was one thousand dollars, why not best for him whose compensation was one hundred dollars, or only ten dollars? All over the country, from the postoffice doorkeeper and the custom house scrubbing woman, to the postmaster general and the secretary of the treasury, that term and tenure, by the force of such logic and the pressure of party leaders for spoils, tended to become universal.
—When a statute of congress could be cited to prove the wisdom of removing a great postmaster to serve the ends of party in states and cities, how could a postmaster general resist the demands of the town and village politicians that the little postmasters should be selected and dismissed in order to serve the ends of little factions and cliques? And how could postmasters refuse to employ and dismiss their clerks upon a theory any less regardless of the public interests? It was the inevitable result of such a system that a servile partisan spirit, an intense, selfish political activity, forever meddling with the freedom of elections, forever bartering places for votes, and a consequent demoralizing neglect of the public business, were everywhere developed in the postal, not less than in the customs, service. Jefferson's prophecy was fulfilled. For the disastrous consequences which speedily followed, see SPOILS SYSTEM, REMOVALS FROM OFFICE. What sweeping and unprecedented removals for mere partisan reasons speedily followed the creation of a spoils system term and tenure, is well known. The name of Jackson is forever associated with merciless proscription and vicious rotation in office. That his system equally tends to keep the worthier classes from the public service and to draw into it scheming henchmen, debauched partisans, and bankrupt speculators, need not be pointed out. Why should an honest man of capacity and self-respect desire for its own sake an office in which to-morrow he may be the victim of a greedy faction of an electioneering secretary, and at best must reach the end of his term by the time he has learned his new business and forgotten his old?
—Other effects injurious to the administration and politics of the country, either caused or greatly aggravated by these four-years-term statutes, have become too serious to be passed without notice. I refer especially to congressional patronage and the usurpation of the executive power by the senate in connection with confirmations. When short terms were in theory made a sort of substitute for the discharge of the executive duty of removals for cause—when removals and appointments came to be based on political influence, and to be held to be a justifiable means of party aggrandizement—when, by the very language of an act of congress, not the welfare of the public, but "the pleasure of the president," and (by analogy) of heads of departments as well—became the rule of action, what more natural than that members of congress should first promise places (in aid of their own election), and next demand them of the president and secretaries as a condition of supporting the administration in congress? That many members have stood above this form of bribery and coercion, and that the majority have but mildly participated in it, we may well believe; yet it has become an alarming evil, the grave perils of which no candid man will deny. A great proportion of all the appointments and removals in our public service have become a part of the perquisites and spoils of congressmen, and have tended to the degradation of official manhood, and to corruption and coercion at elections, in manifold forms. A single appointment which a congressman could control can be vaguely promised to and be made to influence a score of voters. (For the effects of these short terms and of the tenure of office acts upon the senate, see
—As the law now stands, under the tenure of office acts of 1867 and 1869, no officer nominated, subject to confirmation by the senate, of which there are about thirty-five hundred, can be removed, except with the consent of the senate. During the recess of the senate the president may suspend such an officer, and the suspension will be effective until the end of the next session, subject to an agreement between the president and the senate in the meantime. The significance of this condition of affairs can not be mistaken. That great executive power of removal for good cause—the public, just, vigorous and uniform exercise of which is essential to all fidelity, to all economy, to all efficiency, and to every wholesome sense of responsibility, alike on the part of the superior officer who wields it, and the inferior officer who is subject to it—is apportioned and enfeebled. The greater part of it is handed over to a body acting secretly and through political majorities, the members of which neither have nor feel any direct responsibility for the working of the executive branch of the government. The president, constitutionally responsible for the faithful execution of the laws, can neither appoint nor remove any one of nearly thirty-five hundred of the higher officials through whom those laws are to be executed, without the consent of the majority, generally the political and perhaps the hostile majority, of the senate; if, indeed, he can make such removal or appointment without the consent of the senators of the state where an official delinquent defies executive authority. The tendency of such a system is to cause the wishes of senators to be potential, and their favor to be courted in the great departments, custom houses and postoffices, where their power should only be felt through independent criticism or stern investigation, to which their having favorites in office is almost sure to be fatal. Need it be pointed out that such a system tends to constant collisions or corrupt bargains between the executive and the senate? It teaches the people that partisan work and interests are the supreme standards for ministerial offices. It makes the senate as much an executive as a legislative body, its action tending more and more to impair the counterpoise and stability of our institutions. From such causes senators are more than ever before pressed by politicians of every class to make their action upon nominations and removals serviceable to the local interests of parties, factions and chieftains, whereby it has become equally unusual and difficult to make that action turn upon anything else. The struggles about the collectorship at New York and the case of Mr. Conkling are but examples of this tendency. Here again we see the sage prediction of Jefferson being fulfilled.
—The same causes which have tended to make senators the partisan autocrats and patronage purveyors of their states, have drawn upon them a vast demoralizing solicitation for office. It has often made their elections scenes of intense strife and lamentable corruption. It has absorbed the time needed for their public duties. It has blinded them in clouds of adulation. It has made hem unmindful of the higher sentiments of the people. It has caused the senatorial office itself to sink in public estimation. It made the late contest in New Hampshire possible. In estimating the control over state politics and elections gained by senators through their power to appoint and renew collectors and postmasters, it must be borne in mind that senatorial dictation may, and very generally does, extend to the selection and removal of the subordinates of those officers; so that senators (as Mr. Clay predicted in 1835) have very generally become feudal chiefs in the political affairs of their states.
—A few days after President Grant's first inauguration, when every plausible excuse for retaining the tenure of office acts had ceased, the house, which has no share in confirmations, declared itself for the repeal of those tenure of office acts by a vote of 138 against 16. In his message of December, 1869, President Grant declared "those laws inconsistent with a faithful and efficient administration of the government." A few days after that message, the house again voted their repeal by a majority of more than six to one, and in 1872, without a division, the house a third time voted their repeal. The senate was persistent for its courtesy and its usurped power. A majority of its members uphold them still, relentlessly exercising the authority they confer. In this policy Mr. Conkling was a leader, and fell under the rebuke of his own state.
—Such is the situation in large measure caused, and in every particular aggravated, by short fixed terms and a precarious partisan tenure. The period is not remote when, if these laws shall continue in force, the whole time of the senate will not be sufficient for confirming postmasters alone. We must consider the small proportion of the inferior officers to whom a four-years term has yet been extended, if we would comprehend the consequences of making that term universal. Of the about 3,500 now subject to it, about thirty-five are in the treasury department at Washington, more than one hundred are collectors, and about nineteen hundred are postmasters. The proposal to make that term general, according to the Kasson bill, is nothing less than this: that each one of the more than 75,000 other inferior officers shall either go out at the end of four years, or be kept in through as many successful contests of influence and favoritism. Does any candid man believe our institutions could stand such a strain? It is true that the example of a four-years term and a tenure by favor on the part of the most prominent of such officers here caused a great portion of those in the grades below them to be frequently changed. Yet it is a significant fact, standing in strong condemnation of a four-years term, that, despite such examples, the average periods of service in the lower offices, of late, at least, hare been two or three times four years, and have been the longest where administration has been best and politics least partisan and corrupt. The average time of service of the more than 42,000 postmasters, whose term is not fixed by law, has probably been about ten years, at least, if we exclude postoffices established within that period; and that of the subordinates in the New York city postoffice, where Mr. James and his successor have enforced the competitive examinations with such admirable results, is unquestionably longer. It is believed that the average period of service of the inferior officers of the treasury department (and certainly of the state department) at Washington, is longer still.
—We have only to look at the facts to see how disastrous would be the consequences of a four-years term in the great departments and offices. It would require about seven hundred changes, or successful contests for reappointment each year in the treasury department (more than at the rate of two every secular day); changes as frequent as the most barbarous partisan proscription has ever accomplished. A new appointment or a successful contest for a reappointment at the New York custom house every day of the year would be quite inadequate under such terms. If all postmasters were given a term of four years, there would be over ten thousand and five hundred changes or contests every year, or about thirty every day, to be dealt with; to which must be added one-fourth of all the subordinates in all the postoffices in the United States, and also all cases of resignation and removal for cause. If it be conceivable that an intelligent people can ever enter upon such changes, it is plain that there must be an additional postmaster general and secretaries with no other duty than that of working a vast machinery of rotation and partisan warfare. Consider the effect of a four years' term upon the postoffice at New York. It would require between four and five times as many changes each year as have been annually made in the period during which its administration has been so greatly improved. Two new selections or reappointments every three days would not fill the places which such a term would vacate at that office. It is obvious that nearly or quite the whole time of a postmaster would be required to attend to them.
—I have no space for tracing the effects of this short-term system in the offices of states or municipalities. It has contributed greatly to the perpetual and mischievous activity of parties and factions. Officers in cities and villages, whose duties have no legitimate relations with party politics, have been given short terms either in reckless thoughtlessness, or (apparently at least) for the mere purpose of creating annual or biennial prizes to be won in the low scramble of factions and bosses. It is not too much to say that at least the greater part of the political corruption of cities and of the fatiguing labors imposed on good citizens by reason of rotation in municipal offices would be superseded if the official tenure there was made what the public interests require. What can be more disastrous than the existing practice of giving the shortest of terms to heads of bureaus and the making of the tenure of them subordinate, dependent upon the triumph of a party, if not of a faction, or a demagogue, with whom that head is affiliated?
—The salutary tenure for inferior executive officers, sanctioned by the constitution and enforced by all the presidents before Jackson, has also been approved by the last two presidents. "Let it once be fully understood that continuance in office depends solely upon the faithful and efficient discharge of duties, and that no man will be removed to make place for another, and the reform will be half accomplished," are words of the late president. (President Garfield's speech at Athens, Ohio, 1879.) In a letter to Secretary Sherman, dated Nov. 23, 1877, President (then collector) Arthur says: "Permanence in office, which of course prevents removal except for cause, and promotion based upon good conduct and efficiency, are essential elements of correct civil service." In his letter of acceptance as vice-president, he said: "The tenure of office should be stable. Positions of responsibility should, so far as practicable be filled by the promotion of worthy and efficient officers," judgments which his messages have reaffirmed. These views imply that the right and duty of removal for good cause should remain unimpaired. They lend no sanction to a life tenure of office, which is quite inadmissible, or to any other tenure which does not make the common interest paramount to that of any office-holder, administration or party. One of the great objections to a short term is that it is treated as a sort of substitute for the discharge of the duty of removing the untrustworthy and the incompetent, whereby the moral tone, the discipline and the efficiency of the public service are alike degraded. The decisive question as to an "inferior officer" remaining longer in the service should always be, not, Has he been in his place four years or any other number of years? but, Is he a good officer, who, if retained longer, will serve the people most usefully?
—So far from life tenure, or a permanent tenure in the absolute sense, even being admissible, removals should be made for at least the following causes: 1, conviction of an infamous crime or one involving fraud or corruption; 2, facts showing that such crime has been committed; 3, the use of official authority or influence to coerce the freedom of citizens; 4, mental or physical incapacity for official work; 5, intemperance; 6; gross immorality or vices; 7, habitual inefficiency; 8, willful neglect of duty; 9, intentional disobedience to lawful instructions; 10, renunciation of allegiance; 11, acts of treachery or bad faith toward the United States.
—There are yet other grave objections to these short terms. They were provided for a few of the higher offices, on the theory that a longer holding of executive places was a monopoly, and that a quadrennial rotation was republican justice, and essential to the healthy life of parties. The demand that the same term be extended throughout the service is in the spirit of its original creation. The fact that those holding under four-years terms have, as we have seen, retained their places for much shorter periods than those not subjected to such terms, proves that such terms cause the rotation which their champions favor. By reason of the simple facts that such terms are demanded, in the name of rotation and of the communistic theory that every man has an equal right to office, they make a sort of legislative proclamation of such doctrines. They apply alike to worthy and unworthy officials, and hence tell the people that every officer, no matter how pure and useful, should, on the ground of justice to those seeking office, leave his place at the end of four years. He is, in the spirit of such a law, if he stays longer, an odious monopolist, holding by favor what belongs to another. A law fixing a four-years term plainly says to the people that a ministerial officer should not hold his place either so long as he remains upright and efficient, or so long as his superior officer regards him as more useful to the public than an inexperienced man would be. It tells them, that, for reasons paramount to all such considerations, his service should end absolutely with the four years. These reasons—however partisan, communistic, or corrupt, as illustrated in practice—are, by the legislative, made imperative upon the executive. They are undeclared by the law, and are left to mere inferences to be drawn from practice. They are reasons, at once vague and mysterious, which plainly and equally disregard personal merit in the inferior officer displaced and the responsibility of his superior for good administration in his own department. These terms are an invasion by the legislative upon the executive. They suggest that the executive officer can not be trusted to decide how long the services of a subordinate are useful to the public—a power and duty which, under the constitution, plainly belong to the executive. Such considerations will prevent short terms ever being regarded as legislation in the interest of efficient or economical administration. They will be regarded as the enforcement of a pretended system of justice in office holding—as an approval of increased patronage for parties, of diminished power in the executive over its own subordinates, of encroachment on the part of congress beyond the sphere of its responsibility, of more absolute dependence upon mere favor on the part of subordinates. Short terms are, in principle, a sort of invitation, even to the executive himself, to remove for reasons other than the good of the public service; for those terms are in substance a removal, every four years, of every person in the public service, not for any good or even any avowed cause, but utterly irrespective of the merits of those removed. They emphatically teach servility, by saying to every subordinate: "Your sole chance of holding beyond the four years depends on executive favor or partisan and congressional influence exerted for your reappointment. A peaceful holding is not to be a consequence of well doing. Look to favor and influence. Under the laws of your country, or by reason of any merit or usefulness they pretend to respect, you have no claim to stay an hour beyond the quadrennial period." Mr. Webster, in 1835, in urging the repeal of the four years term of 1820, covered the ground in these words: "The law itself vacates the office, and gives the means of rewarding a friend without the exercise of the power of removal at all." If official merit, in the estimation of the appointing power, is a good reason for continuing longer in office, why bring the holding to an end by a fixed term? The end of the term but refers that same question to the identical authority which would, except for the term, have decided it. If unworthy to decide when to remove for cause, is not the superior officer unworthy to decide when to reappoint for merit?
—But the mischief of the four-years term law does not stop there. Every reason which can be urged in favor of a four-years term, can also be urged by party managers and scheming officials against reappointments at the end of those terms. For, how is rotation to be secured, how is each man any more certain to get his fair share of office under short terms, if all the good officers who ought not to have been removed are to be reappointed at the end of their terms? If there are not to be more changes under a four-years term than without it, if inexperience is not to be increased, and skilled servants whom the public has educated are not to be driven out, then what is the gain of the short-term law, upon the theory of its advocates? It would not cause rotation. It would give office to no more office seekers. Every patronage monger, every caucus manipulator, every shiftless office seeker of the land, every aspiring demagogue longing for more offices to pledge for votes, every unscrupulous chieftain seeking more callow officials to tax and more places to give as bribes, every intense partisan believing that spoils are the strength of parties, and that rotation in office is a vital principle of republics, is not only in favor of a four-years term, but will insist on true Jacksonian proscription during that term. Can any argument be necessary to make it clear that every concession to such theories but intensifies and embitters the communistic, partisan and proscriptive spirit which they embody? If a four-years term should be provided in order to make more places for office seekers, then why, upon the same theory, should not terms be reduced to two years, or to one year? When, as of late, the ante-rooms at Washington are crowded with office seekers, and the tables of the secretaries are loaded with office-begging letters, why should clerks be allowed to monopolize their places for four long years, while these applicants are pleading for their share of the offices? The same reasons are just as good for bringing down the term even to two months, as we have seen was the fact in the Florentine and other Italian republics. We must reject rotation as a principle, or carry it to its legitimate results. If the best ability and character for serving the people, and the best and most economical administrators, be not the standard and the end recognized by law, then we can nowhere set them up against the claims of the communistic office seeker and clamorous patronage monger.
—The proportion of federal officials to the population ranges from one in twenty-four in the District of Columbia, to one in 540 in Vermont, and one in 1,500 in Georgia. The average seems to be about one official to every 600 of the population, or one official to every 150 males and females with some competency for official duties. The greater number of postoffices in the northern states gives the larger ratio of federal offices there. That, as a rule, from five to fifty persons make a contest or claim for nearly every vacancy, is well known. Will this demoralizing office seeking be less, will the feverish and selfish activity of parties and factions which it stimulates and feeds be diminished, by giving a four-years term to 80,000 additional offices on the demand of politicians and office seekers who declare that every man has an equal right to office, and that a quadrennial rotation is but yielding to this right? Having, by proclaiming rotation to be a principle of republican justice, provided a place for one office seeker in fifty, shall we then be more or less able than before to resist the communistic demand of the other forty-nine office seekers? Will it tend to dissuade them from demanding removals without cause, or to make them better satisfied that senators hold for six years, and judges during good behavior?
—It hardly need be pointed out, that terms fixed by law would advertise to parties, to every office seeker, and to the feudal lords of patronage, the precise dates of every vacancy. He must know little of office seeking, or of partisan methods for controlling appointments, who does not see that every approaching vacancy would be the subject of deliberate and mischievous bargains and combinations of influence for filling it. The appointing power would be solicited for pledges, men of prominence would be pressed for recommendations, party leaders would be besieged for influence, every corrupt element and every pernicious activity of politics would be intensified beyond anything yet known. For, so long as a removal at an indefinite time must precede an appointment, there is a great uncertainty as to whether any vacancy will exist, and a concentrated effort by patronage mongers at a decisive moment is generally impracticable. The appointing power has some chance of self-protection. An inevitable vacancy for all places at a time known months or years before, would change all this. The potentates of patronage would wrangle over, bargain for and apportion every vacancy months before it happened.
—It is not of course a certainty, if a short term shall ever be established for executive subordinates, that it will be a term of four years, though that is the partisan's favorite period. It may be a term of six or more years. A six-years term would have the advantage of keeping a considerable portion of the changes it would cause out of the period of the presidential election. But with that exception, every other objection urged against short terms would, in large measure, hold against a term of six years. There are obvious reasons why a six-years term would be preferable to one of four years, as there are why a term of ten or more years would be preferable to one of six years. And competent persons would doubtless be more likely to take an official place and to serve for a moderate compensation under a tenure of six years, than under one of four, for much the same reasons that they would still more incline to the public service for a moderate salary under a tenure having regard to merit, which would appeal both to their ambition and to their sense of safety. A four-years or a six-years term for a young man takes him from business experience at an important period of his life. It puts the man of family to expense in adjusting himself to his position. It offers to either only a dreary, admonishing uncertainty, little inviting to a person of prudence or capacity. When, after coming into the service at twenty or thirty years of age, a four-years training by the government as an accountant, an appraiser, a mail distributer, an officer at the mint, the assay office, or the treasury, has made the official skillful, well informed, and valuable as a public servant, it is certainly desirable that he should remain at least two years longer; but would it not be yet more desirable that he should stay so long as he is the most useful man for the place? What good reason can be given for sending away a valuable official at twenty-six or thirty-six, on merely showing that he has served six years? Is it not plain, that, if the tenure and usage should say to him, "So long as you do your duty promptly and well, and maintain a good character, your means of living will not be taken away, nor your place given to another without good cause," he would be stimulated to fidelity in a degree unknown to him who can hold his place only time enough to learn its duties and to look out for another? The government will never be most economically served, nor gain the best to serve it, while its officials are selected or treated as needy birds-of-passage, in mercy supported to-day, but told to find a place elsewhere to-morrow. Who will deny that any intelligent man will engage for a less salary and be more careful to do his work well, if he feels that fidelity and efficiency will protect him against being discharged without cause?
—It may be insisted that the service would not, as a matter of course, end with the six years, but only terminate in case the incumbent should be held unworthy of reappointment. This theory plausibly presents a short term as a kind of substitute for removals. It contemplates, that, at the end of the service of every one of the more than 14,000 executive officers whose period would expire within each year under a six-years term, there would be a special inquest as to the official conduct of each, and a just judgment rendered. We need not dwell on the magnitude of such an undertaking, which makes it chimerical. If the facts which this theory assumes be true, viz., that during the previous six years the official superiors have been ignorant of the merits of their subordinates, such neglect would prove them unworthy to decide as to reappointments. If these merits and demerits have been known, year by year, no special inquiry will be needed. The unworthy will have been, or should have been, removed. Whose duty would it be, in any event, to conduct that inquiry and decide upon reappointments, except that of the identical superior officers whose yearly and daily duty it now is to keep themselves in that regard fully informed, and to make removals day by day whenever good cause exists? Since that obligation can not be increased, the change, if any, contemplated in official supervision under short terms, would seem to be one that would excuse its performance until the end of the term. Insufficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty for party work, and conduct—not absolutely infamous or criminal, perhaps—are to be overlooked during the term, because at its end there is to be a grand inquest. In other words, the moral and legal obligations of officials in the higher places, and the experience and discipline essential on the part of those in the lower places, are both alike to be reduced to short measure, as a part of the benefits of short terms. That this would please the office seekers, patronage mongers and partisans most clamorous for such terms, we need not doubt. On any other theory, or any just or defensible theory as to removals, it is plain that the unworthy would all be removed before the end of the six years, and that all those left at its expiration—whose terms would end—would be precisely those who would deserve a reappointment; which of course shows the term to be unavailing for any useful purpose. If, therefore, the officials having a duty of removal are to be trusted, the six-years or other short term is needless, and if they are not to be trusted to make removals when they should be made, how can they be trusted to make reappointments at the end of the terms? Would they be improved for the duty of reappointment by a statute which would suggest that until the end of terms they should wink at the delinquencies of their subordinates? The better remedy than any short term would be to enforce far more sternly, and, if need be, by the aid of stringent legislation, the duty, declared by Madison, and implied in the constitution, to remove for adequate cause, and not to remove without it; and by fit reform methods (which can not be explained here), to take away the pressure, the threats and the corrupt persuasions which now make the proper discharge of that duty so rare and difficult. Under such a system the unworthy would be warned off as well as weeded out from the public service.
—But let us not forget, that with fixed terms, either for six or ten years, it would be far more difficult to reappoint valuable servants than it would have been to retain them longer if no statute had taught the office seekers and spoilsmen the doctrine of rotation and removals without cause. It is unquestionably true, on the other hand, that an officer too cowardly to discharge his duty, to remove during a term, may more easily get excused by reason of a removal made by act of congress; and, so far as that kind of relief, which first encourages official neglect and then causes it to be forgotten, is an advantage, it must certainly be set to the credit of short fixed terms. With the duty of making removals for cause—which would of course embrace inefficiency by reason of age or any other cause—fitly discharged, we should hear little either of a life tenure, which is utterly indefensible, or of a tenure during good behavior merely, which is inadmissible. An inefficient official may exhibit only good behavior in the legal sense. Good behavior and efficiency combined, are the true basis of tenure for administrative officers. Who but the spoilsman, the partisan and the rotationist in theory—who but those who deny pure, economical and vigorous administration to be the supreme ends—will object to retaining a ministerial officer as long as he is the most useful man for the public service?
—There are doubtless some who think—and, within very narrow limits, perhaps not wholly without reason—that short terms would impress upon the officials a new sense of responsibility in addition to that felt toward official superiors, a responsibility to public opinion. But to what kind of public opinion? The fact that the managers of small local administrations, open to the view of every one, in towns and villages, and that officers elected by the people, feel a wholesome responsibility to public opinion, is a natural source of delusion on the subject. If that sense of responsibility is reliable in the great officers, it would be a good reason why the 80,000 inferior federal officers should be elected rather than appointed—why, in short, the whole theory of the constitution should be abandoned. The greater parts of our system would be indefensible. It is because such a theory is illusory; that, under our system, and under that of every civilized state, such officials are appointed and are governed by superior officers. The popular judgment can rarely decide, with intelligence, how far bad administration, in a great office, is due to the superior officer, or how far to his subordinates, who must obey the instructions. And for that reason all good governments have put the responsibility and duty of removal upon the superior—the president, the governor, and the mayor, whom the people elect, or upon the heads of departments, and hold them responsible for their subordinates. Every attempt by the legislature, through short terms, to substitute for the true responsibility to the executive and for the duty of removal, a new kind of responsibility, is therefore not only a legislative usurpation of executive functions, but is an effort not only repugnant to our constitution, but demoralizing in its tendency. The shorter the term of executive offices, the more difficult and unreliable would be the popular judgment. Make the term a year or a month, and will any candid man say that a popular judgment upon the official conduct of him who fills it could exist? What do the people know of the relative merits of any one of the thousands or hundreds of subordinates in a department? The worst administrations of later years—the corruption, partisan proscription, neglect of official duty in order to coerce elections, political assessments, the degradation of the public servants into the henchmen of chieftains and senators, the bartering of places for votes—have not been originated or most practiced by the more subordinate officials to whom a fixed term has never been extended, but have grown up and become most intolerable around the great custom houses and postoffices, at the head of which are officers holding for four years, confirmed by the senate and beyond removal, except by the consent of that body. If the many thousands of postmasters whose compensation is between five hundred and one thousand dollars a year, were given a term of four or six years, and were made confirmable by the senate, like the postmasters having a higher salary, I must think that not superior postmasters, but more active politicians, would be secured, and that new elements of vicious and feverish activity would be added to our municipal politics in every quarter of the Union. It would be no better, if postmasters were added to the excessive numbers of candidates in our municipal elections. The fate of every clerk and carrier would be involved in the election. Concerning most of these new confirmations, at best, there would be the same vigorous working of party machinery, and the same mischievous combination of selfish influences which now distract communities and vex congressmen in connection with the quadrennial appointment of collectors and postmasters of the higher grade. Few things are clearer in our politics than the fact that a large share of such confirmations are determined by mere official favor or partisan interests. Rare indeed is it that the administrative capacity of the candidate is made a decisive or even a prominent issue. The case of Postmaster James, of New York, is the first instance in our history of the office of postmaster general being conferred by reason of the administrative capacity of the person appointed.
—There are doubtless some who favor a term of years only by reason of an assumed difficulty in bringing about removals. That difficulty grows out of the spoils-system method of making appointments. The same pressure on the part of great politicians and members of congress which crowds the service with their unworthy favorites, keeps them there. The threats and pleadings which foist a brawny henchman, a bankrupt cousin, or a favorite widow, upon the national pay rolls, are repeated when the attempt is made to remove them. The competitive examinations now placed at the gates of the public service will not only exclude the unworthy, but they will bring in those who would have nothing but their superior merit to keep them there, and removals for cause will be easy. They have no influence to back them. And should any superior officer decline to remove for cause, he can be impeached, as Madison advised; for, when members of congress and chieftains can no longer put their favorites and relatives into the departments, they will no longer, as now, have an interest to prevent the arraignment of extravagance and imbecility in the executive service. British experience has confirmed the plain suggestions of reason on those points.
—It has been suggested, that, since competitive examinations are very offensive to the partisans and spoilsmen whose patronage they suppress, the need of them in a measure might be superseded by short terms of office. The suggestion is not even plausible. The shorter the term, the greater the need of ability and business experience upon entering the service; and the greater, also, the need of thorough competitive examinations for selecting the most competent. If the period of service be long, even those incompetent at the start may be trained into usefulness at the public expense. But if the term be too short for such education, large capacity must be required at the start. Make the term only a month, and the public work would be arrested, unless the standard for admission should be greatly raised. While, therefore, competitive examinations could be made to mitigate some of the evils of short terms, such terms would make competitive examinations indispensable.
—It is important to see clearly that the time when a person should leave the public service does not depend upon the manner of getting into it, but upon his usefulness therein, however he got there. Whether he got in by favor, pressure, or competitive examination, the question of his proper term or tenure is the same. Such examinations, and, indeed, nearly all the practical methods of civil service reform, except the demand for the repeal of the short term acts, relate to the means of getting into the service, and to the abuses therewith connected. It is only the specious, unwarranted allegations of the spoilsmen, which declare a dependence of those methods upon a life tenure or long term of office. There is no such dependence. A great portion of the removals without cause are, however, made in order to create vacancies into which dependents or henchmen may be pushed. And, since, under competitive examinations, the place would be filled by whoever could prove himself the better man, this pushing would avail little or nothing, and for that reason unwarranted removals would rarely take place, as the experience of such examinations at the New York custom house and postoffice has clearly shown. While, therefore, such examinations would tend to make a tenure more stable by making powerless the corrupt forces which cause proscriptive removals, I repeat, that the need of applying these methods would increase with every reduction of the term of office and every enfeeblement of tenure. It is an utter misconception of the subject to claim that a permanent tenure of office is an incident of competitive examinations, or any further a consequence of them than this, that, securing the better man, they make it more easy and natural to keep such men as long as the public needs or desires them.
—But, suppose short-term theories should now prevail; what would be the result in the near future? Population doubles in about thirty-five years, and officers increase yet more rapidly. Men now vote who may live to see more than 200,000,000 of people in the Union, and more than 400,000 federal officials.
—Within little more than a decade, the life saving and signal service, the national board of health, the agricultural bureau, the bureau of education and the civil service commission have been added to the public service, and some of them may soon be departments. When there shall be 200,000 postmasters and 300,000 federal officers, there will still be but one president, but one senate, but one secretary of the treasury, but one postmaster general, unless we create others to fight off the office seekers and work a vast machinery of office filling. Shall we deliberately create an official term which will require the refilling of nearly 100,000 of these places every year, in addition to all those that may be made vacant by removals and resignations? Washington could not contain the office seekers and their backers who would swarm there. Could republican institutions long survive?
—Another consideration connected with short terms must not be overlooked. They would greatly embarrass, if not defeat, any adequate system for promotion based on merit or experience. Four successive presidents, all the best administrators in the country, and every well-governed nation of the world, have insisted on promotions for merit, tested by experience, as essential to good administration. When, in his late message, President Arthur declared that "positions of responsibility should be, so far as practicable, filled by the promotion of worthy and efficient officers," he affirmed a principle to which short terms are utterly repugnant, and the wisdom of which the best experience of the world affirms. These terms are an arbitrary interference by the legislative with the executive department, by reason of which, at a fixed time, and irrespective alike of the needs of the public service, of the merits of those who fill it, and of the wishes of those responsible for good administration, the good and the bad alike cease to serve the people. Every worthy officer is sent away—in substance, removed—without cause. Promotion for merit, on the other hand, is based on the theory that an officer is more valuable for his experience, and should, if otherwise worthy, be retained for that reason. Now, it is quite too preposterous for argument to pretend that such experience can be secured in the complicated affairs of government, if there is to be a quadrennial rotation. The very theory upon which such rotation is founded is but a declaration that the paramount aim of the government is not the most competent officers, is not to stimulate effort, and retain the skilled ability it has educated, but to give places to the greatest number of patronage mongers, and salaries to the greatest number of office seekers.
—But it may be asked whether some evils may not attend constitutional tenure for "inferior officers"—a tenure during the coexistence of good behavior and efficiency—and whether some provision may not be wisely made for those who might leave the service poor and superannuated. We can not speak positively of the future. When evils from such a source shall be developed, then will be the time to meet them. At present, surely, there is not too much trained experience in the public service. It may be that the aptitude and inclination of our people for change of calling, and the facilities for saving and for securing employment in this country, will for many years prevent the need of legislation on such subjects, which in the old and densely populated countries, we know has existed. There will be ample time for action on such subjects years hence. It is not easy to understand an abuse which does not exist, or customary to legislate against evils which are only imagined. The first duty is to provide for bringing the most competent into the public service, and for suppressing patronage and the arbitrary removal of competent public servants. We do not refuse to cure the sick or arrest contagion, from a fear that the future may have an excess of population. Our business men have not, as a rule—though with increasing exceptions said to be advantageous to employés—yet made provisions for those worn out by faithful labor in their employment; and whether the federal government can wisely be more paternal and humane is a question properly left to the future. Much may be said on both sides of it. Our pensions in principle, and our retiring allowance in the army and navy, and for federal judges, directly affirm the justice and utility of making provision for faithful officers worn out in the public service. After putting out the flames and purifying the air of the national household, we can take ample time for improving its attractions. The older governments, generally, and Great Britain with marked success, have made such provisions. The British statutes, which give a retiring allowance only after ten years' faithful service, are by no means based on a theory of mere benevolence. They are justified not only as enabling the government to secure its servants at a smaller salary, but as contributing to their efficiency and fidelity in office; in fact, as being, on the mere score of economy and selfishness, a manifest gain to the public treasury. The salary and the allowance are thought to be hardly more than the salary would need to be, on the average or in the aggregate, but for the allowance upon retirement. This experience, extending over three-fourths of a century, is well worthy of our study whether we ever have occasion to make similar allowance or not. It will show us a royal and aristocratic government regarding the self-respect and comfort of those who, in humble places, serve it faithfully, with a care, dignity and regard for economy which are not quite universal in this great republic.
—If it be suggested that such allowances befit the paternal care of a monarchy, but not the stern justice of a republic, let it be remembered that every subordinate in the British service who can receive them is by statute compelled to gain his place through superior merit disclosed in a stern, open, competitive examination, where neither blood, wealth nor influence avail anything; while it is only in this republic that a great officer or politician can privately force his blockhead son, his discharged housekeeper, his servile electioneering agent, or his bankrupt dependent, upon the public service.
—Whenever the time may come, there are various ways of dealing with the subject: 1, we may fix an age beyond which "inferior officers" shall not remain in the service, thus sternly excluding dotage; 2, we may fix an age after which the salary shall rapidly decrease, which would prevent full payment for impaired capacity, as well as cause seasonable resignations; 3, we may pay a small fixed sum on retirement, after a prescribed period of meritorious service and before reaching a fixed age; 4, we may, on retirement any time after ten years of such service, continue to pay a certain proportion of the salary receivable at the date of retirement, which is the British system; 5, we may, after the official has reached a certain age or period of service, retain a percentage of his salary, to be paid on retirement, which will cost the government nothing and yet be a provision against want; 6, we may refuse to make any provision whatever on the subject, dealing with the public servants according to the severest theories of hostile interest and business relations; or, 7, if we shall find the executive or heads of departments refusing to remove in proper cases (after the repeal of the tenure of office acts and relief from party and congressional influence shall have restored to them a real liberty to do so), or if any bad effects shall attend the restoration of tenure based on character and efficiency, it will be easy, if desirable, to establish a term of years, the length of which should be determined in the light of such experience, and not upon the "spoils system" theories which now prevail. Then if competitive examinations shall have been continuously enforced, there may be neither partisan interest nor prejudice enough left to embolden demagogues to seek popularity by denouncing as an "official class" those who, from whatever grade of life, have worked their way solely by superior merit, and who can hold their places only so long as they continue both upright and efficient. How can that be a class, into which no one can be born, which can be reached only by open competition of merit, through which nothing can be taken or transmitted, and in which no one can remain longer than he is freely retained because he is the best servant of the people?
—We need, and, before the time for action shall arrive, we may expect, a more intelligent public opinion on the subject of office getting and office holding. Of what use to ask a legislator who believes in rotation, who holds a tenure of merit to be "un-American," who has promised ten clerkships to carry his last election, and demands a consulate and a postoffice to carry his next election—to consider the subject on the basis of the public interest? When we better comprehend that the real strength of parties is adherence to sound principles and the enforcement of good administration; when we are prepared to make capacity and character, and not influence and favoritism, the tests for admission to the public service; when the states as well as the nation shall have shown courage to suppress political assessment and the official coercion of elections, when we become convinced that promising places for votes is the worst form of bribery, and that the "spoils system" is as demoralizing to a party as it is disastrous and disgraceful to the country—then we shall see that to refuse to retain a public servant because he is faithful and efficient, is to refuse to protect the public welfare. Then, and possibly not till then, we shall be prepared to deal with our retiring public servants upon the grounds of justice and sound principles. Then we shall be able to give due consideration to what contributes to the honor, efficiency and economy of the public service, to what makes it attractive to a prudent man with a family dependent upon his salary, to what will give it a high place in public estimation, to what will invite to it young men of promise by assuring them that merit will be the condition, alike of stability and of promotion.
DORMAN B. EATON.
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