Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CIVIL ADMINISTRATION. In its broadest sense, in public affairs, administration means the carrying of the government into effect, by the practical exercise of its authority, through the several officials for which it has provided, and in conformity to the constitution and the laws. But according to a usage quite general, administration only refers to those functions of government which are exercised through the executive and judicial department. "The administration" is a phrase used, popularly, in this country, to designate, collectively, those officials—being the president and the members of his cabinet—who advise together in the conduct of the executive department. In Great Britain the phrase is used in much the same sense, except that there—the members of the cabinet, of which the number is not fixed by custom, having seats in parliament, and the usage being in other respects somewhat different—the administration takes the lead in the most important measures of legislation as well as in executive affairs. And, generally, its members resign in case of an adverse vote of parliament upon one of those measures.


—The constitution of the United States vests the executive power in the president alone, and also makes him commander-in-chief of the army and the navy, and of the militia when in actual service. Neither the constitution nor laws of the United States, or those of Great Britain, make provision for members of a cabinet, or for any meetings of officials, in the nature of the cabinet meetings which regularly take place in both countries. Yet these meetings consider the most important questions, and practically guide the executive policy, both foreign and domestic, of both nations. No official records are kept of these meetings, and they are without formal legal sanction of any kind. In legal contemplation, the paramount responsibility, in matters of administration, with us, rests upon the president alone, and in England upon the king. The constitution of the United States, however, authorizes the president to 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, which strongly tends to harmonize efficiency of administration. But, on the other hand, large and varied authority has been conferred by law upon the heads of the respective departments, which such offices exercise directly, if not quite independently of the president: a course of legislation which has tended to impair the harmony and vigor of the administration, and to augment the influence of congress at the expense of the executive.


—In the civilized states of modern times public administration is carried forward under three divisions—civil, military and naval—each directly in charge of officials, in legal contemplation at least, selected in reference to their special fitness for their duties. Convenient and salutary as these divisions are proved to be, they have been fully developed only in modern times and as the ripest fruits of political civilization; Greece, Rome, and the other great nations of antiquity, having established them only in a very limited degree. In fact, these divisions are not complete nor can they be made so, in the most enlightened states; the provisions of our constitution, under which the same legislation body makes laws and the same executive gives orders for each of the three divisions, mark their essential limitations and their ultimate union in every country.


—The division of civil administration into three great departments—the legislative, judicial and executive—is equally the result of a slow development, which has been made complete only in the most enlightened states of modern times. In no state of ancient times did these divisions exist, except in a very imperfect form; and everywhere at the present time the completeness of these divisions measures the degree of liberty and justice which government secures.


—In Russia and Turkey, for example the separation exists only in rudimentary form; the executive department subordinating both the others. Even in Great Britain the appellate judicial power of the house of lords and the union of judicial and executive functions in the lord chancellor are strikingly incompatible with the principle of separate departments.


—No-where is this separation theoretically more complete than under our constitutions, both state and federal. Yet we allow several striking exceptions. The consent of the executive, in analogy to that of a king, is necessary to give validity to a legislative enactment, except that the legislature may give the force of law to its acts by a two-thirds vote over an executive veto. The senate and the executive co-operate in the making of treaties and in appointments to office, (see CONFIRMATION BY THE SENATE), and the senate, with the chief justice of the supreme court acting as presiding officer, is the judicial body for the trial of impeachments; thus following the analogy of the British house of lords. The legislatures of various states in earlier years were authorized to grant divorces. In the same spirit congress is authorized by the constitution to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces—a power, perhaps, essentially executive, and easily brought in conflict with the constitutional authority of the president as commander-in-chief. The same observations might be extended to the power claimed and exercised by congress of making rules and regulations—and of authorizing heads of departments to make and enforce them—for the government of the civil service. These rules and regulations may readily be made to impair the essential functions and independence of the executive, and they have constantly tended to that result.


—It hardly need be pointed out that all the reasons which, in their creation, required these three great departments in the government, also required that, in the development of the administration, their due proportion and counterpoise should be maintained. Upon the preservation of the equilibrium in which they stand in the constitution the strength and perpetuity of the government depend.


—While there have been no deliberate changes under our system, which have materially affected the relative influence of the departments, the administrative methods, which have prevailed since Jackson's presidency, have steadily tended to subordinate the executive to the legislative department. More and more, members of congress have usurped the control of appointments and removals in the executive departments; and more and more the members of the senate have used their authority in the matter of confirmations, for the purpose of coercing all appointments, for service in the states they represent, in their own interests or that of their political party. (On these points see CONFIRMATION BY THE SENATE, SPOILS SYSTEM, PATRONAGE, CIVIL SERVICE REFORM.


—Under no form of government is civil administration, in its principal arrangements, so complicated as under a republic like that of the United States; though the criminal and repressive methods under despotic institutions are far more complicated than under our institutions. The greater liberty enjoyed in a republic is incompatible with those centralized, direct and coercive methods which exist under despotic systems. But beyond these facts, the existence of state governments leads to a duplication of departments and to administrative methods unknown under other forms of government. Not only is the official force thus vastly increased, and the sources of responsibility multiplied, but all questions growing out of the relations of public offices to political parties are made more complicated and embarrassing. True, partly issues are national, and yet there is generally something like a state party; so that both state and national officials are subject to duplicate, if not incompatible claims of allegiance and duty. These facts have also greatly facilitated that partisan despotism and that vicious dealing with appointments and removals which have disgraced our administrative system. (See SPOILS. SYSTEM CONFIRMATION BY THE SENATE.)


—Regarding civil administration in the United States, even in that limited sense which excludes the legislative department, it falls under three classes—federal, state and municipal; and, in addition, there are the systems of country and town administration.


—In each of these classes, three fundamental divisions—legislative, judicial and executive—exist, though in an imperfect form in most municipalities. In each of these classes and divisions, and in dealing with the great variety and vast number of official places, all the perplexing and unsettled questions of administration arise. How far are political opinions of officeholders material? To what extent, if at all, may an officer use his official influence in aid of his party? What qualifications for office should be insisted upon? How shall fit qualifications for office be ascertained? How long should be the official terms of the various offices? (See TENURE OF OFFICE.) What should be regarded as good causes of removal? (See REMOVALS.) Should officials be protected against political assessments? (See ASSESSMENTS.) What officers should give security for their good behavior? What claims has a political party, in the majority, to have its opinions represented in official places? To what extent are our administrative organizations and methods the best that are practicable under our constitutions and in the present state of political intelligence and virtue?


—The last question is a great and vital issue in administrative affairs, and it raises inquiries as scientific, philosophical and important as any that can arise in politics. Yet it has not been discussed in our literature; a fact which, taken in connection with the diverse tenures of officers having the same functions, and the discordant methods of doing public work of the same kind in the different states and municipalities, furnishes the most decisive evidence of our neglect of administrative problems, and of the need of making them the subjects of our discussions and of the teaching in our institutions of learning. The judges of our state courts, for example—some of them elective and some appointive—hold under a motley variety of terms, varying from a single year in some states to good behavior in others. There is the greatest variety in the organization and methods of our city governments, and in their official service; yet the subject has received no thorough or scientific discussion. There is probably no people, equally enlightened, who have given so little thoughtful attention to administrative questions, and no statesmen who have so much neglected them, as those of this country. And, as a natural consequence, the people of the United States, while they are better satisfied, perhaps, than any other with the principles of the government under which they live, yet complain more than any other free people of the character of the administration they tolerate. Our history suggests a belief on our part that republican institutions have saving virtues which supersede the need of the thoughtful attention of statesmen and patriots being given to administrative methods; a belief as delusive as it is foreign to the convictions of our early statement. Washington, expressing the views of his contemporaries, felt the need of a national university, of which he declared, in a message, "a primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be so important?" he asks. And in his last will, he left a bequest in aid of such an institution, in which instruction, "in the principles of politics," were to be taught. Such convictions gave birth to the military school at West Point and to the naval school at Annapolis, which have prevented those branches of the public service from becoming the prey of partisans; but the principles of civil administration having never been the subject of instruction, the civil part of the administration has readily become the spoils of party warfare. Our youth inclined to politics have drawn their theories of public administration from the caucus, the convention, and the secret councils of spoils system politics, while our thoughtful men have neglected administrative affairs altogether, holding them to be ignoble or unimportant. In the meantime these affairs have developed a potency and a corruption, which, while almost revolutionizing the character of the government, have deprived character, attainments and true statesmanship of their just influence in political and official life.


—As a people we are beginning to comprehend that the practical benefits of a government are far more dependent upon the manner in which it is administered than the last generation believed. We are taking notice, more than ever before, that some great principles underline the sphere of administration which deserve the attention of statesmen and thinkers, because they involve the conditions of political morality and national safety. The more advanced nations of Europe have earlier apprehended these vital facts. For quite a century—from Burke to Gladstone—nearly every eminent English statesman (and much the same have been the facts in France and the other leading states of Europe,) has given careful study to administrative problems. But in this country, since the framers of the original constitutions, hardly a statesman, except Mr. Jencks of Rhode Island, has made a study of such subjects. It is therefore a hopeful sign that many thoughtful minds now (1881) turn to them as involving the prosperity if not the life of the nation. Two of the higher institutions of learning—Columbia college, New York city, and Michigan university—have, with in the present year, taken measures for opening a course of instruction in political science, in which the methods of good administration are to have a leading place. And, within the last six months, associations for creating a more enlightened public opinion on this subject have been formed by patriotic citizens in as many as fifteen different places, including the larger cities, in eight different states of the Union, beginning with New York, where the greatest abuses have existed.


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