THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896
(Civil Service and the Tariff)
734. UNTIL the Roosevelt administration, the average re
spectable citizen knew little definitely about the corruption
rampant in business and politics, and was usually inclined to
dismiss all accusations as groundless. One evil, however, was
too spectacular to be ignored. In 1871 public opinion forced
the unwilling Congress to pass an Act to rescue the Civil Service
from the Spoils system. At first, President Grant seemed to
favor the idea ; but in practice he let - his friends among the
spoilsmen thwart the law and drive from office the men who
wished to administer it honestly ( 714). And in 1874 Congress
refused to renew the small appropriation for the work,
trusting to public disgust at the breakdown of the reform.
President Hayes was in earnest in the matter. His few
removals from office were mainly to get rid of spoilsmen as
735] CIVIL SERVICE REFORM 613
when he dismissed Chester A. Arthur from the New York
Collectorship of Customs and he issued a notable "Civil
Service order" forbidding Federal employees to take part in
political campaigns (cf. Jefferson's idea, 448). This order,
however, quickly became a dead letter. Post-office officials
jeered at it ; and the nation had not yet learned that no reform
was possible except on this basis.
735. In 1880 the campaign was a struggle for office between
the ins and outs to a degree unparalleled since 1824. Neither
party took a stand on any live question. The Democrats railed
at various Republican shames, but gave i;o assurance of
doing better themselves. AVith a large part of the youth of
the nation they were still discredited as " the party of dis
loyalty." The Republicans "pointed with pride" to their
record as "the Grand Old Party that saved the Union and
freed the Slave," but they had no program for the future. .
Twenty years before, the Republican party had been the party
of the plain people, typified by Lincoln ; but during its long
lease of power the desire for political favors had drawn to it
all those selfish and corrupt influences which at first had
opposed it. In the West two minor parties had appeared
with real convictions, Prohibitionists and Greenbackers,
but their numbers were insignificant.
In the Republican Convention a desperate attempt was
made to nominate ex-President Grant, but the tradition against
a third term was too strong. Ballot after ballot he received
from 302 to 312 votes ; but 379 were necessary, and the
nomination finally went to a dark horse, James A. Garjleld.
For the Vice Presidency the Convention named Chester A.
Arthur ( 734) to rebuke Hayes' reform tendencies. The
Massachusetts delegation presented a resolution favoring Civil
Service Reform, but it was voted down overwhelmingly a
certain Flanagan, delegate from Texas, exclaiming indignantly,
" What are we here for ? "
During the campaign, every Federal officeholder received
a letter from the Republican National Committee assessing
614 THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896 [ 736
a certain per cent of his salary for the Republican campaign
fund. Officials who neglected to pay these " voluntary contri
butions " were " reported " to the heads of their departments
for discipline. The vast public service, of two hundred thou
sand men, was turned into a machine to insure victory to the
party in control. The practice had never before been followed
up with such systematic shamelessness. 1
Garfield was elected by a large electoral majority, but with
only some 10,000 votes more than his opponent in the country
at large. The new President found a third of his time consumed
by office-seekers. . They " waylaid him when he ventured from
the shelter of his home, and followed him even to the doors
of the church where he worshipped." Four months after his
inauguration he was murdered by a crazed applicant for office.
736. Meantime, more scandal! T. W. Brady, one of the
highest officials in the postal service, had conspired with a group
of contractors including a United States Senator to cheat
the government out of half a million dollars a year. On certain
"star routes," the legal compensation for carrying mail had
been increased enormously by secret agreements for pretended
services, and then the surplus had been divided between the
contractors and the officials.
When this investigation began, Brady demanded that Gar-
field call it off. Not gaining this favor, he published a letter
written by Garfield during the campaign, showing that he
(Garfield) had urged the collection of campaign funds from
officials. On the other hand, President Arthur surprised the
reform element by his good sense and firmness, by the cordial
support he gave to Civil Service Reform, and by the faithful
ness with which he pressed the trial of the star-route thieves.
1 Such collections from officials were made an excuse by them for demanding
higher salaries. As always, the people paid. The following contrast shows
progress. In the recent campaign (1916) the Republican National Committee
asked thousands of voters for subscriptions ; but the circular closed with
the injunction, "If you are a Federal officeholder, please disregard this
738] CIVIL SERVICE REFORM 615
Those trials were spectacular. Important newspapers impu
dently whitewashed the criminals ; and insolent boasts were
made freely that no jury would convict such " high and influ
ential men.' 7 Through technicalities and delays, the bigger
criminals did all escape.
737. These events focused attention again on the need of Civil
Service reform. Congress, however, remained deaf in the session
of 1881-1882; and, in the congressional elections of 1882,
another assessment letter to Federal officials was signed by
three leading Republican statesmen. Popular indignation at
these offenses made itself felt in the elections, and the next
session of the chastened Congress promptly passed the Civil
Service Act (January, 1883), providing that vacancies in certain
classes of offices should be filled in future from applicants whose
fitness had been tested by competitive examination, and that
such appointments should be revoked afterward only "for
cause." A Civil Service Commission, also, to oversee the
workings of the law, was established. The law did not apply
to heads of large offices, or to any office where the President's
nomination requires confirmation by the Senate ; and it was
left to the President to classify from time to time the offices to
be protected. President Arthur at once placed some 14,000
positions under the operation of the law.
738. For nearly twenty years, Mr. Blaine had been the idol
of the Republican masses, and in 1884 he at last won the
nomination for the Presidency despite earnest opposition
from a large " reform " element led by veterans like Carl Schurz,
Andrew D. White, and George William Curtis, editor of Harper's
Weekly, and by ardent young men like Henry Cabot Lodge of
Massachusetts and Theodore Roosevelt of New York. The
reformers took their defeat in various ways. Lodge swallowed
his chagrin and. supported the ticket. Roosevelt went west,
to begin his ranch life in Dakota. The greater number became
" Mugwumps," and supported Grover Cleveland, the Democratic
Cleveland had attracted attention as governor of New York
616 THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896 [ 739
by his stubborn honesty and his fearless attitude toward the
corrupt Tammany machine. His friends jubilantly shouted
the slogan, " We love him for the enemies he has made " ;
and he was elected as a reform President, with the civil service
issue in the foreground. But the great body of Democratic
politicians were secretly or actively hostile to civil service
reform ; and the President's position was more difficult even
than Jefferson's had been three generations before. In spite
of the recent law, every Federal official was still a Eepublican.
The Democratic office seekers were ravening from their quarter-
century fast; and their pressure upon the head of their party
for at least a share in the public service was overwhelming.
With all his unquestioned sincerity and firmness, the President
gave ground before this spoils spirit far enough to drive many
Mugwumps, in disgust, back to the Republicans. Still, the ad
ministration marks a notable advance for a non-partisan service.
It definitely established the principle of Hayes' Civil Service
order against " offensive partisanship " by officials, prevented
political assessments, and doubled the " classified " list.
739. When Cleveland became President, the war tariffs weje
still in force. By the trend of our history, too, high protection
had become associated in the thought of the North with the
preservation of the Union and the freeing of the slave ; and
the special interests, thriving on protection, knew how to take
shrewd advantage of this habit of thought among the people.
With dogged persistence, Cleveland strove to lead the Demo
cratic party to take up tariff reduction. In message after message,
he called attention to the dangerous piling up of the surplus
from the needless revenue; to the consequent opportunities
for extravagance and corruption in expenditure ; and es
pecially to the unjust burdens upon the poorer classes of
society from tariff taxation. In December, 1887, his message
was given up wholly to this one topic, denouncing the existing
tariff fiercely as " vicious " and " inequitable." During the
following summer, by such argument, and by a despotic use of
the President's power of " patronage " ( 572), the House was
741] CLEVELAND AND THE TARIFF 617
spurred into passing a reform " Mills bill," l placing a few im
portant articles 011 the free list and reducing the average tax
from 47 per cent to 40 ; but this measure failed in the Repub
740: In the "educational campaign" of 1888, for the first time
for almost sixty years, the tariff was the leading issue before the
people. Elaine had replied to Cleveland's epoch-making mes
sage of '87 by a striking " interview," cabled from Paris, setting
up protection as the desirable permanent policy. The Repub
lican party rallied to this standard. Its platform declared for
reduction of internal taxes (on whisky), in order to remove
opportunity to reduce tariff income. Orators like William
McKinley represented tariff reduction as "unpatriotic" and
" inspired by our foreign rivals " ; and even the Republicans
of the Northwest, where Republican conventions in State after
State had been calling for reform, were whipped into line by
the plea hat the tariff, if revised at all, should at least be
revised " by its friends."
The debate was marked by a notable shift of ground on the
part of protectionists. Clay and the earlier protectionists
advocated protection for "infant industries," as a temporary
policy. This argument hardly applied now that those in
dustries had become dominating influences in the country.
Greeley, in the forties and fifties, had modified it into a plea
for protection to higher wages for American workingmen com
pared with European laborers ( 596). This now became the
general argument. It failed, however, to take account of the
higher cost of living because of the tariff ; nor was evidence
submitted to show that the protected industries really paid
higher wages in return for their tariff privileges.
741. The Republican manager, Matthew Quay, Senator from
Pennsylvania, was a noted spoilsman, and had been publicly
accused in Congress, without denial on his part, of having
stolen $260,000 from the treasury of Pennsylvania while an
1 Roger Q. Mills of Texas was the chief author of the measure.
618 THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896 [ 742
officer of that State. He now called on " protected " manu
facturers for huge contributions to the Republican funds ; 1
and, according to general belief, spent money more freely than
ever before in buying votes in doubtful States. One scandal,
made public a little later, was long remembered. A member of
the Republican National Committee wrote to political lieu
tenants in Indiana, on which State it was thought the election
would turn, " Divide the ' floaters ' into blocks of five, and
put a trusted man with the necessary funds in charge of each
five, and make him responsible that none get away and that all
vote our ticket."
742. With the secret aid of the Democratic Tammany
machine in New York, the Republicans elected Benjamin Harrison,
though he had 100,000 fewer votes than Cleveland. The Re
publican platform had promised an extension of civil service
reform ; but for months after the victory, the spoils system was
rampant. Clarkson, the Assistant Postmaster-General, earned
the title of " the Headsman," by gleefully decapitating 30,000
postmasters in the first year ; and, amid the applause of the
Senate, Ingalls of Kansas declared, "The purification of
politics is an iridescent dream ; the Decalogue and the Golden
Rule have no place in a political campaign." This attitude of
prominent spoilsmen was rebuked, however, by the people in
the Congressional elections of 1890, and President Harrison
appointed to the Civil Service Commission Theodore Roose
velt of New York. This fearless young reformer at once
injected new energy into the administration of the law, and
rallied a fresh enthusiasm among the people to its support by
his vigorous use of language. Hitherto, the spoilsmen had
reviled the mild-mannered gentlemen of the Commission at
will : Roosevelt gave back epithet for epithet, with interest,
as when he affirmed that a great part of the political contri
butions extorted from reluctant officials was " retained by the
jackals who collected it.' 7
1 This and other evil features of the political campaigns of this era are pre
sented in Blythe's striking political novel, A Western Warwick.
744] THE McKINLEY TARIFF OF 1890 619
743. The Republicans called their victory "a mandate for
protection," and the McKinley Tariff of 1890 raised rates even
above the war standard. The committee in charge of the
framing of the bill held " public hearings," at which any one
.interested might appear, to present his needs and views. In
practice, this resulted in hearing at great length the claims of
the scores of great manufacturers, but hardly at all the claims
of the millions of small consumers. Thus the Binding Twine
trust secured the power to tax every sheaf of the farmer's
grain, by a tariff on twine, in spite of earnest but less organized
opposition by the farmers of the country. " Special interests "
shaped the law. (Cf. Randolph's warning, 507.)
A novel feature of the bill was its "reciprocity" provisions. Foreign
countries, incensed at our exclusion of their products, were threatening
retaliatory tariffs on American foodstuffs ; and even Elaine had criticized
the bill sharply, in its original form, on the ground that it failed to " open
the market to another bushel of grain or another barrel of pork." Finally,
it was arranged that the President might provide by treaty for the free
admission of raw sugar, coffee, molasses, and hides, from any country
which would admit free our products. Some treaties of this nature were
afterward negotiated with Central and South American countries.
744. An immediate rise in prices on manufactures 1 made
the new tariff highly unpopular, and the congressional elections
of 1890 witnessed a " landslide " for the Democrats. Various
House bills for tariff reduction, however, were buried in the
hold-over Senate ; and the surplus in the Treasury had been
dissipated by a huge increase in pensions for the veterans of
the Civil War.
Cleveland's first administration had witnessed a savage raid on the
Treasury in the form of thousands of special pension bills. Many of these
applied to meritorious cases which even the generous provisions of the
general law did not reach; but hundreds of others were gross frauds,
which, in many cases, had already been exposed by the regular pension
1 The rise reached many forms of foodstuffs. Thus canned goods were
raised because the canners had to pay more for tfn plate, on which the tariff
had been doubled.
620 THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896 [ 745
bureau. Cleveland vetoed 233 private pension bills. 1 Then Harrison's
administration saw the pension rolls doubled by a new general law, with an
increase of annual expenditure for this purpose from 88 millions to 159
millions. The same four years (1889-1893) saw the yearly expenditure
for the navy mount from 17 to 33 millions. The Fifty-first Congress was
the first "Billion-Dollar Congress."
745. The rebound against the McKinley Tariff elected Cleveland
again in 1892. The Democratic platform had declared frankly
for a tariff " for revenue only." During the campaign, however,
the leaders felt impelled to promise that reductions from exist
ing rates should be made gradually, so as to permit business to
readjust itself safely. Moreover, tariff reform was now
hampered by currency questions, which had thrust themselves
into the foreground ( 750 ff.). A " Wilson Bill " did pass the
House in form fairly satisfactory to tariff reformers ; but in the
Senate where the Democrats had a bare majority anyway,
several members deserted in order to secure protection for in
terests which they represented (sugar in Louisiana, iron in West
Virginia and Alabama, etc.), and amended 2 the bill into what
President Cleveland called bluntly a measure of " party perfidy."
He felt constrained, however, to let the bill become law as
the best thing attainable. It reduced the average of the duties
from 49 to 40 per cent ; and it was accompanied by a sop to
the radicals in the shape of a tax of two per cent on all incomes
746. This compensation to the poorer classes was at once nullified.
The Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional. 3
1 In other respects, also, Cleveland gave a new vigor to the veto power.
President Johnson, in his Reconstruction quarrel with Congress, vetoed 21 bills,
many more than any predecessor, though several of these vetoes were over
ridden. Grant used the veto 43 times in his two terms. Up to Cleveland's
accession, there had been in all only 132 Presidential vetoes. In his first term
Cleveland used the power 301 times. Cf . 567.
2 People were shocked to learn that prominent Senators were speculating
in stocks whose value would be affected by their votes. In an " investigation,"
Senator Quay had to confess that he had bought sugar stock " for a rise."
8 On the ground that it was a direct tax but not apportioned as the Consti
tution orders for direct taxes (Art. I, sec. 2).
747] INCOME TAX AND SUPREME COURT 621
During the War, precisely such a tax had been in force, and
in 1875 the Court had decided unanimously that the tax law
was constitutional. In this like case, twenty years later, the
Court at first divided equally, four to four. Public feeling was
intense. The conservative moneyed classes were represented
before the Court by the great lawyer, Rufus Choate, who
declared that such a tax would " scatter to the winds the very
keystone of civilization the rights of private property." On
the recovery of a sick Justice, the case was heard again. The
Justice before absent now voted for the tax ; but Justice Shiras,
who had before voted for it, now changed to the opposition.
Conservatives exulted loudly. Said the New York Sun,
" The wave of socialistic revolution has gone far, but it breaks
at the foot of the ultimate bulwark set up for the protection of
our liberties. Five to four, the Court stands like a rock." On
the other hand the stern disappointment of the reform elements
was voiced by Justice Harlan in an able dissenting opinion
which was marked by unusual emotion and which let it be seen
that the Justice felt that the great Court had struck a cruel
blow at American institutions. The modern verdict upon the
decision, and upon its effect on society, is expressed well by
Professor Davis Rich Dewey : " Interest in the tax itself was
lost sight of in the revelation of fickleness and uncertainty in
the highest court of the land." It was particularly unfortu
nate that such shiftiness should have operated as a protection
to the wealthy classes only. (Cf. 711.)
747. -The election of 1896 was won by the Republicans on the
issue of " sound money " ( 757) ; but President McKinley
claimed the victory as a mandate to renew the high protection
policy with which he had personally identified himself. Ac
cordingly, a special session of Congress enacted the Dingley
Tariff, raising the average rate to 57 per cent.
The Bill provided that, during the two years following, the
President might make treaties with foreign countries, abating
a, fifth of the Dingley rates in return for concessions to Ameri
can commerce. The Republican masses were led to look upon
622 THE POLITICAL STORY, 1876-1896 [ 748
the exorbitant rates mainly as a club to force reciprocity.
President McKinley, from time to time, submitted seven such
treaties to the Senate, but that body, with an extreme of bad
faith, hearkening only to the special interests which controlled
the seats or fortunes of many members, failed to ratify. As
with the preceding tariff, the bargain by which high rates had
been secured was broken ; and again the loss fell upon the poor.
748. Wherever the tariff did shield a raw material from foreign compe
tition (as with wool), it gave a correspondingly higher protection to the
manufacturer who was to use that material. Thus the wearer of woolen
goods paid a double tax, one to the wool grower, and another to the
manufacturer. But as a rule, those items which had been added to the
bill with a pretense of protecting the farmers proved again deceptive. A
duty was placed on hides ; but the advantage was monopolized by the
packing houses. The cattle raiser got none of it. He had to sell, as be
fore, to the trust at its own price ( 790) ; but the trust could now make
the shoe manufacturer pay more for leather. And the only noticeable
result to the cattle raiser and to every other "ultimate consumer"
was a higher price for shoes and harness. Critics pointed out, too, that
the prohibitive duties on many foreign imports made it easier for monopo
listic combinations to control prices and output. The years following
the enactment of the Dingley Tariff were just the years of most rapid de
velopment of such monopolies. " The tariff is the mother of the trusts "
became a popular cry.
749. Manufactures, of course, were tremendously stimulated.
They now used most of the raw material produced in America.
American mills forged their way into the markets of the world,
and underbid English and German manufacturers in Kussia,
India, China, and Australia. American machinery even in
vaded France and England. To do this, the American manu
facturer sold his goods cheaper abroad than at home, and, in part,
was enabled to undersell the foreign manufacturer abroad by
means of the unreasonable profits wrung from the American
For a time the country was entranced by the appearance of
" prosperity." But gradually the idea gained ground that this
was a manufacturer's prosperity, paid for by the consumer.
The cost of living rose so rapidly as to become a byword. Be-
749] DINGLEY TARIFF : A BARGAIN BROKEN 623
tween 1896 and 1904 it was computed to have increased a
fourth. 1 This amounted, of course, to a savage cut in wages
and in all fixed incomes, and it rapidly created a serious prob
lem for people of small means.
A MODERN STEEL PLANT AT PITTSBURGH.
FOR FURTHER READING. Paxson's New Nation, Haworth's Recon
struction and Union, or Bassett's Short History should be used for a fuller
1 The conservative figures of the Bureau of Labor place the increase
in the period 1890-1909 at 26 per cent. Of course the tariff was only one of
several factors in the rise of prices. Another factor was the increased volume
of gold in which prices are measured ( 769, close). But this last factor
operated all over the world, in England, presumably, as strongly as in
America. The rise of prices in England, however, down to the beginning of
the European War in 1914, was only about a third of that in the United States.
GREENBACKS AND FREE SILVER
750. FOR thirteen years after the War, the " Treasury notes "
( 674) and the National bank notes were the only money in
circulation. The government redeemed part of this "Wai-
currency" by issuing new bonds in exchange for it but gold
did not come out of hiding. This paper money remained below par,