Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XVI., December, 1880 online

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officers and employés, accounts for over three hundred), and certainly
there are at least five persons looking toward each of the several

Upon such an estimate, then, of the political activities of one State we
have such a showing as this:

Citizens politically active as to townships, 80,000
Citizens politically active as to cities and boroughs, 20,000
Citizens politically active as to counties, 4,000
Citizens politically active as to the State, 5,000
Making a total of 109,000

Some allowance should be made, no doubt, for persons whose inclinations
for position cover all the different fields - who may be said to be
watching several holes. But we have not considered how many citizens of
Pennsylvania are inclined to national positions - the Presidency, seats
in Congress or some of the numerous places in the general service of the
Federal government. These two classes, it is probable, would offset each

Subtracting, however, the odd thousands from the total stated, we may
fix at one hundred thousand the number of citizens in the one State who,
by reason of occupying some position of public duty or of being inclined
to fill one, are actively interested in the subject of politics. This is
almost exactly one-seventh of the whole number of voters in the State:
it presents the fact that in every group of seven citizens there is one,
presumably of more than the average in capacity and intelligence, whose
mind is quick and sensitive to every question affecting political
organization. We are brought thus to the same point which we reached by
an observation of the township system - the fact that every part of
society is permeated by the general political circulation. It is like
the human organism: nerves and blood-vessels extend, with size and
capacity proportioned for their work, to the most remote extremity, and
the whole is alive.

Let us, however, guard strictly, at this point, against a possible
misconception. It is not to be understood that these one hundred
thousand citizens are simply "office-seekers," using the ordinary and
offensive sense of the term. The activity in affairs which we describe
is distinct from a sordid desire to grab the emoluments of office. The
vast majority of the places, including all those in the
townships - which, with the aspirants to them, make four-fifths of the
whole - are either without any pay at all or have an amount so small as
to be beneath our consideration. But a small part of the offices which
we have enumerated carry emoluments sufficient to furnish a living for
the most economical incumbent. The inspiration of the political
interest evidenced by this one-seventh part of the citizenship is not an
unworthy one at all: on the contrary, it is that essential democratic
inclination without which our form of government must quickly stagnate.
It would be foolish to say that no selfish motive enters into this
tremendous manifestation of energy and effort (until humanity assumes a
higher form the moving power of the mercenary principle must be very
great), but it is fair and it is accurate to ascribe to the men in
affairs a much loftier and more honorable impulse - the aspiration to
share in the conduct of their own government, the unwillingness to be
ignored or excluded in the administration of what is universally
denominated a common trust. That they enjoy, if they do not covet, such
pecuniary advantage as their places bring is reasonable, but it is true,
to their credit, that they do appreciate more than this the honor that
attaches to the public station and the pleasure which may be experienced
in the discharge of its conspicuous duties.

Let us presume that even this imperfect study of the political
activities of a single State may present some conception of the
tremendous force and energy that go to the making, year by year, of the
various branches of our government. Certainly, any student of this field
may accept with respect the admonition that there is no languor, no
fatigue, no feeling of genteel disgust with politics, in what has thus
been presented him. If, then, his plan of reorganization for the civil
service is intended to be set up without consulting the popular
inclination, or possibly even in opposition to it, he may well stand
hesitant as to his likelihood of success. The question may confront him
at once: Is the organization of a permanent official class in the
administration of the general government likely to accord with the
desires of the people? And we may add, Is it consistent with the general
character of our form of government? Is it not attended by conclusive

It is not the purpose of this article to attempt answering these
questions fully. We do not propose to throw ourselves across the path
of those undoubtedly sincere, and probably wise, students of this
subject who have arrived at the positive conclusion that to establish a
permanent tenure for the great body of the national office-holders, and
to appoint to vacancies among them upon the tests of a competitive or
other examination, is the panacea for all our public disorders, the
regenerative process which will lift our whole system into a higher and
purer atmosphere. We do not say that these gentlemen may not be right,
but we are willing to examine the subject.

Upon viewing, then, the tremendous popular activity in local and State
affairs - and we must reflect that there is "more politics to the square
foot" in some of the newer States than there is in Pennsylvania - the
inquiry is natural whether this stops short of all national politics.
Certainly it does not. The offices in the general government, though
their importance and their influence are usually overestimated, are a
great object of attention with the whole country. The vehement
democratic movement toward them that marked the time of Jackson is still
apparent, though it proceeds with diminished force and is regulated and
tempered by the strong protest which has been made against the scandals
of the "spoils system," and against the theory that government by
parties must be a continual struggle for plunder. It is noticeable that
no administration has ever really attempted the formation of an
irremovable body of officials. No party has ever yet explicitly declared
itself in favor of such a policy. No actual leader of any party, bearing
the responsibility of its success or failure in the elections, has ever
yet sincerely and persistently advocated the measure. None wish to
undertake so tremendous a task. He would indeed be a powerful orator who
could carry a popular gathering with him in favor of the proposition
that hereafter the holding of office was to be made more exclusive - that
the people were to put away from themselves, by a renunciation of their
own powers, the expectancy of occupying a great part of the public
places. Rare as may be the persuasive ability of the true stump-orator,
and serene as his confidence may be in his powers, there would be but
few volunteers to enter a campaign upon such a platform as that. It
would be a forlorn hope indeed.

The view of the people undoubtedly is (1) that the public places are
common property; (2) that any one may aspire to fill them; and (3) that
the elevation to them is properly the direct or nearly direct result of
election. The elective principle is democratic. It has been, since the
beginning of the government, steadily consuming all other methods of
making public officers. In most States the appointing power of the
governor, which years ago was usually large, has been stripped to the
uttermost. It is thirty years in Pennsylvania since even the judiciary
became elective by the people. And in those States - of which Delaware
furnishes an example - where most of the county officers are still the
appointees of the governor, the tendency to control his action by a
display of the popular wish - such an array of petitions, etc. as amounts
to a polling of votes - is unmistakable. The governor is moved,
obviously, by the people. And if to some this general tendency toward
the elective idea seems dangerous, it must be answered that it is not
really so if the people are in fact capable of self-government.
Conceding this as the foundation of our system, we cannot, at this point
and that, expect to interpose a guardianship over their expression.

To the permanency of tenure it is that we have given, and expect will
generally be given, most attention. This is the essence of the proposed
"reform." The manner of selecting new appointees is of no great
consequence if the vacancies are to occur so seldom as must be the case
where incumbents hold for life. Whether the new recruits come in upon
the certificates of a board of examiners, such as the British
Civil-Service Commission, or upon the scrutiny of the Executive and his
advisers, as now, is a consideration of minor importance. It is the idea
of an official class, an order of office-holders, which appears to throw
itself across the path of the democratic activity which we have
attempted to describe. This is the point of conflict - if any. We might,
it is true, take many measures to ensure the colorless and harmless
character of the system. Up to a recent time the government clerks in
England were deprived of the suffrage, in order that they might be
perfectly indifferent to politics. It is probable that in time our own
officials would lose the ordinary instincts of a democratic citizenship,
and would regard with coldness, if not contempt, the activities that
lead to a renewal of the government. But however smoothly they might
move in the pursuance of their clerical routine, however faultless they
might become in their round of prescribed duties, would they not still
obstruct the public purpose? Would not even this emasculate order of
placemen, standing apart a sacrificed though favored class, still
present themselves as unpardonable offenders? When it should be
discovered that they claimed the possession in perpetuity of the offices
in the national government, and had organized themselves as a standing
army of placemen, can it be believed that they would not be swept aside
by the same iconoclastic onset which ended the Adams administration?

We do not pause here to represent the apparent inconsistency of desiring
to de-citizenize a large number of intelligent members of the community,
or the risk of creating a class in the republic forbidden to take any
active interest in the renewals of its organization, or the impolicy of
diminishing the force and courage of the popular will in its grapple
with the problem of self-government; but all these comments may suggest

Popular expectancy, it may fairly be declared, follows all the stations
of public life with a jealous if not an eager eye. There is abundant
evidence of this in the county and township systems. Taking, for
example, the administration of county affairs in any of the States, it
will be found that the officers, by a rule that seems generally
satisfactory, hold during short terms, and are seldom re-elected
immediately to the same place. The rule is rotation - giving a large
number of persons their "turn" - and changes are regularly made. A man
disappointed this year for a particular place waits until the time comes
to fill it again, and in many counties, other things being about equal,
the fact that he has waited patiently and now presents the oldest claim
governs the selection. The antipathy to one who seeks to hold on to his
place beyond the ordinary term - the dislike for a grabber who desires
more than is usually assigned - is a perfectly well-known feature in
politics. The county system of Pennsylvania will afford abundant proof
of the statements here made: the terms of the officers, who are all
elective, do not average more than four years, even including such
court-officials as the clerks and prothonotaries, whose duties are in
some particulars technical and difficult, requiring an acquaintance with
the forms of legal procedure. But it is further true that in the States
where county officers are appointed by the governor no protracted tenure
results. On the contrary, the pressure upon him of the public
expectation seldom permits the reappointment of an officer whose
commission is expiring.

With this rule of change, primary as its application is, and within the
direct comprehension and control of the people, there does not appear to
be any general discontent. It is accepted, so far as we can discover, as
a just and proper system by which an equality of claims upon the common
favor is maintained. It is reasonable to presume, therefore, that
amongst a people fairly acquainted with their own business, and
possessing a fair education both of the schools and of experience in
life, many persons in every community are competent to serve as its
officials. At any rate, in the midst of these usages we discover no
demand that the terms of office be made permanent, and that the
place-holders be put beyond the reach of a removal. There is no apparent
realization that such a "reform" is demanded; and if it be difficult, as
has been stated, to awaken popular enthusiasm in behalf of a permanent
tenure in the national civil service, there seems to be nothing in the
rules of primary politics to help smooth the way.

It may be asked now whether it is not almost certainly true that some
sound principle lies in the methods which an intelligent community,
unrestrained by ancient conventional ideas or repressive systems of law,
applies to its own political organization. Is not this instinctive
democratic plan an essential principle of a government founded upon
equal rights? _Is it not a law of Change which characterizes the civil
service of a democracy, and not a law of Permanence?_

We can hardly doubt that the facts which have been stated concerning the
disposition of the people toward the offices in their government are
capable of a philosophical explanation; and as they proceed with evident
freedom and naturalness from the very bosom of communities accustomed to
independent thought and action, the conclusion is irresistible that this
is the temper and the tendency of a free government. Startling as it may
be to propose change rather than permanency in the civil service, that
may prove to be best adapted to our wants. Consciously or not, such a
rule has been established by the people themselves; and while it has
scarcely found a formal presentation, much less had careful examination
and argument, there can be little doubt that such a principle,
substantially as we have described, lies close to the hearts of the
people. The right of election, the idea that public officers should be
elective, and the expectation that there will be a rotation of duties
and honors, are popular principles which are unmistakable.

Apart from the consideration that whatever is fundamental in popular
government, whatever tends to the preservation of individual freedom and
equality of rights, must be a safe principle, there could be much said
from the most practical stand-point in favor of rotation in office. All
human experience proves the usefulness of change. Rest is the next thing
to rust. In physics things without motion are usually things without
life; and in government it is the bureaus least disturbed by change that
are most stagnated and most circumlocutory. The apparent misfortune of
having men experienced in public affairs make way, at intervals, for
others of less experience is itself greatly exaggerated. There are facts
so important in compensation that the assumed evil becomes one of very
moderate proportions. For it will be seen upon careful observation that
no important function of the government, not even in the national
service, calls for a character or qualification - sometimes, but rarely,
for any sort of special or technical skill - which is not being
continually formed and trained either in the movements of private life
and business experience or in the political schools which are furnished
by the State, the county and the township. The functions of the
government are substantially the guardianship of the same interests for
which the State, the county, the township and the individual exercise
concern. Government has lost its mystery: even diplomacy has somewhat
changed from lying and chicanery to common-sense dealing. The qualities
that are required in the government - industry, economy, integrity,
knowledge of men and affairs - are precisely those which are of value to
every individual citizen, and which are taught day by day everywhere - to
the lads in school and college and to the men in their occupations of
life. Such qualities a community fit to govern itself must abundantly
possess. There is nothing occult in the science of government. The
administration in behalf of the people of the organization which they
have ordered is nothing foreign to their own knowledge. They have ceased
to consider themselves unfit for self-rule: they no longer think of
calling in from other worlds a different order of beings to govern them.

We may accept without fear principles which seem startling, but which
are proved to be rooted in democratic ground, so long as we have faith
in the democratic system itself. There is no road open for the doubter
and questioner of popular rights but that which leads back to abandoned
ground. We may proceed, then, with an attempt to explain the philosophy
of the rule of Change. Shall it not be stated thus:

_That, due regard being had to the preservation of simplicity and
economy - forbidding thus the needless increase of offices and
expenses - it is then true that the active participation by the largest
number of persons in the practical administration of their own
government is an object highly to be desired in every democratic

The government must be the highest school of affairs. Shall it be
declared that to study there and to have its diploma is not desirable
for all? Is it not perfectly evident that the more who can learn to
actually discharge the duties belonging to their own social
organization, the better for them and the better for it?

All these propositions necessarily imply the existence of an intelligent
and patriotic people, at least of such a majority. So always does every
plan of popular government. Whatever of disappointment presents itself
to the author of any scheme of "reform," upon finding that he has
constructed a system which is ridden down by the political activity of
the people, he must blame the plan upon which our fabric is built. If he
is chagrined to find that his _imperium in imperio_ is not practicable,
and that nothing can make here a power stronger than the source of
power, he must solace his hurt feelings with the reflection that the
system was never adapted to his contrivance, and that our fathers, when
in the beginning they resolved to establish a government by the people,
gave consent thereby to all the apparent risks and inconveniences of
having the people continually minding their own affairs.

With a just comprehension of the democratic forces that give motion and
life to the governmental system of the United States, and of the manner
in which they affect the public service in all its departments, the wise
advocate of reform must approach his work. His patriotism and
thoughtfulness are both necessary. To proceed against the democratic law
is not practicable: to establish a new system which is inconsistent with
the abundant vitality and conscious strength of that already established
is a futile proposition indeed.


Thirty-three years ago - that is, shortly before Christmas, 1847 - I went
over to Paris to pass a few weeks with my family. The great railway
schemes of the two previous years in England had broken down a good many
men in our office - draughtsmen, surveyors and so on. I wonder if the
present public recollects those days, when the _Times_ brought out
double supplements to accommodate the advertisements of railroads, when
King Hudson was as much a potentate as Queen Victoria, when Brunel and
Stephenson were autocrats, and when everybody saw a sudden chance of
getting rich by shares or damages? Those days were the beginning of that
period of prosperity of which the recent "hard times" were the reaction.
_Then_ twenty guineas a night for office-work was sometimes paid to
youngsters not yet out of their teens. In the great offices the young
men worked all day and the alternate nights to get plans ready for
Parliament, sustained by strong coffee always on the tap, till some of
them went mad with the excitement and the strain.

I had worked hard both in the field and office during the closing months
of 1847, but I broke down at last, and was sent to recover my health
under the care of my family. That family consisted of my father - a
half-pay English officer - my mother and three sisters, then living _au
troisième_ in the Rue Neuve de Berri, not far from the newly-erected
Russian church, and the windows of the _appartement_ commanded a side
view down the Champs Élysées. I only needed rest and recreation, both of
which my adoring family eagerly provided me. My sisters were three
lively, simple-hearted, honest English girls, who had a large
acquaintance in Paris, and took great pride and pleasure in introducing
to it their only brother. We were not only invited to our embassy and on
visiting terms with all the English Colony (that colony whose annals at
that period are written in _The Adventures of Philip_, and to which
Thackeray's mother and nearest relatives, like ourselves, belonged), but
we were, in virtue of some American connections, admitted to the
American embassy on the footing of semi-Americans.

We enjoyed our American friends greatly. I formed the opinion then,
which I retain now, that cultivated Americans, the top-skimming of the
social cream, are some of the most charming people to be met with in
cultivated society. To all that constitutes "nice people" everywhere
they join a _soupçon_ of wild flavor which gives them individuality.
They are to society what their own wild turkeys and canvasbacks are to
the _menu_.

One of my sisters, Amy, the eldest, had been ill that winter, and was
not equal to joining in the gayeties that the others enjoyed. Her
principal amusement was walking in the Gardens of Monceaux, a private
domain of King Louis Philippe in the Batignolles, a quiet, humdrum spot,
where she could set her foot upon green turf and gravel. The streets of
Paris, the Boulevards, and the Champs Élysées were too attractive to a
pleasure-seeker like myself to allow me to content myself with the pale
attractions of Monceaux, but I went there with my sister once or twice,
because French etiquette forbade her walking even in these quiet
garden-paths alone.

One day it was proposed by her that we should go again. I could not, in
common humanity, refuse, and so consented. Poor Amy "put on her things,"
as our girls called it, and we descended to the porte-cochère, intending
to engage the first passing citadine. As we stepped into the street,
however, a gay carriage with high-stepping gray horses, a chasseur with
knife and feathers, and a coachman in a modest livery on a hammer-cloth
resplendent with yellow fringes and embroideries, drew up at our door: a
pretty hand was laid upon the portière and a voice cried, "Amy! Amy! I
was coming for you."

"My brother - Miss Leare," said Amy.

Miss Leare bowed to me gracefully and motioned to her chasseur to open
the carriage-door. "Get in," she said. "_I_ have the carriage for two
hours: what shall we do with it? Mamma is at the dentist's. - Amy, I
thought you would enjoy a drive, and so I came for you."

I helped Amy in, and was making my bow when Miss Leare stopped me. "Come
too," she said cordially: "Amy's brother surely need not be taboo. Shall
we drive to the Bois?"

"I was going to Monceaux," said Amy. "Would it be quite the thing for us
to drive alone to the Bois?"

"Oh-h-h!" said Miss Leare, prolonging her breath upon the
vocative. - "You see," she added, turning to me, "I am so unprepared by
previous training that I shall never become _au fait_ in French
proprieties. Indeed, I hold them in great reverence, but they seem to be
for ever hedging me in; nor can I understand the meaning of half of
them. In America I was guided by plain right and wrong. - Why shall we
not outrage etiquette, Amy, by 'going alone,' as you call it, to
Monceaux? Is it that the place is so stiff and solemn and out of the way

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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XVI., December, 1880 → online text (page 7 of 20)