Bureaucracy and the Civil Service in the United States

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of the most important sociological laws is the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”:
every field of human endeavor, every kind of organization, will
always be led by a relatively small elite. This condition will hold
sway everywhere, whether it be a business firm, a trade union, a
government, a charitable organization, or a chess club. In every
area, the persons most interested and able, those most adaptable
to or suited for the activity, will constitute the leading elite.
Time and again, utopian attempts to form institutions or societies
exempt from the Iron Law have fallen prey to that law: whether it
be utopian communities, the kibbutz in Israel, “participatory
democracy” during the New Left era of the late 1960s, or the vast
“laboratory experiment” (as it used to be called) that constituted
the Soviet Union. What we should try to achieve is not the absurd
and anti-natural goal of eradicating such elites, but, in Pareto’s
term, for the elites to “circulate.” Do these elites circulate or
do they become entrenched?

The Market vs. Government

The free market
economy provides an unparalleled example of a continuing healthy
circulation of elites. In this dynamic economy, failure to keep
up with competitors, failure to satisfy the demands of consumers
in the best possible way, will topple elites quickly and establish
new ones who do the job better. Ludwig von Mises wrote frequently
of the inappropriateness of leftists referring to so-and-so as the
“Steel King” or the “Automobile King”; for consumers frequently
uncrown these alleged monarchs. Dethroning of financial monarchs
on Wall Street is a frequent phenomenon. There are innumerable striking
examples of big businesses failing to grasp the importance of a
new product or new development, and of losing out to newer upstarts.
I will refer to only two glaring cases experienced in my lifetime:
the cry of leftists to “break up A&P” in the 1930s because of
its alleged “monopoly” of the retail grocery business; and the failure
of the old-time photography “monopolist” Eastman-Kodak to grasp
the enormous significance, after World War II, of either instant
photography or xerography, thereby leaving the field to newer, and
more alert competitors.

By its nature,
government is not subject to the profit-and-loss test, to the domination
by the consumers, of the free market. Even voluntary non-profit
organizations, while not seeking maximum profit, at least have to
be efficient enough to avoid severe losses or bankruptcy. Furthermore,
such voluntary organizations at least must satisfy the values and
demands of their donors, if not the users of the good or service
as in the profit-making market. But government is unique among organizations
in attaining its revenue via the coercion of taxpayers. Hence, government
suffers no worries about losses or bankruptcy; it need serve no
one except itself. The only limit on government is the enormously
wide one of people rising up to refuse to obey its orders (including
taxes); short of such revolution, however, there is little to limit
government or to check the entrenchment or burgeoning of its elite.[1]


in short, is particularly subject to the well-known evils of an
arrogant, hidebound, inefficient, red-tape-ridden, ever-expanding
“bureaucracy.” Socialists, even during the seeming heyday of the
Soviet Union, were often worried about the problem of bureaucracy,
and have tried vainly to detach government from its bureaucratic
aspect. But Mises trenchantly pointed out in his classic Bureaucracy
that all such hopes are in vain. Bureaucracy, with all its evident
evils, goes hand-in-hand with government. A profit-making firm saves
and invests its money, attempting to make profits and avoid losses;
its use of funds is flexible, dependent on its profit-seeking decisions.
But bureaucratic agencies have their allocated funds from the government
budget. And strict, precise, quibbling rule-keeping is vital so
that each bureaucrat and sub-bureaucrat can demonstrate that he
has used the funds in the manner designated by the legislature or
Chief Executive, and has not put them into his own pocket or spent
them in some other, non-authorized way.[2]

Mises points
out a crucial difference between bureaucratic and profit management.
Business expenditures and products are gauged by the valuations
of consumers, whose judgments “are congealed into an impersonal
phenomenon, the market price.” Moreover, consumer judgments are
levied on the goods and services, not on the producers themselves.
“The seller-buyer nexus as well as the employer-employee relation
in profit-seeking business,” Mises declares, “is a deal from which
both parties derive an advantage.” But in government, in bureaucratic
organization, on the other hand, what the nation “gets for the expenditure,
the service rendered, cannot be appraised in terms of money, however
important and valuable this ‘output’ may be.” Instead, Mises points
out, “its appraisal depends on the discretion of the government”
— that is, on arbitrary, personal decisions. Mises adds that
“the nexus between superior and subordinate is personal. The subordinate
depends on the superior’s judgment of his personality, not of his
work.” In short, in government bureaucracy, there is no reality

As Mises analyzes
the difference for a branch agency: In a government bureau,

It is not
because of punctiliousness that the administrative regulations
fix how much can be spent by each local office for cleaning the
premises, for furniture repairs, and for lighting and heating.
Within a business concern such things can be left without hesitation
to the discretion of the responsible local manager. He will not
spend more than is necessary because it is, as it were, his money;
if he wastes the concern’s money, he jeopardizes the branch’s
profit and thereby indirectly hurts his own interests. But it
is another matter with the local chief of a government agency.
In spending more money he can, very often at least, improve the
result of his conduct of affairs. Thrift must be imposed on him
by regimentation.[4]

In a business
firm on the market, the desires and goals of the managers are yoked
to the profit-making goals of the owners. As Mises says, the manager
of a branch must make sure that his branch contributes to the profit
of the firm. But, shorn of the regiment of profit-and-loss, the
desires and goals of the managers, limited only by the prescriptions
and budget of the central legislature or planning board, necessarily
take control. And that goal, guided only by the vague rubric of
the “public interest,” amounts to increasing the income and prestige
of the manager. In a rule-bound bureaucracy, that income and status
inevitably depend on how many sub-bureaucrats report to that manager.
Hence, each agency and department of government engage in fierce
turf wars, each attempting to add to its functions and the number
of its employees, and to grab functions from other agencies. So
that while the natural tendency of firms or institutions on the
free market is to be as efficient as possible in serving the demands
of consumers, the natural tendency of government bureaucracy is
to grow, and grow, and grow, at the expense of the fleeced and benighted

Iron Law of Oligarchy: every field of human endeavor, every
kind of organization, will always be led by a relatively small

If the watchword
of the market economy is profit, the watchword of bureaucracy is
growth. How are these respective objectives to be achieved? The
way to attain profit in a market economy is to beat the competitors
in the dynamic, ever-changing process of satisfying consumer demands
in the best possible way: to create a self-service supermarket instead
of the older grocery store (even a chain store), or to create a
Polaroid or a Xerox process. In other words, to produce concrete
goods or services that consumers will be willing to pay for. But
to attain growth, the bureaucratic manager must convince the legislature
or planning board that his service will, in some vague way, aid
the “public interest” or the “general welfare.” Since the taxpayer
is forced to pay, there is not only no incentive or reason for the
bureaucrat to be efficient; there is no way that a bureaucrat, even
with the most eager will in the world, can find out what
the consumers want and how to meet their demands. Users pay little
or nothing for the service, and even if they do, investors are not
allowed to experience profit or loss from investing in producing
that service. Therefore, the consumers will simply have to allow
the bureaucrats to bestow their services upon them, whether the
consumers like it or not. In building and operating a dam, for example,
the government is bound to be inefficient, to subsidize some citizens
at the expense of others, to misallocate resources, and generally
to be at sea without a rudder in supplying the service. Moreover,
for some citizens, the dam may not be a service at all; in the jargon
of economists, for some people, the dam may be a “bad” not a “good."
Thus, for environmentalists who are philosophically opposed to dams,
or to farmers and homeowners whose property may be confiscated and
flooded by the Dam Authority, this “service” is clearly a negative
one. What is to happen to their rights and properties? Thus,
government action is not only bound to be inefficient, and coercive
against taxpayers; it is also bound to be redistributive for some
groups at the expense of others.

The major group
the bureaucrats benefit is, of course, themselves. Their entire
income is extracted at the expense of taxpayers. As John C. Calhoun
pointed out in his brilliant Disquisition
on Government
, bureaucrats pay no taxes; their alleged tax
payments are a mere accounting fiction. The existence of government
bureaucracy, Calhoun pointed out, creates two great conflicting
classes in society: the net taxpayers, and the net tax-consumers.
The greater the scope of taxes and of government, then, the greater
the inevitable class conflict created in society. For, as Calhoun

The necessary
result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is
to divide the community into two great classes: one consisting
of those who, in reality, pay the taxes and, of course, bear exclusively
the burden of supporting the government; and the other, of those
who are the recipients of their proceeds through disbursements,
and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer
words, to divide it into tax payers and tax-consumers.

But the effect
of this is to place them in antagonistic relations in reference
to the fiscal action of the government and the entire course of
policy therewith connected. For the greater the taxes and disbursements,
the greater the gain of the one and the loss of the other, and
vice versa; and consequently, the more the policy of the government
is calculated to increase taxes and disbursements, the more it
will be favored by the one and opposed by the other.

The effect,
then, of every increase is to enrich and strengthen the one [the
net tax-consumers], and to impoverish and weaken the other [the
net tax-payers].[5]

How, then can
the bureaucrats achieve their overriding goal of adding to the number
of their employees and therefore of their income? Only by persuading
the legislature or the planning board, or the mass of public opinion
as a whole, that their particular government agency is worthy of
an increase in its budget. But how can it do that, since it cannot
sell services on the market, and since, moreover, its activities
are necessarily redistributive and injure instead of benefit many
of the consumers? What it must do is to “engineer consent,” that
is, it must falsely persuade the public or the legislature that
its activities are a shining benefit instead of a bane to the consumers
and the taxpayers. To engineer consent, it must use or employ intellectuals,
the opinion-molding class in society, to persuade the public or
the legislature of its function as a source of universal blessing.
And when those intellectuals, or propagandists, are employed by
the agency itself, this adds insult to the injury inflicted upon
the taxpayers: for the taxpayers are forced to pay for their own
deliberate miseducation.

It is intriguing
that left-liberals invariably castigate advertising on the market
for being shrill, for being misleading, and for artificially “creating”
consumer demand. And yet, advertising is the indispensable method
by which vital information is conveyed to the consumer — about
the nature and quality of the product, and about its price and where
it is offered. Oddly enough, liberals never level their critiques
on the one area where they do strongly apply: the propaganda, the
public relations, the hokum, put out by government. The difference
is that all market advertising is soon put to a direct test: does
this radio or TV work? But with government, there is no such direct
consumer test: there is no way in which the citizen or voter can
figure out rapidly how a specific policy worked. Furthermore, in
elections, the voter is not presented with a specific program to
consider: he must choose between a package deal of a legislator
or chief executive for X number of years, and he is stuck for that
period of time. And since there is no direct policy test, we arrive
at the commonly deplored failure of the modern democratic process
to discuss issues or policy, but instead to concentrate on television

The Structure and Goals of Bureaucracy

is necessarily hierarchical, first because of the Iron Law of Oligarchy,
and secondly because bureaucracy grows by adding more subordinate
layers. Since, lacking a market, there is no genuine test of “merit”
in government’s service to consumers, in a rule-bound bureaucracy
seniority is often blithely adopted as a proxy for merit. Increasing
seniority, then, leads to promotion to higher ranks, while expanding
budgets take the form of multiplying the levels of ranks under you,
and expanding your income and power. Bureaucratic growth occurs,
then, by multiplying levels of bureaucracy.

the watchword of the market economy is profit, the watchword
of bureaucracy is growth.”

The theory
of hierarchical government bureaucracy is that information is collected
in the lowest ranks of the organization, and that at each successive
higher rank, the manager culls the most important information from
his subordinates, separates the wheat from the chaff, and passes
the culled information higher up, so that, in the end, the President,
for example, dealing with intelligence operations, receives a two-page
memo distilling the most important information gathered and culled
from hundreds of thousands of intelligence agents. The President,
then, knows more than anyone else, say, about foreign affairs. One
problem with this rosy model, as Professor Gordon Tullock points
out in his illuminating book, The Politics of Bureaucracy,[7]
is that the model doesn’t ask whether or not each bureaucrat has
the incentive to pass the best distillate of truth on to
his superiors. The problem is that bureaucratic favor, especially
at the higher levels, depends on pleasing one’s superiors, and pleasing
them largely rests on telling the President and the higher bureaucrats
what they want to hear. One of the great truths of human
history is that one tends to shoot, or at least react badly, to
the bearer of bad news. “Sire, your policy is working badly in Croatia,”
is not the sort of message that the President, say, wants to hear
from his envoy, and, while the outcome in Croatia remains in doubt,
the President and his aides want to continue to believe that their
policy is doing well. Hence, the dissident is set down as a trouble-maker
if not a subversive, and his career in the hierarchy is side-tracked,
often permanently. In the meanwhile, the envoys or foreign service
people who assure the President “things are going very well in Croatia,”
are hailed as perceptive fellows and their careers are advanced.
And then, if years later, the dissident is proved correct, and the
Croatian policy lies in shambles, is the president or any other
ruler likely to turn in warm gratitude to the former dissident?
Not hardly. Instead, he will still remember the dissident
as a troublemaker, and he will not blame his aides, who, along with
himself, have been proved wrong. For after all, didn’t the great
mainstream of experts make the same error? How common is sincere
soul-searching and repentance for past errors among Presidents or
other rulers?

Those bureaucrats
who are shrewd analysts of human nature, then, and who understand
the way rulers operate, will, if they see that the cherished policy
of their President is in grave error, tend to keep their mouths
shut, and let some other sucker be the messenger of bad news and
get shot down.

Every human
activity and institution will tend to reward those who are most
able to adapt to the best route to success in that activity. Successful
market entrepreneurs will be those who can best anticipate, and
satisfy, consumer demands. Success in the bureaucracy on the contrary,
will go to those who are most apt at (a) employing propaganda to
persuade their superiors, the legislators, or the public about their
great merits; and therefore (b) at understanding that the way to
rise is to tell the President and the top bureaucrats what they
want to hear. Hence, the higher the ranks of the bureaucracy, the
more yes-men and time-servers there will tend to be. The President
will often know less about what is going on than those in the lower

Hence, for
example, the phenomenon of President Nixon, thinking he knew more
than anyone else about the Vietnam War and yet actually knowing
less than the astute reader of the New York Times.
For the CIA and other intelligence warnings of what was going on,
developed by many of the lower officers, were screened out by the
higher-ups, for being contrary to the President’s preferred line,
i.e., that all was going well.[8]

insult to injury: Taxpayers are forced to pay for their own
deliberate miseducation.

The standard
explanation of why government grows is that, as time goes on, there
is more work for government to do, and that therefore the public’s
“demand for government” rises. Far more accurate is the view that
there is a case of an inverted Say’s Law, where supply — or
rather the suppliers of government “services,” the bureaucracy —
themselves constitute the “demand” for their own services, and that
they engineer the consent of their superiors, or of the legislature,
to provide the wherewithal in the form of increased taxation. Contrast
the hilariously satirical, but all too perceptive account of “Parkinson’s
Law” of bureaucracy. Thus, Professor Parkinson asserted that, in
a government bureaucracy, “there need be little or no relationship
between the work to be done and the size of the staff to which it
may be assigned.”[9] The
continuing rise in the total of government employees “would be much
the same whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish,
or even disappear.”[10]
Parkinson identifies two “axiomatic” underlying forces responsible
for this growth: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates,
not rivals”; and (2) “Officials make work for each other.”

Parkinson begins
his “model” with an official who feels himself overworked. The official
could resign, but that is unthinkable; besides, he would lose his
pension rights. To ask to divide his work in half with a new colleague
on his own level is equally unthinkable; for his status would be
cut, and he would bring in a dangerous rival for the job of his
own boss when the latter retires. He could ask for one assistant
under him; but that would be dangerous, because the new man might
achieve something like equal status with himself. No, his preferred
route is to ask for two assistants, who could then compete
with each other for his favor; pretty soon, each of these new assistants
will complain of overwork, and each one of these will get two assistants.
The original bureaucrat now has the satisfaction of having six men
under him, and he is now ready for a promotion and a substantial
raise in pay.

But how about
the work to be done? Won’t the original quantity of work be divided
into seven parts, and won’t each man now be absurdly and manifestly
idle and underworked? No — and here is one of Parkinson’s
scintillating insights into the theory of bureaucracy — for
one aspect of Parkinson’s Law is that “work expands so as to fill
the time available for its completion.” Or, as Parkinson also puts
it: “The thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in
direct ratio with the time to be spent.”[11]
Here enters the second aspect of Parkinson’s Law of Growth: that
“officials make work for each other.” For, says Parkinson, “these
seven make so much work for each other that all are fully occupied,”
and the original man “is actually working harder than ever.” Documents
have to be sent to each man in turn, each has to comment on the
document and send the comments to everyone else, they all have to
confer on the document and the various amendments proposed, and
the original man is now also wrapped up in problems of inter-personal
relations between himself and his staff, and of each of his staff
amongst the others. Finally, after a lengthy process of interaction,
writes Parkinson, the original official produces the same reply
to the document that he would have written if all his subordinates
“had never been born.” “Far more people,” Parkinson concludes, “have
taken far longer to produce the same result. No one has been idle.
All have done their best.”[12]

free market economy provides an unparalleled example of a continuing
healthy circulation of elites. In government bureaucracy, there
is no reality check.

Parkinson then
illustrates his law with delightful examples from the British Royal
Navy. From 1914 to 1928, the number of ships in the Navy fell by
68 percent; the number of officers and men fell by 32 percent. And
yet, during the same period, the number of dockyard officials and
clerks in the Navy increased by 40 percent, while, even more outrageously,
the number of Admiralty officials increased by over 78 percent.
The annual rate of increase in the number of Admiralty officials,
with little variation, was 5.6 percent. Parkinson takes another
example from the British Colonial Office, from 1935 to 1954. In
that period, the area and population of colonial territories remained
about the same from 1935 to 1939, fell during the war until 1943,
rose again until 1947, and then steadily decreased as Britain shed
its Empire. And yet, in each of these two decades, the Colonial
Office bureaucracy rose steadily in number by about 5.9 percent
per year, regardless of what was happening in the scope of the alleged
work to be done. Considering then the rate of increase each year
in the Admiralty, and averaging the rates of increase of Admiralty
and colonial officials, which is not, after all, more outlandish
than many other statistical procedures, Parkinson triumphantly concludes
that the number of officials will increase by an average of 5.75
percent per year, “irrespective of any variation in the amount of
work (if any) to be done.”[13]

A similar analysis
was set forth earlier, in 1950, in a grievously neglected book by
Connecticut attorney and farmer Thomas H. Barber, based on years
of inquiry into government and on his observations of Washington
bureaucracy during World War II. Barber writes that “there are two
requisites for a bureaucrat’s promotion, the first, the ability
to get and hold votes, the second, the number of subordinates he
is able to keep busy.” Barber goes on:

… in
the Federal Government the pay of a bureaucrat executive is proportioned
by Civil Service law to the number of his subordinates. This leads
to the rivalry in Washington as each bureaucratic chief tries
to increase his “empire.” Generally, in order to keep his subordinates
busy the boss assumes an air of great importance and affects to
be very hurried and under great pressure. He is very punctual
at the office and insists that everyone else be. He then deliberately
begins to multiply paperwork, calling for reports on any subject
connected with his job. He issues enormously complicated orders
and memoranda for the organization of his office, requiring that
all papers be so routed round that almost every scrap has to be
read by everyone in the office and discussed by a number of interlocking
committees before it is acted upon. He requires that no paper
be thrown away, but all shall be cross-indexed and filed. He has
anybody who can be tagged, interviewed, a stenographic report
made of the interview and typed (often he has them mimeographed),
and circulated to be read and initialed. By these methods it is
quite easy to take an amount of work that could be done easily
and efficiently by three men and two stenographers, and blow it
up so that it can keep from fifty to two hundred people extremely
busy, and yet fall far behind in its execution. Thus the uncompleted
work gives him an apparently sound excuse for more clerks, who
increase his prestige and his pay.[14]

Barber then
goes on to relate a delightful example of bureaucracy in action
that he had observed during World War II. He notes that there existed
a department whose work, “supposing it was worth doing, which is
doubtful,” could have been done competently by about twenty people.
It was run, as he puts it, “by a man with a bureaucratic soul.”
This man asked for written opinions from everyone on all sorts of
subjects and had every one read and initial them:

He was always
intensely busy himself, even at night; and he kept constantly
increasing his department till he got it up to two hundred men
and women. This made him very important. All the two hundred were
so busy carrying out his regulations that they were in a constant
sweat and confusion, had no time to think, and the essential work
in support of the war effort — supposing it was essential
— suffered dreadfully. He was rewarded and translated to
a more important job.

His successor,
Barber related, was a different kind of person; an old gentleman
with little ambition and little regard for the taxpayer, but whose
objective was to do the essential work, and keep himself and everyone
else at the workplace contented. In contrast to the twelve hours
a day spent in the office by his predecessor, this man spent only
one-half an hour at work each morning. The rest of the day, he walked
around the office, talking and joking with the employees, and played
golf in the late afternoon. At the end of the first week, says Barber,
“he fired about fifty of the two hundred people, apparently at random.”
As a result, “the work lessened considerably for the remaining ones.”
There was naturally a lot of discussion of this action, and “it
was generally decided that he had fired the fifty he was sure he
did not like.” “Not a very scientific way of eliminating surplus
help,” adds Barber, “but it did lighten the work.”

grows by adding more subordinate layers.”

The following
week, the new boss fired fifty more people, this time apparently
dismissing those “he thought he did not like.” In consequence,
“the work for the remainder lightened enormously, though some of
the essential work of those dismissed was apportioned around silently
by those that remained.” A few days later, another fifty people
were dismissed, these being the people “he was not sure he did like.”
Barber notes: “With three-quarters of the force eliminated there
was practically nothing left but the ‘essential work’, such as it
was, to do.” This work was done effectively in about half of each
day by the fifty people remaining, “far more efficiently than it
had been done by the original two hundred. The fifty did their stuff
and devoted the time remaining — about half of it —
to their own concerns.”

Barber concludes
that “the old gentleman, being now surrounded only by those he knew
he liked, felt he had done enough.” He was in the office about an
hour a day, and then he evaporated. “The ‘work’ was far better done
than it had been, people had time to think and were not in each
other’s way.” Barber adds that the work probably could have been
done by half again of those remaining, but that then the half would
“have had to work about as hard as the original two hundred had
worked and there would have been no benefit to anyone but the taxpayers.”[15]

In addition
to this keen treatment of bureaucracy, Thomas Barber was perhaps
the first person to arrive at the essence of what is now called
“public choice” analysis in the economics profession. Barber notes
the “constant tendency for all governments to grow both in size
and in authority.” Why? Barber answers:

because the
advantage of a big, powerful government, from the point of view
of the bureaucrats, is personal, clear and ever-present to their
eyes; and because the cost of it, not only in money but in freedom,
which is lost by giving authority to officials, is vague and nebulous
in the minds of the citizens whose attention is not focused on
the government at all…. Therefore, since the bureaucrats
know exactly what they want and are working for their own immediate
interest, and since the other citizens do not realize what they
are giving up, and, in fact, have not their attention on the matter
at all, it is obvious which group will prevail.[16]

What public
choicer has put it better?

Limiting Terms of Office in the Original American States

The great Italian
sociologist Vilfredo Pareto stressed the importance for society
of the “circulation of elites,” that elites not become entrenched
and solidified.[17]
In the market, elites circulate rapidly and smoothly, in accordance
with the most efficient service to meet the desires of consumers.
But what of government? In the sphere of government, there is no
built-in process for the circulation of elites, and so the natural
tendency for the burgeoning, entrenching and rigidifying of bureaucracy
tends to prevail.

The Founding
Fathers of the American republics — and it is important to
stress that thirteen republican polities were founded in the several
states years before the possibly misguided leap into the American
Constitution — were very much alive to the problem of bureaucracy
and of government power. Guided by a blend of libertarian and classical
republican thought, they attempted, for the first time in human
history, to construct deliberately a new political order in which
government power would be decentralized, and be strictly confined
to the task of keeping the peace, of insuring domestic tranquility.
The program of at least the dominant libertarian-republican wing
of the Founding Fathers consisted of ultra-minimal government: guarding
the rights of private property, free markets, and free trade; freedom
of speech, press, and religion; separation of government from money,
banking, and the economy; allowing neither public debt nor public
works; having no standing army but rather relying on popular militia
in case of foreign invasion; keeping government revenue and expenditures
so low as to be nearly invisible; and generally binding down governmental
Power with chains of iron, and watching government like a hawk and
with vigilance and deep suspicion, lest it resume its natural tendencies
and extend Power beyond its strictest bounds.

Nowhere was
this more clearly put than in Trenchard & Gordon’s Cato’s
, English newspaper articles of the 1720s which were
reprinted, bound, and proved highly influential in America throughout
the eighteenth century. Cato’s Letters, which were powerful
expressions of libertarian thought, put it this way:

Only the
checks put upon magistrates [government officials] make nations
free; and only the want of such checks make them slaves. They
are free, where their magistrates are confined within certain
bounds set them by the people … And they are slaves, where
the magistrates choose their own rules … and therefore most
nations in the world are undone, and those nations only who bridle
their governors do not wear chains.[18]

How did the
libertarian republicans propose to accomplish this program and bind
down government? There were two parts to this program. The first
was to confine government, for the first time in history, by explicit
written constitutions, consisting of severely limited grants of
power to the government by the sovereign people, these grants to
be strictly, narrowly, and harshly interpreted. Also within those
constitutions were explicit bills of rights, warning that government
may not transgress against the rights of person and property.

The second
and equally essential part of the libertarian-republican program
of confining government was to make sure that entrenched oligarchies
and bureaucracies would not develop. First, the various powers of
government would be separated, and each branch would act as a check
upon the others. But more important was a second device, which has
fallen even more grievously into neglect than the idea of strict
construction, bills of rights of person and property, and division
of powers. That device was compulsory rotation in office —
the idea that in order to keep a bureaucracy and a power elite from
becoming entrenched, the terms of office be strictly and severely

the Founding Fathers saw that government lacks the swift and smooth
circulation of elites provided by the free market.

They saw that
the rough analog within government, was giving the public the maximum
opportunity to vote out the incumbents, and, in the grand phrase
of nineteenth century politics, to “throw the rascals out!” Therefore,
the program of what might be called the “classical liberals” of
the late eighteenth century, in England as well as in the new American
republics, was frequent (usually annual) elections, and strict limitations
upon the terms of office.

It is noteworthy
that the current, very popular term-limitation movement for legislators
has been denounced for placing fetters on the scope of democratic
choice. But that of course was precisely the idea of these libertarian
republicans, who were just as aware of the tyranny of majorities
as they were of the tyranny of elites, as noted in the case of bills
of rights and other constitutional limitations imposed upon government.[19]


  1. An
    official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals;
  2. Officials
    make work for each other.

Despite the
unicameral legislature, the subordination of the executive, and
the partial subordination of the judges, however, the Pennsylvania
Constitution was scarcely a program for democratic despotism. In
the first place, all local officials were to be elected by their
communities, and not appointed by the state. Secondly, a comprehensive
bill of rights was established in the state constitution to limit
the government’s power over the people. Third, in a fascinating
provision unique to Pennsylvania, a council of censors was supposed
to meet every seven years to review the actions of the state government
in the preceding years and to see whether and where it had exceeded
its constitutional powers, from which a new constitutional convention
to correct these excesses might be chosen. And fourth, and enforcing
severe term limitation, the assemblymen, elected annually, could
not serve more than four out of any seven years.[20]

It is both
curious and unfortunate that the term-limitation movement has so
far been exclusively confined to state and federal legislatures,
and has not moved on to include the executive and judicial branches
of government. Before the Revolution, the judiciary had never been
in the least independent in America. The colonial assemblies themselves
exercised judicial functions, and in the seventeenth century the
assemblies in Maryland, Virginia, and New England functioned as
the supreme judicial arm in their respective colonies. By the eighteenth
century, judges were appointed by the Crown and the royal governors,
and therefore became an instrument of the British executive power.
As part of their struggle for autonomy, the colonial assemblies
began to advance the idea of life, or “on good behavior,” terms
for the higher provincial judiciary, as a means of obtaining some
degree of independence for the judiciary from British executive
control. The temptation, then, was simply to continue this practice
after independence from Britain, even though there was now no British
executive to struggle against. Even though the US Constitution established
life, or good behavior, terms for the federal judiciary, state judges
have generally been popularly elected to a multi-year term.

It is high
time, however, for those interested in checking the growth of centralized
national power in Washington, to re-examine the idea of fixed terms
for the federal judiciary. A fixed term for Supreme Court justices
would reduce the despotic power rapidly accumulating into the hands
of the nine absolute and unchecked oligarchs who constitute the
Supreme Court of the United States.

Not only would
such term limits for judges subject the higher federal courts to
some sort of check by the public. But, clearly, the hysteria and
conflict now surrounding every Supreme Court nomination would be
greatly reduced by the knowledge that the public would no longer
be stuck with said oligarch for four decades; a fixed term, say
of six or eight years, would mitigate the problem and greatly lower
the stakes in each appointment.

IV. The
Civil Service vs. Rotation in Office

But the sphere
of government that is by far the most entrenched, by far the most
insulated, and by far the most expansive, is the one we largely
examine in this paper: the bureaucracy of the executive branch.
If anger at the legislature has translated into the term-limitation
movement, there has been no such channeling of anger into a movement
to re-establish the equivalent of term-limitation for the executive
branch: rotation-in-office. Such rotation in the executive branch
of government is insured by carrying out as fully as possible the
idea of “throwing the rascals out” at each change of elected administration.
The system of radical change throughout an administration upon its
defeat in an election was reversed and increasingly narrowed and
marginalized after the adoption of civil service “reform” in the
late nineteenth century, a “reform” which has been intensifying
and expanding ever since. No system has been more savagely derided
by right-thinkers and Establishment do-gooders than the system of
rotation in office, pejoratively labeled “the spoils system.” Opposition
to civil service reform has almost invariably been denounced as
merely the voice of corruption and of wicked political “machines.”
And yet, and despite the fact that the laissez-faire good-government
men of the late nineteenth century were fanatically devoted to it,
no measure of government has been more destructive of liberty and
minimal government than civil service reform. For no measure has
entrenched bureaucracy more deeply.

There are two
intertwined aspects to this entrenchment, and to the expansion of
government as a result of the civil service system. In the first
place, the civil servant cannot be removed and replaced by someone
else. He enjoys, short of drastic budget cuts and job abolition,
lifetime tenure. That entrenches the bureaucracy, and blazes the
path for the sort of dysfunctional system outlined by Parkinson,
Tullock, and Barber. But there is another, neglected reason why
civil service, and its continuing expansion, leads inexorably to
the growth as well as the entrenchment of the bureaucracy. Let us
say that, in a certain year, incoming Republicans (or Democrats)
appoint 10,000 people to political jobs. (They can either attain
these posts by kicking out Democrats or by adding new jobs.) Before
civil service reform, the Democrats, after being elected in their
turn, could happily kick out the 10,000 Republican rascals and replace
them by deserving Democrats.

Founding Fathers of the American republics were very much
alive to the problem of bureaucracy and of government power.

saw that government lacks the swift and smooth circulation
of elites provided by the free market.

But suppose,
during this putative Republican term, the Republicans, succumbing
to a fit of public-spiritedness and devotion to civil service reform,
now expand civil service protection to those 10,000 jobs. Hence,
the happy result, which perhaps was not overlooked by the Republicans
in their reforming zeal: 10,000 Republicans have now been locked
into their jobs permanently, courtesy of civil service “reform.”
Four years later, when the Democrats return to office, they find
that they cannot simply resume their good old ways, eject the rascally
10,000 and replace them by 10,000 good Democrats. To find jobs for
these 10,000, they have to expand the bureaucracy by 10,000.
Later, of course, seized in their turn by a fit of reforming zeal,
they expand the civil service reform to these new jobs, thereby
freezing 10,000 good Democrats into lifetime appointments. And so,
in the sweet-sounding name of removing the bureaucracy from the
sordid process of politics, both parties in effect collaborate into
fastening both sets of rascals onto the taxpayers permanently. The
process, of course, only works by expanding the total number of
government jobs.

Or put it another
way: regardless of how principled and ideological a political party
may be, an essential point of party politics is to find jobs for
the faithful of the winning party. If jobs cannot be found, the
party system withers and dies, leaving only a self-perpetuating
bureaucratic oligarchy behind. A system of minimal government can
provide jobs for the winning party by throwing out the jobholders
of the losing faction. But if civil service law freezes jobholders
in place, the function of providing jobs for the winners can only
occur by expanding the number of jobs: that is, at the expense of
the taxpayers and of the productive, private sector. The “spoils
system” allows all the costs to be imposed upon the losing party,
and not at all on the body of the taxpayers. Surely a just and admirable
system: who better to bear the costs of political defeat than the
losing party?

I have only
seen this analysis of the propulsive effect of civil service upon
the growth of government in the charming little book noted above
by Thomas H. Barber. Thus, Barber writes:

In former
days all appointments to the bureaucracy were made by the political
party in power. When that party was defeated, all the bureaucrats
in office were immediately thrown out and their places were filled
by faithful heelers of the victorious party. It was not a very
noble system. It was not conducive to efficient governmental administration….
It did have certain virtues, however. It prevented anyone from
becoming a bureaucrat for life and so losing completely the point
of view of the man on the street. It also permitted the elected
officials to reward their political workers by changing,
instead of increasing, the bureaucracy.

After the advent
of Civil Service reform, on the other hand, “once installed in the
bureaucracy … the incumbent was there for life, or during
good behavior.” These laws meant that for the elected officials
“to reward their political workers, they now had to devise new jobs
for them instead of merely turning out the incumbents of the opposing
party and filling their jobs. The result, of course, has been a
great increase in the number of jobs, and thus in taxes….”[21]

Barber adds
another highly important point: with the advent of Civil Service
reform, the once temporary set of bureaucrats are now converted
into a permanent and self-conscious class or caste, set aside from,
and in fundamental opposition to, the mass of the citizenry. Until
the coming of the Civil Service laws, Barber notes, the bureaucrats
had “held their positions temporarily, until a change of party at
election threw them back to earn what living they could …
as ordinary citizens.” Before reform, in short, the job holders
“had not been a class — merely a group of people temporarily doing
the same kind of work.” But the Civil Service law “gave them a life-tenure
of their jobs — welded them into a class.” When the class of bureaucrats
began to get unpopular with the public, adds Barber, they “very
quietly began organizing ‘publicity bureaus’, that is, propaganda
bureaus, to ‘educate the public’ into believing in the divine wisdom
and beneficence of the government (as represented by themselves)
in managing everything and everybody.” In other words, “the bureaucrats
are given a strong incentive to organize and form a powerful bureaucratic

The United States Civil Service: The Federalist Beginnings

Elections can
only serve as a method of enforced circulation of bureaucratic elites
if there exists more than one organized political party. Yet, so
demoralized were the Anti-Federalists upon the adoption of the Constitution,
and after their decision to accept a Bill of Rights in return for
not insisting on a second constitutional convention, that the Federalists
were allowed to assume power as a virtually unchallenged party.
The Federalists therefore were allowed the scope to staff the nascent
bureaucracy with their own conception of the Best and the Brightest
— i.e., men of their own party, in contrast to the despised
Anti-Federalists or the later Republicans.

historians have contended that George Washington staffed the administrative
bureaucracy with a genuinely non-political and non-partisan array
of the Best and the Brightest. Carl Prince has shown, however, that,
guided by his distinguished theoretician and organizer Alexander
Hamilton, Washington deliberately developed a highly partisan, Federalist
party-oriented federal civil service. In the first place, all Anti-Federalists
were from the beginning deliberately excluded from office. Secondly,
Prince concludes that “the civil service … formed a haven
for [Federalist] party cadre (party managers at state and local
levels), thus virtually professionalizing secondary leadership by
individually linking status and pecuniary rewards to the success
of the national party.” The over two thousand federal office holders
named by Washington and Adams in the 1790s constituted the activist
middle-class base for the elite leadership of the Federalist party;
“partly because of its connection with the first federal service,
the new party in most states matured rapidly into a highly professional,
tightly knit cluster at the state and local levels, closely aligned
with and led by the national leadership at Philadelphia.”[23]

Alexander Hamilton
was perfectly suited to the role of building up an effective political
machine in the civil service. His Treasury department contained
three-quarters of the federal employees; and he was able to use
that large base to penetrate other departments and to command the
loyalty of the US attorneys and judges then employed in Jefferson’s
State Department.[24]
Even before the end of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was thinking
along similar lines. In arguing for the new idea of having the central
government appoint the customs and revenue collectors within each
state, instead of allowing the respective states to continue exercising
such functions, Hamilton wrote that the reason for such a change
would be “to create in the interior of each State, a mass of influence
in favor of the Federal Government.” In that way, a number of people
in each state would be created who would be loyal supporters of
the federal government and its increased power. As Hamilton assumed
his powerful post at the start of the new Constitutional government,
he received congenial advice from prominent Massachusetts merchant
Stephen Higginson, one of the leaders of the ultra-High Federalist
Essex Junto. Federal officeholders, warned Higginson, must be limited
to dedicated Federalists. Toleration of non-Federalists in appointments
would “increase the Evil” of opposition to Federalist views: such
softness “encourages others to act the same part,” and the “number
of opposers is by this means generally increased.”[25]

is noteworthy that the current, very popular term-limitation
movement for legislators has been denounced for placing fetters
on the scope of democratic choice. But that of course was precisely
the idea….”

The partisan
appointment policy under President John Adams was much the same,
but much more blatant, and devoid of the insincere protestations
of non-partisanship by the first president. As the premier historian
of federal administration put it, under Adams “direct reference
to party attitude … became more common and less concealed.”[26]
Adams was far more concerned than Washington to direct personally
the appointing process throughout his administration. During the
second Washington administration, Washington and Hamilton had made
sure to exclude members of the new Republican Party from office;
and Adams not only continued this policy, but stepped up attempts
to root out and summarily remove any Republicans from office. Thus,
Adams, in justifying his removal of several Portsmouth, New Hampshire
customs collectors from office, wrote the Customs Collector at Boston
that the “daily language” of these federal officers was “so evincive
of aversion, if not hostility, to the national Constitution and
government, that I could not avoid making some changes.” Adams concluded
that “if the officers of government will not support it, who will?”[27]
On another occasion, bitter at criticisms by William Duane’s radical
Jeffersonian Philadelphia Aurora, Adams had his Secretary
of State pass the word of his displeasure to the US Attorney for
Pennsylvania William Rawle, for not cracking down on the Aurora
for seditious libel. “If Mr. Rawle does not think this paper libelous,”
thundered the President, “he is not fit for his office; and if he
does not prosecute it, he will not do his duty.”[28]

The federal
civil service during the Federalist administrations consisted of
four parts: two, the customs and internal revenue service, were
in the Treasury Department, and constituted three-fourths of the
total bureaucracy; the post office, inherited from the Confederation
days, came under a postmaster-general, who reported directly to
the President; and legal and judicial officers, including the Supreme
Court, district judges, district attorney, marshals, and court clerks,
came under the nominal jurisdiction of the State Department. Apart
from the legal and judicial officers, which remained level in number
at about 63, all the other wings of the bureaucracy grew rapidly
during the Federalist era. Customs officials doubled from 478 in
1792 to 944 at the end of the Federalist period; internal revenue
officials, called into existence by the new federal excise tax of
1791, expanded two-and-a-half fold from 219 in 1795 to 533; and
the Post Office, which doubled its number of postmasters from 100
at the end of the Confederation period to 200 in 1791, more than
quadrupled again to 824 in 1801. The entire bureaucracy increased
two-and-a-half fold from the middle of the two Washington Administrations
until the end of the Federalist reign.

John Adams
as President not only maintained or accelerated the rate of growth
of the bureaucracy, and politicized it even more blatantly; he also
found ways to expand the politicized civil service into new areas.
Thus, in the provisional army that Adams raised at the height of
the undeclared war with France in 1798, Adams politicized the leadership
by banning the appointment of Republicans from the upper ranks of
the army. Also, Congress’s enactment of a direct property tax in
1798, allowed Adams to appoint many good Federalists to the new
openings at the lower reaches of the tax service. The Republicans
charged that the Adams men had concluded that a direct tax “will
make Roome for more officers; by this time all the yelpers was Nearly
put into office with good Salaries.”[29]

The federal
judiciary, unfortunately, enjoyed from the beginning the life tenure
warned against by Thomas Barber, courtesy of the US Constitution.
The Federalists had made sure, in Article III, Sect. 1, of the Constitution,
that all the federal judges shall hold life tenure on good behavior.
The federal judiciary, which then consisted of six Supreme Court
justices and twenty-eight district court judges, was thoroughly
politicized during the 1790’s, the district courts even more than
the Supreme Court.[30]
Of the twenty-eight, fully three-quarters were partisans of ratification
of the Constitution, and even the three doubters eventually supported
ratification. Moreover, the bulk of the district judges were fierce
Federalist partisans, campaigning for Federalist candidates, denouncing
Republicans, and often going so far as making sure of partisan Federalist
juries in important cases, such as trials of Republican editors
for violation of the Alien and Sedition law. Thus, in one sedition
case, Federalist District Court Judge John Lowell of Massachusetts
took elaborate steps to make sure of obtaining “one panel of full
blooded filtrated federalists, and from them the political verdict.”[31]
Pennsylvania District Judge Richard Peters took upon himself a personal
crusade, during the period of the Alien and Sedition laws from 1798-1800,
to root out “Seditious scoundrels.” There are “some Rascals,” Peters
wrote ultra-Federalist Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, “whom
he wanted to handle if he could do it legally.” One critic noted
that it has “become a regular practice of the federal judges to
make political discourses to the grand jurors throughout the United
States.”[32] Overall,
Professor Prince justly concludes that “both the first United States
district and circuit courts were among the most thoroughly politicized
federal judicial institutions in American history…. George
Washington’s ‘independence’ and ‘integrity’ and the obvious threat
to constitutional liberties inherent in the situation notwithstanding.”[33]

The Failed Jeffersonian Revolution

The Republicans
replaced the Federalists in what has justly been called “The Revolution
of 1800.” Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson was not really the best
man to lead that Revolution. A brilliant libertarian-republican
theoretician before achieving power and after leaving it, Jefferson
is a classic case of corruption of principle from being in power.
The first Jefferson Administration, however, was certainly one of
the finest libertarian moments in the history of the United States.
Expenses were lowered, the army and navy were sharply reduced, the
bureaucracy was cut, the public debt retired, and the federal excise
tax, and the Alien and Sedition Acts, were repealed. In the second
term, however, the course was reversed, as Jefferson began expanding
government, and gearing up for economic war and eventually military
conflict with England.

But even in
his libertarian-oriented first term, the militant Republicans —
the Jeffersonians — were bitterly disappointed. Jefferson
was faced with a critical problem: what to do with the bureaucracy,
with the politicized civil service that the Federalists had built
up. If Jefferson had followed circulation-of-elites, rotation in
office principles, he would have booted out the Federalists and
installed good Republicans. But as early as his First Inaugural,
Jefferson began to temporize, began to yearn for unity, the healing
of wounds, and the rest of the homilies that politicians prattle
when they get ready to scuttle the principles which had brought
them to their current status. In his First Inaugural, Jefferson
assured his listeners that “We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists.”
Jefferson decided on a middle-of-the road course: to wait until
vacancies occur, through death or retirement, and to fill them only
with Republicans until they constitute about half of the civil service;
and only to remove egregiously anti-Republican officials. Jefferson
was particularly angered at the “midnight appointments,” that Adams
had made at the very last minute before Jefferson took office. During
his first two years in office, Jefferson removed the forty major
midnight appointments, along with seventy other anti-Republicans
in the presidential class of officials, amounting to about one-fourth
of the major federal officeholders. But that was it: Jefferson removed
virtually no one after 1803, and his successors removed very few
bureaucrats as well. Madison dismissed only twenty-seven major officials
in his eight years in the White House; and Monroe only twenty-seven
in his two terms. And even though John Quincy Adams was strongly
critical of President Monroe as being “universally indulgent, and
scrupulously regardful of individual feelings,” and therefore firing
virtually no one, Adams himself removed the fewest of all: only
twelve in his four years in office.

It’s not that
the Presidents lacked the legal power to remove office-holders.
Indeed, they had the power to remove anyone at will. This power
was established, albeit by narrow vote, in the first Congress, the
fundamental administrative “Decision of 1789.” The most extreme
position in opposition was taken by Rep. William L. Smith of South
Carolina (who would later change his mind.) Smith, absurdly, but
foreshadowing modern labor union and civil service arguments, maintained
that the office was “the property” of each bureaucrat, who could
therefore only be removed by impeachment and trial for malpractice
and improper behavior.[34]

of revolution, there is little to limit government or to check
the entrenchment or burgeoning of its elite.

And so, from
Jefferson through Adams, the civil service, while theoretically
removable at will, by custom and the desire of the successive presidents,
had become entrenched and rigidified bureaucracy. Characteristically,
it took John Quincy Adams, still a federalist at heart though technically
a Republican, to put this custom into stringent ideological terms.
Any removal from office except “for cause,” i.e., for malfeasance
in office, might be politically expedient but it violated Adams’s
conception of the “public good.” Even though it was not ensconced
in the law, lifetime tenure on good behavior for the federal bureaucracy
had become enshrined in custom for forty years, from 1789 to 1829.[35]

The most important
defection of President Jefferson from militant Republican principle
was his failure to challenge the entrenched Federalist judiciary.
Not only did the judiciary enjoy life tenure under the Constitution;
but, at the last minute, and shortly before they were forced to
leave office, the lame duck Federalist Congress passed the Judiciary
Act of 1801, which created six new circuit courts with sixteen quickly
appointed Federalist judges; and expanded the jurisdiction of the
circuit courts. Moreover, in one of his midnight appointments, President
Adams appointed John Marshall of Virginia as Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court, a Federalist Chief Justice who would plague libertarian
Republicans with his decisions for over three decades.

The radical
libertarian, or Old Republican, position was led by Virginians such
as John Taylor of Caroline and John Randolph of Roanoke, by Benjamin
Austin, leader of Boston’s artisans, and by William Duane, editor
of the Philadelphia Aurora. Many of the Virginia Old Republicans
were friends and kinsmen of Jefferson, but they soon realized that
their leader was really not one of them, really not prepared to
carry forth the “Jeffersonian” Revolution. Steeped in Anti-Federalist
hostility to strong central government and self-perpetuating bureaucracy,
the Old Republican sought fundamental revolution. Virginia Old Republican
William Branch Giles put their judicial program to President Jefferson
with clarity and force:

What concerns
us most is the situation of the Judiciary as now organized …
the Revolution is incomplete, as long as that strong fortress
is in possession of the enemy; and it is surely a most singular
circumstance that the public sentiment should have forced itself
into the Legislative and Executive Department, and that the Judiciary
should not only not acknowledge its influence, but should pride
itself in resisting its will, under the misapplied idea of “independence."
No remedy is competent to redress the evil system, but an absolute
repeal of the whole Judiciary and terminating the present offices
and creating a new system, defining the common law doctrine and
restraining to the proper Constitutional extent the jurisdiction
of the Courts.[36]

In the fall
of 1801, the veteran Old Republican, Edmund Pendleton, in his tract,
The Danger Not Over, proposed constitutional amendments that
were soon endorsed by the Virginia legislature. The anti-oligarchic
and pro-rotation of office nature of these proposed amendments should
be clear: the President was to be ineligible for more than one term;
the term of Senators was to be reduced; and severe limits were placed
on the public debt. As for the federal judiciary, appointments to
the courts were to be made by the Congress with no role for the
President, and the judges were to be removed at will by a joint
vote of House and Senate.

The centrist
Republicans, however, men like James Madison, Virginia’s Wilson
Cary Nicholas, Samuel H. Smith of Maryland, Robert R. Livingston
of New York, and Alexander J. Dallas and Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania,
took a very different tack. All of them except Gallatin had favored
the adoption of the Constitution, and all of them favored strong
central government shorn of Federalist excesses; in short, they
were content with the existing system provided that one of their
own such as Jefferson was installed in Power. Since they believed
that with Jefferson in office, the Revolution was now over, and
there was no need for further radical or constitutional change,
they favored the Jeffersonian policy of conciliating the Federalist
party. At least when he was in power, Jefferson took his stand with
the centrists of his party. Hence, his failure to bring about fundamental
structural or administrative reform.

Indeed, with
victory secured, the centrists now believed that their Old Republican
colleagues, not the Federalists, were the main danger. To James
Sullivan, Republican Governor of Massachusetts, the Old Republicans
were “in opposition to all regular well established governments.”
They are possessed of a confidence stemming from “a frenzy,” and
“Having no idea of a solid rational government, they cannot be trusted
with power…” Virginia Senator Wilson Cary Nicholas also denounced
these Old Republicans whose libertarian “bias … is strongly
against those who rule.”[37]
To Sullivan, the solution to this problem was “to destroy the lines
of party distinctions” — a result that the centrists were
finally to achieve in the one-party system during the Monroe and
Adams administrations. But the lines of this conflict were blurred
by the fact, as Professor Ellis points out, that Jefferson himself,
even though a moderate in policy, was generally radically libertarian
and Old Republican in rhetoric. Furthermore, unlike the centrists,
he wanted to reconcile the Old Republicans rather than purge them
from the party.[38]

On the judiciary,
Jefferson, early in his administration, removed the aggressively
Federalist prosecuting attorneys and the marshals who selected the
juries and executed the courts’ sentences. On the judges themselves,
while Jefferson did not try to touch their life tenure, he did manage
to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1801 the following year, and thereby
to roll back the last minute tide of expansion of Federalist judges.

defection from the principles of rotation in office was the most
important event in the entrenching of the combined old Federalist
and new Republican bureaucracy. From Jefferson on, the Republican
party remained in power, and from Monroe through Adams the United
States lived under a one-party state, the Federalists having withered
away. With no party competition, there was virtually no pressure
for throwing the rascals out.

major group the bureaucrats benefit is, of course, themselves.”

But in 1820
came what Professor Leonard White, a typical academic enthusiast
for a life tenure civil service, called “the cloud on the horizon,”
the harbinger of the dread “spoils system” wrought by the Jacksonian
movement. Secretary of Treasury in the Monroe Administration, William
H. Crawford of Georgia, pushed through Congress the Tenure of Office
Act, which Monroe came to regret signing, and which was bitterly
denounced by all the champions of the entrenched bureaucracy, including
Thomas Jefferson. Madison and following him Monroe actually denounced
the law as “unconstitutional.”

The Tenure
of Office Act of May 1820 decreed that all presidential class officials,
connected with the collection or disbursement of money, would henceforth
serve, not indefinitely, but for fixed terms of four years, after
which they would have to be reapproved by the US Senate after being
renominated by the President. The covered officials included district
attorneys, customs collectors, public land officials and registers,
army and navy agents and paymasters. Not affected were postmasters,
or any of the accounting and clerical employees. The Tenure of Office
Act meant (a) that at least higher bureaucrats would be confronted
with fixed terms, and (b) that the power to remove them would no
longer be exclusively in the hands of the President, but that the
US Senate could share in the removal process.

The Act came
as a shock to the previously contented oligarchy. Jefferson wrote
to Madison in horror, charging that the law “saps the constitutional
and salutary functions of the President, and introduces a principle
of intrigue and corruption … This places, every four years,
all appointments under their [the Senate’s] power … It will
keep in constant excitement all the hungry cormorants for office,
render them, as well as those in place, sycophants to their Senators,
engage these in eternal intrigue to turn out one and put in another…”
There is, of course, another way to look at this law than this frenetic
diatribe: that such a system would introduce a bracing wind of competition
and of public accountability into the stolid and complacent ranks
of the ruling bureaucracy.[39]

It may not
be an accident that Secretary Crawford was the author of this bill.
A Georgian who was close to the Old Republicans, Crawford, in 1824,
was the Presidential candidate of that group as well as of Martin
Van Buren, the brilliant political tactician who had been inspired
by a weekend with Jefferson at Monticello in May 1824 to spend his
life forming a new political party — later to be the Democratic
Party — dedicated to taking back America for the old cause,
for the libertarian Old Republican ideals of 1776 and 1798.[40]
By the election of 1824, Crawford had fallen ill and had little
chance for the presidency, but the Old Republican ideals, including
that of bringing accountability and rotation of office to the bureaucracy,
would go on to be championed by the Jacksonian movement and the
Democratic Party forged by Van Buren and others devoted to the Old
Republican ideal.

Under President
John Quincy Adams, however, the Tenure of Office Act became a dead
letter. Adams detested the law: “A more pernicious expedient could
scarcely have been devised,” and on principle renominated everyone
upon his accession to office, and during his term. The Senate was
persuaded to go along. So insistent was Adams on life tenure that,
when his losing campaign for re-reelection was underway in 1828,
he actually renominated James R. Pringle for collector of customs
at Charleston, even though Pringle was frankly “devoted to the opposition.”
In his diary, Adams writes that “My system has been, and continues
to be, to nominate for reappointment all officers for a term of
years whose commissions expire, unless official or moral misconduct
is charged and substantiated against them. This does not suit the
Falstaff friends who ‘follow for the reward’….”[41]

Andrew Jackson and the “Spoils System”

The “spoils
system,” a derogatory term for rotation in administrative office,[42]
was brought to the United States by President Andrew Jackson. Jackson,
an ardent Jeffersonian and Old Republican, was, like other Jacksonian
leaders, dedicated to a new Democratic Party that would restore
original Jeffersonian Republican principles of laissez-faire and
ultra-minimal government. Jackson followed Jefferson in managing,
for the second and presumably the last time in American history,
to repay the national debt; and he and his dedicated successors,
Van Buren and Polk, roughly succeeded in establishing hard money
and separating the federal government from the banking system, as
well as eliminating the protective tariff. Jackson, a wealthy cotton
planter and merchant in Nashville, had been energized by corruption
in the Monroe administration and by the bank credit collapse in
the Panic of 1819.[43]
He had served in the House of Representatives and twice in the US

One of the
aspects of government that desperately needed reform, according
to Jackson, was the life-tenured bureaucracy. The spoils system
had been operating in New York and in Pennsylvania for a number
of years, and had been formally incorporated into the Tenure of
Office Act. But now Jackson, head of a new incoming party hungry
for office, became the first president to sound the trumpet call,
and provide an ideological justification for rotation in office.
He wanted to change the civil service, as well as to shrink it.
In his First Annual Message, Jackson denounced the entrenched bureaucracy:

There are,
perhaps, few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office
and power without being more or less under the influence of feelings
unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties …
[T]hey are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference
upon the public interests and of tolerating conduct from which
an unpracticed man would revolt. Office is considered a species
of property, and government rather as a means of promoting individual
interests than as an instrument created solely for the service
of the people.

As a result,
Jackson went on, government is diverted from “its legitimate end”
and made into “an engine for the support of the few at the expense
of the many.” Jackson then proceeded to attack the idea of special
privileged offices to the few, and endorsed an adherence to an extension
of the Tenure of Office Act:[44]

In a country
where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people
no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than
another. Offices were not established to give support to particular
men at the public expense.

Jackson went
on to hone in on the absurd and despotic theory that government
officials acquire a property right in the office:

No individual
wrong is, therefore, done by removal [from office], since neither
appointment to nor continuance in office is a matter of right
… The proposed limitation [four years] would destroy the
idea of property now so generally connected with official station,
and although individual distress may be sometimes produced, it
would, by promoting that rotation which constitutes a leading
principle in the republican creed, give healthful action to the

The Whig opposition,
as the old, oligarchic, neo-Federalist as well as centrist Republicans
now called themselves, lost no time in trying to block Jackson’s
reform, which threatened the longevity of their own people in office.
Daniel Webster, a Federalist turned Whig, thundered that the government
agencies, such as the armed forces, the Post Office, the Land Office,
or the Customs-house, are “institutions of the country, established
for the good of the people,” and that therefore it threatened free
institutions for these offices to be spoken of as but “the spoils
of victory.” Stronger in the courts and in the Senate than in the
presidency, the Whigs continued to raise constitutional objections
to the President’s power of removal. But fortunately, the Supreme
Court, in Ex parte Hennen (1839), its first case on the subject,
ruled unequivocally that no government official, even in the federal
judiciary below the Supreme Court, had a property right in his office,
and that the President or any other statutory authority had the
right to dismiss him at will.[46]

Faced with
fierce resistance in the Senate, Jackson had to move cautiously,
but he succeeded in the heaviest removal rate until that date: during
his administration, he removed 252 out of 610 presidential class
employees, or over forty-one percent. Including all the lesser federal
employees, however, the removal rate was less than twenty percent.[47]
Van Buren, his successor and an ardent Jacksonian, had little reason
to remove Jacksonian officials. In his last two years in office,
he removed 364 postmasters, amounting to about three percent of
12,000, to tighten the officialdom a bit for the coming election

a country where offices are created solely for the benefit
of the people no one man has any more intrinsic right to official
station than another. Offices were not established to give
support to particular men at the public expense.”

Andrew Jackson

The true test
of whether the spoils system would stay was what the Whigs would
do when they ousted the Democrats from the Presidency in 1840. Would
they stand by their allegedly fiercely held principles against rotation
in office? Or would they succumb to the lure of kicking out the
Democrats and replacing them by good Whigs? Fortunately, they abandoned
their principles and succumbed to temptation, the Harrison and Tyler
Administrations ousting fully fifty percent of the presidential
class officials. When James K. Polk returned for the Democrats in
1844, he ousted thirty-seven percent of the presidential class employees,
and also managed to appoint, during his four years, 13,500 out of
the existing 16,000 postmasters, even though only 1,600 were removed
from office while 10,000 filled vacancies caused by resignations.
When Zachary Taylor came in for the second Whig administration,
he settled the principle of rotation in office, ousting fifty-eight
percent of the presidential class officeholders. Indeed, Taylor
told his Secretary of the Treasury that “rotation in office, provided
good men are appointed, is sound republican doctrine.”[48]

In the nineteenth
century, especially after the emergence of the Democratic Party,
the political parties in the United States were indispensable carriers
of furiously clashing ideologies. Every American child or immigrant
was socialized into a political party and its ideology, and as a
result each American was fiercely loyal to his own party. In most
states, elections were very close, and if one’s party candidate
dared to waffle in his ideological commitment, the party faithful
punished him by staying away from the polls. In contrast to the
current political scene, where parties have no particular ideology
and command no particular loyalty, there were very few floating,
independent voters.

By being carriers
and instruments of a party ideology, the political parties in nineteenth
century America were the vitally important means by which ideology
could dominate the narrow clash of special interest groups and seekers
after government subsidies and privilege. The disappearance of ideological
parties, starting in 1896, brought about the weak and fuzzy party
politics we are familiar with today.

It is clear
that clashing ideological parties would be more willing to throw
the rascals out, since they really believed that their opponents
were rascals. The spoils system added the healthy incentive of occupying
the offices for one’s own party, so that party self-interest could
be wedded to the pursuit of ideology. Both common party ideologies
and the spoils system kept the political party system healthy and
flourishing. What everyone now laments as the anemia and near-death
of party organization and party loyalty was brought about by the
twin blows of the demise of the spoils system and the disappearance
of a fervently held party ideology.

Writing later,
in the 1920s, historian Charles R. Lingley well expressed the importance
of the spoils system and its linkage with ideology:

In the field
of actual politics, parties are a necessity and organization is
essential. It is the duty of the citizen, therefore, to support
the party that stands for right policies and to adhere closely
to its official organization. Loyalty should be rewarded by positions
within the gift of the party; and disloyalty should be looked
upon as politician treason.

Lingley adds
that anyone who votes for other than party organization candidates
and who “feels himself superior to the party” is “faithless to the
great ideal.” And he

is only a
little less despicable than he who, having been elected to an
office through the energy and devotion of the party workers, is
then so ungrateful as to refuse to appoint the workers to positions
within his gift. Positions constitute the cohesive force that
holds the organization intact.[49]

In a thoughtful
essay lamenting the demise of the spoils system as an important
democratic check upon the growth and arrogance of bureaucracy, Professor
Fred W. Riggs, an expert in Comparative Public Administration, first
points to the untrammeled bureaucracy of Oriental Despotism, and
of other examples where bureaucracy sped forward beyond any checks
of competing political parties. He then goes on to point out that
the much heralded “merit system” of promotion within a life-tenured
bureaucracy, “cuts at the root of one of the strongest props of
a nascent political party system, namely spoils.” In the United
States, “the spoils system played an important part in galvanizing
the parties into action.” While often seemingly more efficient in
their tasks, Riggs points out, “the career bureaucracy can project
greater political power on its own, resist more successfully the
politician’s attempts to assert effective control. What is lost
in administrative efficiency through spoils may be gained in political
development, especially if party patronage can also be used as a
lever to gain control over administration.” And even the edge in
efficiency, notes Riggs, is often illusory:

Without firm
political guidance, bureaucrats have weak incentives to provide
good service, whatever their formal, pre-entry training and professional
qualifications. They tend to use their effective control to safeguard
their expedient bureaucratic interests — tenure, seniority
rights, fringe benefits, toleration of poor performance, the right
to violate official norms — rather than to advance the achievement
of program goals.[50]

The Johnson Administration and the Advent of “Reform”

When the Democrats
returned to power in 1853, the Pierce Administration summarily removed
approximately 89 percent of the Whig presidential class appointees.
But the most massive employment of the spoils system came with the
Lincoln Administration, when the Republican Party came to power
for the first time. Of the 1,520 presidential class appointees existing
in 1859, Lincoln removed no less than 1,457, or 96 percent. Employees
who were in subordinate categories, who usually fared better during
removals, this time suffered to the same degree. Even military appointments
were now made on a largely partisan basis.[51]

Professor Van
Riper, generally an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, concedes:

From 1861
to 1865 the policy of [George] Washington, selection according
to relative capacity and fitness [sic], was almost entirely
forgotten … Lincoln left the bulk of the nominations for
presidential as well as for subordinate offices to his political
friends and advisors. The military forces as well as the civilian
establishment were exploited freely, and political generals were
notoriously numerous. With more offices at his disposal than any
president up to that time, … Lincoln appears to have used
— or permitted the use of — the appointing power at
his command as deliberately as they could have been used for practical,
and usually partisan, political purposes.[52]

Yet, curiously
enough, the insufferable self-righteous group of civil service Reformers,
many of whom would concentrate the rest of their lives on attacking
spoils and calling for life tenure and open examinations on “merit”
for the civil service, and who began their agitation at the end
of the Lincoln reign, made no complaint whatever at President Lincoln’s
maximal use of the spoils system. Perhaps the reason was that the
reformers, almost all Republicans themselves, benefited hugely from
Mr. Lincoln’s patronage.

Indeed, the
men who would soon become leading reformers reveled in plush positions
in the foreign service during the Lincoln Administration. Leading
Boston Brahmin patrician, Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy,
gained the coveted appointment of Minister to the Court of St. James
in Great Britain.[53]
Boston Brahmin historian, John Lothrop Motely, was selected as minister
to Austria. Novelist William Dean Howells became minister to Italy,
a payoff for writing a puff campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln.
New York’s John Bigelow was Consul-General to France, while the
man who was to become the leading spokesman for civil service reform,
Boston-reared George William Curtis, editor of the influential Harper’s
Weekly, was offered but refused appointment as minister to Egypt.
German immigrant Carl Schurz, a leading Republican in the German-American
community in Missouri and throughout the Midwest, who helped win
the election for Lincoln, was rewarded with the post of Minister
to Spain. Restless at being far from the action, Schurz came back
to the United States, where he became one of the many lackluster
Union generals.[54]

The civil service
Reformers were a remarkably homogeneous group. Concentrated almost
exclusively in the urban Northeast, including New York City and
especially Boston, the Reformers virtually constituted an older,
highly educated and articulate elite. From families of old patrician
wealth, mercantile and financial rather than coming from new industries,
these men despised what they saw as the crass materialism of the
nouveau riche, as well as their lack of good breeding or
education at Harvard or Yale. Not only were the Reformers merchants,
attorneys, and educators, but they virtually constituted the most
influential “media elite” of the day: editors, writers, and scholars.
Even though many of them favored laissez-faire in trade and in monetary
affairs, they were shaped by the cultural and religious values of
their neo-Puritan Yankee culture. In religion, the Reformers were
either mainstream post-millennial pietist Protestants, attempting
to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth, or, especially in Boston,
Unitarians who secularized in moral terms the quest for the millennial
Kingdom. During the 1850s, their moral and religious urge to get
rid of slavery, either as frank abolitionists or merely by blocking
slavery in the new western states and territories, led all of them
into the Radical wing of the Republic Party. Underlying their religious
thrust was a coercive Yankee temperament and moral doctrine that
had brought the first public schools to the United States long before
the rest of the country, in order to inculcate the region’s children
with the value of obedience to the State as well as in the Protestant
religion. In keeping with their religious and moral concerns, their
emphasis in civil service reform, from the beginning, was more on
morality than efficiency.

For them, such
structural changes as life-tenure and competitive open examinations
were mere means to an end, their overall goal being to put “good
men” into office. And, all too often, those “good men” were simply
themselves and their kind.

The civil service
reform movement began when Senator Charles Sumner (R., Mass), a
Boston Brahmin and a leader of the Radical Republicans, introduced
a bill for tenure and open examinations, to be administered by a
federal civil service commission. Sumner’s bill was introduced in
April, 1864, as an expression of some of the Radicals’ opposition
to the renomination of Abraham Lincoln, whom they considered far
too soft on slavery and on the South.[55]
The bill was a warning shot across Lincoln’s bow, but it got little
public support, and Sumner himself did not strongly back the bill,
and asked that it be tabled. Sumner had long fulminated against
the spoils system, and repeated these charges when he introduced
the bill, but, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
he did not hesitate to use his influence to win offices for his
friends. Neither did George William Curtis, soon to become the leading
champion of reform, scruple to urge his own friends upon Sumner.[56]
Still, Sumner was surprised to find his “little bill on the civil
service” drew more support than he had expected: several of the
leading newspapers of Washington and New York; several leading academics;
Lincoln’s Minister to Denmark, Bradford R. Wood, of Albany; William
E. Dodge, Jr. of the important metal importers, Phelps, Dodge &
Co., who obtained the backing of the Union League Club of New York;
and E. B. Ward, Detroit businessman and secretary of the National
Manufacturers Association.[57]

Sumner’s abortive effort, the Radicals were basically happy with
Lincoln’s policies as well as his patronage, and so reform did not
really take wing until after the assassination of Lincoln in April,
1865. Vice-President Andrew Johnson was a Union Democrat rather
than a Republican, and his moderate policies on Reconstruction deeply
angered the Radicals. In December, 1865, Representative Thomas Allen
Jenckes (R., RI.), one of the leaders of the Rhode Island bar, made
himself the leader of Congressional Reform by introducing a civil
service reform bill. Jenckes, a wealthy patent attorney, was in
correspondence with British civil service reformers, and he patterned
his bill after their program: life tenure on good behavior, open
competitive examinations, and a three-man civil service commission
to administer the program.

Thomas Jenckes
professed to have been converted to reform by his own experience
during his Civil War public service, and by study of the English
system. And yet, his alleged opposition to spoils did not prevent
him from wielding a great deal of patronage while in Congress. It
seems more likely that his newfound zeal for reform came from the
advent of the hated Johnson Administration. Jenckes had been a zealous
Radical, but a pro-Lincoln loyalist, and he was now trying to block
Johnson from using his own patronage powers to oust the Lincoln
Radicals. Indeed, Jenckes was to write one of the articles of President
Johnson’s impeachment, and narrowly missed being elected by the
anti-Johnson Radicals as House manager of the impeachment trial.[58]

the civil service reformers, the overall goal being to put “good
men” into office. And, all too often, those “good men” were
simply themselves and their kind.

During 1866,
however, Jenckes’s bill only picked up the support of the new and
increasingly influential weekly, The Nation, a New York periodical
founded by young British journalist Edwin Lawrence Godkin, who had
emigrated to the United States in 1856 and launched The Nation
in 1865. Inspired by the British model, Godkin devoted the rest
of his life to free trade, hard money, and civil service reform.
But most of the soon-to-be reformers had little interest in reform
at this point, joining the other Radicals in trying to wrest the
patronage power away from the President and into the hands of the
Radical-dominated Senate. Johnson attempted to remove the Radicals
from executive office, dismissing over one-third of the presidential
appointees, over the fierce resistance of the Senate. Finally, in
March 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over Johnson’s
veto, providing in unprecedented fashion that the President could
not remove any officer — including Cabinet members —
without Senate approval. Indeed, it was Johnson’s insistence on
firing the Radical Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War that brought
the House to impeach Johnson, and for the Senate to acquit him in
his impeachment trial by one vote in May, 1868.

Jenckes resubmitted a reform bill in December 1866, but while it
picked up the support of the New York Times, Republican,
including future reformer, efforts became concentrated on the Senate
battle over patronage with the President. On the floor of Congress,
Jenckes denounced the spoils system, and held up the example of
Prussian bureaucratic efficiency as recently displayed in the Austro-Prussian
War. Opposition to reform was led by Vermont Republican Frederick
E. Woodbridge, attorney and railroad builder, who declared that
periodic changes of civil service officers are wholesome and democratic,
and attacked the Jenckes bill as “antidemocratic.” Political changes,
Woodbridge declared, “are the great safety-value of the republican
form of government … The health of the nation requires that
the stable shall be occasionally cleared out.”[59]
The proposed Civil Service Commission, Woodbridge charged, would
be “this great traveling menagerie, this inquisitorial court.” In
the vote in the House in early 1861, Radical leader Thaddeus Stevens
successfully moved to table the Jenckes bill. The bill lost by a
vote of 71 to 67; the Republicans voted 56 to 49 in favor of reform
whereas the Democrats voted 22 to 11 against. The urban East was
far more favorable to the Jenckes bill than the rural West, while
within New England, the most urbanized states of Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire voted unanimously in
favor, while the more rural Maine and Vermont voted totally against.[60]

During 1867,
however, increasing reformer disillusion with Johnson, coupled with
the passage of the Tenure of Office Act, spurred greater interest
in civil service reform. During the fall of 1866, Boston Brahmin
Charles Eliot Norton launched a campaign to make his dear friend
George W. Curtis US Senator from New York. When Roscoe Conkling
was selected instead, it took the disappointed office-seeker only
three weeks to take the plunge and come out for civil service reform
— a cause that would occupy him the rest of his life. Reformers
were particularly disgusted at President Johnson’s having the effrontery
to fire one of their own — John Lothrop Motley — as
minister to Austria, for being hostile to the Johnson Administration.
Charles Sumner, a close friend of Motley’s, and Godkin of The
Nation, were particularly disturbed that Motley would be replaced
by Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania, a man who was not only in favor
of Johnson’s policies, but who dared to defend the virtues of rotation
in office. Taking the typical high moral stance of the civil service
reformers, The Nation threw down the moral gauntlet to the
Johnson Administration:

Mr. Lincoln
… put into office the best set of foreign ministers we have
had in many a day, and all our representatives at first-class
courts for the last six years have been men who were in every
sense of the word an honor to the country …

But, alas,
continued The Nation, “they are now being removed one by
one to make room for the broken-down adherents of ‘the [Johnson]
policy,’ and if anything can be done to stop the process, stopped
it should be.”[61]

Reform agitation
centered in the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment in the House,
created in July 1866 to curtail government spending. The old Jenckes
bill of 1866-67 had been reported out of the Joint Select Committee.
In the spring of 1867, the mysterious Julius Bing, an impoverished
immigrant who was acquainted with Senator Sumner, received an appointment
as clerk of the Joint Select Committee. During 1867-68, Bing worked
tirelessly and on all cylinders to promote the cause of civil service
reform. Bing wrote no less than twenty articles for the New York
weekly Round Table from the fall of 1867 to the following
spring boosting reform, as well as articles in the Chicago Tribune,
Putnam’s Magazine, and a prominent article in the nation’s most
influential monthly, the North American Review, in 1867.
In addition, Bing distributed pamphlets to congressmen and editors,
lobbied members of Congress, and was Representative Jenckes’s right
arm in advancing the cause.

In May 1868,
Julius Bing prepared and wrote the Jenckes report of the Joint Select
Committee on Retrenchment, a massive and comprehensive report which
was for many years to serve as the bible of civil service reform.
In addition to including reports on the Chinese, European and English
civil service, the report contained replies of several hundred supervisory
US officers to the committee’s thirty-seven-point questionnaire.
Unsurprisingly, ninety-seven percent of the replies favored reform,
i.e., being frozen into life tenure.

Julius Bing’s
outlook was candidly expressed in his North American Review
article for October, 1867. “In the early days of the Republic,”
Bing recalled wistfully, civil service officers as well as the Presidents
and the Cabinet, were “generally selected from well-known families.”
With the advent of the spoils system, however, this aristocratic
principle had fallen into disuse, but now, with the Jenckes bill,
things would be very different. Andrew Johnson, Bing snarled, would
not have passed a test by a civil service commission:

it would
not have required a profound psychological knowledge to arrive
at the conclusion, that a man may rise from the tailor shop to
… the gubernatorial chair, and yet be morally and intellectually
incapable of presiding … over the destinies of a great nation.

Bing’s only
objection to the Jenckes bill was that it did not go far enough,
that it did not apply to the foreign service from top to bottom.[62]

Finally, after
a year of frenzied activity, Bing left the center of the reform
movement to become Crete’s diplomatic agent in the United States.[63]

The Flirtation with Grant

The reformers
looked forward with great expectations to the coming Presidency
of General US Grant in early 1869. An indisputable Radical, General
Grant was a military man, previously uncontaminated by politics,
and not beholden to political machines. Surely Grant, who was reputed
to favor the Jenckes bill, would see the wisdom of appointing the
Best and the Brightest to office? Charles Eliot Norton trumpeted
that “‘Honesty & Grant,’ ‘Good Faith & Grant,’ must succeed,”
and Julius Bing wrote to Rep. Jenckes that Grant’s imminent election
makes “the prospects of our success … brighter now than …
at any previous time.”

Grant’s installation
did not dim the reformers’ enthusiasm. Norton burbled that “Grant
grows daily in my respect and confidence,” and he worshipfully described
Grant, as “so simple, so sensible, so strong and so magnanimous.”
The Nation exulted that “we have in Grant a man who will
break up the present system.”[64]

A crucial aspect
of the reformer enthusiasm for Grant was a conviction that they
themselves, as clearly the best and brightest, would share in the
boodle of the first Republican administration since Lincoln. Particularly
active in scrambling for the spoils was none other than the leaders
of the reformers, George William Curtis. Asked by his friend Norton
to recommend him to Holland or Belgium, Curtis lobbied the new Secretary
of State, Hamilton Fish, on Norton’s behalf. Curtis also asked Senator
Sumner to obtain the nomination of two friends as consuls in France,
and he recommended to the patronage post of surveyor for the Albany
Customhouse a friend, the poet Alfred Billings Street. In defense
of Street, Curtis avowed that the man was not a drunkard, as alleged,
but rather was a man “enlivened” by alcohol.

In the meanwhile,
the reformers, even The Nation, made it clear that competitive
examinations were not really an end in themselves, but a means toward
the true goal: of filling government posts with the most qualified
people. And they were sure who those particularly qualified might
be: men very much like themselves.

The Grant Cabinet
soon disillusioned the Reformers, however, though not enough to
precipitate a break. It turned out that Grant’s loose ties with
political machines was a mixed blessing, for Grant insisted on selecting
wealthy non-party types who had donated (“subscribed”) money to
his campaign. The reformers began to complain that the President
was too independent of party, i.e., of themselves. The only
satisfying Cabinet appointments by Grant were young ex-Governor
Jacob D. Cox of Ohio as Secretary of Interior, and particularly
the quintessential Boston Brahmin, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, as Attorney

The lesser
appointments of the President soon confirmed the reformers’ disenchantment.
Apart from giving the coveted Minister of England post to the Boston
Brahmin historian John Lothrop Motley, who had helped write Grant’s
campaign biography, Grant failed to acknowledge the Best and Brightest
status for the reformers. The new Senator from Missouri, Carl Schurz,
found to his consternation that the President had selected the postmaster
for St. Louis without consulting him, capped by his telling Schurz
that “I know Missouri a great deal better than you do.” Charles
Eliot Norton, finding himself out in the cold on a ministerial appointment,
was no longer enchanted with President Grant by July of the president’s
inaugural year. By then, the reformers were no longer complaining
that Grant was insufficiently political; quite the contrary. Norton
wrote his friend, Curtis, of “Grant’s surrender … to the politicians,”
who are about to “ruin the country.” John Hay, a Boston Brahmin
in the career foreign service, wrote angrily about “the herd of
swine” whom Secretary of State Hamilton Fish “has commissioned.”
By late April, the gloomy reformer Henry Adams had washed his hands
of the Grant administration:

My hopes
of the new Administration have all been disappointed; it is far
inferior to the last. My friends have almost all lost ground instead
of gaining it as I hoped. My family is buried politically beyond
recovery for years. I am becoming more and more isolated as far
as allies go.

Adams wrote
to his brother, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., lamenting their common
political fate:

I can’t get
you an office. The only members of this Government that I have
met are mere acquaintances, not friends, and I fancy no request
of mine would be likely to call out a gush of sympathy.[66]

Not only were
the Adamses, Curtis, Schurz and other reformers disgruntled by Grant’s
patronage policy, but so too were the media elite: the nation’s
editors who were peeved at not receiving lucrative appointments.
No important editor or publisher was offered a post; and, by mid-April,
only Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, was offered
the picayune spot of appraiser for New York. All in all, it was
easy for the reformers to see, with Julius Bing by mid-April, that
Grant had acted “in apparent disregard of the principle of intrinsic
fitness and qualification…”

If Grant was
not to be relied upon, then the reformers must redouble their agitation
for a professional civil service with life tenure. Henry Adams,
who had not been particularly interested in reform before his disappointment,
now plunged into the effort. By February, 1869, Adams had concluded
that reform was fundamental, and by June he was writing what he
described as a pro-civil service reform article “very bitter and
abusive of the Administration.” He expected that the article would
get him in “hot water,” but he felt that he had “nothing to lose.”
Disappointed in seeking office, the nation’s editors stepped up
their reform efforts. As Hoogenboom puts it, “Editors, always a
vital part of the civil service reform movement, provided the driving
force that eventually secured substantial legislation.” But these
were only the “respectable” editors: The Nation bitterly
made it clear that the non-respectable press were not interested
in reform since they were enough inside politics to get “their own
hands and those of their friends into the public treasury.”[67]

Stung by their
own disappointment, the reformers were incensed when President Grant
removed previous officeholders wholesale, and when he made room
in the bureaucracy for all the Republican Congressmen defeated in
the November elections of 1868. By June, The Nation complained
that “few people — few of his supporters certainly —
were prepared for the ‘clean sweep’ which he made.” The scandals,
charged The Nation, “have been enormous, and have been deeply
felt by the whole community.”[68]

In the meanwhile,
agitation for the Jenckes Bill, which had escalated after Grant’s
election in the expectation that the new President would back reform,
intensified further now that Grant had let the reformers down. Outgoing
Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch called for the Jenckes
bill, and the powerful Union League Club of New York unanimously
called for reform. Moreover, in December 1868, the American Social
Science Association, founded in Boston a few years earlier to oppose
slavery, now added civil service reform to its agenda. German immigrant
Henry H. Villard, secretary of the ASSA, and soon to be head of
the Northern Pacific Railroad, brought Representative Jenckes in
early January to Boston to meet with the society and its influential
business and professional supporters. A large audience, including
the Board of Trade, and several former mayors of Boston, unanimously
signed a petition urging the Jenckes bill. The following week Villard
held another meeting for Jenckes in New York, attended by 1,200
enthusiastic businessmen. From that base, Villard spread ASSA organizing
for civil service reform to Washington and throughout the country.
In June, Villard was able to establish a branch of the ASSA in Philadelphia,
centering around the prominent anti-Catholic historian Henry Charles
Lea, and fifty of the “best citizens of that city.”[69]

In October
1869, George William Curtis took the lead of the reformers in addressing
the annual meeting of the ASSA in New York, attacking the existing
system and calling for the Jenckes bill. The Nation hailed
the speech and claimed that the public owed a great debt to the
ASSA for featuring the talk; it was also impressed by the fact that
Curtis, one of the nation’s most popular speakers on the lecture
circuit, would stump the country for reform.

During the
same month, Henry Adams published his “very bitter” article on “Civil
Service Reform” in the North American Review. Taking the
gloves off on Grant, he accused the president of carrying the spoils
system to a new extreme. In particular, he pinpointed the politically
powerful Civil War (North) veterans group, the Grand Army of the
Republic, as aiding Grant in organizing a purge of administrative
departments. Adams, however, was a fan neither of competitive examinations
nor of the Jenckes bill; he wanted the President to impose civil
service reform by executive fiat, and he wanted not so much competitive
exams but permanence of the administrative oligarchy. Adams
betrayed the reformers’ overriding motives when he contrasted the
alleged magnificence of Attorney-General Ebenezer Hoar with his
fellow-Bostonian and Republican, the Radical Secretary of Treasury
George S. Boutwell. Whereas Boutwell was a self-made man who rose
to prominence, and “was the product of caucuses and party promotion”
[Adams’ sneer was almost visible], Hoar, coming from one of the
top Brahmin families of Boston, was “by birth and by training a
representative of the best New England school, indifferent to opposition
whether in or out of his party.” Adams added that

Judge Hoar
belonged in fact to a class of men who had been gradually driven
from politics, but whom it is the hope of reformers to restore.
Mr. Boutwell [on the other hand] belonged to the class which has
excluded its rival, but which has failed to fill with equal dignity
the place it has usurped.[70]

This was a
contrast that The Nation immediately applauded.

In the meanwhile,
the Radical Republicans, coming into power with the Grant Administration,
were not about to have their priorities upset. In the first place,
with their man in the White House, they rapidly repealed (or amended
out of existence) the Tenure of Office Act, which they had passed
two years earlier so that the Radical Senate could take power from
Andrew Johnson. With one of their own as president, they rushed
to restore the sole presidential power to remove federal appointees
from office.

with their man in power, the Radicals had now lost their previous
enthusiasm for civil service reform. What was the point, now that
General Grant, and not an enemy like Johnson, was president? Taking
the lead against the Jenckes bill immediately after the 1868 election,
for example, was leader Radical Senator John A. (“Black Jack”) Logan
of Illinois. When the hated Andrew Johnson was in power, Logan,
in December 1867, had introduced a civil service reform bill. Now
that Grant was president, however, it was a very different story.
Logan now denounced reform as unconstitutional, aristocratic, monarchical,
anti-republican, and undemocratic. On the contrary, he who does
not support an administration should not work in it. As Logan put
it, “he who does not unite in its view is not to be intrusted with
its employment.”

Logan pointed
out the importance of rotation in office: “It is by having their
agents constantly before them that their acts may be denounced or
confirmed that the people maintain their supremacy and enforce their
will. This, sir, is the theory and practice of our Government. Immediate
responsibility we all incur, and speedy settlements we all must
render.” Logan concluded that “the right to become for a time a
portion of the administrative force of the government is one of
the recognized rights of the people of which it is proposed by this
bill, utterly and forever, to deprive them.”[71]

The Jenckes
bill was also effectively attacked by Pennsylvania Democratic Representative
George W. Woodward. Harking back to Jacksonian Democracy, Woodward
instead called for the Jacksonian virtues of rotation in office,
hard money, no excise taxes on industry, free trade, cutting the
budget, and repaying the public debt. Rotation in office, Woodward
assured, would far more readily assure morality in office than would
civil service reform.[72]

The opposition
of Logan and other Radicals doomed the Jenckes bill for the duration
of the lame-duck 70th Congress; the reformers would try again in
the 71st Congress, coming in with the new Grant administration in
the spring of 1869. Prospects were dimmed, however, by the fact
that the Democrats, doomed to extreme minority status during the
Civil War, had made considerable gains in the congressional elections
of 1868.

President Grant’s
first annual message to Congress in December 1869 disappointed the
reformers still further, by omitting any call for civil service
reform; The Nation extravagantly called this omission the
“great scandal of General Grant’s administration.” The reformers
were further embittered when their admired Judge Hoar, appointed
by President Grant to the Supreme Court, was rejected by the Radical-dominated
Senate, angry at Hoar’s refusal to tolerate political appointees
in the Justice Department.

Jenckes reintroduced
his bill in the next Congress, in May 1870. This time, Jenckes threw
a sop to the principle of rotation in office, but not to political
rotation, by providing that his proposed Civil Service Commission
could make civil servants subject to reexamination every four years.
Most of the popular support was still confined to the northeast.

their man in power, the Radicals had now lost their previous
enthusiasm for civil service reform.”

While the Jenckes
bill languished in Congress, the year 1870 saw a number of body
blows administered to the reformers by Grant Administration. Their
two beloved leaders in the administration were both summarily fired;
Ebenezer Hoar as Attorney General and John Lothrop Motley as minister
to England. Both men joined Senator Charles Sumner in opposing President
Grant’s scheme for the United States to annex Santo Domingo, and
Hoar in particular was detested by Massachusetts Radical Representative
Ben Butler, a champion of the “spoils system” and enemy of reform.
Furthermore, the other reformer in the Cabinet, Secretary of Interior
Jacob Dolson Cox, was fired by the president, largely for imposing
civil service tests and refusing to make political appointments
in the Interior Department. Cox, too, ran afoul of the powerful
Butler, as well as tangling with Radical Michigan Senator and wealthy
Detroit merchant, Zachariah Chandler.[73]

After his dismissal
in October, Cox was urged to go public with the reasons by fellow
Ohio reformer, Representative James A. Garfield, and the disclosure
had the effect of demonstrating increasing disarray in Republican
ranks. The ensuing elections of 1870 saw a Democratic gain of thirty
seats in the House, as well as the carrying of critical states New
York and Indiana. After the election, reform agitation continued,
with Yale professors generating a New Haven meeting’s “warm letter
of sympathy” to Cox, denouncing the existing state of the civil
service as “the root of much of our political corruption.” Harvard
quickly chimed in, a Republican “caucus” in Cambridge unanimously
passing a pro-Cox resolution, and a group of young Harvard alumni
talked of forming a civil service reform club.

During the
election, however, reform lost its stoutest Congressional champion.
Thomas A. Jenckes was defeated for reelection by an opponent backed
by the powerful Republican Senator William Sprague, a wealthy textile
manufacturer, railroad man, and real estate speculator. Having accused
Sprague of all manner of corruption and then having lost the election,
Jenckes went down howling fraud to the last, charging Sprague with
having purchased the winning votes.

The 1870 election,
indeed, saw the rise of a new faction within the national party,
the Liberal Republicans, calling for free trade but devoted in particular
to civil service reform. Carl Schurz bolted the Missouri Republican
party, and managed to elect a Liberal Republican as governor. The
Nation went to the length of calling for a new party devoted
to civil service reform, lower tariffs, and, in particular, more
representation in government of the “thoughtful, conscientious and
intelligent” part of the population, “now excluded from all direct
share in the government.”

More prophetic
was the call of the Bostonian American Free Trade League for an
alliance of liberal or reform Republicans and Democrats, an idea
seconded in the pro-reformer Chicago Tribune. Promptly after
the election, the Free Trade League called a conference for a new
alliance in New York. While Schurz, Cox and other Republican leaders
refused to commit at this point on breaking with Grant, many leading
pro-reform editors were in attendance, including Henry Adams of
the North American Review, Horace White of the Chicago
Tribune, and E.L. Godkin of The Nation. The conference
endorsed both civil service reform and free trade, although Speaker
of the House James G. Blaine was able to keep the reformers from
calling for a new party by promising to make one of their own, James
A. Garfield, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
George Curtis also rejected the idea of a new party as insuring
the victory of the hated Democrats.

The severe
election losses, as well as increasing disaffection from the party
by the reformers, caused a shift on the part of the Grant Administration.
President Grant, in his annual December, 1870 message to Congress,
actually called for civil service reform; the existing patronage
system, he said, “does not secure the best men, and often not even
fit men, for public place.”

During the
lame duck session of the 41st Congress, various reform bills, even
though approved by President Grant, failed to pass, until congressional
reform leaders put through a joint resolution, authorizing the President
to appoint a civil service commission to prescribe rules for examining
applications. And despite the fact that this resolution was trickily
driven through both houses of Congress at the last minute in March
as a rider to an appropriation bill, the reformers hailed its passage
without commenting on the hasty and devious way that the process
was handled.

The Grant Administration’s
tactic managed to split the reformers. Most reformers, indeed, followed
Carl Schurz, Jacob Cox, and E.L. Godkin in forming a powerful Liberal
Republican faction dedicated to taking over the Republic Party and
denying Grant renomination in 1872. The Liberals challenged the
dominant Radicals on every level. Whereas the Radicals were devoted
to continuing the Reconstruction of the South, high protective tariffs,
continuing greenback inflation, and preserving the spoils system,
the Liberals favored conciliating the South and ending Reconstruction
now that slavery had been abolished, free trade, and resumption
of the gold standard — in short, the platform of the minority
Sumner wing of the old Radical faction. But their greatest zeal
was not so much for the old laissez-faire creed of the Jacksonian
Democracy, but for the doctrine especially detested by that fading
group: civil service reform. When Jacob Cox formed his Central Republican
Association in Cleveland in early 1871, standing on the above program,
Carl Schurz cheered him on, stating that this was the creed of his
Missouri Liberal Republicans, and calling for similar organizations
across the country.

Out of step
with most of his colleagues, George W. Curtis was so delighted with
the Grant call for reform and with the ensuing Congressional rider,
that he hailed Grant and backed his renomination, a conversion toward
Grant possibly influenced by Curtis’s belief that the President
planned to make him Minister to England. Instead, Curtis got another
call from the President; responding to the Congressional rider and
to charges of corruption in the New York Customhouse, President
Grant surprised and delighted reformers in June by appointing a
seven-man Civil Service Commission (CSC), with none other than Curtis
as its chairman. The New York Times, now a solid Administration
organ since Horace Greeley’s rival New York Tribune was becoming
increasingly Liberal, heralded the appointment of the Curtis CSC
as offering “practical proof that the President is actively enlisted
for reform, and that he has the sense and courage to call to his
aid men who are in earnest beyond suspicion.”[74]

Curtis succeeded,
over the objections of many members of the Commission and over the
reluctance of the President, in getting the CSC to promulgate, in
mid-December, sweeping rules for all but a small handful of the
top officials of the federal administration. He also got President
Grant to promulgate the rules on January 1, 1872, to take effect
in a mere two weeks. These draconian rules made the CSC the dictator
of virtually the entire executive branch, with new entrants into
each department coming in almost exclusively at the bottom, with
jobholders to be selected by competitive open examination, and promotions
from the ranks to be selected in the same way.

The CSC was
supposed, however, to divide the civil service into grades, and
clearly it was absurd to believe that it could accomplish this task
in two weeks. On January 10, therefore, Grant suspended the new
rules to give the CSC time to come up with a detailed classification
into grades. It did so on March 12, 1872, dividing the entire administration
into four classes, with all but the small fourth, or highest, class
subject to the rules of examination, and their salaries determined
by class. Grant quickly bowed to CSC wishes and promulgated the
reform rules.

In a letter
to the most reform-minded member of the CSC after Curtis, Chicago
Tribune publisher Joseph Medill, President Grant came down squarely
on the side of reform: “The great defect in the past custom is that
executive patronage has come to be regarded as the property of the
party in power.”[75]

The reformers,
however, scarcely paused to celebrate their triumph. They had to
battle against a hostile Congress, especially the Grantian Radicals
for appropriations and to try to make the Grant rules permanent
by statute; and they also arrogantly continued to press the president
to extend the rules into the top category, even into those positions
that had to be confirmed by the Senate.

In Congress,
the Grantian Radicals struck hard. Senator Matthew Carpenter of
Wisconsin denounced reform as unconstitutional, transferring the
patronage from elected officials to a “board of schoolmasters.”
Carpenter also perceptively pointed out that not only were the new
rules anti-republican, but that they favored the sons of the rich,
who could afford a college education, and therefore do better at
abstract written examinations than the practical fellow. Carpenter
shrewdly identified the underlying class struggle involved in the
agitation for and against reform:

So, sir,
it comes to this at last, that … the dunce who had been
crammed up to a diploma at Yale, and comes fresh from his cramming,
will be preferred in all civil service appointments to the ablest,
most successful, and most upright business man of the country,
who either did not enjoy the benefit of early education, or from
whose mind, long engrossed in practical pursuits, the details
and niceties of academic knowledge have faded away as the headlands
disappear when the mariner bids his native land good night.[76]

A battle ensued
in Congress over appropriations for the CSC, which did not feel
it could follow its true inclinations in an election year, and it
grudgingly voted $25,000 in early May, a severe whittling down from
the original proposal of $100,000, or even from the Senate’s passage
of $50,000. Again, biggest support for the bill was in the northeast,
although this time the Grantian Radicals were even more opposed
to the CSC than were the Democrats. Leading the anti-reform forces
in the House, once again, was Massachusetts Representative Ben Butler,
while James A. Garfield led the ranks of the reformers.[77]

It was characteristic
of the reformers that they repaid President Grant’s conversion to
their cause by giving him nothing but grief. The bulk of the reformers,
determined to destroy the prospects of a second term for Grant,
formed a new party, the Liberal Republicans. Meeting under the aegis
of Senator Carl Schurz in Missouri in January, 1872, they called
for a national convention to meet in Cincinnati on May 1. The idea
was to pick a candidate whom the Democrats could also support, and
thereby sweep a Democratic-Liberal Republican president into power.
Particularly prominent in the new party were the nation’s leading
media intellectuals — the editors of the most important newspapers.
These included Horace Greeley and publisher Whitelaw Reid of the
New York Tribune, The Nation, the New York Evening
Post, Horace White of the Chicago Tribune, Samuel Bowles
of the Springfield Republican, Mural Halstead of the Cincinnati
Commercial, and Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

of how principled and ideological a political party may be,
an essential point of party politics is to find jobs for the
faithful of the winning party.”

The reformers
were anxious to nominate for president one of their very own, Charles
Francis Adams, but in order to broaden their base, they were forced
to accept delegates not really devoted to reform, who were often
simply spoilsmen disgruntled that they had lost out in the battle
for President Grant’s favor. Such a man was Horace Greeley, who
was nominated over Adams and others on the sixth ballot. Greeley’s
nomination left Schurz, the party’s founder, and other reformers
embittered. For the elderly Greeley was the opposite of the beau
ideal of a civil service reformer: a Fourierite socialist and
long-time protectionist, Greeley believed that the protective tariff,
in contrast to “selfish” laissez-faire individualism, embodied the
Christian principle of “universal love.” Not only that: but Greeley
was really a spoilsman who joined the Liberals because he had backed
the wrong Republican faction in New York, from the point of view
of the Grant Administration. Carl Schurz was dismayed, writing Greeley
frankly that “the first fruit of the great reform, so hopefully
begun, was a successful piece of political huckstering and that
the whole movement had been captured by politicians of the old stamp.”
E.L. Godkin was even more upset, writing furiously to Schurz that
Greeley was a “conceited, ignorant, half-cracked, obstinate old
creature,” and charged that Greeley’s “election … would be
a national calamity of the first magnitude … the triumph of
quackery, charlatanry and recklessness.”[78]

The civil service
reformers were now split into four mutually quarreling factions.
The main camp, headed by Schurz and Horace White, after gaining
a commitment by Horace Greeley to civil service reform, swallowed
their pride by the end of June and supported Greeley. The second,
embittered faction, headed by Godkin and Charles Eliot Norton, went
back to support President Grant as the lesser of the two evils.
A small group of reformers in late June, detesting both Grant and
Greeley, nominated W.S. Groesbeck of Ohio for President, but was
not heard from again. And finally, the fourth faction, headed by
Curtis, was with Grant from the beginning, remained with Grant,
and denounced Greeley with relish. Interestingly, Curtis’s letters
reveal that his support of Grant was not so much on the civil service
question as on his Radical view of reconstruction. Curtis denounced
Greeley as too soft on the South, accusing Greeley of being a veritable
Copperhead. In the meanwhile, the embattled Democrats, anxious for
allies, made the great mistake of nominating Greeley themselves,
thereby abandoning all their old principles of Jacksonian Democracy.
New York Irish Catholic lawyer Charles O’Conner, a devoted libertarian
and Jacksonian Democrat, ran for president on a third, Straight
Democratic Party ticket in behalf of the Democracy.

In the 1872
election, Horace Greeley was trounced, losing every state, and he
died shortly thereafter. The reformers continued to be split, with
the Godkin-Norton faction particularly bitter at those who stuck
with Greeley, accusing the latter of selfish and sordid political
motives for backing Greeley. After the election, the Schurz-White
forces, as true pragmatists, tried to reconcile the factions, but
Godkin would have none of it, declaring that “there is at present
a slight odor of ridicule hanging around everybody who had anything
to do” with the Cincinnati convention. Ideas for a Civil Service
Reform League or a daily newspaper in New York devoted to reform
faded away.

Despite the
disarray of the reformers, President Grant continued to be committed
to reform, but he reaped only aggravation from George Curtis. In
August 1873, Grant agreed to promulgate CSC rules tightening the
old regulations, actually making all personal solicitation of appointments
by congressmen and others illegal. But Grant wanted some flexibility
in the rules for high positions in the administration. After much
backing and filling, Grant insisted on naming his own person for
the post of surveyor of the customs in New York, technically within
the civil service rules but actually always a leading political
position confirmable by the Senate. Curtis stubbornly resisted,
however, and when illness prevented him from holding a hearing or
examination to find someone to fill the post, the president went
ahead in mid-March and appointed the prominent politician George
H. Sharpe to the post, without notifying Curtis. In a pique Curtis
promptly resigned as chairman of the CSC.

Curtis’s successor
as head of the CSC had impeccable reform credentials. Dorman B.
Eaton was a reform intellectual and erudite attorney, born and raised
in New England and resident in New York. In 1870, Eaton gave up
his flourishing law practice, and spent the rest of his life fighting
for municipal and civil service reform, publishing a scholarly history,
Civil Service in Great Britain, in 1880. It is characteristic
of Curtis that he was bitter about Eaton betraying the cause, whereas
Eaton felt that Curtis was endangering the reform movement by his
precipitous action. In any case, it was Eaton who presided over
the tighter rules put forth in August.

But Curtis
was not to be appeased; after six months of rest, he was back in
the fall of 1873, on the attack in his Harper’s Weekly, denouncing
Grant as not sticking to the “spirit of the rules” by not extending
them upward to the important posts of post-masters and collectors
of revenue. There is evidence that some of Curtis’s bitterness was
caused by the thwarting of his ambition for rising in the Grant
administration — perhaps his failure to be made Minister to
England. For his part, Eaton was willing to conciliate Grant and
give up reform rules for collectors and surveyors of ports. Although
eventually the reformers would be forced to retreat to this more
sensible stance, Godkin’s Nation attacked Eaton’s concession,
in the process revealing the true ambitions of reform. It is easy
for the President and department heads, the Nation wrote,
to favor reform, “because it takes disagreeable work off their hands,
while as to the more important offices, they are almost openly hostile
to the spirit of the innovation, because it takes power away from
them.” It was the top positions that the reformers were mainly interested
in conquering and securing, not the jobs of the lowly clerks.[79]

The Radical
Republican ranks in Congress were strengthened by the 1872 election,
however, and they were ready for the reformers’ blood. In addition,
the reformers were increasingly distracted by the Panic of 1873,
and by the Radicals’ demand for monetary inflation to combat a panic
that had been brought on by the Civil War and by post-Civil War
inflationary expansion of bank credit. Since the reformers were
generally hard-money opponents of inflation, the enmity of the Radicals
was further redoubled. When President Grant, in his annual message
of December 1873, suggested that Congress form a special committee
to help the CSC devise enforceable rules, the House responded by
naming a committee that featured the inflationist and spoils system
champion Ben Butler and that failed to include reform leader James
A. Garfield. After a fierce struggle over the existence of the CSC
and over its funding, with Ben Butler leading the fight against
both, Congress ended by leaving the CSC standing but depriving it
of any appropriations.

In the Congressional
elections of November 1874, the Democrats, spurred on by the damaging
Panic of 1873, won a landslide majority of seventy votes in the
House, capturing that body for the first time since the Civil War.
The Republican majority in the Senate was reduced to a narrow one.
Discouraged by the Democratic victories and by reformer complaints,
President Grant finally threw in the towel. In his annual message
of December 1874, he continued to endorse civil service reform,
but stressed the absurdity of continuing the CSC and the regulations
without Congressional funding or support. Grant threatened to abolish
the competitive examination system if Congress failed to fund the
CSC. Happy to kill the CSC through inaction, the lame duck 43rd
Congress failed to appropriate funds, and Grant discontinued the
competitive examinations in March 1875. The Civil Service Commission,
and the first era of reform rules, 1871-1875, was ended. The reformer
flirtation with Grant was over.

The Climax of Reform: The Pendleton Act

The abandonment
by President Grant served to mobilize and unify the reformers. In
February, 1875, Henry Adams called for a “consultation” of reformers,
which was held in the form of a dinner honoring Schurz on his retirement
from the Senate. The reformers resolved to unite and avoid the disastrous
splits of ’72, and they held a general meeting in New York in late
April. The reformers concentrated their political fire that year
in Ohio, where pro-reformer and hard-money advocate Rutherford B.
Hayes managed to topple incumbent inflationist Democratic Governor
William Allen. The campaigning for Hayes by Carl Schurz might have
made a difference in the close race.

The reformers
were also cheered when George W. Curtis was chosen chairman of the
New York State Republican convention that year, and when the convention
adopted a resolution against a third term for Grant. And in the
Democratic party in New York, pro-reform Samuel Tilden was nominated
— and later elected — for governor over Tammany opposition.

The reformers’
political attention was now concentrated on the 1876 race. The reformers,
now known as Independent Republicans, secretly cherished the pipe-dream
of Charles Francis Adams, Sr. being nominated on both party
tickets — which would have been the climax of their quiet
belief in “democracy” guided by themselves. More realistically,
they favored the popular Kentuckian Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin
H. Bristow; at one point, Henry Adams contemplated buying the New
York Evening Post as a Bristow organ with Schurz installed
as editor. In April, the reformers held a large-scale New York conference
at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, in which they made clear that they would
avoid the separate party route of 1872, and maintain an Independent
stance, waiting to see how the presidential nomination came out.
The platform adopted by the conference was written by Schurz, stressing
the twin issues of civil service reform and sound currency, meaning
a return to the gold standard. The Nation exulted that the
attendees at the conference were largely the “‘moral element’ …
ministers, professors, and respectable persons who do not believe
politics should be pursued as a trade.”[80]

Bristow failed
to obtain the nomination at the June convention at Cincinnati, but
the reformers were happy with the dark-horse choice, Governor Rutherford
B. Hayes, who was committed to reform, to return to gold and to
conciliating the South.[81]
Hayes had been corresponding with the reformers since February,
and after his nomination he wrote happily in his diary: “The best
people, many of them heretofore dissatisfied with the Republican
party, are especially hearty in my support. I must make it my constant
effort to deserve this confidence.”[82]
And while the reformers were happy to back Hayes, they were also
pleased when the Democrats nominated their most ardent reformer,
New York’s Governor Tilden. Either way, the reformers couldn’t lose.
In his official letter of acceptance of the nomination in July,
Hayes, after consulting with Curtis and Schurz, called strongly
for abolition of the spoils system and for a “thorough, radical
and complete” reform of the civil service.

As President,
Hayes, as we might expect, met with little but complaining from
the reformers. During the campaign, the reformers grumbled that
Hayes was “waving the bloody shirt” against the “rebels” in his
campaign, that he was whipping up anti-Catholic sentiment, and that
he was giving campaign posts to opponents of reform. The reformers
then complained about Hayes’s gaining the presidency from Tilden
by evident fraud, and then rewarding the fraudulent election returns-counters
from the South with patronage positions. And even though the reformers
were delighted that Schurz was named Secretary of the Interior,
that he imposed the examination system in his department, and that
other reform work was done in the New York Customhouse, nothing,
as usual, was enough to satisfy them. Why weren’t all the other
departments in the hands of the reformers? Also, they found that
Hayes was taking the reformers’ goal of life tenured appointments
too seriously; what he was supposed to do was to kick
out all the evil Grant people, replace them with good reformers,
and then freeze the reformers into civil service by reform.

Thus, in June
1877, Horace White wrote in exasperation to Schurz:

At the beginning,
there should have been some heavy & decisive blows at the
old system — for instance, the removal of the Collectors
at Boston, NY. & Phila. followed by appointments of friends
of reform. Known to the country as such, & fostered by unequivocal
instructions for all officers & their subordinates.[83]

Poor President
Hayes! He just never really got it, although he should have gladdened
their hearts by pulling federal troops out of the South and by returning
to the gold standard in 1879.

Hayes tried
to make up to the reformers by putting the major emphasis on a call
for civil service reform in his annual message of late 1879; furthermore,
he requested Dorman Eaton, who was still nominally head of the CSC
though without office space or funds, to report on the British civil
service system, and Eaton was happy to comply, with his paean to
the recently-imposed merit and life tenure system in England, Civil
Service in Great Britain

The reformers
were puzzled about their stance in the 1880 election. When he was
nominated, Hayes, in a burst of what the reformers felt was misguided
reforming zeal, pledged to be only a one-term candidate. So Hayes,
their favorite, took himself out of the race for 1880. The major
Republican candidates in 1880 were General Grant, for a third-term,
and House Speaker James G. Blaine of Maine. The reformers detested
Grant and were unhappy with Blaine, and so they felt it a divine
“deliverance” when the June Republican convention at Chicago, after
deadlocking between the two leaders, picked pro-reform James A.
Garfield as the compromise, anti-Grant candidate. And even though
the reformers preferred Garfield to the Democrat choice, General
Winfield S. Hancock, they continually complained that Garfield was
a waffler, that he now refused to commit to reform, and that he
was too close to James Blaine. The reformers grumbled particularly
when Garfield chose as Vice President Chester A. Arthur of the hated
New York machine of spoilsman Senator Roscoe Conkling.

The decisive
step taken by the reformers during the 1880 campaign was not the
election of Garfield, but the establishment of a permanent, single-issue
civil service reform organization to agitate for reform. It began
in the form of a suggestion in August by the Nation, and
in a response by Frederick William Holls of New York calling for
Independent Republicans to organize a society stressing “education
and enlightenment … accomplished by agitation, political,
social and even religious.” Holls suggested that the new society
employ the methods which they and their forerunners had used in
the struggle for the abolition of slavery: in particular, to seize
and stress the high ground of morality and moral principle. Holls
urged that the new society put the argument especially on the basis
of “abstract moral right.” Favorable response in letters
to the Nation inspired the reformers to organize such a society.

In particular,
Dorman Eaton had set up a New York Civil Service Reform Association
in May, 1877, but the lack of interest had caused the association
to remain dormant after 1878. Now, Curtis revived the association,
which reorganized in September and October, and named Curtis as
its president, a post which he was to continue to hold until his
death twelve years later. The association was to be single-issue
and non-partisan. It was to specialize in lobbying, in a committee
headed by Eaton, and in publishing and distributing publications,
in an effort headed by Godkin. The New York association formed the
model and the nucleus of other local associations, which sprang
up like wildfire: by May 1881, affiliated associations had been
established in Brooklyn, Boston, Cambridge, West Newton, Massachusetts,
and in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Providence and San Francisco,
and in the process of formation in Buffalo, New Orleans, Pittsfield
and Worcester, Mass. Pamphlets were widely distributed, and in May,
a monthly periodical, The Civil Service Record, started being
published by the Boston and Cambridge associations.

Professor Hoogenboom’s
study of the forty-five active members of the New York Association’s
executive committee, from its inception in 1877 until 1883, reveals
the following: most members were born within ten years of 1832,
making them in their upper forties and lower fifties in 1880; half
were attorneys, nine were editors, three professors and five clergymen
contributed to the group’s high moral tone, and the one-third businessmen
were not industrialists but rather upper-middle rank merchants and
bankers. Almost all were Protestant; over half were born in New
England and the rest in New York. All were Anglophiles. Almost all
were highly educated, many gaining advanced degrees. Nine attended
Harvard College and seven Harvard Law School. The typical New York
reform leader was entrenched in blue-blood society, and was a clubman
— especially the Union League, Century, University, and Harvard
clubs. Patterns were similar in the Brooklyn, Boston and San Francisco

Finally, on
August 11, 1881, the New York Association called a general conference
of local associations at Newport, to coordinate agitation and action
for reform. Out of this conference came the umbrella national organization,
the National Civil Service Reform League, with the executive committee
of the New York group functioning as its provisional central committee.[85]

In the lame
duck Congress after Garfield’s victory, the Democrats began to get
increasingly interested in reform. Not only was the idea of reform
being spread in the best circles, and becoming more influential
among the media and in the electorate, but Democratic losses in
the election of 1880 made many of them more enthusiastic about a
non-partisan administration. In particular, Senator George Pendleton
of Ohio, a recent convert, introduced a civil service reform bill
in December. Fortunately for the reformers, the New York Civil Service
Reform Association was in place, and when it squawked about technical
errors, Pendleton was happy to substitute the bill written by the
end of December by the legislative committee of the New York association,
i.e., largely by Dorman Eaton.

President Garfield’s
few months in office proved a grave disappointment to the reformers.
He appointed as his Secretary of State the reformers’ enemy James
G. Blaine, and the new Secretary of the Interior Samuel J. Kirkwood
of Iowa promptly dismantled all of Carl Schurz’s civil service reforms
in that department. Not only that: Garfield’s inaugural address,
instead of backing the Pendleton bill, cleverly shifted gears by
calling for the reform of limiting all officials to a fixed term
of years. While to the superficial observer, this proposal seemed
similar to the schemes of the reformers, it was precisely the opposite:
compelling rotation in office across the board instead of establishing
life tenure for high grades in examinations. In private correspondence,
George Curtis saw the plan: Garfield, he pointed out, “knows
better and therefore I can only interpret his heretical position
to fix on terms of office by law, as an adroit measure to defeat
the whole scheme without openly opposing it.”[86]

When Garfield
was shot on July 2 by the crazed Charles J. Guiteau, James A. Garfield
wounded and then dead proved far more of an asset to the reformers
than Garfield alive. Guiteau talked himself into believing that
he was responsible for Garfield’s election, and demanded high office,
either Minister to Austria or Consul to Paris. Guiteau has been
depicted then and since as a “disappointed office-seeker,” and the
reformers redoubled their agitation, cynically and demagogically
trying to exploit the tragedy — and heedless that the Pendleton
Act would not have covered such a position in any case. The idea
that murder by an office-seeker can only be combated by abolishing
offices to be sought, is even sillier than the comparable argument
that the way to eliminate assault or murder is to outlaw guns. From
pulpit to press, the reformers pounded away on the spoils system
as responsible for the shooting of Garfield, and it was in the wake
of that shooting that the New York Civil Service Reform Association
decided to go national. In September, the New York association nationally
distributed a letter, drawn up by Curtis and signed by many eminent
men, from industrialist Peter Cooper to ex-President Hayes, linking
the “recent murderous attack” on Garfield with the alleged need
for civil service reform.

When Garfield
died of his wounds on September 19, the reformers stepped up their
propaganda.[87] Forgotten
was President Garfield as a weak tool of James Blaine; he was now
transformed into a fearless crusader for reform. Typical of Garfield-memorial
publications was a poster that the New York association exhibited
in every post office in the country. The poster pictured a monument
to the murdered Garfield, surrounded by pro-reform quotations from
Garfield from his days in Congress, while on the monument was an
epitaph proclaiming Garfield “a martyr to the fierceness of factional
politics and the victim of that accursed greed for spoils of office
which was the bane of his brief conscious existence as President,
and is the gravest peril that threatens the future of his country.”
Henry Adams, to his credit, was disgusted, writing to Godkin that:

The cynical
impudence with which the reformers have tried to manufacture an
ideal statesman out of the late shady politician beats anything
in novel-writing. They are making popular capital. They lie and
manoeuvre just like candidates for office. The independents and
reformers are as bad as the late lamented, and for the same reason.
It pays.[88]

Contrary to
the impression given by historians, Congress did not pass the Pendleton
Act in direct response to the propaganda centered around the assassination.
It is true that media agitation and the civil service associations
had their effect, and the Independent bloc was beginning to have
a formidable influence on both parties. More and more politicians
paid lip-service to reform, and even its great opponent Ben Butler
professed to be converted to the cause. But President Arthur, while
waffling on the topic, happily proceeded to remove Garfield appointees,
and while he (unsuccessfully) asked Congress to restore a $25,000
appropriation to the defunct Civil Service Commission, he also cleverly
came out for a four-year limit on all tenure for the bureaucracy
— the reverse of the reformers’ demands.

The key to
the ultimate reformer success and the passage of the Pendleton Act
was the course of the 1882 elections. In August 1882, the National
Civil Service Reform League held its second annual meeting at Newport.
George Curtis vigorously denounced President Arthur for his appointments,
and angered by Congress’s derisive attitude toward reform, the League
decided to become active in the congressional elections, questioning
all candidates on specific civil service measures and then publishing
their replies. Most state party conventions, as a result, put a
pro-reform plank in their platforms, especially in the North and
East. When the Maine Republican convention came out against reform,
Independent Republicans organized an insurgent ticket demanding
reform; as a result, Blaine felt forced to favor reform, at least
to the extent of favoring the Arthur four-year plan.

When the New
York State Republican convention nominated Secretary of the Treasury
Charles J. Folger, a long-time member of the Arthur-Conkling “Stalwart”
faction, for governor, the Democrats countered by nominating their
leading reformer Grover Cleveland, and the Independent Republicans,
headed by Curtis and the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, advocated bolting
the party to vote for Cleveland.

The 1882 elections
were a terrible blow to the regular Republican forces. Grover Cleveland
crushed the Republicans in New York by what was then the largest
majority in New York history. The Democrats ousted the Republicans
in Ohio, probably because the Republicans insisted on prohibiting
liquor and thereby alienating the German Lutherans, who were not
about to be deprived of their Sunday beer. But at least an ancillary
cause was Arthur’s appointment of Stalwart enemies of Garfield in
the assassinated President’s home state. Regular Republicans also
lost by huge majorities in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Connecticut, and
New Jersey, and even lost Massachusetts.

After the November
elections, then, the heavily-Republican lame duck Congress, having
been elected in 1880, faced the future knowing (a) that the successor,
1882 Congress, would be much more Democratic; and (b) that the prospect
loomed for a Democratic President in 1884. The regular Republicans,
at that point, suddenly heard the call of civil service reform.
First, by converting to reform they might keep the Independent votes
which they now saw as powerful and even decisive for 1884; and,
second, by passing the Pendleton Act they could freeze existing
Republicans into life tenure before they would be ousted by an incoming
Democratic Administration. On the other hand, the Democrats dared
not risk losing the Independent vote by voting against reform, even
though it would mean that 10,000 federal office jobs would be locked
away from deserving Democrats. The result: both parties made their
calculations, and both shifted en masse to reform.

idea that murder by an office-seeker can only be combated by
abolishing offices to be sought, is even sillier than the comparable
argument that the way to eliminate assault or murder is to outlaw

President Arthur
made the same calculations. In his message in December, he called
for prompt passage of the Pendleton bill. Virtually all Congressmen
saw the light, and attempts to derail the measure with fixed-tenure
in office bills got nowhere. Even Black Jack Logan claimed to have
always been a staunch champion of reform. The only rock-ribbed opponent
of reform remaining was the veteran Democratic Senator Joseph E.
Brown of Georgia. Brown ridiculed the Democrats supporting a bill
that would deprive them of the office they would receive in only
two years’ time. Brown insisted that parties fight for offices as
well as principle. The only concession that Brown and the Democrats
received was to allow entry into office at all grades of civil service,
and not just at the lowest grade, as the Pendleton bill and the
reformers had always wanted. The original bill would have meant
that promotions could only take place from within the ranks of the
bureaucracy, and that there could never be infusions from the outside
directly into higher ranks. The bureaucracy would then have been
far more of a hermetically sealed unit, a rigid, non-circulating,
and hierarchical elite. Finally, the Senate voted, or declared,
for the amended Pendleton bill by 45 to 12, Republican senators
unanimously favoring the bill by 30 to 0, while the Democrats narrowly
favored it by 15 to 12.[89]
The House followed swiftly. The voters and declarers supported the
Pendleton bill by 162 to 48. All but a few Republicans voted in
favor, while the Democrat opposition was centered in the South,
the Old Northwest, and such states lacking reform associations as
New Jersey. In the South, where the reform movement was nonexistent,
only 14 Congressmen voted for the measures, 22 opposed, and 26 were
absent. Generally, urban areas, where reform movements were strong,
supported the bill far more than rural representatives.

Most congressmen,
even those voting for the Pendleton bill, detested it. Senator Preston
Plumb, Republican from Kansas, who ended up voting for the measure,
protested that “we are not legislating on this subject in response
to our own judgment … but in response to some sort of judgment
which has been expressed outside.” Indeed, every member of Congress
received a letter from the National Civil Service Reform League
urging passage of the Pendleton bill, and local associations intensively
lobbied their representatives.

President Arthur
signed the Pendleton Act of January 16, 1883, and appointed the
last CSC chairman, Dorman Eaton, to be the head of the new three-man
Civil Service Commission. Civil-service reform was now part of the
statutes of the United States. The reformer triumph was not complete,
however. The federal government bureaucracy amounted to an average
of 140,000 in the 1880s; the Pendleton Act applied its system of
examinations, grades and security of tenure to the “classified civil
service,” which then constituted about 10 percent of the total bureaucracy
— largely clerks in Washington, D.C. and in large-city post
offices and customhouses employing fifty or more persons. All the
rest of the bureaucracy was left an “unclassified service” as before,
and subject to patronage and removal. This remaining unclassified
service could be brought under the Pendleton regulations if, when,
and to the extent that the President saw fit. The only jobs exempt
from this presidential authority under the statute were laborers,
and those whose positions were so high as to be subject to confirmation
on the advice and consent of the Senate.[90]

After the Pendleton Act

President Arthur
surprised and pleased the reformers by applying Pendleton rules
strictly; but he disappointed them by not appointing leading reformers
to the unclassified positions. In the election of 1884, most of
the Independent Republicans deserted the hated Blaine to vote for
the Democrat Grover Cleveland for president, earning the label “Mugwumps”
from their reform colleague who stuck to the Republicans, young
Theodore Roosevelt of New York. Since Cleveland carried New York
State, a stronghold of the reformers, by a narrow margin, and this
victory was decisive for his election, it is probable that Mugwump
support was a key to his triumph.[91]
In his annual message to Congress in the December after his election,
President Cleveland pledged not only to execute the Pendleton Act
faithfully, but also to apply its principles across the entire civil
service. The reformers had seemingly reached Nirvana.

But the reform
triumph did not turn out as expected. While Cleveland faithfully
executed the Pendleton Act to the classified service, he purged
all Republicans from the far larger unclassified service. Reformers
were bitter, claiming that Cleveland had violated his pledge, and
was not carrying out the spirit of reform. Curtis lamented that

course has left all of us Mugwumps in an apparently disagreeable
position…. It has certainly discredited civil service reform
and chilled those who were his most earnest supporters in 1884.[92]

In 1888, reformers
were again split; some supported Cleveland grudgingly because of
his low-tariff views; but others, including Henry C. Lea of Philadelphia,
opposed Cleveland for “betraying the cause [civil service reform]
on which he was elected.” Cleveland was embittered by this opposition,
denouncing Lea as a “base Calumniator” who “ought to be horsewhipped,
with the rest of the dirty mendacious gang.” Condemning the reformers
after losing the election, Cleveland wrote to one of them:

the treatment
I have received from the advocates of Civil Service Reform makes
my blood boil…. I know what I have done and what I have
suffered in this cause and with that I am satisfied as I retire
from the struggle. I hope the next man will be better trusted
by those who assume to be apostles of the Reform. The cause is
worth much — very much; but the people who stand ready to
attribute every mistake in the selection of officers to wanton
violation of principle and assume to know more of the conditions,
motives and intents that those charged with responsibility, are
worth nothing.[93]

President Harrison,
in turn, gave the reformers short shrift. Harrison made a clean
sweep of Democrats in the unclassified service, and failed to reappoint
leading reformers in high government positions. Harrison even went
further than Cleveland in removing many officials before their fixed
four-year terms were up. The reformers complained, by the end of
1890, that in two years of office, Harrison had violated his pledge
by not extending the classified service by a single man. When Cleveland
returned in 1892, a similar process occurred; Republicans were booted
out of unclassified positions. Even one of their very own, Boston
Brahmin Josiah Quincy, a founder of the National Civil Service Reform
League, was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State; he then promptly
fired within a few months one-third of the Republican consular officials
and replaced them with Democrats.

most of these presidents increased the classified service rapidly.
But the reformers were not really delighted at this victory, since
what each administration did was to toss out opponents, appoint
good party people to unclassified posts, and then bring them
to the classified service, thereby freezing them into tenure for
life. With each alternating shift of party, the merit system was
thereby extended, ratcheting the number of government officials
upward, in order to find room for deserving party workers. As Professor
Hoogenboom sums it up:

the federal
classified service increased rapidly. The merit system advanced
not because of further action by Congress, but because of executive
action. Ironically, executive action stemmed more from a desire
to place fellow party members permanently in the civil service
than from a wish to reform. The process involved replacing all
political enemies with political friends in a branch of the
unclassified, or unreformed, service and then extending the
rules to cover it. This process was hastened by the alternation
of party control in the 1880s and 1890s, which led Presidents
every four years to make additions to the classified list. The
irony was compounded. The advance of the merit system stimulated
rapacious spoils methods in the unclassified service, and the
civil service reform movement itself languished.[94]

each alternating shift of party, the merit system was thereby
extended, ratcheting the number of government officials upward,
in order to find room for deserving party workers.”

The reform
movement was indeed languishing. Partly this decline was the result
of the Pendleton Act victory; but partly, too, because the reformers
were getting increasingly obsolete and losing political influence.
Membership in the associations declined; the Brooklyn association,
for example, lost over half of its members from 1882 to 1890, with
the biggest fall off among the former heart of the association:
the professionals — the lawyers, clergymen, and journalists.
The number of associations also declined. In December, 1883, immediately
after the Pendleton victory, there were 59 reform associations in
existence; by 1892 however the number had sunk to 35. The San Francisco
and New Orleans outposts disappeared, as did those in Louisville
and Norfolk. By 1892, the shrinking reform movement was confined
to its old Northeastern heartland.

In the 1896
election, William Jennings Bryan was openly anti-reform, and President
McKinley, in May 1899, actually withdrew several thousand offices
from the Pendleton rules, thereby bringing about “the first backward
step in the history of the competitive merit system,” and rolling
back Cleveland’s additions to the classified service. Indeed, the
rules might have shrunk further, were it not for another presidential
assassination, which catapulted the dedicated reformer Theodore
Roosevelt into the presidency. When Roosevelt came into office,
46 percent of the federal bureaucracy was classified; when he left
eight years later, he had frozen in Republicans by bringing 66 percent
under the rules. The ratchet effect was alive and well, and was
continued by successive presidents.

The aging reformers,
dwindling in ranks and influence, turned on each other. As early
as the first Cleveland Administration, Curtis, Silas Burt, and Godkin
conspired successfully to persuade Cleveland to oust Dorman Eaton
as CSC chairman. They disliked Eaton for his gradualism, but they
urged Cleveland to oust Eaton as “impractical, indiscreet, and …

the State Grows: $27.50

The disheartened
reformers, indeed, looked at the fruits of their victory and found
it only ashes. These had been genteel Brahmins and educated elites,
convinced of the inherent right of their sort to rule, and embittered
at the rise to power of the uneducated, the non-elite, the brash,
self-made, nouveau riche industrialist. They were also devoted
to the ideals of free trade, hard money, laissez-faire, and retrenchment
of government, but their chief focus had been a permanent rule by
themselves and their cohort. But they lived to see the triumph of
their “merit system” result not in the retrenchment of government,
but in its acceleration, and not in the triumph of themselves, but
of the brash politicians and corruptionists they despised. And in
the Progressive era ushered in by Theodore Roosevelt, they were
to find the ideals of “merit” and a technocratic elite employed
in the service of every principle they detested: big government,
protectionism, inflationary bank credit, and imperialism and foreign

And so the
aging reformers looked on their world and back on their handiwork
and found them futile and repellent. A few months before he died
in 1892, George W. Curtis expressed his “scorn of the spurious Democracy
which is always found in all American parties.” Six years later,
E. L. Godkin wrote to his old friend Charles Eliot Norton condemning
“democracy”: “I have pretty much given it up as a contribution to
the world’s moral progress…. I too tremble at the thought
of having a large navy and the warmaking power, lodged in the hands
of such puerile and thoughtless people — 100,000,000 strong.
It is an awful prospect for the world, and I am glad to be so near
the end of my career.” The following year, Godkin wrote in the Nation
seeing the fundamental problem as big centralized government:

The great
obstacle in the way of reform is neither American nor English,
it is simply human. All that we know, by past experience, of the
attempts of man to provide himself with a government, makes it
most unlikely that an effort, repeated every four years, on the
part of one hundred millions of people, to elect a single officer
as the chief of state, should succeed. It seemed reasonable enough
when the Constitution was framed for 3,000,000 people, leading
a simple agricultural life. All democracies of which the world
has had any experience, have been small … Our desire to
create a “world Power” out of the Federal machine is a fiasco,
full of shame and disappointment.[96]


The remarkable August Days in Moscow and elsewhere in the Soviet
Union in 1991 was a glorious example of just such a limit to tyranny
being reached.

Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944).

Ibid., p. 53.

Ibid., p. 46. To the extent that business has been subject
to increasing taxes and controls in the twentieth century, of course,
its management has become more bureaucratic. As Mises puts it, “no
profit-seeking enterprise, no matter how large, is liable to become
bureaucratic provided the hands of its management are not tied by
government interference. The trend toward bureaucratic rigidity
is not inherent in the evolution of business. It is an outcome of
government meddling with business.” Ibid., p. 12.

John C. Calhoun, A
Disquisition on Government
(New York: The Liberal Arts Press,
1953), pp. 17–18. Also see Murray N. Rothbard, “The Myth of Neutral
Taxation,” Cato Journal, I (Fall 1981), pp. 555–58.

See Murray N. Rothbard, Man,
Economy and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles
AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1993), II, 774–76, 843–47.

Gordon Tullock, The
Politics of Bureaucracy
(Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs
Press, 1965), passim.

This insight into the best success route in government underlies
the celebrated Chapter 10, “Why the Worst Get on Top,” in F. A.
Hayek’s The
Road to Serfdom
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944).

C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s
(Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 2.

Ibid., p. 4.

Parkinson’s Law applies in daily life as well as to government bureaucracy.
“Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing
and dispatching a postcard to her niece … An hour will be
spent in finding the post, another in hunting for spectacles, half
an hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition,
and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella
when going to the mailbox in the next street. The total effort that
would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion
leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety, and
toil.” Ibid., p. 2.

Ibid., p. 6.

Ibid., p. 12.

Thomas H. Barber, Where
We Are At
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), p.

Ibid., pp. 103–04.

Ibid., p. 100.

Contrary to accepted myth, Pareto was neither a “fascist” nor any
other sort of statist. Pareto was an ardent and brilliantly perceptive
laissez-faire libertarian and even anarcho-capitalist who understandably
became deeply pessimistic about the future of liberty at the turn
of the twentieth century. After that, he retreated to his ivory
tower, from which he wrote bitter and cynical works about the irrationality
of human motivations. See in particular, Piero Bucolo, ed., The
Other Pareto
(London: Scholar Press, 1980); S. E. Finer,
“Pareto and Pluto-Democracy: the Retreat to Galapagos,” American
Political Science Review 62 (1968), pp. 440–50; and Finer, “Introduction”
in Vilfredo Pareto, Sociological
(ed., by S. Finer, London: Pall Mall Press, 1966).

David L. Jacobson, ed., The
English Libertarian Heritage
(Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill,
1965), p. 256. In the controversial “Pocock Thesis,” J. Pocock sets
up an artificial and overblown clash between libertarian and “classical
republican” thought, and uses Cato’s Letters as his definitive
reason why the Founding Fathers were influenced by classical republican
rather than libertarian ideas. For the definitive demonstration
that Cato’s Letters were decidedly libertarian rather than
Pocockian, see Ronald Hamowy, “Cato’s Letters, John Locke
and the Republican Paradigm,” History of Political Thought,
11 (1990), pp. 273–94.

“It is a mistaken notion in government, that the interest of the
majority is only to be consulted, since . . . the greater number
may sell the less, and divide their estates amongst themselves;
and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected,
become a conspiracy of the many against a minority. With as much
equity may one man wantonly dispose of all, and violence may be
sanctified by mere Power.” English Libertarian Heritage,
pp. 128–29.

On the Pennsylvania Constitution, see John P. Selsam, The
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776

Barber, Where We Are At, pp. 109–10.

Ibid., pp. 110–11.

Carl E. Prince, The
Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service
York: New York University Press, 1977), pp. x–xi, 2.

Ibid., pp. 6–10.

Ibid., pp. 7–8.

Leonard D. White, The
Federalists: A Study in Administrative History, 1789–1801

(New York: Macmillan, 1948), p. 273.

Prince, The Federalists, pp. 11, 45–56.

Ibid., p. 11.

Ibid., p. 12. Also see Manning Dauer, The
Adams Federalists
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1953), pp. 215–19.

There were no separate appeals judges then, the circuit courts consisting
of a blend of district judges and Supreme Court justices.

Prince, The Federalists, p. 251.

Ibid., pp. 242, 250.

Ibid., pp. 252, 267.

David H. Rosenbloom, Federal
Service and the Constitution: The Development of the Public Employment
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), pp.
26–33; White, The Federalists, pp. 20–25.

Leonard D. White, The
Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829

(New York: Macmillan, 1951), pp. 1–15, 347–55, 369–71, and especially
pp. 379–81; Rosenbloom, Federal Service, pp. 38–44.

Giles to Jefferson, June 1, 1801. Richard E. Ellis, The
Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 20–21.

Ibid., pp. 23–24.

Ibid., pp. 29–30.

White, The Jeffersonians, p. 388.

On the importance of Van Buren’s conversion experience at Monticello,
see Robert V. Remini, Martin
Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party
(New York:
Columbia University Press, 1959), pp. 59–63. On a similar conversion
of Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri upon a visit to Monticello on
Christmas Eve of the same year, see William N. Chambers, Old
Bullion Benton: Senator from the New West: Thomas Hart Benton, 1782–1858

(Boston: Little, Brown, 1956).

Ibid., p. 390.

This famous phrase was included in a speech on the floor of the
U.S. Senate in January 1832 by New York Jacksonian Democrat William
Learned Marcy: “to the victors belong the spoils of the enemy."

On the crucial influence of the Panic of 1819 in converting Andrew
Jackson, and future Jacksonian leaders such as President James K.
Polk and Thomas Hart (“Old Bullion”) Benton, to a hard money, anti-inflationary-bank-credit
position, see Murray N. Rothbard, The
Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies
(New York: Columbia
University Press, 1962), pp. 187–89. On the neglected pervasiveness
of corruption in the Monroe Administration, and Jackson’s response
to it, see Robert V. Remini, Andrew
Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832
York: Harper & Row, 1981), pp. 12–38.

In 1836, such an extension was applied to the postmasters, who then
received a four-year term.

James D. Richardson, ed., A
Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents of the
United States, 1789–1897
(Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1896), II, 438–39; Ari Hoogenboom, ed., Spoilsmen and
Reformers (New York: Rand, McNally, 1964), pp. 2–3; Paul P.
Van Riper, History
of the United States Civil Service
(Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson,
1958), pp. 30–37; Leonard D. White, The
Jacksonians: A Study in Administrative History
(New York:
Macmillan, 1954), pp. 317–21; Rosenbloom, Federal Service,
pp. 47–50.

Hennen was later reinforced on the state level by Butler
v. Pennsylvania (1850), which held that public employment was
not a “contract” within the meaning of Article I, Sect. 10 of the
Constitution, which prohibited any state from passing a law “impairing
the obligation of contracts.” Rosenbloom, Federal Service,
pp. 52–53.

White, The Jacksonians, p. 308. On resistance in the Senate,
see Van Riper, History, pp. 37–41.

White, The Jacksonians, pp. 309–13.

Charles R. Lingley, Since
the Civil War
(New York: The Century Co., 1924), p. 118;
quoted in Van Riper, History, p. 61.

Fred W. Riggs, “Bureaucrats and Political Development: A Paradoxical
View,” in Joseph LaPalombara, ed., Bureaucracy
and Political Development
(Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1963), pp. 128–29.

Perhaps the most egregious of Lincoln’s military appointments was
that of General Grenville M. Dodge. Dodge, an Iowa political leader
and railroad entrepreneur, came to the Republican convention in
1860 to help swing the wavering Iowa delegation to Lincoln. Dodge
came at the behest of Lincoln’s campaign manager Norman Judd, state
chairman of the Illinois party and fellow railroad entrepreneur.
In 1862, the Union Pacific Railroad received the first federal transcontinental
railroad charter from the federal government, including massive
land grant and monetary subsidies. One of the founders of the Union
Pacific was Grenville Dodge, who was promptly made a general so
that he could take parts of the Union Army and clear out Indians
from the prospective path of the Union Pacific.

General Dodge
performed this feat under the direction of Acting Secretary and
then Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher. An Indiana railroad
attorney, Usher had been an entrepreneur, just before the Civil
War, of the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad in the Kansas
Territory, and that railroad lobbied heavily and successfully to
put Usher into a high post in the Interior Department. The Leavenworth
Railroad soon became the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Philip H. Burch, Jr., Elites
in American History, Vol. II: The Civil War to the New Deal

(New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981), pp. 16, 23–24, 48, 54.

Many of the
directors of the new Union Pacific had been officers or directors
of the connecting Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, of which Norman
Judd had been general counsel.

Before his
election as President, furthermore, Abraham Lincoln had been a long-time
attorney and lobbyist for the powerful Illinois Central Railroad,
the leading U.S. railroad before the transcontinental. It is intriguing
that his first appointed commander of the Union Army, George B.
McClellan, before the Civil War had been chief engineer and vice-president
of the Illinois Central, while McClellan’s successor, the hapless
General Ambrose Burnside, had been treasurer of the Illinois Central
just before the war. Ibid., p. 55.

Van Riper, History, p. 43. Also see Rosenbloom, Federal
Service, p. 65.

Unlike his father and grandfather, Adams was wealthy as well as
being a leader of the Brahmin elite. For Adams married the daughter
of one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants, Peter Chardon Brooks. One
son of Adams, John Quincy Adams II, married into the wealthy Crowninshield
family, while another, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., was soon to become
president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Ibid., p. 24.

Ari Hoogenboom, Outlawing
the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883

(Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1968), pp. 21 and passim.
Hoogenboom’s is the outstanding revisionist history of the civil
service reform movement, culminating in the decisive Pendleton Act
of 1883.

During and after the Civil War, there were two clashing wings of
the Radical faction of the Republican Party. One, headed by Sumner
and dominant in New England, favored such laissez-faire economic
policies as free trade and hard money. The other, headed by Pennsylvania
ironmaster and Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Pennsylvania economist
and ironmaster Henry C. Carey, and the Iron and Steel Institute,
favored protective tariffs and inflationary greenbacks, to help
steel exports and hinder imports, as well as to aid the heavily
indebted large railroads. The Stevens wing was soon to become dominant
in the Radicals and among the Republicans generally. The Sumner
forces were later to become Liberal Republicans and to lose interest
in Reconstruction. See Robert P. Sharkey, Money,
Class and Party: An Economic Study of Civil War and Reconstruction

(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1959).

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 10–12.

One of the academic backers of the Sumner bill was the distinguished
political theorist Francis Lieber, of Columbia College, who at the
same time put in his bid to become one of the federal civil service
commissioners. Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 11.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 15. Jenckes was a wealthy
patent attorney and manufacturer, whose Rubber Sole Shoe Company
was based on his being a patent attorney for Goodyear Rubber, while
his American Wood Paper Company used patents to monopolize the production
of paper from wood pulp. Ibid., p. 14.

Hoogenboom, Spoilsmen and Reformers, p. 21.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 31.

The Nation, IV, No. 82 (Jan. 24, 1867), pp. 61–62. Hoogenboom,
Outlawing the Spoils, p. 37.

Ibid., p. 41, and pp. 42–46. Also see Bing’s frenetic attack
on the “total depravity” and “total stupidity” of the existing spoils
system, in an article in Putnam’s Magazine, August 1868.
Hoogenboom, Spoilsmen and Reformers, pp. 12–16.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 40n.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 48–49, 51.

Hoar was Supreme Court Justice of Massachusetts, and a member of
the Board of Overseers of Harvard College. Burch, Elites,
pp. 35, 346. Also see Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 62–63.

The Nation, #200 (April 29, 1869). Hoogenboom, Outlawing
the Spoils, pp. 63–64.

Ibid., p. 62.

Villard was the son-in-law of the fiery abolitionist leader, William
Lloyd Garrison. One of the people whom Villard tapped to head up
the Philadelphia branch of the ASSA was the veteran abolitionist
James Miller McKim, a founder of The Nation, and the father-in-law
of Villard’s brother-in-law, Wendell Phillips Garrison.

Henry Brooks Adams, “Civil Service Reform,” North America Review,
CIX (October 1869), pp. 456–57. Excerpted in Hoogenboom, Spoilsmen
and Reformers, pp. 25–26. Also see Hoogenboom, Outlawing
the Spoils, p. 67. It was no wonder that Representative Jacob
Benton of New Hampshire denounced the Jenckes bill as a “cunningly
devised” scheme to oust the Administration’s friends from office
“unless they belong to the particular, select favorite class.”

In Leonard D. White, The
Republican Era: 1869–1901: A Study in Administrative History

(New York: Macmillan, 1958), p. 292.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 57–58.

In another blow to the reformers, one of their leaders, David Ames
Wells, from a Massachusetts manufacturing family, was removed from
his important post as Commissioner of Revenue by the simple device
of allowing his position to lapse. Joseph Dorfman, The
Economic Mind in American Civilization, Vol. III, 1865–1918

(New York: Viking, 1949), p. 11.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 91.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 106.

White, The Republican Era, pp. 293–94.

For excerpts from a witty speech by Butler attacking reform, and
the rider put through at the last minute by Senator Lyman Trumbull,
a Liberal Republican from Illinois, see Hoogenboom, Spoilsmen
and Reformers, pp. 26–28.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 114. On Greeley’s views,
see Joseph Dorfman, The
Economic Mind in American Civilization, 1606–1865, Vol. II

(New York: Viking Press, 1946), pp. 669–71.

The Nation, Vol. XVIII (April 23, 1874), p. 260; cited in
Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 129.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 139.

A major reason for Bristow’s being deprived of the nomination was
the treachery of his campaign manager, Kentucky attorney John Marshall
Harlan. At the crucial last minute, Harlan went over to the Hayes
camp. Hayes rewarded Harlan by making him his first Supreme Court
appointee, Harlan going on to become the first darling of left-liberals
on the Supreme Court. Philip H. Burch, Jr., Elites
in American History: The Civil War to the New Deal
York: Holmes & Meier, 1981), p. 105.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 140–41.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 153. As Professor Hoogenboom
puts it, “A stable tenure of office was a means not an end in itself,
and reformers never meant to apply it to undesirable civil servants
as Hayes was doing.” Ibid., p. 149.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 190–97.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 211.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 203–04. Italics are

Van Riper, History, pp. 88–91.

Adams to Godkin, September 26, 1881. In Hoogenboom, Outlawing
the Spoils, p. 212.

Southern Democrats voted for the bill by 14 to 12, with Pendleton
the only non-southern Democrat to vote in favor. Four Far Western
Democrats abstained.

The reformers were not ready at that point for the reform rules
to be applied to every post in the bureaucracy. Dorman Eaton himself,
testifying before the Senate on the Pendleton bill in January 1881,
declared that all-at-once application would “be too large altogether
… We have got to create the machinery … you would be
utterly overslaughed and broken down if you were to be required
to carry it all at once.” Van Riper, History, p. 105n.

Another well-known critical factor in the New York vote was the
denunciation by a leading Protestant minister, the Rev. Samuel Burchard,
of the Democratic party as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion”
— the reference to rum alienating the German Lutheran swing

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 261.

Cleveland to Silas W. Burt, December 6, 1888. Hoogenboom, Outlawing
the Spoils, p. 262.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 260–61.

Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 264.

Edwin Lawrence Godkin, “Civil-Service Reform,” The Nation,
LXXI (September 27, 1900), pp. 256–57. Excerpted in Hoogenboom,
Spoilsmen and Reformers, pp. 49–50.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

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