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The Cleveland Era by Henry Jones Ford

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Volume 44 in the Chronicles of America Series. Abraham Lincoln





Politicians at Washington very generally failed to realize that
the advent of President Hayes marked the dismissal of the issues
of war and reconstruction. They regarded as an episode what
turned out to be the close of an era. They saw, indeed, that
public interest in the old issues had waned, but they were
confident that this lack of interest was transient. They admitted
that the emotional fervor excited by the war and by the issues of
human right involved in its results was somewhat damped, but they
believed that the settlement of those issues was still so
incomplete that public interest would surely rekindle. For many
years the ruling thought of the Republican party leaders was to
be watchful of any opportunity to ply the bellows on the embers.
Besides genuine concern over the way in which the negroes had
been divested of political privileges conferred by national
legislation, the Republicans felt a tingling sense of party

The most eminent party leaders at this time--both standing high
as presidential possibilities--were James G. Blaine and John
Sherman. In a magazine article published in 1880 Mr. Blaine
wrote: "As the matter stands, all violence in the South inures to
the benefit of one political party.... Our institutions have been
tried by the fiery test of war, and have survived. It remains to
be seen whether the attempt to govern the country by the power of
a 'solid South,' unlawfully consolidated, can be successful....
The republic must be strong enough, and shall be strong enough,
to protect the weakest of its citizens in all their rights." And
so late as 1884, Mr. Sherman earnestly contended for the
principle of national intervention in the conduct of state
elections. "The war," he said, "emancipated and made citizens of
five million people who had been slaves. This was a national act
and whether wisely or imprudently done it must be respected by
the people of all the States. If sought to be reversed in any
degree by the people of any locality it is the duty of the
national government to make their act respected by all its

Republican party platforms reiterated such opinions long after
their practical futility had become manifest. Indeed, it was a
matter of common knowledge that negro suffrage had been undone by
force and fraud; hardly more than a perfunctory denial of the
fact was ever made in Congress, and meanwhile it was a source of
jest and anecdote among members of all parties behind the scenes.
Republican members were bantered by Democratic colleagues upon
the way in which provision for Republican party advantage in the
South had actually given to the Democratic party a solid block of
sure electoral votes. The time at last came when a Southern
Senator, Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, blurted out in the
open what had for years been common talk in private. "We took the
government away," be asserted. "We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot
them. We are not ashamed of it.... With that system--force,
tissue ballots, etc.--we got tired ourselves. So we called a
constitutional convention, and we eliminated, as I said, all of
the colored people we could under the fourteenth and fifteenth
amendments.... The brotherhood of man exists no longer, because
you shoot negroes in Illinois, when they come in competition with
your labor, and we shoot them in South Carolina, when they come
in competition with us in the matter of elections."

Such a miscarriage of Republican policy was long a bitter
grievance to the leaders of the party and incited them to action.
If they could have had their desire, they would have used
stringent means to remedy the situation. Measures to enforce the
political rights of the freedmen were frequently agitated, but
every force bill which was presented had to encounter a deep and
pervasive opposition not confined by party lines but manifested
even within the Republican party itself. Party platforms insisted
upon the issue, but public opinion steadily disregarded it.
Apparently a fine opportunity to redress this grievance was
afforded by the election of President Harrison in 1888 upon a
platform declaring that the national power of the Democratic
party was due to "the suppression of the ballot by a criminal
nullification of the Constitution and laws of the United States,"
and demanding "effective legislation to secure integrity and
purity of elections." But, although they were victorious at the
polls that year, the Republican leaders were unable to embody in
legislation the ideal proposed in their platform. Of the causes
of this failure, George F. Hoar gives an instructive account in
his "Autobiography." As chairman of the Senate committee on
privileges and elections he was in a position to know all the
details of the legislative attempts, the failure of which
compelled the Republican leaders to acquiesce in the decision of
public opinion against the old issues and in favor of new issues.

Senator Hoar relates that he made careful preparation of a bill
for holding, under national authority, separate registrations and
elections for members of Congress. But when he consulted his
party associates in the Senate he found most of them averse to an
arrangement which would double the cost of elections and would
require citizens to register at different times for federal
elections and for state and municipal elections. Senator Hoar
thereupon abandoned that bill and prepared another which provided
that, upon application to court showing reasonable grounds, the
court should appoint officers from both parties to supervise the
election. The bill adopted a feature of electoral procedure which
in England has had a salutary effect. It was provided that in
case of a dispute concerning an election certificate, the circuit
court of the United States in which the district was situated
should hear the case and should award a certificate entitling the
one or other of the contestants to be placed on the clerk's roll
and to serve until the House should act on the case. Mr. Hoar
stated that the bill "deeply excited the whole country," and went
on to say that "some worthy Republican senators became alarmed.
They thought, with a good deal of reason, that it was better to
allow existing evils and conditions to be cured by time, and the
returning conscience and good sense of the people, rather than
have the strife, the result of which must be quite doubtful,
which the enactment and enforcement of this law, however moderate
and just, would inevitably create." The existence of this
attitude of mind made party advocacy of the bill a hopeless
undertaking and, though it was favorably reported on August 7,
1890, no further action was taken during that session. At the
December session it was taken up for consideration, but after a
few days of debate a motion to lay it aside was carried by the
Democrats with the assistance of enough Republicans to give them
a majority. This was the end of force bills, and during President
Cleveland's second term the few remaining statutes giving
authority for federal interference in such matters was repealed
under the lead of Senator Hill of New York. With the passage of
this act, the Republican party leaders for the first time
abandoned all purpose of attempting to secure by national
legislation the political privileges of the negroes. This
determination was announced is the Senate by Mr. Hoar and was
assented to by Senator Chandler of New Hampshire, who had been a
zealous champion of federal action. According to Mr. Hoar, "no
Republican has dissented from it."

The facts upon which the force bill was based were so notorious
and the bill itself was so moderate in its character that the
general indifference of the public seemed to betray moral
insensibility and emotional torpor. Much could be said in favor
of the bill. This latest assertion of national authority in
federal elections involved no new principle. In legalistic
complexion the proposed measure was of the same character as
previous legislation dealing with this subject, instances of
which are the Act of 1842, requiring the election of members of
the House by districts, and the Act of 1866, regulating the
election of United States Senators. Fraudulent returns in
congressional elections have always been a notorious evil, and
the partisan way in which they are passed upon is still a gross
blemish upon the constitutional system of the United States, and
one which is likely never to be removed until the principle of
judicial determination of electoral contests has been adopted in
this country as it has been in England. The truth of the matter
appears to be that the public paid no attention to the merits of
the bill. It was viewed simply as a continuation of the radical
reconstruction policy, the practical results of which had become
intolerable. However great the actual evils of the situation
might be, public opinion held that it would be wiser to leave
them to be dealt with by state authority than by such incompetent
statesmanship as had been common in Washington. Moreover, the man
in the street resented the indifference of politicians to all
issues save those derived from the Civil War.

Viscount Bryce in his "American Commonwealth," the most complete
and penetrating examination of American political conditions
written during this period, gives this account of the party

"The great parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. What
are their principles, their distinctive tenets, their tendencies?
Which of them is for tariff reform, for the further extension of
civil service reform, a spirited foreign policy, for the
regulation of railroads and telegraphs by legislation, for
changes in the currency, for any other of the twenty issues which
one hears discussed in this country as seriously involving its
welfare? This is what a European is always asking of intelligent
Republicans and intelligent Democrats. He is always asking
because he never gets an answer. The replies leave him deeper in
perplexity. After some months the truth begins to dawn upon him.
Neither party has, as a party, anything definite to say on these
issues; neither party has any clean-cut principles, any
distinctive tenets. Both have traditions. Both claim to have
tendencies. Both certainly have war cries, organizations,
interests, enlisted in their support. But those interests are in
the main the interests of getting or keeping the patronage of the
government. Tenets and policies, points of political doctrine and
points of political practice have all but vanished. They have not
been thrown away, but have been stripped away by time and the
progress of events, fulfilling some policies, blotting out
others. All has been lost, except office or the hope of it."

That such a situation could actually exist in the face of public
disapproval is a demonstration of the defects of Congress as an
organ of national representation. Normally, a representative
assembly is a school of statesmanship which is drawn upon for
filling the great posts of administration. Not only is this the
case under the parliamentary system in vogue in England, but it
is equally the case in Switzerland whose constitution agrees with
that of the United States in forbidding members of Congress to
hold executive office. But somehow the American Congress fails to
produce capable statesmen. It attracts politicians who display
affability, shrewdness, dexterity, and eloquence, but who are
lacking in discernment of public needs and in ability to provide
for them, so that power and opportunity are often associated with
gross political incompetency.* The solutions of the great
political problems of the United States are accomplished by
transferring to Washington men like Hayes and Cleveland whose
political experience has been gained in other fields.

* Of this regrettable fact the whole history of emancipation is a
monument. The contrast between the social consequences of
emancipation in the West Indies, as guided by British
statesmanship, under conditions of meager industrial opportunity,
and the social consequences of emancipation in the United States,
affords an instructive example of the complicated evils which a
nation may experience through the sheer incapacity of its

The system of congressional government was subjected to some
scrutiny in 1880-81 through the efforts of Senator George H.
Pendleton of Ohio, an old statesman who had returned to public
life after long absence. He had been prominent in the Democratic
party before the war and in 1864 he was the party candidate for
Vice-President. In 1868 he was the leading candidate for the
presidential nomination on a number of ballots, but he was
defeated. In 1869 he was a candidate for Governor of Ohio but was
defeated; he then retired from public life until 1879 when he
was elected to the United States Senate. As a member of that
body, he devoted himself to the betterment of political
conditions. His efforts in this direction were facilitated not
only by his wide political experience but also by the tact and
urbanity of his manners, which had gained for him in Ohio
politics the nickname of "Gentleman George."

In agreement with opinions long previously expressed in Story's
"Commentaries," Senator Pendleton attributed the inefficiency of
national government to the sharp separation of Congress from the
Administration--a separation not required by the Constitution but
made by Congress itself and subject to change at its discretion.
He proposed to admit the heads of executive departments to
participation in the proceedings of Congress. "This system," said
he, "will require the selection of the strongest men to be heads
of departments, and will require them to be well equipped with
the knowledge of their offices. It will also require the
strongest men to be the leaders of Congress and participate in
the debate. It will bring those strong men in contact, perhaps
into conflict, to advance the public weal and thus stimulate
their abilities and their efforts, and will thus assuredly result
to the good of the country."* The report--signed by such party
leaders as Allison, Blaine, and Ingalls among the Republicans,
and by Pendleton and Voorhees among the Democrats--reviewed the
history of relations between the executive and legislative
branches and closed with the expression of the unanimous belief
of the committee that the adoption of the measure "will be the
first step towards a sound civil service reform, which will
secure a larger wisdom in the adoption of policies, and a better
system in their execution."

* "Senate Report," No. 837, 46th Congress, 3d session, February
4, 1881.

No action was taken on this proposal, notwithstanding the favor
with which it was regarded by many close students of the
political institutions of the country. Public opinion,
preoccupied with more specific issues, seemed indifferent to a
reform that aimed simply at general improvement in governmental
machinery. The legislative calendars are always so heaped with
projects that to reach and act upon any particular measure is
impossible, except when there is brought to bear such energetic
pressure as to produce special arrangements for the purpose, and
in this case no such pressure was developed. A companion measure
for civil service reform which was proposed by Senator Pendleton
long remained in a worse situation, for it was not merely left
under the congressional midden heap but was deliberately buried
by politicians who were determined that it should never emerge.
That it did emerge is due to a tragedy which aroused public
opinion to an extent that intimidated Congress.

Want of genuine political principles made factional spirit only
the more violent and depraved. So long as power and opportunity
were based not upon public confidence but upon mere advantage of
position, the contention of party leaders turned upon questions
of appointment to office and the control of party machinery. The
Republican national convention of 1880 was the scene of a
factional struggle which left deep marks upon public life and
caused divisions lasting until the party leaders of that period
were removed from the scene. In September 1879, General Grant
landed in San Francisco, after a tour around the world occupying
over two years, and as he passed through the country he was
received with a warmth which showed that popular devotion was
abounding. A movement in favor of renominating him to the
Presidency was started under the direction of Senator Roscoe
Conkling of New York. Grant's renown as the greatest military
leader of the Civil War was not his only asset in the eyes of his
supporters. In his career as President he had shown, on occasion,
independence and steadfastness of character. He stayed the
greenback movement by his veto after eminent party leaders had
yielded to it. He had endeavored to introduce civil service
reform and, although his measures had been frustrated by the
refusal of Congress to vote the necessary appropriations, his
tenacity of purpose was such that it could scarcely be doubted
that with renewed opportunity he would resume his efforts. The
scandals which blemished the conduct of public affairs during his
administration could not be attributed to any lack of personal
honesty on his part. Grant went out of the presidential office
poorer than when he entered it. Since then, his views had been
broadened by travel and by observation, and it was a reasonable
supposition that he was now better qualified than ever before for
the duties of the presidential office. He was only fifty-eight,
an age much below that at which an active career should be
expected to close, and certainly an age at which European
statesmen are commonly thought to possess unabated powers. In
opposition to him was a tradition peculiar to American politics,
though unsupported by any provision of the Constitution
according to which no one should be elected President for more
than two terms. It may be questioned whether this tradition does
not owe its strength more to the ambition of politicians than to
sincere conviction on the part of the people.*

* The reasoning of "The Federalist," in favor of continued
reeligibility, is cogent in itself and is supported by the
experience of other countries, for it shows that custody of power
may remain in the same hands for long periods without detriment
and without occasioning any difficulty in terminating that
custody when public confidence is withdrawn. American
sensitiveness on this point would seem to impute to the
Constitution a frailty that gives it a low rating among forms of
government. As better means are provided for enforcing
administrative responsibility, the popular dislike of third terms
will doubtless disappear.

So strong was the movement in favor of General Grant as President
that the united strength of the other candidates had difficulty
in staying the boom, which, indeed, might have been successful
but for the arrogant methods and tactical blunders of Senator
Conkling. When three of the delegates voted against a resolution
binding all to support the nominee whoever that nominee might be,
he offered a resolution that those who had voted in the negative
"do not deserve and have forfeited their vote in this
convention." The feeling excited by this condemnatory motion was
so strong that Conkling was obliged to withdraw it. He also made
a contest in behalf of the unit rule but was defeated, as the
convention decided that every delegate should have the right to
have his vote counted as he individually desired. Notwithstanding
these defeats of the chief manager of the movement in his favor,
Grant was the leading candidate with 304 votes on the first
ballot, James G. Blaine standing second with 284. This was the
highest point in the balloting reached by Blaine, while the
Grant vote made slight gains. Besides Grant and Blaine, four
other candidates were in the field, and the convention drifted
into a deadlock which under ordinary circumstances would have
probably been dissolved by shifts of support to Grant. But in the
preliminary disputes a very favorable impression had been made
upon the convention by General Garfield, who was not himself a
candidate but was supporting the candidacy of John Sherman, who
stood third in the poll. On the twenty-eighth ballot, two votes
were cast for Garfield; although he protested that he was not a
candidate and was pledged to Sherman. But it became apparent that
no concentration could be effected on any other candidate to
prevent the nomination of Grant, and votes now turned to Garfield
so rapidly that on the thirty-sixth ballot he received 399, a
clear majority of the whole. The adherents of Grant stuck to him
to the end, polling 306 votes on the last ballot and subsequently
deporting themselves as those who had made a proud record of

The Democratic national convention nominated General Hancock,
which was, in effect, an appeal to the memories and sentiments of
the past, as their candidate's public distinction rested upon his
war record. The canvass was marked by listlessness and
indifference on the part of the general public, and by a fury of
calumny on the part of the politicians directed against their
opponents. Forgery was resorted to with marked effect on the
Pacific coast, where a letter--the famous Morey letter--in which
Garfield's handwriting was counterfeited, was circulated
expressing unpopular views an the subject of Chinese immigration.
The forgery was issued in the closing days of the canvass, when
there was not time to expose it. Arrangements had been made for a
wide distribution of facsimiles which exerted a strong influence.
Hancock won five out of the six electoral votes of California and
came near getting the three votes of Oregon also. In the popular
vote of the whole country, Garfield had a plurality of less than
ten thousand in a total vote of over nine million.

The peculiarities of the party system which has been developed in
American politics, forces upon the President the occupation of
employment agent as one of his principal engagements. The
contention over official patronage, always strong and ardent upon
the accession of every new President, was aggravated in
Garfield's case by the factional war of which his own nomination
was a phase. The factions of the Republican party in New York at
this period were known as the "Stalwarts" and the "Half-Breeds,"
the former adhering to the leadership of Senator Conkling, the
latter to the leadership of Mr. Blaine, whom President Garfield
had appointed to be his Secretary of State. Soon after the
inauguration of Garfield it became manifest that he would favor
the "Half-Breeds"; but under the Constitution appointments are
made by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and both
the Senators from New York were "Stalwarts." Although the
Constitution contemplates the action of the entire Senate as the
advisory body in matters of appointment, a practice had been
established by which the Senators from each State were accorded
the right to dictate appointments in their respective States.
According to Senator Hoar, when he entered public life in 1869,
"the Senate claimed almost the entire control of the executive
function of appointment to office.... What was called 'the
courtesy of the Senate' was depended upon to enable a Senator to
dictate to the executive all appointments and removals in his
territory." This practice was at its greatest height when
President Garfield challenged the system, and he let it be
understood that he would insist upon his constitutional right to
make nominations at his own discretion. When Senator Conkling
obtained from a caucus of his Republican colleagues an expression
of sympathy with his position, the President let it be known that
he regarded such action as an affront and he withdrew all New
York nominations except those to which exception had been taken
by the New York Senators, thus confronting the Senate with the
issue whether they would stand by the new Administration or would
follow Conkling's lead.

On the other hand, Senator Conkling and his adherents declared
the issue to be simply whether competent public officials should
be removed to make room for factional favorites. This view of the
case was adopted by Vice-President Arthur and by
Postmaster-General James of Garfield's own Cabinet, who, with New
York Senators Conkling and Platt, signed a remonstrance in which
they declared that in their belief the interests of the public
service would not be promoted by the changes proposed. These
changes were thus described in a letter of May 14,1881, from the
New York Senators to Governor Cornell of New York:

"Some weeks ago, the President sent to the Senate in a group the
nominations of several persons for public offices already filled.
One of these offices is the Collectorship of the Port of New
York, now held by General Merritt; another is the consul
generalship at London, now held by General Badeau; another is
Charge d'Affaires to Denmark, held by Mr. Cramer; another is the
mission to Switzerland, held by Mr. Fish, a son of the former
Secretary of State.... It was proposed to displace them all, not
for any alleged fault of theirs, or for any alleged need or
advantage of the public service, but in order to give the great
offices of Collector of the Port of New York to Mr. William H.
Robertson as a 'reward' for certain acts of his, said to have
aided in making the nomination of General Garfield possible....
We have not attempted to 'dictate,' nor have we asked the
nomination of one person to any office in the State."

Except in the case of their remonstrance against the Robertson
appointment, they had "never even expressed an opinion to the
President in any case unless questioned in regard to it." Along
with this statement the New York Senators transmitted their
resignations, saying "we hold it respectful and becoming to make
room for those who may correct all the errors we have made, and
interpret aright all the duties we have misconceived."

The New York Legislature was then in session. Conkling and Platt
offered themselves as candidates for reelection, and a protracted
factional struggle ensued; in the course of which, the nation was
shocked by the news that President Garfield had been assassinated
by a disappointed once seeker in a Washington railway station on
July 2, 1881. The President died from the effects of the wound on
the 19th of September. Meanwhile, the contest in the New York
Legislature continued until the 22d of July when the deadlock was
broken by the election of Warner Miller and Elbridge G. Lapham to
fill the vacancies.

The deep disgust with which the nation regarded this factional
war, and the horror inspired by the assassination of President
Garfield, produced a revulsion of public opinion in favor of
civil service reform so energetic as to overcome congressional
antipathy. Senator Pendleton's bill to introduce the merit
system, which had been pending for nearly two years, was passed
by the Senate on December 27, 1882, and by the House on January
4, 1883. The importance of the act lay in its recognition of the
principles of the reform and in its provision of means by which
the President could apply those principles. A Civil Service
Commission was created, and the President was authorized to
classify the Civil Service and to provide selection by
competitive examination for all appointments to the service thus
classified. The law was essentially an enabling act, and its
practical efficacy was contingent upon executive discretion.


President Garfield's career was cut short so soon after his
accession to office, that he had no opportunity of showing
whether he had the will and the power to obtain action for the
redress of public grievances, which the congressional factions
were disposed to ignore. His experience and his attainments were
such as should have qualified him for the task, and in his public
life he had shown firmness of character. His courageous
opposition to the greenback movement in Ohio had been of great
service to the nation in maintaining the standard of value. When
a party convention in his district passed resolutions in favor of
paying interest on the bonds with paper instead of coin, he gave
a rare instance of political intrepidity by declaring that he
would not accept the nomination on such a platform. It was the
deliberate opinion of Senator Hoar, who knew Garfield intimately,
that "next to the assassination of Lincoln, his death was the
greatest national misfortune ever caused to this country by the
loss of a single life."

The lingering illness of President Garfield raised a serious
question about presidential authority which is still unsettled.
For over two months before he died he was unable to attend to any
duties of office. The Constitution provides that "in case of the
removal of the President from office, or of his death,
resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of
the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President."
What is the practical significance of the term "inability"? If it
should be accepted in its ordinary meaning, a prostrating illness
would be regarded as sufficient reason for allowing the
Vice-President to assume presidential responsibility. Though
there was much quiet discussion of the problem, no attempt was
made to press a decision. After Garfield died, President Arthur,
on succeeding to the office, took up the matter in his first
annual message, putting a number of queries as to the actual
significance of the language of the Constitution--queries which
have yet to be answered. The rights and duties of the
Vice-President in this particular are dangerously vague. The
situation is complicated by a peculiarity of the electoral
system. In theory, by electing a President the nation expresses
its will respecting public policy; but in practice the candidate
for President may be an exponent of one school of opinion and the
candidate for Vice-President may represent another view. It is
impossible for a voter to discriminate between the two; he cannot
vote for the candidate for President without voting for the
candidate for Vice-President, since he does not vote directly for
the candidates themselves but for the party electors who are
pledged to the entire party ticket. Party conventions take
advantage of this disability on the part of the voter to work an
electioneering device known as a "straddle," the aim of which is
to please opposite interests by giving each a place on the
ticket. After Garfield was nominated, the attempt was made to
placate the defeated faction by nominating one of its adherents
for Vice-President, and now that nominee unexpectedly became the
President of the United States, with power to reverse the policy
of his predecessor.

In one important matter there was, in fact, an abrupt reversal of
policy. The independent countries of North and South America had
been invited to participate in a general congress to be held in
Washington, November 24, 1881. James Gillespie Blaine, who was
then Secretary of State, had applied himself with earnestness and
vigor to this undertaking, which might have produced valuable
results. It was a movement towards closer relations between
American countries, a purpose which has since become public
policy and has been steadily promoted by the Government.
With the inauguration of President Arthur, Blaine was succeeded
by Frederick T. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who practically
canceled the invitation to the proposed Congress some six weeks
after it had been issued. On February 3, 1889, Blaine protested
in an open letter to the President, and the affair occasioned
sharp discussion. In his regular message to Congress in the
following December, the President offered excuses of an evasive
character, pointing out that Congress had made no appropriation
for expenses and declaring that he had thought it "fitting that
the Executive should consult the representatives of the people
before pursuing a line of policy somewhat novel in its character
and far-reaching in its possible consequences."

In general, President Arthur behaved with a tact and prudence
that improved his position in public esteem. It soon became
manifest that, although he had been Conkling's adherent, he was
not his servitor. He conducted the routine business of the
presidential office with dignity, and he displayed independence
of character in his relations with Congress. But his powers were
so limited by the conditions under which he had to act that to a
large extent public interests had to drift along without
direction and management. In some degree, the situation resembled
that which existed in the Holy Roman Empire when a complicated
legalism kept grinding away and pretentious forms of authority
were maintained, although, meanwhile, there was actual
administrative impotence. Striking evidence of the existence of
such a situation is found in President Arthur's messages to

In his message of December 6, 1881, the President mentioned the
fact that in the West "a band of armed desperadoes known as
'Cowboys,' probably numbering fifty to one hundred men, have been
engaged for months in committing acts of lawlessness and
brutality which the local authorities have been unable to
repress." He observed that "with every disposition to meet the
exigencies of the case, I am embarrassed by lack of authority to
deal with them effectually." The center of disturbance was in
Arizona, and the punishment of crime there was ordinarily the
business of the local authorities. But even if they called for
aid, said the President, "this Government would be powerless to
render assistance," for the laws had been altered by Congress so
that States but not Territories could demand the protection of
the national Government against "domestic violence." He
recommended legislation extending to the Territories "the
protection which is accorded the States by the Constitution." On
April 26, 1882, the President sent a special message to Congress
on conditions in Arizona, announcing that "robbery, murder, and
resistance to laws have become so common as to cease causing
surprise, and that the people are greatly intimidated and losing
confidence in the protection of the law." He also advised
Congress that the "Cowboys" were making raids into Mexico, and
again begged for legal authority to act. On the 3rd of May, he
issued a proclamation calling upon the outlaws "to disperse and
retire peaceably to their respective abodes." In his regular
annual message on December 4, 1882, he again called attention "to
the prevalent lawlessness upon the borders, and to the necessity
of legislation for its suppression."

Such vast agitation from the operations of a band of ruffians,
estimated at from fifty to one hundred in number, and such
floundering incapacity for prompt action by public authority seem
more like events from a chronicle of the Middle Ages than from
the public records of a modern nation. Of like tenor, was a
famous career which came to an end in this period. Jesse W.
James, the son of a Baptist minister in Clay County, Missouri,
for some years carried on a bandit business, specializing in the
robbery of banks and railroad trains, with takings computed at
$263,778. As his friends and admirers were numerous, the elective
sheriffs, prosecuting attorneys, and judges in the area of his
activities were unable to stop him by any means within their
reach. Meanwhile, the frightened burghers of the small towns in
his range of operations were clamoring for deliverance from his
raids, and finally Governor Crittenden of Missouri offered a
reward of $10,000 for his capture dead or alive. Two members of
his own band shot him down in his own house, April 3, 1882. They
at once reported the deed and surrendered themselves to the
police, were soon put on trial, pleaded guilty of murder, were
sentenced to death, and were at once pardoned by the Governor.
Meanwhile, the funeral ceremonies over Jesse James's remains drew
a great concourse of people, and there were many indications of
popular sympathy. Stories of his exploits have had an extensive
sale, and his name has become a center of legend and ballad
somewhat after the fashion of the medieval hero Robin Hood.

The legislative blundering which tied the President's hands and
made the Government impotent to protect American citizens from
desperadoes of the type of the "cowboys" and Jesse James, is
characteristic of Congress during this period. Another example of
congressional muddling is found in an act which was passed for
the better protection of ocean travel and which the President
felt constrained to veto. In his veto message of July 1, 1882,
the President said that he was entirely in accord with the
purpose of the bill which related to matters urgently demanding
legislative attention. But the bill was so drawn that in practice
it would have caused great confusion in the clearing of vessels
and would have led to an impossible situation. It was not the
intention of the bill to do what the President found its language
to require, and the defects were due simply to maladroit
phrasing, which frequently occurs in congressional enactments,
thereby giving support to the theory of John Stuart Mill that a
representative assembly is by its very nature unfit to prepare
legislative measures.

The clumsy machinery of legislation kept bungling on,
irresponsive to the principal needs and interests of the times.
An ineffectual start was made on two subjects presenting simple
issues on which there was an energetic pressure of popular
sentiment--Chinese immigration and polygamy among the Mormons.
Anti-Chinese legislation had to contend with a traditional
sentiment in favor of maintaining the United States as an asylum
for all peoples. But the demand from the workers of the Pacific
slope for protection against Asiatic competition in the home
labor market was so fierce and so determined that Congress
yielded. President Arthur vetoed a bill prohibiting Chinese
immigration as "a breach of our national faith," but he admitted
the need of legislation on the subject and finally approved a
bill suspending immigration from China for a term of years. This
was a beginning of legislation which eventually arrived at a
policy of complete exclusion. The Mormon question was dealt with
by the Act of March 22, 1882, imposing penalties upon the
practice of polygamy and placing the conduct of elections in the
Territory of Utah under the supervision of a board of five
persons appointed by the President. Though there were many
prosecutions under this act, it proved so ineffectual in
suppressing polygamy that it was eventually supplemented by
giving the Government power to seize and administer the property
of the Mormon Church. This action, resulting from the Act of
March 3, 1887, created a momentous precedent. The escheated
property was held by the Government until 1896 and meanwhile, the
Mormon Church submitted to the law and made a formal declaration
that it had abandoned polygamy.

Another instance in which a lack of agreement between the
executive and the legislative branches of the Government
manifested itself, arose out of a scheme which President Arthur
recommended to Congress for the improvement of the waterways of
the Mississippi and its tributaries. The response of Congress was
a bill in which there was an appropriation of about $4,000,000
for the general improvements recommended, but about $14,000,000
were added for other special river and harbor schemes which had
obtained congressional favor. President Arthur's veto message of
August 1, 1882, condemned the bill because it contained
provisions designed "entirely for the benefit of the particular
localities in which it is proposed to make the improvements." He
thus described a type of legislation of which the nation had and
is still having bitter experience: "As the citizens of one State
find that money, to raise which they in common with the whole
country are taxed, is to be expended for local improvements in
another State, they demand similar benefits for themselves, and
it is not unnatural that they should seek to indemnify themselves
for such use of the public funds by securing appropriations for
similar improvements in their own neighborhood. Thus as the bill
becomes more objectionable it secures more support." The truth of
this last assertion Congress immediately proved by passing the
bill over the President's veto. Senator Hoar, who defended the
bill, has admitted that "a large number of the members of the
House who voted for it lost their seats" and that in his opinion
the affair "cost the Republican party its majority in the House
of Representatives."

Legislation regarding the tariff was, however, the event of
Arthur's administration which had the deepest effect upon the
political situation. Both national parties were reluctant to face
the issue, but the pressure of conditions became too strong for
them. Revenue arrangements originally planned for war needs were
still amassing funds in the Treasury vaults which were now far
beyond the needs of the Government, and were at the same time
deranging commerce and industry. In times of war, the Treasury
served as a financial conduit; peace had now made it a catch
basin whose excess accumulations embarrassed the Treasury and at
the same time, caused the business world to suffer from a
scarcity of currency. In his annual message on December 6, 1881,
President Arthur cautiously observed that it seemed to him "that
the time has arrived when the people may justly demand some
relief from the present onerous burden." In his message of
December 4, 1882, he was much more emphatic. Calling attention to
the fact that the annual surplus had increased to more than
$145,000,000, he observed that "either the surplus must lie idle
in the Treasury or the Government will be forced to buy at market
rates its bonds not then redeemable, and which under such
circumstances cannot fail to command an enormous premium, or the
swollen revenues will be devoted to extravagant expenditures,
which, as experience has taught, is ever the bane of an
overflowing treasury."

The congressional agents of the protected industries were
confronted by an exacting situation. The country was at peace but
it was still burdened by war taxes, although the Government did
not need the accumulating revenue and was actually embarrassed by
its excess. The President had already made himself the spokesman
of the popular demand for a substantial reduction of taxes. Such
a combination of forces in favor of lightening the popular burden
might seem to be constitutionally irresistible, but by adroit
maneuvering the congressional supporters of protection managed to
have the war rates generally maintained and, in some cases, even
increased. The case is a typical example of the way in which
advantage of strategic position in a governmental system can
prevail against mere numbers.

By the Act of May 15, 1882, a tariff commission was created to
examine the industrial situation and make recommendations as to
rates of duty. The President appointed men who stood high in the
commercial world and who were strongly attached to the protective
system. They applied themselves to their task with such energy
that by December 4, 1882, they had produced a voluminous report
with suggested amendments to customs laws.

But the advocates of high protection in the House were not
satisfied; they opposed the recommendations of the report and
urged that the best and quickest way to reduce taxation was by
abolishing or reducing items on the internal revenue list. This
policy not only commanded support on the Republican side, but
also received the aid of a Democratic faction which avowed
protectionist principles and claimed party sanction for them.
These political elements in the House were strong enough to
prevent action on the customs tariff, but a bill was passed
reducing some of the internal revenue taxes. This action seemed
likely to prevent tariff revision at least during that session.
Formidable obstacles, both constitutional and parliamentary,
stood in the way of action, but they were surmounted by ingenious

The Constitution provides that all revenue bills shall originate
in the House of Representatives, but the Senate has the right to
propose amendments. Under cover of this clause the Senate
originated a voluminous tariff bill and tacked it to the House
bill as an amendment. When the bill, as thus amended, came back
to the House, a two-thirds vote would have been required by the
existing rules to take it up for consideration, but this obstacle
was overcome by adopting a new rule by which a bare majority of
the House could forthwith take up a bill amended by the Senate,
for the purpose of non-concurrence but not for concurrence. The
object of this maneuver was to get the bill into a committee of
conference where the details could be arranged by private
negotiation. The rule was adopted on February 26, 1883, but the
committee of conference was not finally constituted until the 1st
of March, within two days of the close of the session. On the 3rd
of March, when this committee reported a measure on which they
had agreed, both Houses adopted this report and enacted the
measure without further ado.

In some cases, rates were fixed by the committee above the
figures voted in either House and even when there was no
disagreement, changes were made. The tariff commission had
recommended, for example, a duty of fifty cents a ton on iron
ore, and both the Senate and the House voted to put the duty at
that figure; but the conference committee fixed the rate at
seventy-five cents. When a conference committee report comes
before the House, it is adopted or rejected in toto, as it is not
divisible or amendable. In theory, the revision of a report is
feasible by sending it back to conference under instructions
voted by the House, but such a procedure is not really available
in the closing hours of a session, and the only practical course
of action is either to pass the bill as shaped by the conferees
or else to accept the responsibility for inaction. Thus pressed
for time, Congress passed a bill containing features obnoxious to
a majority in both Houses and offensive to public opinion.
Senator Sherman in his "Recollections" expressed regret that he
had voted for the bill and declared that, had the recommendations
of the tariff commission been adopted, "the tariff would have
been settled for many years," but "many persons wishing to
advance their particular industries appeared before the committee
and succeeded in having their views adopted." In his annual
message, December 4, 1883, President Arthur accepted the act as a
response to the demand for a reduction of taxation, which was
sufficiently tolerable to make further effort inexpedient until
its effects could be definitely ascertained; but he remarked that
he had "no doubt that still further reductions may be wisely

In general, President Arthur's administration may therefore be
accurately described as a period of political groping and party
fluctuation. In neither of the great national parties was there a
sincere and definite attitude on the new issues which were
clamorous for attention, and the public discontent was reflected
in abrupt changes of political support. There was a general
feeling of distrust regarding the character and capacity of the
politicians at Washington, and election results were apparently
dictated more by fear than by hope. One party would be raised up
and the other party cast down, not because the one was trusted
more than the other, but because it was for a while less odious.
Thus a party success might well be a prelude to a party disaster
because neither party knew how to improve its political
opportunity. The record of party fluctuation in Congress during
this period is almost unparalleled in sharpness.*

* In 1875, at the opening of the Forty-fourth Congress, the House
stood 110 Republicans and 182 Democrats. In 1881, the House stood
150 Republicans to 131 Democrats, with 12 Independent members. In
1884, the Republican list had declined to 119 and the Democratic
had grown to 201, and there were five Independents. The Senate,
although only a third of its membership is renewed every two
years, displayed extraordinary changes during this period. The
Republican membership of 46 in 1876 had declined to 33 by 1880,
and the Democratic membership had increased to 42. In 1882, the
Senate was evenly balanced in party strength, each party having
37 avowed adherents, but there were two Independents.

In state politics, the polling showed that both parties were
disgusted with their leadership and that there was a public
indifference to issues which kept people away from the polls. A
comparison of the total vote cast in state elections in 1882 with
that cast in the presidential election of 1880, showed a decline
of over eight hundred thousand in the Republican vote and of
nearly four hundred thousand in the Democratic vote. The most
violent of the party changes that took place during this period
occurred in the election of 1882, in New York State, when the
Republican vote showed a decline of over two hundred thousand and
the Democratic candidate for Governor was elected by a plurality
of nearly that amount. It was this election which brought Grover
Cleveland into national prominence.


Popular dissatisfaction with the behavior of public authority had
not up to this time extended to the formal Constitution. Schemes
of radical rearrangement of the political institutions of the
country had not yet been agitated. New party movements were
devoted to particular measures such as fresh greenback issues or
the prohibition of liquor traffic. Popular reverence for the
Constitution was deep and strong, and it was the habit of the
American people to impute practical defects not to the
governmental system itself but to the character of those acting
in it. Burke, as long ago as 1770, remarked truly that "where
there is a regular scheme of operations carried on, it is the
system and not any individual person who acts in it that is truly
dangerous." But it is an inveterate habit of public opinion to
mistake results for causes and to vent its resentment upon
persons when misgovernment occurs. That disposition was bitterly
intense at this period. "Turn the rascals out" was the ordinary
campaign slogan of an opposition party, and calumny formed the
staple of its argument. Of course no party could establish
exclusive proprietorship to such tactics, and whichever party
might be in power in a particular locality was cast for the
villain's part in the political drama. But as changes of party
control took place, experience taught that the only practical
result was to introduce new players into the same old game. Such
experience spread among the people a despairing feeling that
American politics were hopelessly depraved, and at the same time
it gave them a deep yearning for some strong deliverer. To this
messianic hope of politics may be ascribed what is in some
respects the most remarkable career in the political history of
the United States. The rapid and fortuitous rise of Grover
Cleveland to political eminence is without a parallel in the
records of American statesmanship, notwithstanding many instances
of public distinction attained from humble beginnings.

The antecedents of Cleveland were Americans of the best type. He
was descended from a colonial stock which had settled in the
Connecticut Valley. His earliest ancestor of whom there is any
exact knowledge was Aaron Cleveland, an Episcopal clergyman, who
died at East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1757, after founding a
family which in every generation furnished recruits to the
ministry. It argues a hereditary disposition for independent
judgment that among these there was a marked variation in
denominational choice. Aaron Cleveland was so strong in his
attachment to the Anglican church that to be ordained he went to
England--under the conditions of travel in those days a hard,
serious undertaking. His son, also named Aaron, became a
Congregational minister. Two of the sons of the younger Aaron
became ministers, one of them an Episcopalian like his
grandfather. Another son, William, who became a prosperous
silversmith, was for many years a deacon in the church in which
his father preached. William sent his second son, Richard, to
Yale, where he graduated with honors at the age of nineteen. He
turned to the Presbyterian church, studied theology at Princeton,
and upon receiving ordination began a ministerial career which
like that of many preachers was carried on in many pastorates. He
was settled at Caldwell, New Jersey, in his third pastorate, and
there Stephen Grover Cleveland was born, on March 18, 1837, the
fifth in a family of children that eventually increased to nine.
He was named after the Presbyterian minister who was his father's
predecessor. The first name soon dropped out of use, and from
childhood he went by his middle name, a practice of which the
Clevelands supply so many instances that it seems to be quite a
family trait.

In campaign literature, so much has been made of the humble
circumstances in which Grover made his start in life that the
unwary reader might easily imagine that the future President was
almost a waif. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He really
belonged to the most authentic aristocracy that any state of
society can produce--that which maintains its standards and
principles from generation to generation by the integrity of the
stock without any endowment of wealth. The Clevelands were people
who reared large families and sustained themselves with dignity
and credit on narrow means. It was a settled tradition with such
republican aristocrats that a son destined for a learned
profession--usually the ministry--should be sent to college, and
for that purpose heroic economies were practiced in the family.
The opportunities which wealth can confer are really trivial in
comparison with the advantage of being born and reared in such
bracing conditions as those which surrounded Grover Cleveland. As
a boy he was a clerk in a country store, but his education was
not neglected and at the age of fifteen he was studying, with a
view to entering college. His father's death ended that prospect
and forced him to go to work again to help support the family.
Some two years later, when the family circumstances were
sufficiently eased so that he could strike out for himself, he
set off westward, intending to reach Cleveland. Arriving at
Buffalo, he called upon a married aunt, who, on learning that he
was planning to get work at Cleveland with the idea of becoming a
lawyer, advised him to stay in Buffalo where opportunities were
better. Young Cleveland was taken into her home virtually as
private secretary to her husband, Lewis F. Allen, a man of means,
culture, and public spirit. Allen occupied a large house with
spacious grounds in a suburb of the city, and owned a farm on
which he bred fine cattle. He issued the "American Short-Horn
Herd Book," a standard authority for pedigree stock, and the
fifth edition, published in 1861, made a public acknowledgment of
"the kindness, industry, and ability" with which Grover Cleveland
had assisted the editor "in correcting and arranging the
pedigrees for publication."

With his uncle's friendship to back him, Cleveland had, of
course, no difficulty in getting into a reputable law office as a
student, and thereafter his affairs moved steadily along the road
by which innumerable young Americans of diligence and industry
have advanced to success in the legal profession. Cleveland's
career as a lawyer was marked by those steady, solid gains in
reputation which result from care and thoroughness rather than
from brilliancy, and in these respects it finds many parallels
among lawyers of the trustee type. What is exceptional and
peculiar in Cleveland's career is the way in which political
situations formed about him without any contrivance on his part,
and as it were projected him from office to office until he
arrived in the White House.

At the outset nothing could have seemed more unlikely than such a
career. Cleveland's ambitions were bound up in his profession and
his politics were opposed to those of the powers holding local
control. But the one circumstance did not shut him out of
political vocation and the other became a positive advantage. He
entered public life in 1863 through an unsought appointment as
assistant district attorney for Erie County. The incumbent of the
office was in poor health and needed an assistant on whom he
could rely to do the work. Hence Cleveland was called into
service. His actual occupancy of the position prompted his party
to nominate him to the office; and although he was defeated, he
received a vote so much above the normal voting strength of his
party that, in 1869, he was picked for the nomination to the
office of sheriff to strengthen a party ticket made up in the
interest of a congressional candidate. The expectation was that
while the district might be carried for the Democratic candidate
for Congress, Cleveland would probably fail of election. The
nomination was virtually forced upon him against his wishes. But
he was elected by a small plurality. This success, reenforced by
his able conduct of the office, singled him out as the party's
hope for success in the Buffalo municipal election; and after his
term as sheriff he was nominated for mayor, again without any
effort on his part. Although ordinarily the Democratic party was
in a hopeless minority, Cleveland was elected. It was in this
campaign that he enunciated the principle that public office is a
public trust, which was his rule of action throughout his career.
Both as sheriff and as mayor he acted upon it with a vigor that
brought him into collision with predatory politicians, and the
energy and address with which he defended public interests made
him widely known as the reform mayor of Buffalo. His record and
reputation naturally attracted the attention of the state
managers of the Democratic party, who were casting about for a
candidate strong enough to overthrow the established Republican
control, and Cleveland was just as distinctly drafted for the
nomination to the governorship in 1882 as he had been for his
previous offices.

In his career as governor Cleveland displayed the same stanch
characteristics as before, and he was fearless and aggressive in
maintaining his principles. The most striking characteristic of
his veto messages is the utter absence of partisan or personal
designs. Some of the bills he vetoed purported to benefit labor
interests, and politicians are usually fearful of any appearance
of opposition to such interests: His veto of the bill
establishing a five cent fare for the New York elevated railways
was an action of a kind to make him a target for calumny and
misrepresentation. Examination of the record reveals no instance
in which Cleveland flinched from doing his duty or faltered in
the full performance of it. He acted throughout in his avowed
capacity of a public trustee, and he conducted the office of
governor with the same laborious fidelity which he had displayed
as sheriff and as mayor. And now, as before, he antagonized
elements of his own party who sought only the opportunities of
office and cared little for its responsibilities. He did not
unite suavity of manner with vigor of action, and at times he
allowed himself to reflect upon the motives of opponents and to
use language that was personally offensive. He told the
Legislature in one veto message that "of all the defective and
shabby legislation which has been presented to me, this is the
worst and most inexcusable." He once sent a scolding message to
the State Senate, in which he said that "the money of the State
is apparently expended with no regard to economy," and that
"barefaced jobbery has been permitted." The Senate having refused
to confirm a certain appointee, he declared that the opposition
had "its rise in an overwhelming greed for the patronage which
may attach to the place," and that the practical effect of such
opposition was to perpetuate "the practice of unblushing
peculation." What he said was quite true and it was the kind of
truth that hurt. The brusqueness of his official style and the
censoriousness of his language infused even more personal
bitterness into the opposition which developed within his own
party than in that felt in the ranks of the opposing party. At
the same time, these traits delighted a growing body of reformers
hostile to both the regular parties. These "Mugwumps," as they
were called, were as a class so addicted to personal invective
that it was said of them with as much truth as wit that they
brought malice into politics without even the excuse of
partisanship. But it was probably the enthusiastic support of
this class which turned the scale in New York in the presidential
election of 1884.

In the national conventions of that year, there was an unusually
small amount of factional strife. In the Republican convention,
President Arthur was a candidate, but party sentiment was so
strong for Blaine that he led Arthur on the first ballot and was
nominated on the fourth by a large majority. In the Democratic
convention, Cleveland was nominated on the second ballot.
Meanwhile, his opponents had organized a new party from which
more was expected than it actually accomplished. It assumed the
title Anti-Monopoly and chose the notorious demagogue, General
Benjamin F. Butler, as its candidate for President.

During this campaign, the satirical cartoon attained a power and
an effectiveness difficult to realize now that it has become an
ordinary feature of journalism, equally available for any school
of opinion. But it so happened that the rise of Cleveland in
politics coincided with the artistic career of Joseph Keppler,
who came to this country from Vienna and who for some years
supported himself chiefly as an actor in Western theatrical
companies. He had studied drawing in Vienna and had contributed
cartoons to periodicals in that city. After some unsuccessful
ventures in illustrated journalism, he started a pictorial weekly
in New York in 1875. It was originally printed in German, but in
less than a year it was issued also in English. It was not until
1879 that it sprang into general notice through Keppler's success
in reproducing lithographed designs in color. Meanwhile, the
artist was feeling his way from the old style caricature, crowded
with figures with overhead loops of explanatory text, to designs
possessing an artistic unity expressive of an idea plain enough
to tell its own story. He had matured both his mechanical
resources and his artistic method by the time the campaign of
1884 came on, and he had founded a school which could apply the
style to American politics with aptness superior to his own. It
was Bernhard Gillam, who, working in the new Keppler style,
produced a series of cartoons whose tremendous impressiveness was
universally recognized. Blaine was depicted as the tattooed man
and was exhibited in that character in all sorts of telling
situations. While on the stump during the campaign, Blaine had
sometimes literally to wade through campaign documents assailing
his personal integrity, and phrases culled from them were chanted
in public processions. One of the features of a great parade of
business men of New York was a periodical chorus of "Burn this
letter," suiting the action to the word and thus making a
striking pyrotechnic display.* But the cartoons reached people
who would never have been touched by campaign documents or by
campaign processions.

* The allusion was to the Mulligan letters, which had been made
public by Mr. Blaine himself when it had been charged that they
contained evidence of corrupt business dealings. The disclosure
bad been made four years before and ample opportunity had existed
for instituting proceedings if the case warranted it, but nothing
was done except to nurse the scandal for campaign use.

Notwithstanding the exceptional violence and novel ingenuity of
the attacks made upon him, Blaine met them with such ability and
address that everywhere he augmented the ordinary strength of his
party, and his eventual defeat was generally attributed to an
untoward event among his own adherents at the close of the
campaign. At a political reception in the interest of Blaine
among New York clergymen, the Reverend Dr. Burchard spoke of the
Democratic party as "the party of rum, Romanism, and rebellion."
Unfortunately Blaine did not hear him distinctly enough to
repudiate this slur upon the religious belief of millions of
American citizens, and alienation of sentiment caused by the
tactless and intolerant remark could easily account for Blaine's
defeat by a small margin. He was only 1149 votes behind Cleveland
in New York in a poll of over 1,125,000 votes, and only 23,005
votes behind in a national poll of over 9,700,000 votes for the
leading candidates. Of course Cleveland in his turn was a target
of calumny, and in his case the end of the campaign did not bring
the customary relief. He was pursued to the end of his public
career by active, ingenious, resourceful, personal spite and
steady malignity of political opposition from interests whose
enmity he had incurred while Governor of New York.

The situation which confronted Cleveland when he became President
was so complicated and embarrassing that perhaps even the most
sagacious and resourceful statesman could not have coped with it
successfully, though it is the characteristic of genius to
accomplish the impossible. But Cleveland was no genius; he was
not even a man of marked talent. He was stanch, plodding,
laborious, and dutiful; but he was lacking in ability to
penetrate to the heart of obscure political problems and to deal
with primary causes rather than with effects. The great successes
of his administration were gained in particular problems whose
significance had already been clearly defined. In this field,
Cleveland's resolute and energetic performance of duty had
splendid results.

At the time of Cleveland's inauguration as President, the Senate
claimed an extent of authority which, if allowed to go
unchallenged, would have turned the Presidency into an office
much like that of the doge of Venice, one of ceremonial dignity
without real power. "The Federalist"--that matchless collection
of constitutional essays written by Hamilton, Madison, and
Jay--laid down the doctrine that "against the enterprising
ambition" of the legislative department "the people ought to
indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions."
But some of the precautions taken in framing the Constitution
proved ineffectual from the start. The right conferred upon the
President to recommend to the consideration of Congress "such
measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," was emptied
of practical importance by the success of Congress in
interpreting it as meaning no more than that the President may
request Congress to take a subject into consideration. In
practice, Congress considers only such measures as are
recommended by its own committees. The framers of the
Constitution took special pains to fortify the President's
position by the veto power, which is treated at length in the
Constitution. By a special clause, the veto power was extended to
"every order, resolution or vote... except on a question of
adjournment"--a clause which apparently should enable the
President to strike off the "riders" continually put upon
appropriation bills to coerce executive action; but no President
has ventured to exercise this authority. Although the Senate was
joined to the President as an advisory council in appointments to
office, it was explained in "The Federalist" that "there will be
no exertion of choice on the part of Senators." Nevertheless, the
Senate has claimed and exercised the right to dictate
appointments. While thus successfully encroaching upon the
authority of the President, the Senate had also been signally
successful in encroaching upon the authority of the House. The
framers of the Constitution anticipated for the House a masterful
career like that of the House of Commons, and they feared that
the Senate could not protect itself in the discharge of its own
functions; so, although the traditional principle that all
revenue bills should originate in the House was taken over into
the Constitution, it was modified by the proviso that "the Senate
may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills." This
right to propose amendments has been improved by the Senate until
the prerogative of the House has been reduced to an empty form.
Any money bill may be made over by amendment in the Senate, and
when contests have followed, the Senate has been so successful in
imposing its will upon the House that the House has acquired the
habit of submission. Not long before the election of Cleveland,
as has been pointed out, this habitual deference of the House had
enabled the Senate to originate a voluminous tariff act in the
form of an amendment to the Internal Revenue Bill voted by the

In addition to these extensions of power through superior address
in management, the ascendancy of the Senate was fortified by
positive law. In 1867, when President Johnson fell out with the
Republican leaders in Congress, a Tenure of Office Act was passed
over his veto, which took away from the President the power of
making removals except by permission of the Senate. In 1869, when
Johnson's term had expired, a bill for the unconditional repeal
of this law passed the House with only sixteen votes in the
negative, but the Senate was able to force a compromise act which
perpetuated its authority over removals.* President Grant
complained of this act as "being inconsistent with a faithful and
efficient administration of the government," but with all his
great fame and popularity he was unable to induce the Senate to
relinquish the power it had gained.

* The Act of April 5, 1869, required the President, within thirty
days after the opening of the sessions, to nominate persons for
all vacant offices, whether temporarily filled or not, and in
place of all officers who may have been suspended during the
recess of the Senate.

This law was now invoked by Republicans as a means of
counteracting the result of the election. Such was the feeling of
the times that partisanship could easily masquerade as
patriotism. Republicans still believed that as saviors of the
Union they had a prescriptive right to the government. During the
campaign, Eugene Field, the famous Western poet, had given a
typical expression of this sentiment in some scornful verses
concluding with this defiant notice:

These quondam rebels come today
In penitential form,
And hypocritically say
The country needs "Reform!"
Out on reformers such as these;
By Freedom's sacred powers,
We'll run the country as we please;
We saved it, and it's ours.

Although the Democratic party had won the Presidency and the
House, the Republicans still retained control of the Senate, and
they were expected as a matter of course to use their powers for
party advantage. Some memorable struggles, rich in constitutional
precedents, issued from these conditions.


As soon as Cleveland was seated in the presidential chair, he had
to deal with a tremendous onslaught of office seekers. In
ordinary business affairs, a man responsible for general policy
and management would never be expected to fritter away his time
and strength in receiving applicants for employment. The fact
that such servitude is imposed upon the President of the United
States shows that American political arrangements are still
rather barbaric, for such usages are more suitable to some
kinglet seated under a tree to receive the petitions of his
tribesmen than they are to a republican magistrate charged with
the welfare of millions of people distributed over a vast
continent. Office seekers apparently regard themselves as a
privileged class with a right of personal access to the
President, and any appearances of aloofness or reserve on his
part gives sharp offense. The exceptional force of such claims of
privilege in the United States may be attributed to the
participation which members of Congress have acquired in the
appointing power. The system thus created imposes upon the
President the duties of an employment agent, and at the same time
engages Congressmen in continual occupation as office brokers.
The President cannot deny himself to Congressmen, since he is
dependent upon their favor for opportunity to get legislative
consideration for his measures.

It was inevitable that numerous changes in office should take
place when the Democratic party came into power, after being
excluded for twenty-four years. It may be admitted that, in a
sound constitutional system, a change of management in the public
business would not vacate all offices any more than in private
business, but would affect only such leading positions as are
responsible for policy and discipline. Such a sensible system,
however, had existed only in the early days of the republic and
at the time of Cleveland's accession to office federal offices
were generally used as party barracks. The situation which
confronted President Cleveland he thus described in later years:

"In numerous instances the post-offices were made headquarters
for local party committees and organizations and the centers of
partisan scheming. Party literature favorable to the postmaster's
party, that never passed regularly through the mails, was
distributed through the post-offices as an item of party service;
and matter of a political character, passing through the mails in
the usual course and addressed to patrons belonging to the
opposite party, was withheld; disgusting and irritating placards
were prominently displayed in many post-offices, and the
attention of Democratic inquirers for mail matter was tauntingly
directed to them by the postmaster; and in various other ways
postmasters and similar officials annoyed and vexed those holding
opposite political opinions, who, in common with all having
business at public offices, were entitled to considerate and
obliging treatment. In some quarters, official incumbents
neglected public duty to do political work and especially in
Southern States, they frequently were not only inordinately
active in questionable political work, but sought to do party
service by secret and sinister manipulation of colored votes, and
by other practices inviting avoidable and dangerous collisions
between the white and colored population."*

*Cleveland, "Presidential Problems," pp. 42-43.

The Administration began its career in March, 1885. The Senate
did not convene until December. Meanwhile, removals and
appointments went on in the public service, the total for ten
months being six hundred and forty-three which was thirty-seven
less than the number of removals made by President Grant in seven
weeks, in 1869.

In obedience to the statute of 1869, President Cleveland sent in
all the recess appointments within thirty days after the opening
of the session. They were referred to various committees
according to the long established custom of the Senate, but the
Senate moved so slowly that three months after the opening of the
session, only seventeen nominations had been considered, fifteen
of which the Senate confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Senate had raised an issue which the President met
with a force and a directness probably unexpected. Among the
recess appointments was one to the office of District Attorney
for the Southern District of Alabama, in place of an officer who
had been suspended in July 1885, but whose term of office
expired by limitation on December 20, 1885. Therefore, at the
time the Senate took up the case, the Tenure of Office Act did
not apply to it, and the only question actually open was whether
the acting officer should be confirmed or rejected. Nevertheless,
the disposition to assert control over executive action was so
strong that the Senate drifted into a constitutional struggle
over a case that did not then involve the question of the
President's discretionary power of removal from office, which was
really the point at issue.

On December 26, 1885, the Judiciary Committee notified the
Attorney-General to transmit "all papers and information in the
possession of the Department" regarding both the nomination and
"the suspension and proposed removal from office" of the former
incumbent. On January 11, 1886, the Attorney-General sent to the
Committee the papers bearing upon the nomination, but withheld
those touching the removal on the ground that he had "received
no direction from the President in relation to their
transmission." The matter was debated by the Senate in executive
session and on January 25, 1886, a resolution was adopted which
was authoritative in its tone and which directed the
Attorney-General to transmit copies of all documents and papers
in relation to the conduct of the office of District Attorney for
the Southern District of Alabama since January 1, 1885. Within
three days, Attorney-General Garland responded that he had
already transmitted all papers relating to the nomination; but
with regard to the demand for papers exclusively relating to the
suspension of the former incumbent he was directed by the
President to say "that it is not considered that the public
interests will be promoted by a compliance."

The response of the Attorney-General was referred to the
Judiciary Committee which, on the 18th of February, made an
elaborate report exhibiting the issue as one which involved the
right of Congress to obtain information. It urged that "the
important question, then, is whether it is within the
constitutional competence of either House of Congress to have
access to the official papers and documents in the various public
offices of the United States, created by laws enacted by
themselves." The report, which was signed only by the Republican
members of the Committee, was an adroit partisan performance,
invoking traditional constitutional principles in behalf of
congressional privilege. A distinct and emphatic assertion of the
prerogative of the Senate was made, however, in resolutions
recommended to the Senate for adoption. Those resolutions
censured the Attorney-General and declared it to be the duty of
the Senate "to refuse its advice and consent to proposed removals
of officers" when papers relating to them "are withheld by the
Executive or any head of a department."

On the 2nd of March, a minority report was submitted, making the
point of which the cogency was obvious, that inasmuch as the
term of the official concerning whose suspension the Senate
undertook to inquire had already expired by legal limitation, the
only object in pressing for the papers in his case must be to
review an act of the President which was no longer within the
jurisdiction of the Senate, even if the constitutionality of the
Tenure of Office Act should be granted. The report also showed
that of the precedents cited in behalf of the majority's
contention, the applicability could be maintained only of those
which were supplied by cases arising since 1867, before which
time the right of the President to remove officers at his own
discretion was fully conceded.

The controversy had so far followed the ordinary lines of
partisan contention in Congress, which public opinion was
accustomed to regard with contemptuous indifference as mere
sparring for points in the electioneering game. President
Cleveland now intervened in a way which riveted the attention of
the nation upon the issue. Ever since the memorable struggle
which began when the Senate censured President Jackson and did
not end until that censure was expunged, the Senate had been
chary of a direct encounter with the President. Although the
response of the Attorney-General stated that he was acting under
the direction of the President, the pending resolutions avoided
any mention of the President but expressed "condemnation of the
refusal of the Attorney-General under whatever influence, to send
to the Senate" the required papers. The logical implication was
that, when the orders of the President and the Senate conflicted,
it was the duty of the Attorney-General to obey the Senate. This
raised an issue which President Cleveland met by sending to the
Senate his message of March 1, 1886, which has taken a high rank
among American constitutional documents. It is strong in its
logic, dignified in its tone, terse, direct, and forceful in its

Cleveland's message opened with the statement that "ever since
the beginning of the present session of the Senate, the different
heads of the departments attached to the executive branch of the
government have been plied with various requests and documents
from committees of the Senate, from members of such committees,
and at last from the Senate itself, requiring the transmission of
reasons for the suspension of certain officials during the recess
of that body, or for papers touching the conduct of such
officials." The President then observed that "though these
suspensions are my executive acts, based upon considerations
addressed to me alone and for which I am wholly responsible, I
have had no invitation from the Senate to state the position
which I have felt constrained to assume." Further on, he clinched
this admission of full responsibility by declaring that "the
letter of the Attorney-General in response to the resolution of
the Senate... was written at my suggestion and by my direction."

This statement made clear in the sight of the nation that the
true issue was between the President and the Senate. The strength
of the Senate's position lay in its claim to the right of access
to the records of public offices "created by laws enacted by
themselves." The counterstroke of the President was one of the
most effective passages of his message in its effect upon public
opinion. "I do not suppose," he said, "that the public offices of
the United States are regulated or controlled in their relations
to either House of Congress by the fact that they were 'created
by laws enacted by themselves.' It must be that these
instrumentalities were enacted for the benefit of the people and
to answer the general purposes of government under the
Constitution and the laws, and that they are unencumbered by any
lien in favor of either branch of Congress growing out of their
construction, and unembarrassed by any obligation to the Senate
as the price of their creation."

The President asserted that, as a matter of fact, no official
papers on file in the departments had been withheld. "While it is
by no means conceded that the Senate has the right, in any case,
to review the act of the Executive in removing or suspending a
public officer upon official documents or otherwise, it is
considered that documents and papers of that nature should,
because they are official, be freely transmitted to the Senate
upon its demand, trusting the use of the same, for proper and
legitimate purposes, to the good faith of that body; and though
no such paper or document has been especially demanded in any of
the numerous requests and demands made upon the departments, yet
as often as they were found in the public offices they have been
furnished in answer to such applications." The point made by the
President, with sharp emphasis, was that there was nothing in his
action which could be construed as a refusal of access to
official records; what he did refuse to acknowledge was the right
of the Senate to inquire into his motives and to exact from him a
disclosure of the facts, circumstances, and sources of
information that prompted his action. The materials upon which
his judgment was formed were of a varied character. "They consist
of letters and representations addressed to the Executive or
intended for his inspection; they are voluntarily written and
presented by private citizens who are not in the least instigated
thereto by any official invitation or at all subject to official
control. While some of them are entitled to Executive
consideration, many of them are so irrelevant or in the light of
other facts so worthless, that they have not been given the least
weight in determining the question to which they are supposed to
relate." If such matter were to be considered public records and
subject to the inspection of the Senate, the President would
thereby incur "the risk of being charged with making a suspension
from office upon evidence which was not even considered."

Issue as to the status of such documents was joined by the
President in the sharpest possible way by the declaration: "I
consider them in no proper sense as upon the files of the
department but as deposited there for my convenience, remaining
still completely under my control. I suppose if I desired to take
them into my custody I might do so with entire propriety, and if
I saw fit to destroy them no one could complain."

Moreover, there were cases in which action was prompted by oral
communications which did not go on record in any form. As to
this, Cleveland observed, "It will not be denied, I suppose, that
the President may suspend a public officer in the entire absence
of any papers or documents to aid his official judgment and
discretion; and I am quite prepared to avow that the cases are
not few in which suspensions from office have depended more upon
oral representations made to me by citizens of known good repute
and by members of the House of Representatives and Senators of
the United States than upon any letters and documents presented
for my examination." Nor were such representations confined to
members of his own party for, said he, "I recall a few
suspensions which bear the approval of individual members
identified politically with the majority in the Senate." The
message then reviewed the legislative history of the Tenure of
Office Act and questioned its constitutionality. The position
which the President had taken and would maintain was exactly
defined by this vigorous statement in his message:

"The requests and demands which by the score have for nearly
three months been presented to the different Departments of the
government, whatever may be their form, have but one complexion.
They assume the right of the Senate to sit in judgement upon the
exercise of my exclusive discretion and executive function, for
which I am solely responsible to the people from whom I have so
lately received the sacred trust of office. My oath to support
and defend the Constitution, my duty to the people who have
chosen me to execute the powers of their great office and not
relinquish them, and my duty to the chief magistracy which I must
preserve unimpaired in all its dignity and vigor, compel me to
refuse compliance with these demands."

There is a ringing quality in the style of this message not
generally characteristic of President Cleveland's state papers.
It evoked as ringing a response from public opinion, and this
effect was heightened by a tactless allusion to the message made
at this time in the Senate. In moving a reference of the message
to the Judiciary Committee, its chairman, Senator Edmunds of
Vermont, remarked that the presidential message brought vividly
to his mind "the communication of King Charles I to the
Parliament, telling them what, in conducting their affairs, they
ought to do and ought not to do." The historical reference,
however, had an application which Senator Edmunds did not
foresee. It brought vividly to mind what the people of England
had endured from a factional tyranny so relentless that the
nation was delighted when Oliver Cromwell turned Parliament out
of doors. It is an interesting coincidence that the Cleveland era
was marked by what in the book trade was known as the Cromwell
boom. Another unfortunate remark made by Senator Edmunds was that
it was the first time "that any President of the United States
has undertaken to interfere with the deliberations of either
House of Congress on questions pending before them, otherwise
than by message on the state of the Union which the Constitution
commands him to make from time to time." The effect of this
statement, however, was to stir up recollections of President
Jackson's message of protest against the censure of the Senate.
The principle laid down by Jackson in his message of April 15,
1834, was that "the President is the direct representative of the
American people," whereas the Senate is "a body not directly
amenable to the people." However assailable this statement may be
from the standpoint of traditional legal theory, it is
indubitably the principle to which American politics conform in
practice. The people instinctively expect the President to guard
their interests against congressional machinations.

There was a prevalent belief that the Senate's profession of
motives, of constitutional propriety, was insincere and that the
position it had assumed would never have been thought of had the
Republican candidate for President been elected. A feeling that
the Senate was not playing the game fairly to refuse the
Democrats their innings was felt even among Senator Edmunds' own
adherents. A spirit of comity traversing party lines is very
noticeable in the intercourse of professional politicians. Their
willingness to help each other out is often manifested,
particularly in struggles involving control of party machinery.
Indeed, a system of ring rule in a governing party seems to have
for its natural concomitant the formation of a similar ring in
the regular opposition, and the two rings maintain friendly
relations behind the forms of party antagonism. The situation is
very similar to that which exists between opposing counsel in
suits at law, where the contentions at the trial table may seem
to be full of animosity and may indeed at times really develop
personal enmity, but which as a general rule are merely for
effect and do not at all hinder cooperation in matters pertaining
to their common professional interest.

The attitude taken by the Senate in its opposition to President
Cleveland jarred upon this sense of professional comity, and it
was very noticeable that in the midst of the struggle some
questionable nominations of notorious machine politicians were
confirmed by the Senate. It may have been that a desire to
discredit the reform professions of the Administration
contributed to this result, but the effect was disadvantageous to
the Senate. "The Nation" on March 11, 1886, in a powerful article
reviewing the controversy observed: "There is not the smallest
reason for believing that, if the Senate won, it would use its
victory in any way for the maintenance or promotion of reform. In
truth, in the very midst of the controversy, it confirmed the
nomination of one of Baltimore's political scamps." It is
certainly true that the advising power of the Senate has never
exerted a corrective influence upon appointments to office; its
constant tendency is towards a system of apportionment which
concedes the right of the President to certain personal
appointments and asserts the reciprocal right of Congressmen to
their individual quotas.

As a result of these various influences, the position assumed by
the Republicans under the lead of Senator Edmunds was seriously
weakened. When the resolutions of censure were put to the vote on
the 26th of March, that condemning the refusal of the
Attorney-General to produce the papers was adopted by thirty-two
ayes to twenty-six nays--a strict party vote; but the resolution
declaring it to be the duty of the Senate in all such cases to
refuse its consent to removals of suspended officials was adopted
by a majority of only one vote, and two Republican Senators voted
with the Democrats. The result was, in effect, a defeat for the
Republican leaders, and they wisely decided to withdraw from the
position which they had been holding. Shortly after the passage
of the resolutions, the Senate confirmed the nomination over
which the contest started, and thereafter the right of the
President to make removals at his own discretion was not

This retreat of the Republican leaders was accompanied, however,
by a new development in political tactics, which from the
standpoint of party advantage, was ingeniously conceived. It was
now held that, inasmuch as the President had avowed attachment to
the principle of tenure of office during good behavior, his
action in suspending officers therefore implied delinquency in
their character or conduct from which they should be exonerated
in case the removal was really on partisan grounds. In reporting
upon nominations, therefore, Senate committees adopted the
practice of noting that there were no charges of misconduct
against the previous incumbents and that the suspension was on
account of "political reasons." As these proceedings took place
in executive session, which is held behind closed doors, reports
of this character would not ordinarily reach the public, but the
Senate now voted to remove the injunction of secrecy, and the
reports were published. The manifest object of these maneuvers
was to exhibit the President as acting upon the "spoils system"
of distributing offices. The President's position was that he was
not accountable to the Senate in such matters. In his message of
the 1st of March he said: "The pledges I have made were made to
the people, and to them I am responsible for the manner in which
they have been redeemed. I am not responsible to the Senate, and
I am unwilling to submit my actions and official conduct to them
for judgement."

While this contest was still going on, President Cleveland had to
encounter another attempt of the Senate to take his authority out
of his hands. The history of American diplomacy during this
period belongs to another volume in this series,* but a
diplomatic question was drawn into the struggle between the
President and the Senate in such a way that it requires mention
here. Shortly after President Cleveland took office, the fishery
articles of the Treaty of Washington had terminated. In his first
annual message to Congress, on December 8, 1885, he recommended
the appointment of a commission to settle with a similar
commission from Great Britain "the entire question of the fishery
rights of the two governments and their respective citizens on
the coasts of the United States and British North America." But
this sensible advice was denounced as weak and cowardly. Oratory
of the kind known as "twisting the lion's tail" resounded in
Congress. Claims were made of natural right to the use of
Canadian waters which would not have been indulged for a moment
in respect of the territorial waters of the United States. For
instance, it was held that a bay over six miles between headlands
gave free ingress so long as vessels kept three miles from shore
--a doctrine which, if applied to Long Island Sound, Delaware
Bay, or Chesapeake Bay, would have impaired our national
jurisdiction over those waters. Senator Frye of Maine took the
lead in a rub-a-dub agitation in the presence of which some
Democratic Senators showed marked timidity. The administration of
public services by congressional committees has the incurable
defect that it reflects the particular interests and attachments
of the committeemen. Presidential administration is so
circumstanced that it tends to be nationally minded; committee
administration, just as naturally, tends to be locally minded.
Hence, Senator Frye was able to report from the committee on
foreign relations a resolution declaring that a commission
"charged with the consideration and settlement of the fishery
rights... ought not to be provided for by Congress." Such was the
attitude of the Senate towards the President on this question,
that on April 13, 1886, this arrogant resolution was adopted by
thirty-five ayes to 10 nays. A group of Eastern Democrats who
were in a position to be affected by the longshore vote, joined
with the Republicans in voting for the resolution, and among them
Senator Gorman of Maryland, national chairman of the Democratic

* See "The Path of Empire," by Carl Russell Fish (in "The
Chronicles of America").

President Cleveland was no more affected by this Senate
resolution than he had been by their other resolutions attacking
his authority. He went ahead with his negotiations and concluded
treaty arrangements which the Senate, of course, rejected; but,
as that result had been anticipated, a modus vivendi which had
been arranged by executive agreements between the two countries
went into effect, regardless of the Senate's attitude. The case
is a signal instance of the substitution of executive
arrangements for treaty engagements which has since then been
such a marked tendency in the conduct of the foreign relations of
the United States.

A consideration which worked steadily against the Senate in its
attacks upon the President, was the prevalent belief that the
Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional in its nature and
mischievous in its effects. Although Senator Edmunds had been
able to obtain a show of solid party support, it eventually
became known that he stood almost alone in the Judiciary
Committee in his approval of that act. The case is an instructive
revelation of the arbitrary power conferred by the committee
system. Members are loath to antagonize a party chairman to whom
their own bills must go for approval. Finally, Senator Hoar dared
to take the risk, and with such success that on June 21, 1886,
the committee reported a bill for the complete repeal of the
Tenure of Office Act, the chairman--Senator Edmunds--alone
dissenting. When the bill was taken up for consideration, Senator
Hoar remarked that he did not believe there were five members of
the Senate who really believed in the propriety of that act. "It
did not seem to me to be quite becoming," he explained, "to ask
the Senate to deal with this general question, while the question
which arose between the President and the Senate as to the
interpretation and administration of the existing law was
pending. I thought, as a party man, that I had hardly the right
to interfere with the matter which was under the special charge
of my honorable friend from Vermont, by challenging a debate upon
the general subject from a different point of view."

Although delicately put, this statement was in effect a
repudiation of the party leadership of Edmunds and in the debate
which ensued, not a single Senator came to his support. He stood
alone in upholding the propriety of the Tenure of Office Act,
arguing that without its restraint "the whole real power and
patronage of this government was vested solely in the hands of a
President of the United States and his will was the law." He held
that the consent of the Senate to appointments was an
insufficient check if the President were allowed to remove at his
own will and pleasure. He was answered by his own party
colleagues and committee associates, Hoar and Evarts. Senator
Hoar went so far as to say that in his opinion there was not a
single person in this country, in Congress or out of Congress,
with the exception of the Senator from Vermont, who did not
believe that a necessary step towards reform "must be to impose
the responsibility of the Civil Service upon the Executive."
Senator Evarts argued that the existing law was incompatible with
executive responsibility, for "it placed the Executive power in a
strait-jacket." He then pointed out that the President had not
the legal right to remove a member of his own Cabinet and asked,
"Is not the President imprisoned if his Cabinet are to be his
masters by the will of the Senate?" The debate was almost wholly
confined to the Republican side of the Senate, for only one
Democrat took any part in it. Senator Edmunds was the sole
spokesman on his side, but he fought hard against defeat and
delivered several elaborate arguments of the "check and balance"
type. When the final vote took place, only three Republicans
actually voted for the repealing bill, but there were absentees
whose votes would have been cast the same way had they been
needed to pass the bill.*

* The bill was passed by thirty yeas and twenty-two nays, and
among the nays were several Senators who while members of the
House had voted for repeal. The repeal bill passed the House by a
vote of 172 to 67, and became law on March 3, 1887

President Cleveland had achieved a brilliant victory. In the
joust between him and Edmunds, in lists of his adversary's own
contriving, he had held victoriously to his course while his
opponent had been unhorsed. The granite composure of Senator
Edmunds' habitual mien did not permit any sign of disturbance to
break through, but his position in the Senate was never again
what it had been, and eventually he resigned his seat before the
expiration of his term. He retired from public life in 1891, at
the age of sixty-three.

From the standpoint of the public welfare, it is to be noted that
the issue turned on the maintenance of privilege rather than on
the discharge of responsibility. President Cleveland contended
that he was not responsible to the Senate but to the people for
the way in which he exercised his trusteeship. But the phrase
"the people" is an abstraction which has no force save as it
receives concrete form in appropriate institutions. It is the
essential characteristic of a sound constitutional system that it
supplies such institutions, so as to put executive authority on
its good behavior by steady pressure of responsibility through
full publicity and detailed criticism. This result, the Senate
fails to secure because it keeps trying to invade executive
authority, and to seize the appointing power instead of seeking
to enforce executive responsibility. This point was forcibly put
by "The Nation" when it said: "There is only one way of securing
the presentation to the Senate of all the papers and documents
which influence the President in making either removals or
appointments, and that is a simple way, and one wholly within the
reach of the Senators. They have only to alter their rules, and
make executive sessions as public as legislative sessions, in
order to drive the President not only into making no nominations
for which he cannot give creditable reasons, but into furnishing
every creditable reason for the nomination which he may have in
his possession."*

* "The Nation," March 11, 1888.

During the struggle, an effort was made to bring about this very
reform, under the lead of a Republican Senator, Orville H. Platt
of Connecticut. On April 13,1886, he delivered a carefully
prepared speech, based upon much research, in which he showed
that the rule of secrecy in executive sessions could not claim
the sanction of the founders of the government. It is true that
the Senate originally sat with closed doors for all sorts of
business, but it discontinued the practice after a few years. It
was not until 1800, six years after the practice of public
sessions had been adopted, that any rule of secrecy was applied
to business transacted in executive sessions. Senator Platt's
motion to repeal this rule met with determined opposition on both
sides of the chamber, coupled with an indisposition to discuss
the matter. When it came up for consideration on the 15th of
December, Senator Hoar moved to lay it on the table, which was
done by a vote of thirty-three to twenty-one. Such prominent
Democratic leaders as Gorman of Maryland and Vest of Missouri
voted with Republican leaders like Evarts, Edmunds, Allison, and
Harrison, in favor of Hoar's motion, while Hoar's own colleague,
Senator Dawes, together with such eminent Republicans as Frye of
Maine, Hawley of Connecticut, and Sherman of Ohio voted with
Platt. Thus, any party responsibility for the result was
successfully avoided, and an issue of great constitutional
importance was laid away without any apparent stir of popular


While President Cleveland was successfully asserting his
executive authority, the House of Representatives, too, was
trying to assert its authority; but its choice of means was such
that it was badly beaten and was reduced to a state of humble
subordination from which it has never emerged. Its traditional
procedure was arranged on the theory that Congress ought to
propose as well as to enact legislation, and to receive
recommendations from all quarters without preference or
discrimination. Although the Constitution makes it the right and
duty of the President to "recommend to their consideration such
measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," measures
proposed by the Administration stand on the same footing under
the rules as those proposed by the humblest citizen of the United
States. In both cases, they are allowed to reach Congress only in
the form of a bill or resolution introduced by a member of
Congress, and they go on the files without any distinction as to
rank and position except such as pertains to them from the time
and order in which they are introduced. Under the rules, all
measures are distributed among numerous committees, each having
charge of a particular class, with power to report favorably or
adversely. Each committee is constituted as a section of the
whole House, with a distribution of party representation
corresponding to that which exists in the House.

Viewed as an ideal polity, the scheme has attractive features. In
practice, however, it is attended with great disadvantages.
Although the system was originally introduced with the idea that
it would give the House of Representatives control over
legislative business, the actual result has been to reduce this
body to an impotence unparalleled among national representative
assemblies in countries having constitutional government. In a
speech delivered on December 10, 1885, William M. Springer of
Illinois complained: "We find ourselves bound hand and foot, the
majority delivering themselves over to the power of the minority
that might oppose any particular measures, so that nothing could
be done in the way of legislation except by unanimous consent or
by a two-thirds vote." As an instance of legislative paralysis,
he related that "during the last Congress a very important bill,
that providing for the presidential succession... was reported
from a committee of which I had the honor to be a member, and was
placed on the calendar of the House on the 21st day of April,
1884; and that bill, which was favored by nearly the entire
House, was permitted to die on the calendar because there never
was a moment, when under the rules as they then existed, the bill
could be reached and passed by the House." During the whole of
that session of Congress, the regular calendar was never reached.
"Owing to the fact that we could not transact business under the
rules, all business was done under unanimous consent or under
propositions to suspend the rules upon the two Mondays in each
month on which suspensions were allowed." As a two-thirds
majority was necessary to suspend the rules, any considerable
minority had a veto power.

The standing committees, whose ostensible purpose was to prepare
business for consideration, were characterized as legislative
cemeteries. Charles B. Lore of Delaware, referring to the
situation during the previous session, said: "The committees were
formed, they met in their respective committee rooms day after
day, week after week, working up the business which was committed
to them by this House, and they reported to this House 8290
bills. They came from the respective committees, and they were
consigned to the calendars of this House, which became for them
the tomb of the Capulets; most of them were never heard of
afterward. From the Senate there were 2700 bills.... Nine tenths
of the time of the committees of the Forty-eighth Congress was
wasted. We met week after week, month after month, and labored
over the cases prepared, and reported bills to the House. They
were put upon the calendars and there were buried, to be brought
in again and again in succeeding Congresses."

William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania bluntly declared: "No
legislation can be effectually originated outside the Committee
on Appropriations, unless it be a bill which will command
unanimous consent or a stray bill that may get a two-thirds vote,
or a pension bill." He explained that he excepted pension bills
"because we have for several years by special order remitted the
whole subject of pensions to a committee who bring in their bills
at sessions held one night in each week, when ten or fifteen
gentlemen decide what soldiers may have pensions and what
soldiers may not."

The Democratic party found this situation extremely irritating
when it came into power in the House. It was unable to do
anything of importance or even to define its own party policy,
and in the session of Congress beginning in December, 1885, it
sought to correct the situation by amending the rules. In this
undertaking it had sympathy and support on the Republican side.
The duress under which the House labored was pungently described
by Thomas B. Reed, who was just about that time revealing the
ability that gained for him the Republican leadership. In a
speech, delivered on December 16, 1885, he declared: "For the
last three Congresses the representatives of the people of the
United States have been in irons. They have been allowed to
transact no public business except at the dictation and by the
permission of a small coterie of gentlemen, who, while they
possessed individually more wisdom than any of the rest of us,
did not possess all the wisdom in the world."

The coterie alluded to by Mr. Reed was that which controlled the
committee on appropriations. Under the system created by the
rules of the House, bills pour in by tens of thousands. A member
of the House, of a statistical turn of mind, once submitted
figures to the House showing that it would take over sixty-six
years to go through the calendars of one session in regular
order, allowing an average of one minute for each member to
debate each bill. To get anything done, the House must proceed by
special order, and as it is essential to pass the appropriations
to keep up the government, a precedence was allowed to business
reported by that committee which in effect gave it a position of
mastery. O. R. Singleton of Mississippi, in the course of the
same debate, declared that there was a "grievance which towers
above all others as the Alps tower above the surrounding hills.
It is the power resting with said committee, and oftentimes
employed by it, to arrest any legislation upon any subject which
does not meet its approval. A motion to go into committee of the
whole to consider appropriation bills is always in order, and
takes precedence of all other motions as to the order of
The practical effect of the rules was that, instead of remaining
the servant of the House, the committee became its master. Not
only could the committee shut off from any consideration any
measure to which it was opposed, but it could also dictate to the
House the shape in which its own bills should be enacted. While
the form of full consideration and amendment is preserved, the
terms of a bill are really decided by a conference committee
appointed to adjust differences between the House and the Senate.
John H. Reagan of Texas stated that "a conference committee, made
up of three members of the appropriations committee, acting in
conjunction with a similar conference committee on the part of
the Senate, does substantially our legislation upon this subject
of appropriations." In theory, the House was free to accept or
reject the conference committee's report. Practically the choice
lay between the bill as fixed by the conference committee or no
bill at all during that session. Mr. Reagan stated the case
exactly when he said that it meant "letting six men settle what
the terms are to be, beyond our power of control, unless we
consent to a called session of Congress."

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