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The Slow Progress of Civil Service Reform

in New Territory.

FREDERIC ALMY.

I fear I am an impatient reformer. I am like the man who said: “The trouble is that the Lord is not in a hurry, but I am.” It is well enough to congratulate ourselves upon our successes if we keep adding to them, but otherwise the practice is dangerous. There is a saying that Brag is a good dog but Hold-fast is a better, and we civil service reformers are dogged in both ways. We can both brag and hold fast. Until lately, however, though we have held fast with a constantly firmer grip where we have taken hold, we have done little to extend our field. To change the metaphor, we can show fine specimen trees, but there is still no forest. We flourish, but we flourish in a desert of spoils. We have increased vertically but not horizontally.

At the Baltimore League meeting in 1903, (the last before this which I was able to attend) several papers told of the astonishing progress of the competitive system and of our phenomenal success. And yet at that time the total record of places with anything like a complete merit system consisted only of the federal service, the states and cities of New York and Massachusetts, and the cities of Chicago and Evanston, Milwaukee and Seattle.

The martyrdom of Garfield shocked the country into a spasm of political virtue and brought us in swift succession the federal civil service law in January, 1883, the New York state law in May of the same year, and the Massachusetts law in June, 1884. In these three fields the gain has been continuous, and the success almost complete. Two-thirds of the federal offices are now filled by competitive examination. In Massachusetts civil service rules prevail everywhere. In New York a second law in May, 1884, made the merit system compulsory for all cities as well as in the state service, and since 1894 it has been entrenched in the New York state constitution.

The first municipal civil service rules in the United States were established in Brooklyn December 15, 1883; the second in New York city, January 1, 1884, and the third in Buffalo, January 22, of the same year; the cities of Massachusetts followed in 1885. There have been set-backs and hard fighting, but in these places the cause is now triumphantly successful. In Buffalo, for instance, 87 per cent. of the municipal offices in all departments are now under civil service rules which are well administered by an aggressive and competent commission.

In the words of Henry V:
"We therefore have great cause of thankfulness;
And shall forget the office of our hand
Sooner than quittance of desert and merit

According to the weight and worthiness."
And Lord Scroop answers:

"So (civil) service shall with steeled sinews toil,
And labor shall refresh itself with hope."

But the king was speaking cynically to dishonest servants, and Scroop and his confederates were presently dismissed and executed. We also cannot yet praise the service of all our states.

As has been said, a moral spasm brought civil service reform in the federal service and in New York and Massachusetts in 1883 and 1884. Then followed, so far as new territory is concerned, a Rip Van Winkle sleep of over twenty years, which for most of the country is still unbroken. Until last year, New York and Massachusetts were still the only states which had the merit system in either the entire state or city service, but in 1905 Wisconsin enacted a civil service law for the state service only. As for cities outside of New York and Massachusetts, there are to-day only seven which have anything like a complete merit system. Chicago (1895), Milwaukee (1895) and Seattle (1896); and since 1900, Los Angeles (1903), Portland, Oregon, (1903), Denver (1904) and Philadelphia (1905). One state service and seven other cities large and small in the twenty-two years since 1884 is not a large bag, and does not indicate a triumphantly victorious reform.

To forestall the imputation of mis-statement it should at once be added that this list does not include some towns, and also some states and cities where there has been a partial success, or where a success has been won and then lost. By including these we can make a trifling addition

In 1895 Illinois passed an admirable act, not applying to the state service, but permissive for towns and cities, under which Chicago and Evanston adopted civil service riiles in 1895, and Rockford, Aurora and Elgin in 1903. Last year, in 1905, positions in the Illinois state charitable institutions were placed under civil rules, though in each institution the superintendent and also one clerk and stenographer were exempted. The rest of the state and city service of Illinois is still in politics.

It has been sometimes incorrectly said that the state charitable institutions of Indiana are under civil service reform. They have been made non-partisan, but there are no civil service rules or examinations.

San Francisco secured a measure of civil service reform by a charter passed in 1900, but it was held unconstitutional as to the county offices of sheriff, clerk, recorder, coroner and assessor,—some of the largest departments of the consolidated city government. Moreover, there has been every obstacle and at last accounts a civil service commission hostile to civil service reform was successfully thwarting the law.

If we take finally those cities where the civil service rules apply to the police or fire department only, we can add several more. Most are very recent. Milwaukee began in 1885 with the police and fire service only and these are still under separate rules, while the teachers' positions are under still another merit system. In Wisconsin, LaCrosse, Superior, Sheboygan, Janesville and Fond Du Lac now have police and fire examinations.

In 1903 Ohio passed a municipal code the provisions of which, according to the 20th report of the United States Civil Service Commission, "are meagre and inadequate and cover only the police and fire departments. Under this law Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo have civil service rules in those departments.

In 1905 New Jersey passed a law providing for civil service rules in the police and fire departments of cities of the first class.

In Duluth since 1904, civil service rules have covered the police and fire departments and also "clerks who do not handle money."

New Haven had civil service rules in 1898 for its police and fire service, but, according to the 22nd report of the United States Commission, the provision that examinations shall be competitive is "nullified” by the provision that the secretary shall certify those who may have passed the requisite examination with a grade of 70 or over. (22nd Rept. U. S. Civ. Serv. Com. p. 154.)

Civil service rules are reported also in Norfolk, Va.

To complete the record, it should be added that in the police departments of Pittsburgh and Kansas City, there exists what is described as a worthless kind of civil service examination, and that a first success has been followed by failure in New Orleans, Galveston, Tacoma and Jacksonville.

This ends the list, so far as I can discover. There have been creditable but unsuccessful attempts also in Atlanta, Memphis and Minneapolis, and Michigan, Kansas, Maryland and Texas. No other states or cities are mentioned in the reports of the United States Civil Service Commission from which the foregoing facts have been drawn.

It would take a map to show adequately the meagreness of this total, if we except the federal service. There is nothing of value in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut or Rhode Island. There is nothing in the south. There is nothing in the state of President Gilman and Mr. Bonaparte; nothing in the state of Mr. Foulke, and Mr. Swift; very little in the state of Gen. Aiken, and Prof. Farnam; very little even in the state of Pendleton and Garfield. And yet everywhere is the leaven of the federal service, which for twenty-three years, in each state and territory, has been like yeast leavening the whole lump. There is better soil to sow in; there are better fields to reap in than ever before. The wide popularity of President Roosevelt lends strength to the cause he has always championed. The fields are white for harvest; the federal sun shines; but we do not make hay. This could have been said, at least, with truth up to the time of our Baltimore meeting in 1903. From 1885 until 1903, or for eighteen years, there was a period almost of stagnation so far as new territory was concerned. It we subtract from the above record the considerable additions of the last three years and the original successes of 1883 and 1884, the remainder is almost nil.

This does not mean that civil service reformers were idle during these years. On the contrary, all who know the story recognize with pride the devoted service, the hard work, the long advance, and the many triumphs between 1885 and 1905. Few causes have been more fortunate in their leaders, and it is partly because the old fields were so well defended and so diligently improved that new fields were not attempted. The former was the more important fight, and there was little strength to spare. Now, however, at least half our time at our meetings and through the year might well be given to development in new territory.*

In 1885 the National League announced sixty organized Civil Service Reform Associations. To-day, in 1906, there are fifteen. This does not include the four women's associations all of which are in territory also covered by men's associations. The women's clubs are doing good missionary work with visible results. There is room for woman's besom if the spoils system is to be swept from the land. The men civil service reformers, like Hercules, strangled serpents in their infancy. The women's associations, like Minerva, were born full grown, full armed, but the pride of man is comforted by the

* This paragraph is an addition. Otherwise the paper is as read at New Haven. F. A.

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