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Restriction of Political Activity of
BY HON. WILLIAM DUDLEY FOULKE.
On July 14, 1886, President Cleveland issued certain instructions cautioning officeholders against "offending, by display of obtrusive partisanship, their neighbors who have relations with them as public officials."
He adds, “The influence of federal officeholders should not be felt in the manipulation of political primary meetings and nominating conventions. The use by these officials of their positions to compass their selection as delegates to political conventions is indecent and unfair; and proper regard for their proprieties and requirements of official place will also prevent their assuming the active conduct of political campaigns.'
When that order was promulgated there was a loud protest against it as interfering with the political freedom of officeholders and employees. We were reminded of our sacred duties as citizens of this great republic and the question was indignantly asked, “By what right can a President prevent an American citizen performing in his own way his highest political duties ?"
The protest was a rather natural expression of American sympathy with freedom. I remember sharing in that feeling. It seemed to me that a man ought to do what he thought right as a citizen whether he was employed by the government or not, and that except in the perforinance of his official functions, he had a right to be just as offensive to the partisans upon the other sides as he considered the necessities of the case required. I was once offensive myself in the exposure of certain frauds and outrages in the treatment of the insane in my own state and it seemed to me that any good citizen had a right to be equally so if he believed that his duty required it. Therefore, although I was a pretty good civil service reformer on other points, I scouted the idea of “offensive partisanship" as laid down in the order of Mr. Cleveland.
Moreover there was a good deal of shuffling in the enforcement of the order. I remember an instance where the partisanship of a republican prosecuting attorney was considered very offensive and the delinquent was summarily dismissed, while the partisanship of a democratic prosecuting attorney, evinced by words and acts quite like those of his republican prototype, contained no element of offense at all. It has nearly always happened that the men dismissed for this sort of "offensiveness" have belonged the party that was not in power.
Indeed, I think today that the first reason given by President Cleveland for this order, that of "offending by the display of obtrusive partisanship,” is not a very cogent reason. The American people can stand a good cleal of this kind of offense and survive it. Of course, a public employee ought to treat with courtesy and impartiality those who deal wit!ı him in an official capacity, but when once his public duties have been properly discharged, his “offensiveness” in denouncing the iniquities of the other side is one which we can well afford to tolerate.
But another reason given by Mr. Cleveland is more vital, and upon that ground I have been thoroughly converted. He says, “They have no right as officeholders to dictate the political action of their party associates, or to throttle freedom of action within party lines by methods and practices which pervert every useful and justifiable purpose of party organization.” De might have gone further and denied their right to influence elections, as well as party action, for this is an influence which may be quite as injurious as that exercised within their own party.
The question, even in Mr. Cleveland's time, was not a new one, It arose as early as the days of President Jefferson and the vital ground was strongly stated by Albert Gallatin, his Secretary of the Treasury, who in a circular to revenue collectors, said it was the opinion of the President that "the exercise of official influence to restrain or control the freedoin of suffrage of citizens or subordinate officials was practically destructive of the fundamental principles of a republican constitution." And again Jefferson himself in a letter to Thos. McKean, Feb. 2, 1801, said, “Interferences with elections, wh of the state or general government, by officers of the latter should be deemed cause of removal, because the constitutional remedy by the elective principle becomes nothing if it may be smothered by the enormous patronage of the general government."
Before President Cleveland's time there had been other executive expressions upon the subject. On June * 22, 1877, President Hayes had declared, “No officer
should be required or permitted to take part in the management of political organizations, caucuses, conventions, or election campaigns.
The civil service law was passed during the administration of President Arthur, also before Mr. Cleveland's time. That law does not prohibit the general political activity of officeholders beyond declaring that no person in tlie public service lias the right to use his official authority or influence to coerce another. It confines itself in its penal provisions to the one question of political contributions. This was one phase of political interference peculiarly objectionable at that time, when large sums were levied by congressional and other political committees upon the men who held places. The evil was a serious one; it diverted to party purposes a portion of the salary of those who had been appointed to serve, not the party, but the whole people, and it levied a species of blackmail upon every placeholder.
The civil service law, therefore, prohibited federal officers or employees from requesting or making political contributions to one another, and prohibited all soliciting in a federal building. It was a good law as far as it went, but it did not go far enough even in regard to contributions. No public officer may ask another, but some one else may do it and the effect may be quite the same. I know a case in point. When I was a civil service cominissioner, the Honorable Matthew Stanley Quay, one of the Senators from the state of Pennsylvania, sent out to hundreds of federal officeholders within that commonwealth letters asking for political contributions. This was a clear violation of the law. The letters were brought to the attention of the President. He directed that Mr. Quay should be required instantly to recall the solicitations. Mr. Quay stated that he did not know that he had been guilty of any offense against the federal statutes and when his attention was called to the matter, he revoked the letters at once in a published statement. Then he was called away. In the meantime the secretary of the committee, of which Mr. Quay was the chairman, issued a new series of letters on his own account. The letter heads contained the caption, “Republican State Committee. Chairman, Matthew Stanley Quay," but each letter was signed by the secretary, one Mr. Andrews, and they were scattered broadcast among the federal officeholders and employees. One of them came to my notice and I communicated its contents to the President, and he sent me at once to Pennsylvania to confer with Mr. Quay and to demand of him that these second series of letters should also be instantly revoked. I well remember the interview. The Senator was provoked beyond expression. He said, “I would do more for the President than for any living man. I wrote the first letter without the slightest idea that I was violating the law and when he told me to take it back I did so. Then I went away to settle the coal strike and I knew nothing about the letter sent in my absence by Mr. Andrews. I am not responsible for that letter and I won't take it back. I have made a fool of myself once and I won't do it again. Tell the Presi(lent he may go ahead and have me indicted. I cannot help it, but," he added confidentially. "I hope he won't do it before the election." I laid the case before the attorney general, but nothing came of it. The first letter had been condoned by Quay's immediate revocation of it and as to the second letter, there was no proof, and indeed I did not believe myself that Quay knew anything about it, and thus it was that nothing could be done.
Now the remedy is in a new law, prohibiting not only solicitations of officeholders by officeholders, but of officeholders by all persons whomsoever. This has been repeatedly recommended by the Civil Service Commission. Let it be a penal offense for anyone to ask a political contribution of any officeholder or employee; let it be a penal offense for any officeholder or employee to ask a political contribution from any one else. When these two prohibitions are incorporated into the law, the remedy will be effectual.
It has been suggested that no employee should even be allowed to contribute. Perhaps even that does not go too far, though public opinion is hardly ripe for it yet.
So much for the law against political contributions. That was part of the evil, but it was not the only part. The obligation to work for the party, to attend the primaries, to set up the pins, and to do in general the work, often disreputable, of “the organization" was considered to be one of the duties of the place. Public office laid the incumbent under contribution, not only for party assessments, but also for party services, and thus position was prostituted to party exigencies. This evil in one form or another lay at the basis on the whole spoils system. Under that system, to get and to keep office was the bribe for political activity. The competitive system was established in order that this bribe, at least for the purpose of getting the place might be eliminated. But it is equally important that political activity for the purpose of keeping a place should also be eliminated, but it is very difficult to do this so long as political activity in the man who holds the place is allowed at all. If that activity is allowed, it is pretty sure to be exercised for the purpose of keeping office, and if exercised by hundreds of thousands of officeholders for this purpose, it may give a power to perpetuate an existing administration, which is quite illegitimate and may be wholly unpatriotic. It may be said that patronage defeats its own end, that the appointing power will have on its hands for each selection made a dozen disappointed office-seekers and one ingrate. I think that is often true, but whether the power of appointment really acts in favor of the patron or the other way, it is, in either case, illegitimate power and should not be exercised at all any more than other forms of bribery. For if the mere power of appointment lead to abuses, the political activity of the appointee continues the same