Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). An Autobiography. 1913.
V APPLIED IDEALISM
IN the spring of 1899 I was appointed by President Harrison Civil Service Commissioner. For nearly five years I had not been very active in political life; although I had done some routine work in the organization and had made campaign speeches, and in 1886 had run for Mayor of New York against Abram S. Hewitt, Democrat, and Henry George, Independent, and had been defeated.
I served six years as Civil Service Commissionerfour years under President Harrison and then two years under President Cleveland. I was treated by both Presidents with the utmost consideration. Among my fellow-Commissioners there was at one time ex-Governor Hugh Thompson, of South Carolina, and at another time John R. Proctor, of Kentucky. They were Democrats and ex-Confederate soldiers. I became deeply attached to both, and we stood shoulder to shoulder in every contest in which the Commission was forced to take part.
Civil Service Reform had two sides. There was, first, the effort to secure a more efficient administration of the public service, and, second, the even more important effort to withdraw the administrative offices of the Government from the domain of spoils politics, and thereby cut out of American political life a fruitful source of corruption and degradation. The spoils theory of politics is that public office is so much plunder which the victorious political party is entitled to appropriate to the use of its adherents. Under this system the work of the Government was often done well even in those days, when Civil Service Reform was only an experiment, because the man running an office if himself an able and far-sighted man, knew that inefficiency in administration would be visited on his head in the long run, and therefore insisted upon most of his subordinates doing good work; and, moreover, the men appointed under the spoils system were necessarily men of a certain initiative and power, because those who lacked these qualities were not able to shoulder themselves to the front. Yet there were many flagrant instances of inefficiency, where a powerful chief quartered friend, adherent, or kinsman upon the Government. Moreover, the necessarily haphazard nature of the employment, the need of obtaining and holding the office by service wholly unconnected with official duty, inevitably tended to lower the standard of public morality, alike among the office-holders and among the politicians who rendered party service with the hope of reward in office. Indeed, the doctrine that "To the victor belong the spoils," the cynical battle-cry of the spoils politician in America for the sixty years preceding my own entrance into public life, is so nakedly vicious that few right-thinking men of trained mind defend it. To appoint, promote, reduce, and expel from the public service, letter-carriers, stenographers, women typewriters, clerks, because of the politics of themselves or their friends, without regard to their own service, is, from the standpoint of the people at large, as foolish and degrading as it is wicked.
Such being the case, it would seem at first sight extraordinary that it should be so difficult to uproot the system. Unfortunately, it was permitted to become habitual and traditional in American life, so that the conception of public office as something to be used primarily for the good of the dominant political party became ingrained in the mind of the average American, and he grew so accustomed to the whole process that it seemed part of the order of nature. Not merely the politicians but the bulk of the people accepted this in a matter-of-course way as the only proper attitude. There were plenty of communities where the citizens themselves did not think it natural, or indeed proper, that the Post-Office should be held by a man belonging to the defeated party. Moreover, unless both sides were forbidden to use the offices for purposes of political reward, the side that did use them possessed such an advantage over the other that in the long run it was out of the question for the other not to follow the bad example that had been set. Each party profited by the offices when in power, and when in opposition each party insincerely denounced its opponents for doing exactly what it itself had done and intended again to do.
It was necessary, in order to remedy the evil, both gradually to change the average citizen's mental attitude toward the question, and also to secure proper laws and proper administration of the laws. The work is far from finished even yet. There are still masses of office-holders who can be used by an unscrupulous Administration to debauch political conventions and fraudulently overcome public sentiment, especially in the "rotten borough" districtsthose where the party is not strong, and where the office-holders in consequence have a disproportionate influence. This was done by the Republican Administration in 1912, to the ruin of the Republican party. Moreover, there are numbers of States and municipalities where very little has as yet been done to do away with the spoils system. But in the National Government scores of thousands of offices have been put under the merit system, chiefly through the action of the National Civil Service Commission.
The use of Government offices as patronage is a handicap difficult to overestimate from the standpoint of those who strive to get good government. Any effort for reform of any sort, National, State, or municipal, results in the reformers immediately finding themselves face to face with an organized band of drilled mercenaries who are paid out of the public chest to train themselves with such skill that ordinary good citizens when they meet them at the polls are in much the position of militia matched against regular troops. Yet these citizens themselves support and pay their opponents in such a way that they are drilled to overthrow the very men who support them. Civil Service Reform is designed primarily to give the average American citizen a fair chance in politics, to give to this citizen the same weight in politics that the "ward heeler" has.
Patronage does not really help a party. It helps the bosses to get control of the machinery of the partyas in 1912 was true of the Republican partybut it does not help the party. On the average, the most sweeping party victories in our history have been won when the patronage was against the victors. All that the patronage does is to help the worst element in the party retain control of the party organization. Two of the evil elements in our Government against which good citizens have to contend are, 1, the lack of continuous activity on the part of these good citizens themselves, and, 2, the ever-present activity of those who have only an evil self-interest in political life. It is difficult to interest the average citizen in any particular movement to the degree of getting him to take an efficient part in it. He wishes the movement well, but he will not, or often cannot, take the time and the trouble to serve it efficiently; and this whether he happens to be a mechanic or a banker, a telegraph operator or a storekeeper. He has his own interests, his own business, and it is difficult for him to spare the time to go around to the primaries, to see to the organization, to see to getting out the votein short, to attend to all the thousand details of political management.
On the other hand, the spoils system breeds a class of men whose financial interest it is to take this necessary time and trouble. They are paid for so doing, and they are paid out of the public chest. Under the spoils system a man is appointed to an ordinary clerical or ministerial position in the municipal, Federal, or State government, not primarily because he is expected to be a good servant, but because he has rendered help to some big boss or to the henchman of some big boss. His stay in office depends not upon how he performs service, but upon how he retains his influence in the party. This necessarily means that his attention to the interests of the public at large, even though real, is secondary to his devotion to his organization, or to the interest of the ward leader who put him in his place. So he and his fellows attend to politics, not once a year, not two or three times a year, like the average citizen, but every day in the year. It is the one thing that they talk of, for it is their bread and butter. They plan about it and they scheme about it. They do it because it is their business. I do not blame them in the least. I blame us, the people, for we ought to make it clear as a bell that the business of serving the people in one of the ordinary ministerial Government positions, which have nothing to do with deciding the policy of the Government, should have no necessary connection with the management of primaries, of caucuses, and of nominating conventions. As a result of our wrong thinking and supineness, we American citizens tend to breed a mass of men whose interests in governmental matters are often adverse to ours, who are thoroughly drilled, thoroughly organized, who make their livelihood out of politics, and who frequently make their livelihood out of bad politics. They know every little twist and turn, no matter how intricate, in the politics of their several wards, and when election day comes the ordinary citizen who has merely the interest that all good men, all decent citizens, should have in political life, finds himself as helpless before these men as if he were a solitary volunteer in the presence of a band of drilled mercenaries on a field of battle. There are a couple of hundred thousand Federal offices, not to speak of State and municipal offices. The men who fill these offices, and the men who wish to fill them, within and without the dominant party for the time being, make a regular army, whose interest it is that the system of bread-and-butter politics shall continue. Against their concrete interest we have merely the generally unorganized sentiment of the community in favor of putting things on a decent basis. The large number of men who believe vaguely in good are pitted against the smaller but still larger number of men whose interest it often becomes to act very concretely and actively for evil; and it is small wonder that the struggle is doubtful.
During my six years' service as Commissioner the field of the merit system was extended at the expense of the spoils system so as to include several times the number of offices that had originally been included. Generally this was done by the introduction of competitive entrance examinations; sometimes, as in the Navy-Yards, by a system of registration. This of itself was good work.
Even better work was making the law efficient and genuine where it applied. As was inevitable in the introduction of such a system, there was at first only partial success in its application. For instance, it applied to the ordinary employees in the big custom-houses and post-offices, but not to the heads of these offices. A number of the heads of the offices were slippery politicians of a low moral grade, themselves appointed under the spoils system, and anxious, directly or indirectly, to break down the merit system and to pay their own political debts by appointing their henchmen and supporters to the positions under them. Occasionally these men acted with open and naked brutality. Ordinarily they sought by cunning to evade the law. The Civil Service Reformers, on the other hand, were in most cases not much used to practical politics, and were often well-nigh helpless when pitted against veteran professional politicians. In consequence I found at the beginning of my experiences that there were many offices in which the execution of the law was a sham. This was very damaging, because it encouraged the politicians to assault the law everywhere, and, on the other hand, made good people feel that the law was not worth while defending.
The first effort of myself and my colleagues was to secure the genuine enforcement of the law. In this we succeeded after a number of lively fights. But of course in these fights we were obliged to strike a large number of influential politicians, some of them in Congress, some of them the supporters and backers of men who were in Congress. Accordingly we soon found ourselves engaged in a series of contests with prominent Senators and Congressmen. There were a number of Senators and Congressmenmen like Congressman (afterwards Senator) H. C. Lodge, of Massachusetts; Senator Cushman K. Davis, of Minnesota; Senator Orville H. Platt, of Connecticut; Senator Cockrell, of Missouri; Congressman (afterwards President) McKinley, of Ohio, and Congressman Dargan, of South Carolinawho abhorred the business of the spoilsman, who efficiently and resolutely championed the reform at every turn, and without whom the whole reform would certainly have failed. But there were plenty of other Senators and Congressmen who hated the whole reform and everything concerned with it and everybody who championed it; and sometimes, to use a legal phrase, their hatred was for cause, and sometimes it was peremptorythat is, sometimes the Commission interfered with their most efficient, and incidentally most corrupt and unscrupulous, supporters, and at other times, where there was no such interference, a man nevertheless had an innate dislike of anything that tended to decency in government. These men were always waging war against us, and they usually had the more or less open support of a certain number of Government officials, from Cabinet officers down. The Senators and Congressmen in question opposed us in many different ways. Sometimes, for instance, they had committees appointed to investigate usduring my public career without and within office I grew accustomed to accept appearances before investigating committees as part of the natural order of things. Sometimes they tried to cut off the appropriation for the Commission.
Occasionally we would bring to terms these Senators or Congressmen who fought the Commission by the simple expedient of not holding examinations in their districts. This always brought frantic appeals from their constituents, and we would explain that unfortunately the appropriations had been cut, so that we could not hold examinations in every district, and that obviously we could not neglect the districts of those Congressmen who believed in the reform and therefore in the examinations. The constituents then turned their attention to the Congressman, and the result was that in the long run we obtained sufficient money to enable us to do our work. On the whole, the most prominent leaders favored us. Any man who is the head of a big department, if he has any fitness at all, wishes to see that department run well; and a very little practical experience shows him that it cannot be run well if he must make his appointments to please spoilsmongering politicians. As with almost every reform that I have ever undertaken, most of the opposition took the guise of shrewd slander. Our opponents relied chiefly on downright misrepresentation of what it was that we were trying to accomplish, and of our methods, acts, and personalities. I had more than one lively encounter with the authors and sponsors of these misrepresentations, which at the time were full of interest to me. But it would be a dreary thing now to go over the record of exploded mendacity, or to expose the meanness and malice shown by some men of high official position. A favorite argument was to call the reform Chinese, because the Chinese had constructed an inefficient governmental system based in part on the theory of written competitive examinations. The argument was simple. There had been written examinations in China; it was proposed to establish written examinations in the United States; therefore the proposed system was Chinese. The argument might have been applied still further. For instance, the Chinese had used gunpowder for centuries; gunpowder is used in Springfield rifles; therefore Springfield rifles were Chinese. One argument is quite as logical as the other. It was impossible to answer every falsehood about the system. But it was possible to answer certain falsehoods, especially when uttered by some Senator or Congressman of note. Usually these false statements took the form of assertions that we had asked preposterous questions of applicants. At times they also included the assertion that we credited people to districts where they did not live; this simply meaning that these persons were not known to the active ward politicians of those districts.
One opponent with whom we had a rather lively tilt was a Republican Congressman from Ohio, Mr. Grosvenor, one of the floor leaders. Mr. Grosvenor made his attack in the House, and enumerated our sins in picturesque rather than accurate fashion. There was a Congressional committee investigating us at the time, and on my next appearance before them I asked that Mr. Grosvenor be requested to meet me before the committee. Mr. Grosvenor did not take up the challenge for several weeks, until it was announced that I was leaving for my ranch in Dakota; whereupon, deeming it safe, he wrote me a letter expressing his ardent wish that I should appear before the committee to meet him. I promptly canceled my ticket, waited, and met him. He proved to be a person of happily treacherous memory, so that the simple expedient of arranging his statements in pairs was sufficient to reduce him to confusion. For instance, he had been trapped into making the unwary remark, "I do not want to repeal the Civil Service Law, and I never said so." I produced the following extract from one of his speeches: "I will vote not only to strike out this provision, but I will vote to repeal the whole law." To this he merely replied that there was "no inconsistency between those two statements." He asserted that "Rufus P. Putnam, fraudulently credited to Washington County, Ohio, never lived in Washington County, Ohio, or in my Congressional district, or in Ohio as far as I know." We produced a letter which, thanks to a beneficent Providence, he had himself written about Mr. Rufus P. Putnam, in which he said: "Mr. Rufus P. Putnam is a legal resident of my district and has relatives living there now." He explained, first, that he had not written the letter; second, that he had forgotten he had written the letter; and, third, that he was grossly deceived when he wrote it. He said: "I have not been informed of one applicant who has found a place in the classified service from my district." We confronted him with the names of eight. He looked them over and said, "Yes, the eight men are living in my district as now constituted," but added that his district had been gerrymandered so that he could no longer tell who did and who didn't live in it. When I started further to question him, he accused me of a lack of humor in not appreciating that his statements were made "in a jesting way," and then announced that "a Congressman making a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives was perhaps in a little different position from a witness on the witness stand"a frank admission that he did not consider exactitude of statement necessary when he was speaking as a Congressman. Finally he rose with great dignity and said that it was his "constitutional right" not to be questioned elsewhere as to what he said on the floor of the House of Representatives; and accordingly he left the delighted committee to pursue its investigations without further aid from him.
A more important opponent was the then Democratic leader of the Senate, Mr. Gorman. In a speech attacking the Commission Mr. Gorman described with moving pathos how a friend of his, "a bright young man from Baltimore," a Sunday-school scholar, well recommended by his pastor, wished to be a letter-carrier; and how he went before us to be examined. The first question we asked him, said Mr. Gorman, was the shortest route from Baltimore to China, to which the "bright young man" responded that he didn't want to go to China, and had never studied up that route. Thereupon, said Mr. Gorman, we asked him all about the steamship lines from the United States to Europe, then branched him off into geology, tried him in chemistry, and finally turned him down.
Apparently Mr. Gorman did not know that we kept full records of our examinations. I at once wrote to him stating that I had carefully looked through all our examination papers and had not been able to find one question even remotely resembling any of these questions which he alleged had been asked, and that I would be greatly obliged if he would give me the name of the "bright young man" who had deceived him.
However, that "bright young man" remained permanently without a name. I also asked Mr. Gorman, if he did not wish to give us the name of his informant, to give us the date of the examination in which he was supposed to have taken part; and I offered, if he would send down a representative to look through our files, to give him all the aid we could in his effort to discover any such questions. But Mr. Gorman, not hitherto known as a sensitive soul, expressed himself as so shocked at the thought that the veracity of the "bright young man" should be doubted that he could not bring himself to answer my letter. So I made a public statement to the effect that no such questions had ever been asked. Mr. Gorman brooded over this; and during the next session of Congress he rose and complained that he had received a very "impudent" letter from me (my letter was a respectful note calling attention to the fact that, if he wished, he could by personal examination satisfy himself that his statements had no foundation in fact). He further stated that he had been "cruelly" called to account by me because he had been endeavoring to right a "great wrong" that the Civil Service Commission had committed; but he never, then or afterwards, furnished any clue to the identity of that child of his fondest fancy, the bright young man without a name. 1
The incident is of note chiefly as shedding light on the mental make-up of the man who at the time was one of the two or three most influential leaders of the Democratic party. Mr. Gorman had been Mr. Cleveland's party manager in the Presidential campaign, and was the Democratic leader in Congress. It seemed extraordinary that he should be so reckless as to make statements with no foundation in fact, which he might have known that I would not permit to pass unchallenged. Then, as now, the ordinary newspaper, in New York and elsewhere, was quite as reckless in its misstatements of fact about public men and measures; but for a man in Mr. Gorman's position of responsible leadership such action seemed hardly worth while. However, it is at least to be said for Mr. Gorman that he was not trying by falsehood to take away any man's character. It would be well for writers and speakers to bear in mind the remark of Pudd'nhead Wilson to the effect that while there are nine hundred and ninety-nine kinds of falsehood, the only kind specifically condemned in Scripture, just as murder, theft, and adultery are condemned, is bearing false witness against one's neighbor.
One of the worst features of the old spoils system was the ruthless cruelty and brutality it so often bred in the treatment of faithful public servants without political influence. Life is hard enough and cruel enough at best, and this is as true of public service as of private service. Under no system will it be possible to do away with all favoritism and brutality and meanness and malice. But at least we can try to minimize the exhibition of these qualities. I once came across a case in Washington which very keenly excited my sympathy. Under an Administration prior to the one with which I was connected a lady had been ousted from a Government position. She came to me to see if she could be reinstated. (This was not possible, but by active work I did get her put back in a somewhat lower position, and this only by an appeal to the sympathy of a certain official.) She was so pallid and so careworn that she excited my sympathy and I made inquiries about her. She was a poor woman with two children, a widow. She and her two children were in actual want. She could barely keep the two children decently clad, and she could not give them the food growing children need. Three years before she had been employed in a bureau in a department of Washington, doing her work faithfully, at a salary of about $800. It was enough to keep her and her two children in clothing, food, and shelter. One day the chief of the bureau called her up and told her he was very sorry that he had to dismiss her. In great distress she asked him why; she thought that she had been doing her work satisfactorily. He answered her that she had been doing well, and that he wished very much that he could keep her, that he would do so if he possibly could, but that he could not; for a certain Senator, giving his name, a very influential member of the Senate, had demanded her place for a friend of his who had influence. The woman told the bureau chief that it meant turning her out to starve. She had been thirteen or fourteen years in the public service; she had lost all touch with her friends in her native State; dismissal meant absolute want for her and her children. On this the chief, who was a kind man, said he would not have her turned out, and sent her back to her work.
But three weeks afterwards he called her up again and told her he could not say how sorry he was, but the thing had to be done. The Senator had been around in person to know why the change had not been made, and had told the chief that he would be himself removed if the place were not given him. The Senator was an extremely influential man. His wants had to be attended to, and the woman had to go. And go she did, and turned out she was, to suffer with her children and to starve outright, or to live in semi-starvation, just as might befall. I do not blame the bureau chief, who hated to do what he did, although he lacked the courage to refuse; I do not even very much blame the Senator, who did not know the hardship that he was causing, and who had been calloused by long training in the spoils system; but this system, a system which permits and encourages such deeds, is a system of brutal iniquity.
Any man accustomed to dealing with practical politics can with difficulty keep a straight face when he reads or listens to some of the arguments advanced against Civil Service Reform. One of these arguments, a favorite with machine politicians, takes the form of an appeal to "party loyalty" in filling minor offices. Why, again and again these very same machine politicians take just as good care of henchmen of the opposite party as of those of their own party. In the underworld of politics the closest ties are sometimes those which knit together the active professional workers of opposite political parties. A friend of mine in the New York Legislaturethe hero of the alpha and omega incidentonce remarked to me: "When you have been in public life a little longer, Mr. Roosevelt, you will understand that there are no politics in politics." In the politics to which he was referring this remark could be taken literally.
Another illustration of this truth was incidentally given me, at about the same time, by an acquaintance, a Tammany man named Costigan, a good fellow according to his lights. I had been speaking to him of a fight in one of the New York downtown districts, a Democratic district in which the Republican party was in a hopeless minority, and, moreover, was split into the Half-Breed and Stalwart factions. It had been an interesting fight in more than one way. For instance, the Republican party, at the general election, polled something like five hundred and fifty votes, and yet at the primary the two factions polled seven hundred and twenty-five all told. The sum of the parts was thus considerably greater than the whole. There had been other little details that made the contest worthy of note. The hall in which the primary was held had been hired by the Stalwarts from a conscientious gentleman. To him the Half-Breeds applied to know whether they could not hire the hall away from their opponents, and offered him a substantial money advance. The conscientious gentleman replied that his word was as good as his bond, that he had hired the hall to the Stalwarts, and that it must be theirs. But he added that he was willing to hire the doorway to the Half-Breeds if they paid him the additional sum of money they had mentioned. The bargain was struck, and the meeting of the hostile hosts was spirited, when the men who had rented the doorway sought to bar the path of the men who had rented the hall. I was asking my friend Costigan about the details of the struggle, as he seemed thoroughly acquainted with them, and he smiled good-naturedly over my surprise at there having been more votes cast than there were members of the party in the whole district. Said I, "Mr. Costigan, you seem to have a great deal of knowledge about this; how did it happen?" To which he replied, "Come now, Mr. Roosevelt, you know it's the same gang that votes in all the primaries."
So much for most of the opposition to the reform. There was, however, some honest and at least partially justifiable opposition both to certain of the methods advocated by Civil Service Reformers and to certain of the Civil Service Reformers themselves. The pet shibboleths of the opponents of the reform were that the system we proposed to introduce would give rise to mere red-tape bureaucracy, and that the reformers were pharisees. Neither statement was true. Each statement contained some truth.
If men are not to be appointed by favoritism, wise or unwise, honest or dishonest, they must be appointed in some automatic way, which generally means by competitive examination. The easiest kind of competitive examination is an examination in writing. This is entirely appropriate for certain classes of work, for lawyers, stenographers, typewriters, clerks, mathematicians, and assistants in an astronomical observatory, for instance. It is utterly inappropriate for carpenters, detectives, and mounted cattle inspectors along the Rio Grandeto instance three types of employment as to which I had to do battle to prevent well-meaning bureaucrats from insisting on written competitive entrance examinations. It would be quite possible to hold a very good competitive examination for mounted cattle inspectors by means of practical tests in brand reading and shooting with rifle and revolver, in riding "mean" horses and in roping and throwing steers. I did my best to have examinations of this kind instituted, but my proposal was of precisely the type which most shocks the routine official mind, and I was never able to get it put into practical effect.
The important point, and the point most often forgotten by zealous Civil Service Reformers, was to remember that the routine competitive examination was merely a means to an end. It did not always produce ideal results. But it was normally better than a system of appointments for spoils purposes; it sometimes worked out very well indeed; and in most big governmental offices it not only gave satisfactory results, but was the only system under which good results could be obtained. For instance, when I was Police Commissioner we appointed some two thousand policemen at one time. It was utterly impossible for the Commissioners each to examine personally the six or eight thousand applicants. Therefore they had to be appointed either on the recommendation of outsiders or else by written competitive examination. The latter methodthe one we adoptedwas infinitely preferable. We held a rigid physical and moral pass examination, and then, among those who passed, we held a written competitive examination, requiring only the knowledge that any good primary common school education would meetthat is, a test of ordinary intelligence and simple mental training. Occasionally a man who would have been a good officer failed, and occasionally a man who turned out to be a bad officer passed; but, as a rule, the men with intelligence sufficient to enable them to answer the questions were of a type very distinctly above that of those who failed.
The answers returned to some of the questions gave an illuminating idea of the intelligence of those answering them. For instance, one of our questions in a given examination was a request to name five of the New England States. One competitor, obviously of foreign birth, answered: "England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cork." His neighbor, who had probably looked over his shoulder but who had North of Ireland prejudices, made the same answer except that he substituted Belfast for Cork. A request for a statement as to the life of Abraham Lincoln elicited, among other less startling pieces of information, the fact that many of the applicants thought that he was a general in the Civil War; several thought that he was President of the Confederate States; three thought he had been assassinated by Jefferson Davis, one by Thomas Jefferson, one by Garfield, several by Guiteau, and one by Ballington Booththe last representing a memory of the fact that he had been shot by a man named Booth, to whose surname the writer added the name with which he was most familiar in connection therewith. A request to name five of the States that seceded in 1861 received answers that included almost every State in the Union. It happened to be at the time of the silver agitation in the West, and the Rocky Mountain States accordingly figured in a large percentage of the answers. Some of the men thought that Chicago was on the Pacific Ocean. Others, in answer to a query as to who was the head of the United States Government, wavered between myself and Recorder Goff; one brilliant genius, for inscrutable reasons, placed the leadership in the New York Fire Department. Now of course some of the men who answered these questions wrong were nevertheless quite capable of making good policemen; but it is fair to assume that on the average the candidate who has a rudimentary knowledge of the government, geography, and history of his country is a little better fitted, in point of intelligence, to be a policeman than the one who has not.
Therefore I felt convinced, after full experience, that as regards very large classes of public servants by far the best way to choose the men for appointment was by means of written competitive examination. But I absolutely split off from the bulk of my professional Civil Service Reform friends when they advocated written competitive examinations for promotion. In the Police Department I found these examinations a serious handicap in the way of getting the best men promoted, and never in any office did I find that the written competitive promotion examination did any good. The reason for a written competitive entrance examination is that it is impossible for the head of the office, or the candidate's prospective immediate superior, himself to know the average candidate or to test his ability. But when once in office the best way to test any man's ability is by long experience in seeing him actually at work. His promotion should depend upon the judgment formed of him by his superiors.
So much for the objections to the examinations. Now for the objections to the men who advocated the reform. As a rule these men were high-minded and disinterested. Certain of them, men like the leaders in the Maryland and Indiana Reform Associations, for instances, Messrs. Bonaparte and Rose, Foulke and Swift, added common sense, broad sympathy, and practical efficiency to their high-mindedness. But in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston there really was a certain mental and moral thinness among very many of the leaders in the Civil Service Reform movement. It was this quality which made them so profoundly antipathetic to vigorous and intensely human people of the stamp of my friend Joe Murraywho, as I have said, always felt that my Civil Service Reform affiliations formed the one blot on an otherwise excellent public record. The Civil Service Reform movement was one from above downwards, and the men who took the lead in it were not men who as a rule possessed a very profound sympathy with or understanding of the ways of thought and life of their average fellow-citizen. They were not men who themselves desired to be letter-carriers or clerks or policemen, or to have their friends appointed to these positions. Having no temptation themselves in this direction, they were eagerly anxious to prevent other people getting such appointments as a reward for political services. In this they were quite right. It would be impossible to run any big public office to advantage save along the lines of the strictest application of Civil Service Reform principles; and the system should be extended throughout our governmental service far more widely than is now the case.
But there are other and more vital reforms than this. Too many Civil Service Reformers, when the trial came, proved tepidly indifferent or actively hostile to reforms that were of profound and far-reaching social and industrial consequence. Many of them were at best lukewarm about movements for the improvement of the conditions of toil and life among men and women who labor under hard surroundings, and were positively hostile to movements which curbed the power of the great corporation magnates and directed into useful instead of pernicious channels the activities of the great corporation lawyers who advised them.
Most of the newspapers which regarded themselves as the especial champions of Civil Service Reform and as the highest exponents of civic virtue, and which distrusted the average citizen and shuddered over the "coarseness" of the professional politicians, were, nevertheless, given to vices even more contemptible than, although not so gross as, those they denounced and derided. Their editors were refined men of cultivated tastes, whose pet temptations were backbiting, mean slander, and the snobbish worship of anything clothed in wealth and the outward appearances of conventional respectability. They were not robust or powerful men; they felt ill at ease in the company of rough, strong men; often they had in them a vein of physical timidity. They avenged themselves to themselves for an uneasy subconsciousness of their own shortcomings by sitting in cloisteredor, rather, pleasantly upholsteredseclusion, and sneering at and lying about men who made them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes these were bad men, who made them feel uncomfortable by the exhibition of coarse and repellent vice; and sometimes they were men of high character, who held ideals of courage and of service to others, and who looked down and warred against the shortcomings of swollen wealth, and the effortless, easy lives of those whose horizon is bounded by a sheltered and timid respectability. These newspapers, owned and edited by these men, although free from the repulsive vulgarity of the yellow press, were susceptible to influence by the privileged interests, and were almost or quite as hostile to manliness as they were to unrefined viceand were much more hostile to it than to the typical shortcomings of wealth and refinement. They favored Civil Service Reform; they favored copyright laws, and the removal of the tariff on works of art; they favored all the proper (and even more strongly all the improper) movements for international peace and arbitration; in short, they favored all good, and many goody-goody, measures so long as they did not cut deep into social wrong or make demands on National and individual virility. They opposed, or were lukewarm about, efforts to build up the army and the navy, for they were not sensitive concerning National honor; and, above all, they opposed every non-milk-and-water effort, however sane, to change our social and economic system in such a fashion as to substitute the ideal of justice towards all for the ideal of kindly charity from the favored few to the possibly grateful many.
Some of the men foremost in the struggle for Civil Service Reform have taken a position of honorable leadership in the battle for those other and more vital reforms. But many of them promptly abandoned the field of effort for decency when the battle took the form, not of a fight against the petty grafting of small bosses and small politiciansa vitally necessary battle, be it rememberedbut of a fight against the great intrenched powers of privilege, a fight to secure justice through the law for ordinary men and women, instead of leaving them to suffer cruel injustice either because the law failed to protect them or because it was twisted from its legitimate purposes into a means for oppressing them.
One of the reasons why the boss so often keeps his hold, especially in municipal matters, is, or at least has been in the past, because so many of the men who claim to be reformers have been blind to the need of working in human fashion for social and industrial betterment. Such words as "boss" and "machine" now imply evil, but both the implication the words carry and the definition of the words themselves are somewhat vague. A leader is necessary; but his opponents always call him a boss. An organization is necessary; but the men in opposition always call it a machine. Nevertheless, there is a real and deep distinction between the leader and the boss, between organizations and machines. A political leader who fights openly for principles, and who keeps his position of leadership by stirring the consciences and convincing the intellects of his followers, so that they have confidence in him and will follow him because they can achieve greater results under him than under any one else, is doing work which is indispensable in a democracy. The boss, on the other hand, is a man who does not gain his power by open means, but by secret means, and usually by corrupt means. Some of the worst and most powerful bosses in our political history either held no public office or else some unimportant public office. They made no appeal either to intellect or conscience. Their work was done behind closed doors, and consisted chiefly in the use of that greed which gives in order that in return it may get. A boss of this kind can pull wires in conventions, can manipulate members of the Legislature, can control the giving or withholding of office, and serves as the intermediary for bringing together the powers of corrupt politics and corrupt business. If he is at one end of the social scale, he may through his agents traffic in the most brutal forms of vice and give protection to the purveyors of shame and sin in return for money bribes. If at the other end of the scale, he may be the means of securing favors from high public officials, legislative or executive, to great industrial interests; the transaction being sometimes a naked matter of bargain and sale, and sometimes being carried on in such manner that both parties thereto can more or less successfully disguise it to their consciences as in the public interest. The machine is simply another name for the kind of organization which is certain to grow up in a party or section of a party controlled by such bosses as these and by their henchmen, whereas, of course, an effective organization of decent men is essential in order to secure decent politics.
If these bosses were responsible for nothing but pure wickedness, they would probably last but a short time in any community. And, in any event, if the men who are horrified by their wickedness were themselves as practical and as thoroughly in touch with human nature, the bosses would have a short shrift. The trouble is that the boss does understand human nature, and that he fills a place which the reformer cannot fill unless he likewise understands human nature. Sometimes the boss is a man who cares for political power purely for its own sake, as he might care for any other hobby; more often he has in view some definitely selfish object such as political or financial advancement. He can rarely accomplish much unless he has another side to him. A successful boss is very apt to be a man who, in addition to committing wickedness in his own interest, also does look after the interests of others, even if not from good motives. There are some communities so fortunate that there are very few men who have private interests to be served, and in these the power of the boss is at a minimum. There are many country communities of this type. But in communities where there is poverty and ignorance, the conditions are ripe for the growth of a boss. Moreover, wherever big business interests are liable either to be improperly favored or improperly discriminated against and blackmailed by public officialsand the result is just as vicious in one case as in the otherthe boss is almost certain to develop. The best way of getting at this type of boss is by keeping the public conscience aroused and alert, so that it will tolerate neither improper attack upon, nor improper favoritism towards, these corporations, and will quickly punish any public servant guilty of either.
There is often much good in the type of boss, especially common in big cities, who fulfills towards the people of his district in rough and ready fashion the position of friend and protector. He uses his influence to get jobs for young men who need them. He goes into court for a wild young fellow who has gotten into trouble. He helps out with cash or credit the widow who is in straits, or the breadwinner who is crippled or for some other cause temporarily out of work. He organizes clambakes and chowder parties and picnics, and is consulted by the local labor leaders when a cut in wages is threatened. For some of his constituents he does proper favors, and for others wholly improper favors; but he preserves human relations with all. He may be a very bad and very corrupt man, a man whose action in blackmailing and protecting vice is of far-reaching damage to his constituents. But these constituents are for the most part men and women who struggle hard against poverty and with whom the problem of living is very real and very close. They would prefer clean and honest government, if this clean and honest government is accompanied by human sympathy, human understanding. But an appeal made to them for virtue in the abstract, an appeal made by good men who do not really understand their needs, will often pass quite unheeded, if on the other side stands the boss, the friend and benefactor, who may have been guilty of much wrong-doing in things that they are hardly aware concern them, but who appeals to them, not only for the sake of favors to come, but in the name of gratitude and loyalty, and above all of understanding and fellow-feeling. They have a feeling of clan-loyalty to him; his and their relations may be substantially those which are right and proper among primitive people still in the clan stage of moral development. The successful fight against this type of vicious boss, and the type of vicious politics which produces it, can be made only by men who have a genuine fellow-feeling for and understanding of the people for and with whom they are to work, and who in practical fashion seek their social and industrial benefit.
There are communities of poor men, whose lives are hard, in which the boss, though he would be out of place in a more advanced community, if fundamentally an honest man, meets a real need which would otherwise not be met. Because of his limitations in other than purely local matters it may be our duty to fight such a boss; but it may also be our duty to recognize, within his limitations, both his sincerity and his usefulness.
Yet again even the boss who really is evil, like the business man who really is evil, may on certain points be sound, and be doing good work. It may be the highest duty of the patriotic public servant to work with the big boss or the big business man on these points, while refusing to work with him on others. In the same way there are many self-styled reformers whose conduct is such as to warrant Tom Reed's bitter remark, that when Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel he was ignorant of the infinite possibilities contained in the word reform. Yet, none the less, it is our duty to work for the reforms these men champion, without regard to the misconduct of the men themselves on other points. I have known in my life many big business men and many big political bosses who often or even generally did evil, but who on some occasions and on certain issues were right. I never hesitated to do battle against these men when they were wrong; and, on the other hand, as long as they were going my way I was glad to have them do so. To have repudiated their aid when they were right and were striving for a right end, and for what was of benefit to the peopleno matter what their motives may have beenwould have been childish, and moreover would have itself been misconduct against the people.
My duty was to stand with every one while he was right, and to stand against him when he went wrong; and this I have tried to do as regards individuals and as regards groups of individuals. When a business man or labor leader, politician or reformer, is right, I support him; when he goes wrong, I leave him. When Mr. Lorimer upheld the war for the liberation of Cuba, I supported him; when he became United States Senator by improper methods, I opposed him. The principles or methods which the Socialists advocate and which I believe to be in the interest of the people I support, and those which I believe to be against the interest of the people I oppose. Moreover, when a man has done evil, but changes, and works for decency and righteousness, and when, as far as I can see, the change is real and the man's conduct sincere, then I welcome him and work heartily with him, as an equal with an equal. For thirty years after the Civil War the creed of mere materialism was rampant in both American politics and American business, and many, many strong men, in accordance with the prevailing commercial and political morality, did things for which they deserve blame and condemnation; but if they now sincerely change, and strive for better things, it is unwise and unjust to bar them from fellowship. So long as they work for evil, smite them with the sword of the Lord and of Gideon! When they change and show their faith by their works, remember the words of Ezekiel: "If the wicked will turn from all the sins he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?"
Every man who has been in practical politics grows to realize that politicians, big and little, are no more all of them bad than they are all of them good. Many of these men are very bad men indeed, but there are others among themand some among those held up to special obloquy, toowho, even although they may have done much that is evil, also show traits of sterling worth which many of their critics wholly lack. There are few men for whom I have ever felt a more cordial and contemptuous dislike than for some of the bosses and big professional politicians with whom I have been brought into contact. On the other hand, in the case of some political leaders who were most bitterly attacked as bosses, I grew to know certain sides of their characters which inspired in me a very genuine regard and respect.
To read much of the assault on Senator Hanna, one would have thought that he was a man incapable of patriotism or of far-sighted devotion to the country's good. I was brought into intimate contact with him only during the two and a half years immediately preceding his death. I was then President, and perforce watched all his actions at close range. During that time he showed himself to be a man of rugged sincerity of purpose, of great courage and loyalty, and of unswerving devotion to the interests of the Nation and the people as he saw those interests. He was as sincerely desirous of helping laboring men as of helping capitalists. His ideals were in many ways not my ideals, and there were points where both by temperament and by conviction we were far apart. Before this time he had always been unfriendly to me; and I do not think he ever grew to like me, at any rate not until the very end of his life. Moreover, I came to the Presidency under circumstances which, if he had been a smaller man, would inevitably have thrown him into violent antagonism to me. He was the close and intimate friend of President McKinley. He was McKinley's devoted ally and follower, and his trusted adviser, who was in complete sympathy with him. Partly because of this friendship, his position in the Senate and in the country was unique.
With McKinley's sudden death Senator Hanna found himself bereft of his dearest friend, while I, who had just come to the Presidency, was in his view an untried man, whose trustworthiness on many public questions was at least doubtful. Ordinarily, as has been shown, not only in our history, but in the history of all other countries, in countless instances, over and over again, this situation would have meant suspicion, ill will, and, at the last, open and violent antagonism. Such was not the result, in this case, primarily because Senator Hanna had in him the quality that enabled him to meet a serious crisis with dignity, with power, and with disinterested desire to work for the common good. Within a few days of my accession he called on me, and with entire friendliness and obvious sincerity, but also with entire self-respect, explained that he mourned McKinley as probably no other man did; that he had not been especially my friend, but that he wished me to understand that thenceforward, on every question where he could conscientiously support me, I could count upon his giving me as loyal aid as it was in his power to render. He added that this must not be understood as committing him to favor me for nomination and election, because that matter must be left to take care of itself as events should decide; but that, aside from this, what he said was to be taken literally; in other words, he would do his best to make my Administration a success by supporting me heartily on every point on which he conscientiously could, and that this I could count upon. He kept his word absolutely. He never became especially favorable to my nomination; and most of his close friends became bitterly opposed to me and used every effort to persuade him to try to bring about my downfall. Most men in his position would have been tempted to try to make capital at my expense by antagonizing me and discrediting me so as to make my policies fail, just for the sake of making them fail. Senator Hanna, on the contrary, did everything possible to make them succeed. He kept his word in the letter and the spirit, and on every point on which he felt conscientiously able to support me he gave me the heartiest and most effective support, and did all in his power to make my Administration a success; and this with no hope of any reward for himself, of any gratitude from me, or of any appreciation by the public at large, but solely because he deemed such action necessary for the well-being of the country as a whole.
My experience with Senator Quay was similar. I had no personal relations with him before I was President, and knew nothing of him save by hearsay. Soon after I became President, Senator Quay called upon me, told me he had known me very slightly, that he thought most men who claimed to be reformers were hypocrites, but that he deemed me sincere, that he thought conditions had become such that aggressive courage and honesty were necessary in order to remedy them, that he believed I intended to be a good and efficient President, and that to the best of his ability he would support me in it making my Administration a success. He kept his word with absolute good faith. He had been in the Civil War, and was a medal of honor man; and I think my having been in the Spanish War gave him at the outset a kindly feeling toward me. He was also a very well-read manI owe to him, for instance, my acquaintance with the writings of the Finnish novelist Topelius. Not only did he support me on almost every public question in which I was most interestedincluding, I am convinced, every one on which he felt he conscientiously could do sobut he also at the time of his death gave a striking proof of his disinterested desire to render a service to certain poor people, and this under conditions in which not only would he never know if the service were rendered but in which he had no reason to expect that his part in it would ever be made known to any other man.
Quay was descended from a French voyageur who had some Indian blood in him. He was proud of this Indian blood, took an especial interest in Indians, and whenever Indians came to Washington they always called on him. Once during my Administration a delegation of Iroquois came over from Canada to call on me at the White House. Their visit had in it something that was pathetic as well as amusing. They represented the descendants of the Six Nations, who fled to Canada after Sullivan harried their towns in the Revolutionary War. Now, a century and a quarter later, their people thought that they would like to come back into the United States; and these representatives had called upon me with the dim hope that perhaps I could give their tribes land on which they could settle. As soon as they reached Washington they asked Quay to bring them to call on me, which he did, telling me that of course their errand was hopeless and that he had explained as much to them, but that they would like me to extend the courtesy of an interview. At the close of the interview, which had been conducted with all the solemnities of calumet and wampum, the Indians filed out. Quay, before following them, turned to me with his usual emotionless face and said, "Good-by, Mr. President; this reminds one of the Flight of a Tartar Tribe, doesn't it?" I answered, "So you're fond of De Quincey, Senator?" to which Quay responded, "Yes; always liked De Quincey; good-by." And away he went with the tribesmen, who seemed to have walked out of a remote past.
Quay had become particularly concerned about the Delawares in the Indian Territory. He felt that the Interior Department did not do them justice. He also felt that his colleagues of the Senate took no interest in them. When in the spring of 1904 he lay in his house mortally sick, he sent me word that he had something important to say to me, and would have himself carried round to see me. I sent back word not to think of doing so, and that on my way back from church next Sunday I would stop in and call on him. This I accordingly did. He was lying in his bed, death written on his face. He thanked me for coming, and then explained that, as he was on the point of death and knew he would never return to Washingtonit was late spring and he was about to leavehe wished to see me to get my personal promise that, after he died, I would myself look after the interests of the Delaware Indians. He added that he did not trust the Interior Departmentalthough he knew that I did not share his views on this pointand that still less did he believe that any of his colleagues in the Senate would exert themselves in the interests of the Delawares, and that therefore he wished my personal assurance that I would personally see that no injustice was done them. I told him I would do so, and then added, in rather perfunctory fashion, that he must not take such a gloomy view of himself, that when he got away for the summer I hoped he would recover and be back all right when Congress opened. A gleam came into the old fighter's eyes and he answered: "No, I am dying, and you know it. I don't mind dying; but I do wish it were possible for me to get off into the great north woods and crawl out on a rock in the sun and die like a wolf!"
I never saw him again. When he died I sent a telegram of sympathy to his wife. A paper which constantly preached reform, and which kept up its circulation by the no less constant practice of slander, a paper which in theory condemned all public men who violated the eighth commandment, and in practice subsisted by incessant violation of the ninth, assailed me for sending my message to the dead man's wife. I knew the editors of this paper, and the editor who was their predecessor. They had led lives of bodily ease and the avoidance of bodily risk; they earned their livelihood by the practice of mendacity for profit; and they delivered malignant judgment on a dead man who, whatever his faults, had in his youth freely risked his life for a great ideal, and who when death was already clutching his breast had spent almost his last breath on behalf of humble and friendless people whom he had served with disinterested loyalty.
There is no greater duty than to war on the corrupt and unprincipled boss, and on the corrupt and unprincipled business man; and for the matter of that, on the corrupt and unprincipled labor leader also, and on the corrupt and unprincipled editor, and on any one else who is corrupt and unprincipled. But where the conditions are such, whether in politics or in business, that the great majority of men have behaved in a way which is gradually seen to be improper, but which at one time did not conflict with the generally accepted morality, then the warfare on the system should not include warfare on the men themselves, unless they decline to amend their ways and to dissociate themselves from the system. There are many good, unimaginative citizens who in politics or in business act in accordance with accepted standards, in a matter-of-course way, without questioning these standards; until something happens which sharply arouses them to the situation, whereupon they try to work for better things. The proper course in such event is to let bygones be bygones, and if the men prove by their actions the sincerity of their conversion, heartily to work with them for the betterment of business and political conditions.
By the time that I was ending my career as Civil Service Commissioner I was already growing to understand that mere improvement in political conditions by itself was not enough. I dimly realized that an even greater fight must be waged to improve economic conditions, and to secure social and industrial justice, justice as between individuals and justice as between classes. I began to see that political effort was largely valuable as it found expression and resulted in such social and industrial betterment. I was gradually puzzling out, or trying to puzzle out, the answers to various questionssome as yet unsolvable to any of us, but for the solution of which it is the bounden duty of all of us to work. I had grown to realize very keenly that the duty of the Government to protect women and children must be extended to include the protection of all the crushable elements of labor. I saw that it was the affair of all our people to see that justice obtained between the big corporation and its employees, and between the big corporation and its smaller rivals, as well as its customers and the general public. I saw that it was the affair of all of us, and not only of the employer, if dividends went up and wages went down; that it was to the interest of all of us that a full share of the benefit of improved machinery should go to the workman who used the machinery; and also that it was to the interest of all of us that each man, whether brain worker or hand worker, should do the best work of which he was capable, and that there should be some correspondence between the value of the work and the value of the reward. It is these and many similar questions which in their sum make up the great social and industrial problems of to-day, the most interesting and important of the problems with which our public life must deal.
In handling these problems I believe that much can be done by the Government. Furthermore, I believe that, after all that the Government can do has been done, there will remain as the most vital of all factors the individual character of the average man and the average woman. No governmental action can do more than supplement individual action. Moreover, there must be collective action of kinds distinct from governmental action. A body of public opinion must be formed, must make itself felt, and in the end transform, and be transformed by, the gradual raising of individual standards of conduct.
It is curious to see how difficult it is to make some men understand that insistence upon one factor does not and must not mean failure fully to recognize other factors. The selfish individual needs to be taught that we must now shackle cunning by law exactly as a few centuries back we shackled force by law. Unrestricted individualism spells ruin to the individual himself. But so does the elimination of individualism, whether by law or custom. It is a capital error to fail to recognize the vital need of good laws. It is also a capital error to believe that good laws will accomplish anything unless the average man has the right stuff in him. The toiler, the manual laborer, has received less than justice, and he must be protected, both by law, by custom, and by the exercise of his right to increase his wage; and yet to decrease the quantity and quality of his work will work only evil. There must be a far greater meed of respect and reward for the hand worker than we now give him, if our society is to be put on a sound basis; and this respect and reward cannot be given him unless he is as ambitious to do the best possible work as is the highest type of brain worker, whether doctor or writer or artist. There must be a raising of standards, and not a leveling down to the standard of the poorest and most inefficient. There is urgent need of intelligent governmental action to assist in making the life of the man who tills the soil all that it should be, and to see that the manual worker gets his full share of the reward for what he helps produce; but if either farmer, mechanic, or day laborer is shiftless or lazy, if he shirks downright hard work, if he is stupid or self-indulgent, then no law can save him, and he must give way to a better type.
I suppose that some good people will misunderstand what I say, and will insist on taking only half of it as representing the whole. Let me repeat. When I say, that, even after we have all the good laws necessary, the chief factor in any given man's success or failure must be that man's own character, it must not be inferred that I am in the least minimizing the importance of these laws, the real and vital need for them. The struggle for individual advancement and development can be brought to naught, or indefinitely retarded, by the absence of law or by bad law. It can be immeasurably aided by organized effort on the part of the State. Collective action and individual action, public law and private character, are both necessary. It is only by a slow and patient inward transformation such as these laws aid in bringing about that men are really helped upward in their struggle for a higher and a fuller life. Recognition of individual character as the most important of all factors does not mean failure fully to recognize that we must have good laws, and that we must have our best men in office to enforce these laws. The Nation collectively will in this way be able to be of real and genuine service to each of us individually; and, on the other hand, the wisdom of the collective action will mainly depend on the high individual average of citizenship.
The relationship of man and woman is the fundamental relationship that stands at the base of the whole social structure. Much can be done by law towards putting women on a footing of complete and entire equal rights with manincluding the right to vote, the right to hold and use property, and the right to enter any profession she desires on the same terms as a man. Yet when this has been done it will amount to little unless on the one hand the man himself realizes his duty to the woman, and unless on the other hand the woman realizes that she has no claim to rights unless she performs the duties that go with those rights and that alone justify her in appealing to them. A cruel, selfish, or licentious man is an abhorrent member of the community; but, after all, his actions are no worse in the long run than those of the woman who is content to be a parasite on others, who is cold, selfish, caring for nothing but frivolous pleasure and ignoble ease. The law of worthy effort, the law of service for a worthy end, without regard to whether it brings pleasure or pain, is the only right law of life, whether for man or for woman. The man must not be selfish; nor, if the woman is wise, will she let the man grow selfish, and this not only for her own sake but for his. One of the prime needs is to remember that almost every duty is composed of two seemingly conflicting elements, and that overinsistence on one, to the exclusion of the other, may defeat its own end. Any man who studies the statistics of the birth-rate among the native Americans of New England, or among the native French of France, needs not to be told that when prudence and forethought are carried to the point of cold selfishness and self-indulgence, the race is bound to disappear. Taking into account the women who for good reasons do not marry, or who when married are childless or are able to have but one or two children, it is evident that the married woman able to have children must on an average have four or the race will not perpetuate itself. This is the mere statement of a self-evident truth. Yet foolish and self-indulgent people often resent this statement as if it were in some way possible by denunciation to reverse the facts of nature; and, on the other hand, improvident and shiftless people, inconsiderate and brutal people, treat the statement as if it justified heads of families in having enormous numbers of badly nourished, badly brought up, and badly cared for children for whom they make no effort to provide. A man must think well before he marries. He must be a tender and considerate husband and realize that there is no other human being to whom he owes so much of love and regard and consideration as he does to the woman who with pain bears and with labor rears the children that are his. No words can paint the scorn and contempt which must be felt by all right-thinking men, not only for the brutal husband, but for the husband who fails to show full loyalty and consideration to his wife. Moreover, he must work, he must do his part in the world. On the other hand, the woman must realize that she has no more right to shirk the business of wifehood and motherhood than the man has to shirk his business as breadwinner for the household. Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly. Yet normally for the man and the woman whose welfare is more important than the welfare of any other human beings, the woman must remain the housemother, the homekeeper, and the man must remain the breadwinner, the provider for the wife who bears his children and for the children she brings into the world. No other work is as valuable or as exacting for either man or woman; it must always, in every healthy society, be for both man and woman the prime work, the most important work; normally all other work is of secondary importance, and must come as an addition to, not a substitute for, this primary work. The partnership should be one of equal rights, one of love, of self-respect, and unselfishness, above all a partnership for the performance of the most vitally important of all duties. The performance of duty, and not an indulgence in vapid ease and vapid pleasure, is all that makes life worth while.
Suffrage for women should be looked on from this standpoint. Personally I feel that it is exactly as much a "right" of women as of men to vote. But the important point with both men and women is to treat the exercise of the suffrage as a duty, which, in the long run, must be well performed to be of the slightest value. I always favored woman's suffrage, but only tepidly, until my association with women like Jane Addams and Frances Kellor, who desired it as one means of enabling them to render better and more efficient service, changed me into a zealous instead of a lukewarm adherent of the causein spite of the fact that a few of the best women of the same type, women like Mary Antin, did not favor the movement. A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user. The mere possession of the vote will no more benefit men and women not sufficiently developed to use it than the possession of rifles will turn untrained Egyptian fellaheen into soldiers. This is as true of woman as of manand no more true. Universal suffrage in Hayti has not made the Haytians able to govern themselves in any true sense; and woman suffrage in Utah in no shape or way affected the problem of polygamy. I believe in suffrage for women in America, because I think they are fit for it. I believe for women, as for men, more in the duty of fitting one's self to do well and wisely with the ballot than in the naked right to cast the ballot.
I wish that people would read books like the novels and stories, at once strong and charming, of Henry Bordeaux, books like Kathleen Norris's "Mother," and Cornelia Comer's "Preliminaries," and would use these, and other such books, as tracts, now and then! Perhaps the following correspondence will give a better idea than I can otherwise give of the problems that in everyday life come before men and women, and of the need that the man shall show himself unselfish and considerate, and do his full share of the joint duty:
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt: Dear SirI suppose you are willing to stand sponsor for the assertion that the women of the country are not doing their duty unless they have large families. I wonder if you know the real reason, after all. Society and clubs are held largely to blame, but society really takes in so few people, after all. I thought, when I got married at twenty, that it was the proper thing to have a family, and, as we had very little of this world's goods, also thought it the thing to do all the necessary work for them. I have had nine children, did all my own work, including washing, ironing, house-cleaning, and the care of the little ones as they came along, which was about every two years; also sewed everything they wore, including trousers for the boys and caps and jackets for the girls while little. I also helped them all in their school work, and started them in music, etc. But as they grew older I got behind the times. I never belonged to a club or a society or lodge, nor went to any one's house scarcely; there wasn't time. In consequence, I knew nothing that was going on in the town, much less the events of the country, and at the same time my husband kept growing in wisdom and knowledge, from mixing with men and hearing topics of the times discussed. At the beginning of our married life I had just as quick a mind to grasp things as he did, and had more school education, having graduated from a three years' high school. My husband more and more declined to discuss things with me; as he said, "I didn't know anything about it." When I'd ask he'd say, "Oh, you wouldn't understand if I'd tell you." So here I am, at forty-five years, hopelessly dull and uninteresting, while he can mix with the brightest minds in the country as an equal. He's a strong Progressive man, took very active part in the late campaign, etc. I am also Progressive, and tried my best, after so many years of shut-in life, to grasp the ideas you stood for, and read everything I could find during the summer and fall. But I've been out of touch with people too long now, and my husband would much rather go and talk to some woman who hasn't had any children, because she knows things (I am not specifying any particular woman). I simply bore him to death because I'm not interesting. Now, tell me, how was it my fault? I was only doing what I thought was my duty. No woman can keep up with things who never talks with any one but young children. As soon as my children grew up they took the same attitude as their father, and frequently say, "Oh, mother doesn't know." They look up to and admire their father because he's a man of the world and knows how to act when he goes out. How can I urge my daughters now to go and raise large families? It means by the time you have lost your figure and charm for them they are all ashamed of you. Now, as a believer in woman's rights, do a little talking to the men as to their duties to their wives, or else refrain from urging us women to have children. I am only one of thousands of middle-class respectable women who give their lives to raise a nice family, and then who become bitter from the injustice done us. Don't let this go into the waste-basket, but think it over. Yours respectfully, .
My Dear Mrs. : Most certainly your letter will not go into the waste-paper basket. I shall think it over and show it to Mrs. Roosevelt. Will you let me say, in the first place, that a woman who can write such a letter is certainly not "hopelessly dull and uninteresting"! If the facts are as you state, then I do not wonder that you feel bitterly and that you feel that the gravest kind of injustice has been done you. I have always tried to insist to men that they should do their duty to the women even more than the women to them. Now I hardly like to write specifically about your husband, because you might not like it yourself. It seems to me almost incredible that any man who is the husband of a woman who has borne him nine children should not feel that they and he are lastingly her debtors. You say that you have had nine children, that you did all your own work, including washing, ironing, house-cleaning, and the care of the little ones as they came along; that you sewed everything they wore, including trousers for the boys and caps and jackets for the girls while little; that you helped them all in their school work and started them in music; but that as they grew older you got behind the times, that you never belonged to a club or society or lodge, nor went to any one's house, as you hardly had time to do so; and that in consequence your husband outgrew you, and that your children look up to him and not to you and feel that they have outgrown you. If these facts are so, you have done a great and wonderful work, and the only explanation I can possibly give of the attitude you describe on the part of your husband and children is that they do not understand what it is that you have done. I emphatically believe in unselfishness, but I also believe that it is a mistake to let other people grow selfish, even when the other people are husband and children.
Now, I suggest that you take your letter to me, of which I send you back a copy, and this letter, and then select out of your family the one with whom you feel most sympathy, whether it is your husband or one of your children. Show the two letters to him or her, and then have a frank talk about the matter. If any man, as you say, becomes ashamed of his wife because she has lost her figure in bearing his children, then that man is a hound and has every cause to be ashamed of himself. I am sending you a little book called "Mother," by Kathleen Norris, which will give you my views on the matter. Of course there are base and selfish men, just as there are, although I believe in smaller number, base and selfish women. Man and woman alike should profit by the teachings in such a story as this of "Mother."
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt: My dear SirYour letter came as a surprise, for I wasn't expecting an answer. The next day the book came, and I thank you for your ready sympathy and understanding. I feel as though you and Mrs. Roosevelt would think I was hardly loyal to my husband and children; but knowing of no other way to bring the idea which was so strong in my mind to your notice, I told my personal story. If it will, in a small measure, be the means of helping some one else by moulding public opinion, through you, I shall be content. You have helped me more than you know. Just having you interested is as good as a tonic, and braces me up till I feel as though I shall refuse to be "laid on the shelf." ... To think that you'd bother to send me a book. I shall always treasure it both for the text of the book and the sender. I read it with absorbing interest. The mother was so splendid. She was ideal. The situations are so startlingly real, just like what happens here every day with variations. .
Parenthetically, let me remark that whenever a man thinks that he has outgrown the woman who is his mate, he will do well carefully to consider whether his growth has not been downward instead of upward, whether the facts are not merely that he has fallen away from his wife's standard of refinement and of duty.
This is a condensation of a speech I at the time made to the St. Louis Civil Service Reform Association. Senator Gorman was then the Senate leader of the party that had just been victorious in the Congressional elections. [back]