« PreviousContinue »
"Towards acquiring the confidence of the people, the very first measure is to satisfy them of his disinterestedness, and that he is directing their affairs with a single eye to their good, and not to build up fortunes for himself and family; and especially that the officers appointed to transact their business are appointed because they are the fittest men, not because they are his relations. So prone are they to suspicion, that, where a President appoints a relation of his own, however worthy, they will believe that favor, and not merit, was the motive. I therefore laid it down as a law of conduct for myself, never to give an appointment to a relation."1
That statement is unanswerable. The elect of the people must live so as best to maintain their interests and to elevate the national sentiment. This can be only by an example of unselfish devotion to the public weal which shall be above suspicion. A President suspected of weakness for his relations is already shorn of strength.
In saying that his predecessor "degraded himself infinitely by his conduct on this subject," Jefferson shows the rigor of his requirement. Besides the transfer of his son, John Quincy Adams, from one diplomatic mission of lower grade to another of a higher, John Adams is responsible for the appointment of his son-in-law, Colonel Smith, as surveyor of the port of New York, and his wife's nephew, William Cranch, as chief-justice of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, — both persons of merit, and the former "serving through the war with high applause of his superiors."2 The public sentiment appears in the condemnation of these appointments. In refusing another of his relations, we have already seen 3 that John Adams wrote: "You know it is
1 Letter to J. Garland Jefferson, January 25, 1810: Writings, Vol. V. p. 498.
2 Works of John Adams, Vol. IX. p. 63.
3 Ante, p. 103.
impossible for me to appoint my own relations to anything without drawing forth a torrent of obloquy." But this torrent was nothing but the judgment of the American people unwilling that republican institutions at that early day should suffer.
Thus far John Adams stands alone. If any other President has made appointments from his own family, it has been on so petty a scale as not to be recognized in history. John Quincy Adams, when President, did not follow his father. An early letter to his mother foreshadows a rule not unlike that of Jefferson:
"I hope, my ever dear and honored mother, that you are fully convinced from my letters, which you have before this received, that upon the contingency of my father's being placed in the first magistracy I shall never give him any trouble by solicitation for office of any kind. Your late letters have repeated so many times that I shall in that case have nothing to expect, that I am afraid you have imagined it possible that I might form expectations from such an event. I had hoped that my mother knew me better; that she did me the justice to believe that I have not been so totally regardless or forgetful of the principles which my education had instilled, nor so totally destitute of a personal sense of delicacy, as to be susceptible of a wish tending in that direction."
To Jefferson's sense of public duty John Quincy Adams added the sense of personal delicacy, both strong against such appointment of relations. To the irresistible judgment against this abuse, a recent moralist, of lofty nature, Theodore Parker, imparts new expression, when he says, "It is a dangerous and unjust practice."
simple and monitory.
1 Works of John Adams, Vol. VIII. pp. 529-30, note.
2 Historic Americans, p. 211.
PRESIDENTIAL APOLOGIES FOR NEPOTISM.
WITHOUT the avalanche of testimony against this Presidential pretension, it is necessary only to glance at the defences sometimes set up; for such is the insensibility bred by Presidential example, that even this intolerable outrage is not without voices speaking for the President. Sometimes it is said, that, his salary being far from royal, the people will not scan closely an attempt to help relations, which, being interpreted, means that the President may supplement the pettiness of his salary by the appointing power. Let John Adams, who did not hesitate to bestow office upon a few relations of unquestioned merit, judge this pretension. I quote his words:
"Every public man should be honestly paid for his services. . . . But he should be restrained from every perquisite not known to the laws, and he should make no claims upon the gratitude of the public, nor ever confer an office within his patronage upon a son, a brother, a friend, upon pretence that he is not paid for his services by the profits of his office."1
It is impossible to deny the soundness of this requirement and its completeness as an answer to one of the apologies.
Sometimes the defender is more audacious, insisting openly upon the Presidential prerogative without question, until we seem to hear in aggravated form the obnoxious cry, "To the victor belong the spoils." I did not suppose that this old cry could be revived in any form; but since it is heard again, I choose to expose it; and here I use the language of Madison, whose mild wisdom has illumined so much of constitutional duty.
1 Letter to John Jebb, August 21, 1785: Works, Vol. IX. p. 535.
In his judgment the pretension was odious, "that offices and emoluments were the spoils of victory, the personal property of the successful candidate for the Presidency"; and he adds in words not to be forgotten at this moment:
"The principle, if avowed without the practice, or practised without the avowal, could not fail to degrade any Administration, both together, completely so."1
This is strong language. The rule in its early form could not fail to degrade any Administration. But now this degrading rule is extended, and we are told that to the President's family belong the spoils.
Another apology, vouchsafed even on this floor, is, that, if the President cannot appoint his relations, they alone of all citizens are excluded from office, which, it is said, should not be. But is it not for the public good that they should be excluded? Such was the wise judgment of Jefferson, and such is the testimony from another quarter. That eminent prelate, Bishop Butler, who has given to English literature one of its most masterly productions, known as "Butler's Analogy," after his elevation to the see of Durham with its remarkable patronage, was so self-denying with regard to his family that a nephew said to him, "Methinks, my Lord, it is a misfortune to be related to you."2 Golden words of honor for the English Bishop! But none such have been earned by the American President.
Assuming that in case of positive merit designating a citizen for a particular post the President might appoint a relation, it would be only where the merit was so shin
1 Letter to Edward Cole, August 29, 1834: Letters and other Writings, Vol. IV. p. 357.
2 Memoirs, by Thomas Bartlett, (London, 1839,) p. 200.
ing that his absence would be noticed. At least it must be such as to make the citizen a candidate without regard to family. But no such merit is attributed to the beneficiaries of our President, some of whom have done little but bring scandal upon the public service. At least one is tainted with fraud; and another, with the commission of the Republic abroad, has been guilty of indiscretions inconsistent with his trust. Appointed originally in open defiance of republican principles, they have been retained in office after their unfitness became painfully manifest. By the testimony before a Congressional Committee, one of these, a brother-in-law, was implicated in bribery and corruption. It is said that at last, after considerable delay, the President has consented to his removal.
Here I leave for the present this enormous unrepublican pretension, waiting to hear if it can again find an apologist. Is there a single Senator who will not dismiss it to judgment?
GIFT-TAKING, AND REPAYMENT WITH OFFICE.
FROM one typical abuse I pass to another. From a dropsical Nepotism swollen to elephantiasis, which nobody can defend, I pass to Gift-Taking, which with our President has assumed an unprecedented form. Sometimes public men even in our country have taken gifts, but it is not known that any President before has repaid the patron with office. For a public man to take gifts is reprehensible; for a President to select Cabinet councillors and other officers among those from whom he has taken gifts is an anomaly in republican annals. serve, Sir, that I speak of it gently, unwilling to exhibit