Page images

Subsequently, a further investigation was had and the facts disclosed in that investigation showed most conclusively that the postmaster in question had endeavored to cover his misdeeds by falsehood, and that the men had been telling the truth from the start, whereupon he was removed, and they were restored to their positions, yet in this case it was only an accident that the postmaster unconsciously left lying in his office the fragments of a letter which conclusively showed his guilt, and which were obtained and pieced together by one of the clerks, that enabled the Commission to secure favorable action by the Department. In another case a party made charges against the postmaster which were investigated and sustained. The postmaster was reprimanded; a laborer wrongfully assigned to classified work was removed; and the assistant postmaster was compelled to retire from the political assessment collecting committee to which he belonged. The man who made the charges, however, was no gainer. Shortly after the investigation he was directed by the postmaster to do night work. Surmising that this was intended as a punishment, he refused, and thereupon he would have been removed but for the intervention of the Civil Service Conimisison, and he actually was reduced $200 in pay. His conduct in refusing to take the assignment to night duty was insubordinate, and would have justified a removal; yet it is quite easy to see that it would have taken a cool head for the man to have realized that, whatever the relations were Between himself and the postmaster, so long as he was in the office he must obey orders.

The burden of proof is always on the Commission in these cases, to establish its charges by a fair preponderance of evidence. The obligations of an oath perhaps do not lie as heavily on man's consciences as they did forty years ago, and the official who has violated the law by making assessments is usually ready to "lie like a gentleman" as to the offense committed. Hence it is somewhat difficult to meet the burden.

The Commission has been hampered by two rulings of the Department of Justice. One of these is in the matter of mailing circulars calling for contributions

addressed to the office address of the employee and delivered to him at his place of business. Such circulars not coming from Federal officials are not within the provisions of Sections 11, 13, and 14 of the act, but are they not under the provisions of Section 12, which indicates that no person shall, in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties, by any officer or employee of the United States mentioned in this act, or in any navyyard, fort, or arsenal, solicit in any manner whatever, or receive any contribution of money or any other thing of value for any political purpose whatever?

In a case arising during an administration of the Department of Justice under a very eminent lawyer, and during an administration of that Department which was by no means unfriendly to the civil service law, the Honorable Richard Olney held that the action mentioned did not constitute a violation of the civil service law, and that it was permissible without violating the terms of that law to mail an assessment circular to a post-office employee at his post-office. During a subsequent administration, that of President McKinley, Mr. Griggs being Attorney-General, the same point was again raised, it being proved that the Republican State Executive Committee of Ohio had addressed such circulars demanding payments on account of political assessments to employees, which had been delivered in Federal buildings. An extensive brief was submitted on behalf of the Civil Service Commission with the evidence in the last named case to the Department of Justice, but no action has ever been taken on that brief or on the question.

The Honorable Judson Harmon, Attorney-General under President Cleveland's second administration, made a holding in the case of W. M. Bellman, found in Vol. 21 of the Opinions of the Attorney-General, page 298, which might well afford a loop-hole for extensive violations of this law. In that case Bellman was a special agent of the Post-Office Department who received money to pay other special agents. By direction of the special agent in question, Bellman opened the envelope in which the money was received, and paid the said money for political purposes. “It appears that the money was a con

tribution by the agent in Chicago in aid of a political campaign, which the party to which he belonged was conducting in one of the States, and that this fact was known to Bellman when he received and carried out the order.” The Attorney-General held that neither of the parties violated the civil service law. It is hard for me to understand the force of the reasoning adopted by the Attorney-General in this connection, particularly in view of the very sweeping character of the terms of the law. Section 13 of the law not only prohibits solicitation of or receiving money by one Federal employee from another, but with a view of making proof of the offense easy, and of prohibiting evasions of its terms, it says that no such employee shall “be in any manner concerned in soliciting or receiving, any assessments, subscription, or contribution, for any political purpose whatever, from any officer, etc., of the United States." The difficulty which the interpretation put upon this law by the Attorney-General is that it opens the door for almost unlimited collections of money by superior officers, provided they do not solicit the same. In fact, under the terms of the decision in the Bellman case, it would seem that it would be possible for a postmaster to take out of the pay of each of his clerks ten per cent., and turn the sum over to the representative of a political party. The solicitation would have to be done by someone outside the Department, but the postmaster could report on those who failed to contribute, and having received the directions of his employees to pay, he could most effectually see that these directions were carried out. That extensive violations of the law have not been committed along the lines of this decision, is not due to its harmlessness, but to other causes, which I shall refer to later on.

The Attorney-General has a great advantage in making his decisions in that he is a court of last resort, but it is not believed that the doctrine of stare decisis applies with any greater force to these decisions than to the positions of the Supreme Court of the United States, and it is to be hoped that the Department of Justice will see its way clear to reverse itself in this ruling, as the august tribunal mentioned did in its last decision on the income tax.

The argument in favor of the position which has been constantly taken by the Civil Service Commission in this connection, that to address through the mails a circular making a demand of a payment for political purposes to a Federal employee at his place of business is a violation of the law, seems to me to be strong. The position of the Commission was endorsed by the Honorable George F. Edmonds, a very distinguished lawyer and member of the United States Senate, and who was a member at the time of the passage of this law. In a general way and briefly, it may be said in this connection that the object of the law was not to prohibit the payment of money for political purposes by employees, but to prevent two things: First, the coerced payment of money for political purposes; and secondly, the annoyance and interruption to business caused by begging for political purposes during office hours, and at the place of business of the employee. Within the last purpose, the prohibition of addressing by mail a begging letter or assessment circular is strictly logical, and one of the most common and one of the best tests of the meaning of a disputed point in the construction of a law is to determine which construction most effectually removes the wrong which the law seeks to redress. In the case in question, it is evident that as much annoyance and loss of time may be caused by addressing a sufficient number of letters to the employees of a custom-house or post-office as would be caused by one personal solicitation of such employees. Hence, the construction of the Commission is the one which would most effectually serve the purposes of the law. If a man stands outside of one of the bureaus in Washington, and sends a mesenger boy in with a note to be delivered to a clerk at his desk, asking him for payments, he certainly would be rightfully held to violate the terms of Section 12, and it is difficult to see why, when he puts a stamp on his note and entrusts it to the Post-office Department, it is any less a violation of the section. It is partly owing to this ruling of the AttorneyGeneral that but one conviction has been obtained of a violation of Section 12, that one being in connection with the Goshen, Indiana, Post-Office case.

The hostility and indifference of the other departments of the executive and judicial service has in the past been a severe trial to the patience of the Civil Service Commission, and a serious obstacle to the just enforcement of this law. A feeling that the civil service law is a joke, and that offenses against it are to be viewed in the light of pleasantries, and as destitute of any element of moral delinquency, has been quite firmly rooted in the service until recent years; but it must be distinctly understood that no department of the Government can be complained of on the ground of the absence of cordial cooperation with the Civil Service Commission under the present administration. The heads of the various departments of the Government are in full accord with the position of the President, and the civil service law is now being. enforced as vigorously and consistently as any other law on the statute book. During the three and one-half years in which I have been a member of the Civil Service Commission there has not arisen a serious contest as to any measure of discipline between the Civil Service Commission and any of the departments of the Government. In some cases punishments have been recommended by the Commission more severe than were imposed by the departments, but this has always happened in cases where there was room for a difference of opinion.

With such difficulties thrown in the way of the Civil Service Commission, why is it that so much progress has been made in the enforcement of this branch of the law, or to put it more correctly, why is it that obedience has become so general to these provisions of the law ?

In the first place, where punishment has followed the violation of the law, it has been very effective, because of the class upon whom it is inflicted. Notwithstanding the criticism that has been from time to time made upon the character of various persons in the Federal civil service, and notwithstanding that under the system of spoils politics which still largely obtains as regards the officers appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, or in other words, officers of a high rank, appointments are occasionally made of men of bad character or indifferent standing in a community,

« PreviousContinue »