Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

of making vacancies to be filled with the active instruments of his elevation.

Hopes and fears were entertained at this period of intense anxiety, by the holders and expectants of office and their friends. The sound part of the community, excluding those classes, expected that the government would be administered upon principles which had carried it along in safety forty years, unless, indeed, material defects were pointed out which required a remedy.

Tenure of office. The tenure of all offices, the judiciary excepted, was fixed by a law of the first congress under the constitution, in 1789, to be during the pleasure of the president. The uniform construction of this law, since its enactment, has been, that this is not an arbitrary or capricious pleasure, to be exercised in a manner to gratify the personal prejudices and partialities of the chief magistrate, or to reward partisans; but that it is to be guided by a sound discretion for the public good.

As applicable to the heads of departments, constituting by usage a cabinet or council of advice, this construction settles, that each president should select those whose general views and policy correspond with his own, without regard to those in office under his predecessor.

In regard to the diplomatic corps, that such should be selected as would faithfully interpret the views of their own government to the courts to which they are sent. Several reasons have operated against frequent changes. The additional expense ought to be some object to a government engaged in the important work of retrenchment and reform. This, embracing an outfit of $9,000, a double salary from the time the new minister receives his appointment, until the one recalled reaches his home, and two passages usually in a public ship, cannot be estimated short of $20,000 necessarily incident to each change.

The delay which must attend any negotiations that may be on foot, is another important consideration. A third is, that where a minister has rendered himself agreeable to the court to which he is sent, his recall is always unpleasant to that court. It will take the new minister a considerable time, should he ever be able to obtain the same influence which his predecessor had. Whatever the pretenses may be, the foreign court will soon learn the true reason of the change, and will set little value upon a government subject to such caprices every four years.

In relation to the great mass of public functionaries, the practical construction of the law of 1789 has been, that they should hold their offices so long as they continued to execute them well, not to be removed except for official misconduct. The considerations leading to the adoption of this principle, have been twofold, one relating to the officers themselves, the other to the public.

As a general rule, compensation is graduated in such manner as to be nothing more than a reasonable reward for the service required. Fortunes are never honestly made by salaries; and generally the officer leaves the service with less property than he would have acquired in the pursuit of the private business which he relinquished. In the greater number of instances, it will be impossible for him to resume that business, or successfully engage in any other. By the operation of the proscribing principle, he finds himself, on a change of the presidency, thrown out of employment, often with a numerous family, without the means of support, for no other reason than that he honestly exercised his right of suffrage. Though no legal right is infringed, every one feels that great injustice is done to an individual thus circumstanced.

Public interest is also jeopardized by such a course. The principle once settled, that office is held at the nod of the superior, no honest, independent, capable man can be expected to accept; the public must then be served by sycophants, devoted to the views of their chief, be they ever 80 corrupt. Under such a regimen, frauds and peculations on the treasury, frequent enough at best, must be expected to increase. But admitting that honest and capable men can be found to accept office under such circumstances, they have not experience. This, other things being equal, gives a decided preference; and is all-important, both in the management of public and private concerns. No prudent indi. vidual changes his agent, who manages his affairs well ; neither oan the government do it with safety.

Applications for office. At the commencement of General Jackson's administration, there were a great number of officers in the various departments of government, most of whom had received their appointments long before the accession of Mr. Adams, and who had claims to a continu. ance, of the nature which has been stated. On the other hand were several thousand applicants for office, from the highest to the lowest grade, who had exerted themselves with zeal in the late canvass, in favor of the successful

candidate, and who had been given to expect a distribution of the offices in the gift of the executive, as a reward for their services.

Nominations to the senate. President Adams, agreeable to what had been the usage on similar occasions, called a meeting of the senate, to be held on the fourth of March.

To this body General Jackson presented a nomination of the heads of departments consisting principally of members of congress; this, compared with his address to the legislature of Tennessee, and pledge on the occasion, excited some surprise. The nomination, however, passed the senate with little opposition. The same course was pursued in relation to the diplomacy. General Harrison, who had scarcely arrived at the place of his destination, as minister to Colombia, was superseded by the appointment of Mr. Moore, member of congress from Kentucky. The public have been informed of no other reason for this change, than that the new minister had been a zealous and efficient agent in the late election._ In the course of the year, the ministers to Great Britain, France, and Spain, were changed, and all taken from the halls of congress. Their outfits amounting to thirty-six thousand dollars, were taken from the treasury without a specific appropriation for the purpose. A list of about eighty other appointments, em. bracing many of the important custom-house offices, and mostly made in consequence of removals, was also pre. sented and confirmed.

Post office. The change in the head of the post office department, was the most exceptionable. Mr. M Lean had been postmaster general about five years, receiving his appointment from Mr. Monroe. He found the department in a very deranged state, and by a judicious and efficient management, had raised it to a high standing. Attentive to his official duties, he had taken no active part in the late canvass, but was supposed to be favorable to General Jackson's election. He had given the new administration to understand that no removals would take place in that department while under his control, but for official misconduct. This not meeting their views, Mr. M.Lean was transferred to the supreme court, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Judge Trimble, and which had been kept in reservation by the senate, and Mr. Barry appointed his successor. In the course of the year a general change of assistants and clerks took place in the bureau at Washington, and four hundred and ninety-one removals in the country. Such a change

could not take place without some derangement in the affairs of the office. Of the whole number of hungry expectants who were gratified, some, as might have been expected, were unworthy. Some peculated upon the public, and some on the private property intrusted to the mail. The expenses accumulated beyond the revenue of the office.

Appointments during the recess. The senate having acted on all the nominations presented to them, closed their extra session on the 18th of March. That body having a controlling voice in appointments, such a session is deemed expedient at the commencement of a new administration, to prevent the necessity of executive appointments during the recess. That provision in the constitution which authorizes the president to supply vacancies which might happen when the senate was not in session, by temporary commissions which should expire at the end of the succeeding term, evidently refers to cases of death, resignation, and removal from incapacity or misconduct. That the president might make vacancies where those reasons did not exist, for the purpose of filling them with his friends, was a perversion, both of the letter and spirit of the constitution, entirely unexpected. The changes made during the session were but the commencement of a general system of proscription. Soon after the adjournment of the senate, a great number of vacancies were made, or in the language of the constitution, happened by removal for no other cause apparent, or made known to the public, but that the incumbent preferred Mr. Adams, and the newly appointed officer General Jackson, for the presidency. In the newspapers supposed to speak the language of the cabinet, the principle was openly avowed, that offices were to be the rewards of zeal in the cause of the successful candidate. The subject was systemized, and agents designated in different sections, to certify the qualifications of applicants, among which exertions in the late canvass, were the most important. The word reform in the inaugural address, was found to be of much more portentous import than was apprehended ; its practical meaning being the removal of the friends of Mr. Adams, to make room for those of General Jackson. As a comment on the liberty of the press, two printers, who had distinguished themselves in favor of the successful candidate, were rewarded with lucrative offices at the seat of government, and about forty others in different sections. No proofs have been adduceda and probably none exist, of a specific bargain between the candidate and the instruments of his elevation, that office should be the reward of their exertions, but the whole course of removals and appointments lead to the conclusion that such was the expectation.

The doctrine that the prerogative of appointment and removal was to be made the instrument of rewards and punishments, so novel in the American system, and so destructive of all that is valuable in it, was adopted with great caution, and with attempts to justify it in the government papers. It was introduced to the people under the fasci. nating terms of economy and reform. The example of Jefferson at the commencement of his administration, was referred to in its support. In his inaugural, the president informs the people, " that he shall look to the examples of his illustrious predecessors, and with veneration to the lights that flow from the mind that founded, and the mind that reformed our system,” referring to Washington and Jefferson. The example of the former was unfortunate for the purpose for which it was adduced. Washington had no feelings in common with those who adopted this system of proscription. He selected his cabinet and the principal officers of government indiscriminately from the two great parties into which the United States were then divided, and took the earliest opportunity to inform applicants for office, that personal considerations would have no influence in selecting public servants.* At the accession of Mr. Jefferson, power had almost exclusively been in the hands of the party called fe. deralists twelve years, their opponents denominated republicans, always nearly equal in numbers, had then become the majority. Mr. Jefferson announced a determination to restore an equilibrium in the distribution of office, among the two great political parties so soon as it could be done con. sistently with the public interest. The present was an entirely different case. Adams and Jackson were of the same party. Both had supported the administrations of Mr. Adams' predecessors, and sustained distinguished offices under them. Neither they nor their friends were divided on any important political topics. The question was a mere personal one, to wit, which of the two candidates was the most competent to discharge the duties of chief magistrate of the union? A question on which men might honestly

* Marshall's life of Washington.

« ZurückWeiter »