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CHAPTER V
I have thus attempted, after fourteen years of absolute calm, to recount the prominent details of the strife; and I hope that interest in the subject is still sufficient to justify me in a further brief reference to some features of the dispute and certain incidents that followed it, which may aid to a better appreciation of its true character and motive.

Of the elaborate speeches made in support of the resolutions and the committee’s majority report, seven dealt more or less prominently with the President’s Civil Service reform professions and his pledges against the removal of officials on purely partizan grounds. It seems to have been assumed that these pledges had been violated. At any rate, without any evidence worthy of the name, charges of such violation ranged all the way from genteel insinuation to savage accusation. Senators who would have stoutly refused to vote for the spoils system broadly intimated or openly declared that if suspensions had been made confessedly on 71 partizan grounds they would have interposed no opposition. The majority seem to have especially admired and applauded the antics of one of their number, who, in intervals of lurid and indiscriminate vituperation, gleefully mingled ridicule for Civil Service reform with praise of the forbidding genius of partizan spoils. In view of these deliverances and as bearing upon their relevancy, as well as indicating their purpose, let me again suggest that the issue involved in the discussion as selected by the majority of the Committee on the Judiciary, and distinctly declared in their report, was whether, as a matter of right, or, as the report expresses it, as within “constitutional competence,” either House of Congress should “have access to the official papers and documents in the various public offices of the United States, created by laws enacted by themselves.” It will be readily seen that if the question was one of senatorial right, the President’s Civil Service reform pledges had no honest or legitimate place in the discussion.

The debate and the adoption of the resolutions reported by the committee caused no surrender of the Executive position. Nevertheless, confirmations of those nominated in place of suspended officers soon began, and I cannot 72 recall any further embarrassment or difficulty on that score. I ought to add, however, that in many cases, at least, these confirmations were accompanied by reports from the committee to which they had been referred, stating that the late incumbent had been suspended for “political reasons,” or on account of “offensive partizanship,” or for a like reason, differently expressed, and that nothing was alleged against them affecting their personal character. If the terms thus used by the committee in designating causes for suspension mean that the persons suspended were guilty of offensive partizanship or political offenses, as distinguished from personal offenses and moral or official delinquencies, I am satisfied with the statement. And here it occurs to me to suggest that if offenses and moral or official delinquencies, not partizan in their nature, had existed, they would have been subjects for official inspection and report, and such reports, being official documents, would have been submitted to the committee or to the Senate, according to custom, and would have told their own story and excluded committee comment.

It is worth recalling, when referring to committee reports on nomination, that they belong to the executive business of the Senate, and are, 73 therefore, among the secrets of that body. Those I have mentioned, nevertheless, were by special order made public, and published in the proceedings of the Senate in open session. This extraordinary, if not unprecedented, action, following long after the conclusion of the dispute, easily interprets its own intent, and removes all covering from a design to accomplish partizan advantage. The declaration of the resolutions that it was the duty of the Senate “to refuse its advice and consent to the proposed removal of officers” when the papers and documents relating to their supposed misconduct were withheld, was abandoned, and the irrevocable removal of such officers by confirmation of their successors was entered upon, with or without the much-desired papers and documents, and was supplemented by the publication of committee reports, from which the secrecy of the executive session had been removed, to the end that, pursuant to a fixed determination, an unfavorable senatorial interpretation might be publicly given to the President’s action in making suspensions.

I desire to call attention to one other incident connected with the occurrences already narrated. On the 14th of December, 1885,—prior to the first request or demand upon any 74 executive department relating to suspensions, and of course before any controversy upon the subject arose,—a bill was introduced in the Senate by one of the most distinguished and able members of the majority in that body, and also a member of its Committee on the Judiciary, for the total and complete repeal of the law of 1869, which, it will be remembered, furnished the basis for the contention we have considered. This repealing bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where it slumbered until the 21st of June, 1886,—nearly three months after the close of the contention,—when it was returned to the Senate with a favorable report, the chairman of the committee alone dissenting. When the bill was presented for discussion, the Senator who introduced it explained its object as follows:

    This bill repeals what is left of what is called the Tenure of Office act, passed under the administration of Andrew Johnson, and as a part of the contest with that President. It leaves the law as it was from the beginning of the Government until that time, and it repeals the provision which authorizes the suspension of civil officers and requires the submission of that suspension to the Senate.

On a later day, in discussing the bill, he said, after referring to the early date of its introduction: 75

    It did not seem to me to be quite becoming to ask the Senate to deal with this general question while the question which arose between the President and the Senate as to the interpretation and administration of the existing law was pending. I thought as a party man that I had hardly the right to interfere with the matter which was under the special charge of my honorable friend from Vermont, by challenging a debate upon the general subject from a different point of view. This question has subsided and is past, and it seems to me now proper to ask the Senate to vote upon the question whether it will return to the ancient policy of the Government, to the rule of public conduct which existed from 1789 until 1867, and which has practically existed, notwithstanding the condition of the statute-book, since the accession to power of General Grant on the 4th of March, 1869.

The personnel of the committee which reported favorably upon this repealing bill had not been changed since all the members of it politically affiliating with the majority in the Senate joined in recommending the accusatory report and resolutions, which, when adopted, after sharp and irritating discussion, caused the question between the President and the Senate, in the language of the introducer of the repealing bill, to “subside.”

This repealing act passed the Senate on the 17th of December, 1886, by thirty affirmative votes against twenty-two in the negative. A short time afterward it passed in the House of 76 Representatives by a majority of one hundred and five.

Thus was an unpleasant controversy happily followed by an expurgation of the last pretense of statutory sanction to an encroachment upon constitutional Executive prerogatives, and thus was a time-honored interpretation of the Constitution restored to us. The President, freed from the Senate’s claim of tutelage, became again the independent agent of the people, representing a co?rdinate branch of their Government, charged with responsibilities which, under his oath, he ought not to avoid or divide with others, and invested with powers, not to be surrendered, but to be used, under the guidance of patriotic intention and an unclouded conscience.
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