Historical Essays
by James Ford Rhodes
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Mr. Roosevelt merits the encouragement and sympathy of all lovers of good government, and he is entitled, as indeed is every President, to considerate and forbearing criticism. For, ardently desired as the office is, it is a hard place to fill. Through the kindness of President Roosevelt, I have been enabled to observe the daily routine of his work, and I am free to say that from the business point of view, no man better earns his pay than does he. Mr. Bryce remarks that a good deal of the President's work is like that of the manager of a railway. So far as concerns the consultation with heads of departments, prompt decisions, and the disposition of daily matters, the comparison is apt, if a great American railway and a manager like Thomas A. Scott are borne in mind. But the railway manager's labor is done in comparative privacy, he can be free from interruption and dispose of his own time in a systematic manner. That is impossible for the President during the session of Congress. Office-seekers themselves do not trouble the President so much as in former days; they may be referred to the heads of the departments; and, moreover, the introduction of competitive examinations and the merit system has operated as a relief to the President and his Cabinet officers. But hearing the recommendations by senators and congressmen of their friends for offices consumes a large amount of time. There are, as Senator Lodge has kindly informed me, 4818 presidential offices exclusive of 4000 presidential post offices; in addition there are army and naval officers to be appointed. The proper selection in four years of the number of men these figures imply is in itself no small labor; it would by a railway manager be considered an onerous and exacting business. But the railway manager may hear the claims of applicants in his own proper way, and to prevent encroachments on his time may give the candidates or their friends a curt dismissal. The President may not treat senators and representatives in that manner, nor would he desire to do so, for the intercourse between them and the executive is of great value. "The President," wrote John Sherman, "should 'touch elbows' with Congress." There are important legislative measures to be discussed in a frank interchange of opinion. Senators and representatives are a guide to the President in their estimates of public sentiment; often they exert an influence over him, and he is dependent on them for the carrying out of any policy he may have at heart. While the encroachments on the President's time are great, I am convinced that no plan should be adopted which should curtail the unconventional and frank interchange of views between the President and members of the National Legislature. The relief lies with the public. Much of the President's time is taken up with receptions of the friends of senators and representatives, of members of conventions and learned bodies meeting in Washington, of deputations of school-teachers and the like who have gone to the capital for a holiday: all desire to pay their respects to the Chief Magistrate. Undoubtedly, if he could have a quiet talk with most of these people, it would be of value, but the conventional shaking of hands and the "I am glad to see you" is not a satisfaction great enough to the recipients to pay for what it costs the President in time and the expenditure of nervous force. He should have time for deliberation. The railway manager can closet himself when he likes: that should be the privilege of the President; yet on a certain day last April, when he wished to have a long confidential talk with his Secretary of War, this was only to be contrived by the two taking a long horseback ride in the country. It is difficult for the President to refuse to see these good, patriotic, and learned people; and senators and representatives like to gratify their constituents. The remedy lies with the public in denying themselves this pleasant feature of a visit to Washington. One does not call on the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad or the president of the New York Central Railroad in business hours unless for business purposes; and this should be the rule observed by citizens of the United States toward the President. The weekly public receptions are no longer held. All these other receptions and calls simply for shaking hands and wishing him God-speed should no longer be asked for. For the President has larger and more serious work than the railway manager and should have at least as much time for thought and deliberation.

Moreover, the work of the railway manager is done in secret. Fiercer by far than the light which beats upon the throne is that which beats upon the White House. The people are eager to know the President's thoughts and plans, and an insistent press endeavors to satisfy them. Considering the conditions under which the President does his work, the wonder is not that he makes so many mistakes, but that he makes so few. There is no railway or business manager or college president who has not more time to himself for the reflection necessary to the maturing of large and correct policies. I chanced to be in the President's room when he dictated the rough draft of his famous dispatch to General Chaffee respecting torture in the Philippines. While he was dictating, two or three cards were brought in, also some books with a request for the President's autograph, and there were some other interruptions. While the dispatch as it went out in its revised form could not be improved, a President cannot expect to be always so happy in dictating dispatches in the midst of distractions. Office work of far-reaching importance should be done in the closet. Certainly no monarch or minister in Europe does administrative work under such unfavorable conditions; indeed, this public which exacts so much of the President's time should in all fairness be considerate in its criticism.

No one, I think, would care to have abated the fearless political criticism which has in this country and in England attained to the highest point ever reached. From the nature of things the press must comment promptly and without the full knowledge of conditions that might alter its judgments. But on account of the necessary haste of its expressions, the writers should avoid extravagant language and the too ready imputation of bad motives to the public servants. "It is strange that men cannot allow others to differ with them without charging corruption as the cause of the difference," are the plaintive words of Grant during a confidential conversation with his Secretary of State.

The contrast between the savage criticism of Cleveland and Harrison while each occupied the presidential chair and the respect each enjoyed from political opponents after retiring to private life is an effective illustration of the lesson I should like to teach. At the time of Harrison's death people spoke from their hearts and said, "Well done, good and faithful servant." A fine example of political criticism in a time of great excitement were two articles by Mr. Carl Schurz in Harper's Weekly during the Venezuela crisis. Mr. Schurz was a supporter and political friend of Cleveland, but condemned his Venezuela message. In the articles to which I refer he was charitable in feeling and moderate in tone, and though at the time I heard the term "wishy-washy" applied to one of them, I suspect that Mr. Schurz now looks back with satisfaction to his reserve; and those of us who used more forcible language in regard to the same incident may well wish that we had emulated his moderation.

The presidential office differs from all other political offices in the world, and has justified the hopes of its creators. It has not realized their fears, one of which was expressed by Hamilton in the Federalist. "A man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of Chief Magistrate," he wrote, "possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote, when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents."[169] From dangers of this sort the political virtue which we inherited from our English ancestors has preserved us. We may fairly maintain that the creation and administration of our presidential office have added something to political history, and when we contrast in character and ability the men who have filled it with the monarchs of England and of France, we may have a feeling of just pride. Mr. Bryce makes a suggestive comparison in ability of our Presidents to the prime ministers of England, awarding the palm to the Englishmen,[170] and from his large knowledge of both countries and impartial judgment we may readily accept his conclusion. It is, however, a merit of our Constitution that as great ability is not required for its chief executive office as is demanded in England. The prime minister must have a talent for both administration and debate, which is a rare combination of powers, and if he be chosen from the House of Commons, it may happen that too much stress will be laid upon oratory, or the power of making ready replies to the attacks of the opposition. It is impossible to conceive of Washington defending his policy in the House or the Senate from a fire of questions and cross-questions. Lincoln might have developed this quality of a prime minister, but his replies and sallies of wit to put to confusion his opponents would have lacked the dignity his state papers and confidential letters possess. Hayes and Cleveland were excellent administrators, but neither could have reached his high position had the debating ability of a prime minister been required. On the other hand, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley would have been effective speakers in either the House or the Senate.

An American may judge his own country best from European soil, impregnated as he there is with European ideas. Twice have I been in Europe during Cleveland's administration, twice during McKinley's, once during Roosevelt's. During the natural process of comparison, when one must recognize in many things the distinct superiority of England, Germany, and France, I have never had a feeling other than high respect for each one of these Presidents; and taking it by and large, in the endeavor to consider fairly the hits and misses of all, I have never had any reason to feel that the conduct of our national government has been inferior to that of any one of these highly civilized powers.

[164] Henry Adams, II, 113.

[165] Ibid., 130.

[166] Sumner's Jackson, 138.

[167] Twenty Years of Congress, II, 185.

[168] July 14, 1900.

[169] See also the Federalist (Lodge's edition), 452. Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence, 308.

[170] American Commonwealth, I, 80.


Address delivered at the annual meeting of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate Schools of Applied Science and Business Administration, Harvard University, on October 8, 1908; printed in the Century Magazine for October, 1909.


Many of our Presidents have been inaugurated under curious and trying circumstances, but no one of them except Hayes has taken the oath of office when there was a cloud on his title. Every man who had voted for Tilden,—whose popular vote exceeded that of Hayes by 264,000,—believed that Hayes had reached his high place by means of fraud. Indeed, some of the Hayes voters shared this belief, and stigmatized as monstrous the action of the Louisiana returning board in awarding the electoral vote of Louisiana to Hayes. The four men, three of them dishonest and the fourth incompetent, who constituted this returning board, rejected, on the ground of intimidation of negro voters, eleven thousand votes that had been cast in due form for Tilden. In the seventh volume of my history I have told the story of the compromise in the form of the Electoral Commission which passed on the conflicting claims and adjudged the votes of the disputed states, notably Florida and Louisiana, to Hayes, giving him a majority of one in the electoral college, thus making him President. When the count was completed and the usual declaration made, Hayes had no choice but to abide by the decision. Duty to his country and to his party, the Republican, required his acceptance of the office, and there is no reason for thinking that he had any doubts regarding his proper course. His legal title was perfect, but his moral title was unsound, and it added to the difficulty of his situation that the opposition, the Democrats, had a majority in the House of Representatives. None but a determined optimist could have predicted anything but failure for an administration beginning under such conditions.

Hayes was an Ohio man, and we in Ohio now watched his successive steps with keen interest. We knew him as a man of high character, with a fine sense of honor, but we placed no great faith in his ability. He had added to his reputation by the political campaign that he had made for governor, in 1875, against the Democrats under William Allen, who demanded an inflation of the greenback currency. He took an uncompromising stand for sound money, although that cause was unpopular in Ohio, and he spoke from the stump unremittingly and fearlessly, although overshadowed by the greater ability and power of expression of Senator Sherman and of Carl Schurz, who did yeoman's service for the Republicans in this campaign. Senator Sherman had suggested Hayes as candidate for President, and the nomination by the Republican national convention had come to him in June, 1876. While his letter of acceptance may not have surprised his intimate friends, it was a revelation to most of us from its outspoken and common-sense advocacy of civil service reform, and it gave us the first glimmering that in Rutherford B. Hayes the Republicans had for standard bearer a man of more than respectable ability.

His inaugural address confirmed this impression. He spoke with dignity and sympathy of the disputed Presidency, promised a liberal policy toward the Southern states, and declared that a reform in our civil service was a "paramount necessity." He chose for his Cabinet men in sympathy with his high ideals. William M. Evarts, the Secretary of State, was one of the ablest lawyers in the country. He had been one of the leading counsel in the defense of President Johnson in the impeachment trial, and had managed the Republican cause before the Electoral Commission with adroitness and zeal. John Sherman, the Secretary of the Treasury, was the most capable financier in public life. Carl Schurz, the Secretary of the Interior, was an aggressive and uncompromising reformer, who had served the Republican party well in the campaigns of 1875 and 1876. If these three men could work together under Hayes, the United States need envy the governors of no other country. They were in the brilliant but solid class, were abreast of the best thought of their time, had a solemn sense of duty, and believed in righteous government. Devens, the Attorney-General, had served with credit in the army and had held the honorable position of Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Thompson of Indiana, Secretary of the Navy, was a political appointment due to the influence of Senator Morton, but, all things considered, it was not a bad choice. McCrary of Iowa, as Secretary of War, had been a useful member of the House of Representatives. The Postmaster-General was Key of Tennessee, who had served in the Confederate army and voted for Tilden. This appointment was not so genuine a recognition of the South as would have been made if Hayes could have carried out his first intention, which was the appointment of General Joseph E. Johnston as Secretary of War. Considering that Johnston had surrendered the second great army of the Confederacy only twelve years before, the thought was possible only to a magnanimous nature, and in the inner circle of Hayes's counselors obvious and grave objections were urged. General Sherman doubted the wisdom of the proposed appointment, although he said that as General of the army he would be entirely content to receive the President's orders through his old antagonist. Although the appointment of Johnston would have added strength, the Cabinet as finally made up was strong, and the selection of such advisers created a favorable impression upon the intelligent sentiment of the country; it was spoken of as the ablest Cabinet since Washington's.

A wise inaugural address and an able Cabinet made a good beginning, but before the harmonious cooperation of these extraordinary men could be developed a weighty question, which brooked no delay, had to be settled. The Stevens-Sumner plan of the reconstruction of the South on the basis of universal negro suffrage and military support of the governments thus constituted had failed. One by one in various ways the Southern states had recovered home rule until, on the inauguration of Hayes, carpet-bag negro governments existed in only two states, South Carolina and Louisiana. In both of these the Democrats maintained that their candidates for governor had been lawfully elected. The case of South Carolina presented no serious difficulty. Hayes electors had been rightfully chosen, and so had the Democratic governor, Hampton. But Chamberlain, the Republican candidate, had a claim based on the exclusion of the votes of two counties by the board of state canvassers. After conferences between each of the claimants and the President, the question was settled in favor of the Democrat, which was the meaning of the withdrawal of the United States troops from the State House in Columbia.

The case of Louisiana was much more troublesome. Packard, the Republican candidate for governor, had received as many votes as Hayes, and logic seemed to require that, if Hayes be President, Packard should be governor. While the question was pending, Blaine said in the Senate: "You discredit Packard, and you discredit Hayes. You hold that Packard is not the legal governor of Louisiana, and President Hayes has no title." And the other leaders of the Republican party, for the most part, held this view. To these and their followers Blaine applied the name "Stalwarts," stiff partisans, who did not believe in surrendering the hold of the Republicans on the Southern states.

Between the policies of a continuance of the support of the Republican party in Louisiana or its withdrawal, a weak man would have allowed things to drift, while a strong man of the Conkling and Chandler type would have sustained the Packard government with the whole force at his command. Hayes acted slowly and cautiously, asked for and received much good counsel, and in the end determined to withdraw the United States troops from the immediate vicinity of the State House in Louisiana. The Packard government fell, and the Democrats took possession. The lawyers could furnish cogent reasons why Packard was not entitled to the governorship, although the electoral vote of Louisiana had been counted for Hayes; but the Stalwarts maintained that no legal quibble could varnish over so glaring an inconsistency. Indeed, it was one of those illogical acts, so numerous in English and American history, that resolve difficulties, when a rigid adherence to logic would tend to foment trouble.

The inaugural address and the distinctively reform Cabinet did not suit the party workers, and when the President declined to sustain the Packard government in Louisiana, disapproval was succeeded by rage. In six weeks after his inauguration Hayes was without a party; that is to say, the men who carried on the organization were bitterly opposed to his policy, and they made much more noise than the independent thinking voters who believed that a man had arisen after their own hearts. Except from the Southern wing, he received little sympathy from the Democratic party. In their parlance, fraud was written on his brow. He had the honor and perquisites of office which were rightfully theirs.

Once the troops were withdrawn from South Carolina and Louisiana, no backward step was possible, and although Hayes would have liked congressional support and sympathy for his act, this was not necessary. The next most important question of his administration related to finance. He and his Secretary of the Treasury would have been gratified by an obedient majority in Congress at their back. Presidents before and after Hayes have made a greater or less employment of their patronage to secure the passage of their favorite measures, but Hayes immediately relinquished that power by taking a decided position for a civil service based on merit. In a little over a month after the withdrawal of the troops from the immediate vicinity of the State House in Louisiana, he announced his policy in a letter to his Secretary of the Treasury. "It is my wish," he wrote, "that the collection of the revenues should be free from partisan control, and organized on a strictly business basis, with the same guaranties for efficiency and fidelity in the selection of the chief and subordinate officers that would be required by a prudent merchant. Party leaders should have no more influence in appointments than other equally respectable citizens. No assessments for political purposes on officers or subordinates should be allowed. No useless officer or employee should be retained. No officer should be required or permitted to take part in the management of political organizations, caucuses, conventions, or election campaigns." The mandatory parts of this letter he incorporated in an order to Federal office-holders, adding: "This rule is applicable to every department of the civil service. It should be understood by every officer of the general government that he is expected to conform his conduct to its requirements."

It must be a source of gratification to the alumni and faculty of Harvard College that its president and governing boards were, in June, 1877, in the judicious minority, and recognized their appreciation of Hayes by conferring upon him its highest honorary degree. Schurz, who had received his LL.D. the year before, accompanied Hayes to Cambridge, and, in his Harvard speech at Commencement, gave his forcible and sympathetic approval of the "famous order of the President," as it had now come to be called.

A liberal and just Southern policy, the beginning of a genuine reform in the civil service and the resumption of specie payments, are measures which distinguish and glorify President Hayes's administration, but in July, 1877, public attention was diverted from all these by a movement which partook of the nature of a social uprising. The depression following the panic of 1873 had been widespread and severe. The slight revival of business resulting from the Centennial Exposition of 1876 and the consequent large passenger traffic had been succeeded by a reaction in 1877 that brought business men to the verge of despair. Failures of merchants and manufacturers, stoppage of factories, diminished traffic on the railroads, railroad bankruptcies and receiverships, threw a multitude of laborers out of employment; and those fortunate enough to retain their jobs were less steadily employed, and were subject to reductions in wages.

The state of railroad transportation was deplorable. The competition of the trunk lines, as the railroads running from Chicago to the seaboard were called, was sharp, and, as there was not business enough for all, the cutting of through freight rates caused such business to be done at an actual loss, while the through passenger transportation afforded little profit. Any freight agent knew the remedy: an increase of freight rates by agreement or through a system of pooling earnings. Agreements were made, but not honestly kept, and, after a breach of faith, the fight was renewed with increased fury. As the railroad managers thought that they could not increase their gross earnings, they resolved on decreasing their expenses, and somewhat hastily and jauntily they announced a reduction of ten per cent in the wages of their employees.

This was resisted. Trouble first began on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, where the men not only struck against the reduction, but prevented other men from taking their places, and stopped by force the running of trains. The militia of West Virginia was inadequate to cope with the situation, and the governor of that state called on the President for troops, which were sent with a beneficial effect. But the trouble spread to Maryland, and a conflict in Baltimore between the militia and rioters in sympathy with the strikers resulted in a number of killed and wounded. The next day, Saturday, July 21, a riot in Pittsburg caused the most profound sensation in the country since the draft riots of the Civil War. The men on the Pennsylvania and the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroads, had struck, and all freight traffic was arrested. On this day six hundred and fifty men of the first division of the Pennsylvania national guard at Philadelphia arrived in Pittsburg, and, in the attempt to clear the Twenty-eighth Street crossing, they replied to the missiles thrown at them by the mob with volleys of musketry, killing instantly sixteen of the rioters and wounding many.

Here was cause for exasperation, and a furious mob, composed of strikers, idle factory hands, and miners, tramps, communists, and outcasts, began its work of vengeance and plunder. Possessed of firearms, through breaking into a number of gun shops, they attacked the Philadelphia soldiers, who had withdrawn to the railroad roundhouse, and a fierce battle ensued. Unable to dislodge the soldiers by assault, the rioters attempted to roast them out by setting fire to cars of coke saturated with petroleum and pushing these down the track against the roundhouse. This eventually forced the soldiers to leave the building, but, though pursued by the rioters, they made a good retreat across the Allegheny River. The mob, completely beyond control, began the destruction of railroad property. The torch was applied to two roundhouses, to railroad sheds, shops and offices, cars and locomotives. Barrels of spirits, taken from the freight cars, and opened and drunk, made demons of the men, and the work of plunder and destruction of goods in transit went on with renewed fury.

That Saturday night Pittsburg witnessed a reign of terror. On Sunday the rioting and pillage were continued, and in the afternoon the Union Depot and Railroad Hotel and an elevator near by were burned. Then as the rioters were satiated and too drunk to be longer dangerous, the riot died out: it was not checked. On Monday, through the action of the authorities, armed companies of law-abiding citizens, and some faithful companies of the militia, order was restored. But meanwhile the strike had spread to a large number of other railroads between the seaboard and Chicago and St. Louis. Freight traffic was entirely suspended, and passenger trains were run only on sufferance of the strikers. Business was paralyzed, and the condition of disorganization and unrest continued throughout the month of July. The governors of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois called upon the President for United States troops, which were promptly sent, and in Indiana and Missouri they were employed on the demand of the United States marshals. Where the regular soldiers appeared order was at once restored without bloodshed, and it was said that the rioters feared one Federal bayonet more than a whole company of militia. The gravity of the situation is attested by three proclamations of warning from President Hayes.

Strikes had been common in our country, and, while serious enough in certain localities, had aroused no general concern, but the action of the mob in Baltimore, Pittsburg, and Chicago seemed like an attack on society itself, and it came like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, startling Americans, who had hugged the delusion that such social uprisings belonged to Europe, and had no reason of being in a great, free republic where all men had an equal chance. The railroad managers had no idea that they were letting loose a slumbering giant when their edict of a ten per cent reduction went forth. It was due to the prompt and efficient action of the President that order was ultimately restored. In the profound and earnest thinking and discussion that went on during the rest of the year, whenever thoughtful men gathered together, many a grateful word was said of the quiet, unassuming man in the White House who saw clearly his duty and never faltered in pursuing it. It was seen that the Federal government, with a resolute President at its head, was a tower of strength in the event of a social uprising.

In the reform of the civil service Hayes proceeded from words to action. He reappointed Thomas L. James as postmaster of New York City, who had conducted his office on a thorough business basis, and gave him sympathetic support. The New York Custom-house had long been a political machine in which the interests of politicians had been more considered than those of the public it was supposed to serve. The President began an investigation of it through an impartial commission, and he and Sherman came to the conclusion that the renovation desired, in line with his letter to the Secretary of the Treasury and his order to the Federal officers, could not be effected so long as the present collector, Chester A. Arthur, and the naval officer, A. B. Cornell, remained in office. Courteous intimations were sent to them that their resignations were desired on the ground that new officers could better carry out the reform which the President had at heart. Arthur and Cornell, under the influence of Senator Conkling, refused to resign, and a plain issue was made between the President and the New York senator. At the special session of Congress, in October, 1877, he sent to the Senate nominations of new men for these places, but the power of Conkling, working through the "courtesy of the Senate," was sufficient to procure their rejection; and this was also the result when the same nominations were made in December.

In July, 1878, after the adjournment of Congress, Hayes removed Arthur and Cornell, and appointed Merritt and Burt in their places. During the following December these appointments came before the Senate for confirmation. Sherman decided to resign if they were rejected, and he made a strong personal appeal to Senators Allison, Windom, and Morrill that they should not permit "the insane hate of Conkling" to override the good of the service and the party. A seven hours' struggle ensued in the Senate, but Merritt and Burt were confirmed by a decisive majority. After the confirmation, Hayes wrote to Merritt: "My desire is that the office be conducted on strictly business principles and according to the rules for the civil service which were recommended by the Civil Service Commission in the administration of General Grant."

In three of his annual messages, Hayes presented strong arguments for a reform in the civil service, and he begged Congress, without avail, to make appropriations to sustain the Civil Service Commission. He sympathized with and supported Schurz in his introduction into the Interior Department of competitive examinations for appointments and promotions, and he himself extended that system to the custom-houses and post-offices of the larger cities.

All that was accomplished in this direction was due to his efforts and those of his Cabinet. He received neither sympathy nor help from Congress; indeed, he met with great opposition from his own party. A picture not without humor is Hayes reading, as his justification, to the Republican remonstrants against his policy of appointments the strong declaration for a civil service based on merit in the Republican platform, on which he had stood as candidate for President. Though his preaching did not secure the needed legislation from Congress, it produced a marked effect on public sentiment.

The organization of civil service reform associations began under Hayes. The New York association was begun in 1877, reorganized three years later, and soon had a large national membership, which induced the formation of other state associations; and although the national civil service reform league was not formed until after his term of office expired, the origin of the society may be safely referred to his influence. In the melioration of the public service which has been so conspicuously in operation since 1877, Hayes must be rated the pioneer President. Some of Grant's efforts in this direction were well meant, but he had no fundamental appreciation of the importance of the question or enthusiasm for the work, and, in a general way, it may be said that he left the civil service in a demoralized condition. How pregnant was Hayes's remark in his last annual message, and what a text it has been for many homilies! "My views," he wrote, "concerning the dangers of patronage or appointments for personal or partisan considerations have been strengthened by my observation and experience in the executive office, and I believe these dangers threaten the stability of the government."

The brightest page in the history of the Republican party since the Civil War tells of its work in the cause of sound finance, and no administration is more noteworthy than that of Hayes. Here again the work was done by the President and his Cabinet in the face of a determined opposition in Congress. During the first two years of his administration, the Democrats had a majority in the House, and during the last two a majority in both the House and the Senate. The Republican party was sounder than the Democratic on the resumption of specie payments and in the advocacy of a correct money standard, but Hayes had by no means all of his own party at his back. Enough Republicans, however, were of his way of thinking to prevent an irremediable inflation of either greenbacks or silver.

The credit for what was accomplished in finance belongs in the main to John Sherman, a great financier and consummate statesman; but he had the constant sympathy and support of the President. It was their custom to take long drives together every Sunday afternoon and discuss systematically and thoroughly the affairs of the Treasury and the official functions of the President. No President ever had a better counselor than Sherman, no Secretary of the Treasury more sympathetic and earnest support than was given by Hayes. Sherman refunded 845 millions of the public debt at a lower rate of interest, showing in his negotiations with bankers a remarkable combination of business and political ability. Cool, watchful, and confident, he grasped the point of view of New York and London financial syndicates, and to that interested and somewhat narrow vision he joined the intelligence and foresight of a statesman. Sherman brought about the resumption of specie payments on the 1st of January, 1879, the date fixed in the bill of which he was the chief author and which, four years before, he had carried through the Senate. It was once the fashion of his opponents to discredit his work, and, emphasizing the large crop of 1878 and the European demand for our breadstuffs, to declare that resumption was brought about by Providence and not by John Sherman. No historian of American finance can fail to see how important is the part often played by bountiful nature, but it is to the lasting merit of Sherman and Hayes that, in the dark years of 1877 and 1878, with cool heads and unshaken faith, they kept the country in the path of financial safety and honor despite bitter opposition and clamorous abuse.

These two years formed a part of my own business career, and I can add my vivid recollection to my present study of the period. As values steadily declined and losses rather than profits in business became the rule, the depression and even despair of business men and manufacturers can hardly be exaggerated. The daily list of failures and bankruptcies was appalling. How often one heard that iron and coal and land were worth too little and money too much, that only the bondholder could be happy, for his interest was sure and the purchasing power of his money great! In August, 1878, when John Sherman went to Toledo to speak to a gathering three thousand strong, he was greeted with such cries as, "You are responsible for all the failures in the country"; "You work to the interest of the capitalist"; "Capitalists own you, John Sherman, and you rob the poor widows and orphans to make them rich."

By many the resumption of specie payments was deemed impossible. The most charitable of Sherman's opponents looked upon him as an honest but visionary enthusiast who would fail in his policy and be "the deadest man politically" in the country. Others deemed resumption possible only by driving to the wall a majority of active business men. It was this sentiment which gave strength to the majority in the House of Representatives, which was opposed to any contraction of the greenback currency and in favor of the free coinage of silver, and of making it likewise a full legal tender. Most of these members of Congress were sincere, and thought that they were asking no more than justice for the trader, the manufacturer, and the laborer. The "Ohio idea" was originally associated with an inflation of the paper currency, but by extension it came to mean an abundance of cheap money, whether paper or silver. Proposed legislation, with this as its aim, was very popular in Ohio, but, despite the intense feeling against the President's and Secretary's policy in their own state and generally throughout the West, Hayes and Sherman maintained it consistently, and finally brought about the resumption of specie payments.

In their way of meeting the insistent demand for the remonetization of silver Hayes and Sherman differed. In November, 1877, the House of Representatives, under a suspension of the rules, passed by a vote of 163 to 34 a bill for the free coinage of the 412 1/2 grain silver dollar, making that dollar likewise a legal tender for all debts and dues. The Senate was still Republican, but the Republican senators were by no means unanimous for the gold standard. Sherman became convinced that, although the free-silver bill could not pass the Senate, something must nevertheless be done for silver, and, in cooperation with Senator Allison, he was instrumental in the adoption of the compromise which finally became law. This remonetized silver, providing for the purchase of not less than two million dollars' worth of silver bullion per month, nor more than four millions, and for its coinage into 412 1/2 grain silver dollars. Hayes vetoed this bill, sending a sound and manly message to the House of Representatives; but Congress passed it over his veto by a decided majority.

The regard for John Sherman's ability in Ohio was unbounded, and it was generally supposed that in all financial affairs, as well as in many others, he dominated Hayes. I shared that opinion until I learned indirectly from John Hay, who was first assistant Secretary of State and intimate in inner administration circles, that this was not true; that Hayes had decided opinions of his own and did not hesitate to differ with his Secretary of the Treasury. Nevertheless, not until John Sherman's "Recollections" were published was it generally known, I believe, that Sherman had a share in the Allison compromise, and did not approve of the President's veto of the bill remonetizing silver.

The Federal control of congressional and presidential elections, being a part of the Reconstruction legislation, was obnoxious to the Democrats, and they attempted to abrogate it by "riders" attached to several appropriation bills, especially that providing for the army. While the Senate remained Republican, there was chance for an accommodation between the President and the Senate on one side and the House on the other. Two useful compromises were made, the Democrats yielding in one case, the Republicans in the other. But in 1879, when both the House and the Senate were Democratic, a sharp contest began between Congress and the executive, the history of which is written in seven veto messages. For lack of appropriations to carry on the government, the President called an extra session of Congress in the first year of his administration and another in 1879, which was a remarkable record of extra sessions in a time of peace. The Democratic House passed a resolution for the appointment of a committee to investigate Hayes's title and aroused some alarm lest an effort might be made "to oust President Hayes and inaugurate Tilden." Although this alarm was stilled less than a month later by a decisive vote of the House, the action and investigation were somewhat disquieting.

Thus Hayes encountered sharp opposition from the Democrats, who frequently pointed their arguments by declaring that he held his place by means of fraud. He received sympathy from hardly any of the leaders of his own party in Congress, and met with open condemnation from the Stalwarts; yet he pursued his course with steadiness and equanimity, and was happy in his office. His serene amiability and hopefulness, especially in regard to affairs in the Southern states, were a source of irritation to the Stalwarts; but it was the serenity of a man who felt himself fully equal to his responsibilities.

In his inaugural address, Hayes contributed an addition to our political idiom, "He serves his party best who serves the country best." His administration was a striking illustration of this maxim. When he became President, the Republican party was in a demoralized condition, but, despite the factional criticism to which he was subject, he gained in the first few months of his Presidency the approval of men of intelligence and independent thought, and, as success attended his different policies, he received the support of the masses. The signal Republican triumph in the presidential election of 1880 was due to the improvement in business conditions and to the clean and efficient administration of Hayes.

In recalling his predecessor in office, we think more gladly of the Grant of Donelson, Vicksburg, and Appomattox than of Grant the President, for during his two administrations corruption was rife and bad government to the fore. Financial scandals were so frequent that despairing patriots cried out, "Is there no longer honesty in public life?" Our country then reached the high-water mark of corruption in national affairs. A striking improvement began under Hayes, who infused into the public service his own high ideals of honesty and efficiency. Hayes was much assisted in his social duties by his wife, a woman of character and intelligence, who carried herself with grace and dignity. One sometimes heard the remark that as Hayes was ruled in political matters by John Sherman, so in social affairs he was ruled by his wife. The sole foundation for this lay in his deference to her total abstinence principles, which she held so strongly as to exclude wine from the White House table except, I believe, at one official dinner, that to the Russian Grand Dukes.

Hayes's able Cabinet was likewise a harmonious one. Its members were accustomed to dine together at regular intervals (fortnightly, I think), when affairs of state and other subjects were discussed, and the geniality of these occasions was enhanced by a temperate circulation of the wine bottle. There must have been very good talk at these social meetings. Evarts and Schurz were citizens of the world. Evarts was a man of keen intelligence and wide information, and possessed a genial as well as a caustic wit. Schurz could discuss present politics and past history. He was well versed in European history of the eighteenth century and the Napoleonic wars, and could talk about the power of Voltaire in literature and the influence of Lessing on Goethe. From appreciative discourse on the Wagner opera and the French drama, he could, if the conversation turned to the Civil War, give a lively account of the battles of Chancellorsville or Gettysburg, in both of which he had borne an honorable part. Sherman was not a cosmopolitan like his two colleagues, but he loved dining out. His manners were those of the old-school gentleman; he could listen with genial appreciation, and he could talk of events in American history of which he had been a contemporaneous observer; as, for example, of the impressive oratory of Daniel Webster at a dinner in Plymouth; or the difference between the national conventions of his early political life and the huge ones of the present, illustrating his comparison with an account of the Whig convention of 1852, to which he went as a delegate.

Differing in many respects, Hayes and Grover Cleveland were alike in the possession of executive ability and the lack of oratorical. We all know that it is a purely academic question which is the better form of government, the English or our own, as both have grown up to adapt themselves to peculiar conditions. But when I hear an enthusiast for Cabinet government and ministerial responsibility, I like to point out that men like Hayes and Cleveland, who made excellent Presidents, could never have been prime ministers. One cannot conceive of either in an office equivalent to that of First Lord of the Treasury, being heckled by members on the front opposition bench and holding his own or getting the better of his opponents.

I have brought Hayes and Cleveland into juxtaposition, as each had a high personal regard for the other. Hayes died on January 17, 1893. Cleveland, the President-elect, was to be inaugurated on the following fourth of March. Despite remonstrance and criticism from bitter partisans of his own party, who deprecated any honor paid to one whom all good Democrats deemed a fraudulent President, Cleveland traveled from New York to Fremont, Ohio, to attend the funeral. He could only think of Hayes as an ex-President and a man whom he highly esteemed.


Lecture read at Harvard University, April 13, 1908; printed in the Atlantic Monthly for September, 1908.


Our two great journalists of the nineteenth century were Greeley and Godkin. Though differing in very many respects, they were alike in possessing a definite moral purpose. The most glorious and influential portion of Greeley's career lay between the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and the election of Lincoln in 1860, when the press played an important part in the upbuilding of a political party which formulated in a practical manner the antislavery sentiment of the country. Foremost among newspapers was the New York Tribune; foremost among editors was Horace Greeley. Of Greeley in his best days Godkin wrote: "He has an enthusiasm which never flags, and a faith in principles which nothing can shake, and an English style which, for vigor, terseness, clearness, and simplicity, has never been surpassed, except perhaps by Cobbett."[171]

Greeley and Godkin were alike in furnishing their readers with telling arguments. In northern New York and the Western Reserve of Ohio the Weekly Tribune was a political Bible. "Why do you look so gloomy?" said a traveler, riding along the highway in the Western Reserve during the old antislavery days, to a farmer who was sitting moodily on a fence. "Because," replied the farmer, "my Democratic friend next door got the best of me in an argument last night. But when I get my Weekly Tribune to-morrow I'll knock the foundations all out from under him."[172]

Premising that Godkin is as closely identified with The Nation and the Evening Post as Greeley with the Tribune, I shall refer to a personal experience. Passing a part of the winter of 1886 in a hotel at Thomasville, Georgia, it chanced that among the hundred or more guests there were eight or ten of us who regularly received The Nation by post. Ordinarily it arrived on the Friday noon train from Savannah, and when we came from our mid-day dinner into the hotel office, there, in our respective boxes, easily seen, and from their peculiar form recognized by every one, were our copies of The Nation. Occasionally the papers missed connection at Savannah, and our Nations did not arrive until after supper. It used to be said by certain scoffers that if a discussion of political questions came up in the afternoon of one of those days of disappointment, we readers were mum; but in the late evening, after having digested our political pabulum, we were ready to join issue with any antagonist. Indeed, each of us might have used the words of James Russell Lowell, written while he was traveling on the Continent and visiting many places where The Nation could not be bought: "All the time I was without it, my mind was chaos and I didn't feel that I had a safe opinion to swear by."[173]

While the farmer of the Western Reserve and Lowell are extreme types of clientele, each represents fairly well the peculiar following of Greeley and of Godkin, which differed as much as did the personal traits of the two journalists. Godkin speaks of Greeley's "odd attire, shambling gait, simple, good-natured and hopelessly peaceable face, and long yellow locks."[174] His "old white hat and white coat," which in New York were regarded as an affectation, counted with his following west of the Hudson River as a winning eccentricity. When he came out upon the lecture platform with crumpled shirt, cravat awry, and wrinkled coat looking as if he had traveled for a number of nights and days, such disorder appeared to many of his Western audiences as nothing worse than the mark of a very busy man, who had paid them the compliment of leaving his editorial rooms to speak to them in person, and who had their full sympathy as he thus opened his discourse, "You mustn't, my friends, expect fine words from a rough busy man like me."[175]

The people who read the Tribune did not expect fine words; they were used to the coarse, abusive language in which Greeley repelled attacks, and to his giving the lie with heartiness and vehemence. They enjoyed reading that "another lie was nailed to the counter," and that an antagonist "was a liar, knowing himself to be a liar, and lying with naked intent to deceive."[176]

On the contrary, the dress, the face, and the personal bearing of Godkin proclaimed at once the gentleman and cultivated man of the world. You felt that he was a man whom you would like to meet at dinner, accompany on a long walk, or cross the Atlantic with, were you an acquaintance or friend.

An incident related by Godkin himself shows that at least one distinguished gentleman did not enjoy sitting at meat with Greeley. During the spring of 1864 Godkin met Greeley at breakfast at the house of Mr. John A. C. Gray. William Cullen Bryant, at that time editor of the New York Evening Post, was one of the guests, and, when Greeley entered the room, was standing near the fireplace conversing with his host. On observing that Bryant did not speak to Greeley, Gray asked him in a whisper, "Don't you know Mr. Greeley?" In a loud whisper Bryant replied, "No, I don't; he's a blackguard—he's a blackguard."[177]

In the numbers of people whom he influenced, Greeley had the advantage over Godkin. In February, 1855, the circulation of the Tribune was 172,000, and its own estimate of its readers half a million, which was certainly not excessive. It is not a consideration beyond bounds to infer that the readers of the Tribune in 1860 furnished a goodly part of the 1,866,000 votes which were received by Lincoln.

At different times, while Godkin was editor, The Nation stated its exact circulation, which, as I remember it, was about 10,000, and it probably had 50,000 readers. As many of its readers were in the class of Lowell, its indirect influence was immense. Emerson said that The Nation had "breadth, variety, self-sustainment, and an admirable style of thought and expression."—"I owe much to The Nation," wrote Francis Parkman. "I regard it as the most valuable of American journals, and feel that the best interests of the country are doubly involved in its success."—"What an influence you have!" said George William Curtis to Godkin. "What a sanitary element in our affairs The Nation is!"—"To my generation," wrote William James, "Godkin's was certainly the towering influence in all thought concerning public affairs, and indirectly his influence has certainly been more pervasive than that of any other writer of the generation, for he influenced other writers who never quoted him, and determined the whole current of discussion."—"When the work of this century is summed up," wrote Charles Eliot Norton to Godkin, "what you have done for the good old cause of civilization, the cause which is always defeated, but always after defeat taking more advanced position than before—what you have done for this cause will count for much."—"I am conscious," wrote President Eliot to Godkin, "that The Nation has had a decided effect on my opinions and my action for nearly forty years; and I believe it has had like effect on thousands of educated Americans."[178]

A string of quotations, as is well known, becomes wearisome; but the importance of the point that I am trying to make will probably justify one more. "I find myself so thoroughly agreeing with The Nation always," wrote Lowell, "that I am half persuaded that I edit it myself!"[179] Truly Lowell had a good company: Emerson, Parkman, Curtis, Norton, James, Eliot,—all teachers in various ways. Through their lectures, books, and speeches, they influenced college students at an impressible age; they appealed to young and to middle-aged men; and they furnished comfort and entertainment for the old. It would have been difficult to find anywhere in the country an educated man whose thought was not affected by some one of these seven; and their influence on editorial writers for newspapers was remarkable. These seven were all taught by Godkin.

"Every Friday morning when The Nation comes," wrote Lowell to Godkin, "I fill my pipe, and read it from beginning to end. Do you do it all yourself? Or are there really so many clever men in the country?"[180] Lowell's experience, with or without tobacco, was undoubtedly that of hundreds, perhaps of thousands, of educated men, and the query he raised was not an uncommon one. At one time, Godkin, I believe, wrote most of "The Week," which was made up of brief and pungent comments on events, as well as the principal editorial articles. The power of iteration, which the journalist possesses, is great, and, when that power is wielded by a man of keen intelligence and wide information, possessing a knowledge of the world, a sense of humor, and an effective literary style, it becomes tremendous. The only escape from Godkin's iteration was one frequently tried, and that was, to stop The Nation.

Although Godkin published three volumes of Essays, the honors he received during his lifetime were due to his work as editor of The Nation and the Evening Post; and this is his chief title of fame. The education, early experience, and aspiration of such a journalist are naturally matter of interest. Born in 1831, in the County of Wicklow in the southeastern part of Ireland, the son of a Presbyterian minister, he was able to say when referring to Goldwin Smith, "I am an Irishman, but I am as English in blood as he is."[181] Receiving his higher education at Queen's College, Belfast, he took a lively interest in present politics, his college friends being Liberals. John Stuart Mill was their prophet, Grote and Bentham their daily companions, and America was their promised land. "To the scoffs of the Tories that our schemes were impracticable," he has written of these days, "our answer was that in America, barring slavery, they were actually at work. There, the chief of the state and the legislators were freely elected by the people. There, the offices were open to everybody who had the capacity to fill them. There was no army or navy, two great curses of humanity in all ages. There was to be no war except war in self-defense.... In fact, we did not doubt that in America at last the triumph of humanity over its own weaknesses and superstitions was being achieved, and the dream of Christendom was at last being realized."[182]

As a correspondent of the London Daily News he went to the Crimea. The scenes at Malakoff gave him a disgust for war which thenceforth he never failed to express upon every opportunity. When a man of sixty-eight, reckoning its cost in blood and treasure, he deemed the Crimean War entirely unnecessary and very deplorable.[183] Godkin arrived in America in November, 1856, and soon afterwards, with Olmsted's "Journey in the Seaboard Slave States," the "Back Country," and "Texas," as guidebooks, took a horseback journey through the South. Following closely Olmsted's trail, and speaking therefore with knowledge, he has paid him one of the highest compliments one traveler ever paid another. "Olmsted's work," he wrote, "in vividness of description and in photographic minuteness far surpasses Arthur Young's."[184] During this journey he wrote letters to the London Daily News, and these were continued after his return to New York City. For the last three years of our Civil War, he was its regular correspondent, and, as no one denies that he was a powerful advocate when his heart was enlisted, he rendered efficient service to the cause of the North. The News was strongly pro-Northern, and Godkin furnished the facts which rendered its leaders sound and instructive as well as sympathetic. All this while he was seeing socially the best people in New York City, and making useful and desirable acquaintances in Boston and Cambridge.

The interesting story of the foundation of The Nation has been told a number of times, and it will suffice for our purpose to say that there were forty stockholders who contributed a capital of one hundred thousand dollars, one half of which was raised in Boston, and one quarter each in Philadelphia and New York. Godkin was the editor, and next to him the chief promoters were James M. McKim of Philadelphia and Charles Eliot Norton. The first number of this "weekly journal of politics, literature, science, and art" appeared on July 6, 1865. Financial embarrassment and disagreements among the stockholders marked the first year of its existence, at the end of which Godkin, McKim, and Frederick Law Olmsted took over the property, and continued the publication under the proprietorship of E. L. Godkin & Co. "The Nation owed its continued existence to Charles Eliot Norton," wrote Godkin in 1899. "It was his calm and confidence amid the shrieks of combatants ... which enabled me to do my work even with decency."[185]

Sixteen years after The Nation was started, in 1881, Godkin sold it out to the Evening Post, becoming associate editor of that journal, with Carl Schurz as his chief. The Nation was thereafter published as the weekly edition of the Evening Post. In 1883 Schurz retired and Godkin was made editor-in-chief, having the aid and support of one of the owners, Horace White. On January 1, 1900, on account of ill health, he withdrew from the editorship of the Evening Post,[186] thus retiring from active journalism.

For thirty-five years he had devoted himself to his work with extraordinary ability and singleness of purpose. Marked appreciation came to him: invitations to deliver courses of lectures from both Harvard and Yale, the degree of A.M. from Harvard, and the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford. What might have been a turning point in his career was the offer in 1870 of the professorship of history at Harvard. He was strongly tempted to accept it, but, before coming to a decision, he took counsel of a number of friends; and few men, I think, have ever received such wise and disinterested advice as did Godkin when he was thus hesitating in what way he should apply his teaching. The burden of the advice was not to take the professorship, if he had to give up The Nation.

Frederick Law Olmsted wrote to him: "If you can't write fully half of 'The Week' and half the leaders, and control the drift and tone of the whole while living at Cambridge, give up the professorship, for The Nation is worth many professorships. It is a question of loyalty over a question of comfort." Lowell wrote to him in the same strain: "Stay if the two things are incompatible. We may find another professor by and by ... but we can't find another editor for The Nation." From Germany, John Bigelow sent a characteristic message: "Tell the University to require each student to take a copy of The Nation. Do not profess history for them in any other way. I dare say your lectures would be good, but why limit your pupils to hundreds which are now counted by thousands?"[187]

As is well known, Godkin relinquished the idea of the college connection and stuck to his job, although the quiet and serenity of a professor's life in Cambridge contrasted with his own turbulent days appealed to him powerfully. "Ten years hence," he wrote to Norton, "if things go on as they are now I shall be the most odious man in America. Not that I shall not have plenty of friends, but my enemies will be far more numerous and active." Six years after he had founded The Nation, and one year after he had declined the Harvard professorship, when he was yet but forty years old, he gave this humorously exaggerated account of his physical failings due to his nervous strain: "I began The Nation young, handsome, and fascinating, and am now withered and somewhat broken, rheumatism gaining on me rapidly, my complexion ruined, as also my figure, for I am growing stout."[188]

But his choice between the Harvard professorship and The Nation was a wise one. He was a born writer of paragraphs and editorials. The files of The Nation are his monument. A crown of his laborious days is the tribute of James Bryce: "The Nation was the best weekly not only in America but in the world."[189]

Thirty-five years of journalism, in which Godkin was accustomed to give hard blows, did not, as he himself foreshadowed, call forth a unanimous chorus of praise; and the objections of intelligent and high-minded men are well worth taking into account. The most common one is that his criticism was always destructive; that he had an eye for the weak side of causes and men that he did not favor, and these he set forth with unremitting vigor without regard for palliating circumstances; that he erected a high and impossible ideal and judged all men by it; hence, if a public man was right eight times out of ten, he would seize upon the two failures and so parade them with his withering sarcasm that the reader could get no other idea than that the man was either weak or wicked. An editor of very positive opinions, he was apt to convey the idea that if any one differed from him on a vital question, like the tariff or finance or civil service reform, he was necessarily a bad man. He made no allowances for the weaknesses of human nature, and had no idea that he himself ever could be mistaken. Though a powerful critic, he did not realize the highest criticism, which discerns and brings out the good as well as the evil. He won his reputation by dealing out censure, which has a rare attraction for a certain class of minds, as Tacitus observed in his "History." "People," he wrote, "lend a ready ear to detraction and spite," for "malignity wears the imposing appearance of independence."[190]

The influence of The Nation, therefore,—so these objectors to Godkin aver,—was especially unfortunate on the intelligent youth of the country. It was in 1870 that John Bigelow, whom I have just quoted, advised Harvard University to include The Nation among its requirements; and it is true that at that time, and for a good while afterwards, The Nation was favorite reading for serious Harvard students. The same practice undoubtedly prevailed at most other colleges. Now I have been told that the effect of reading The Nation was to prevent these young men from understanding their own country; that, as Godkin himself did not comprehend America, he was an unsound teacher and made his youthful readers see her through a false medium. And I am further informed that in mature life it cost an effort, a mental wrench, so to speak, to get rid of this influence and see things as they really were, which was necessary for usefulness in lives cast in America. The United States was our country; she was entitled to our love and service; and yet such a frame of mind was impossible, so this objection runs, if we read and believed the writing of The Nation. A man of character and ability, who had filled a number of public offices with credit, told me that the influence of The Nation had been potent in keeping college graduates out of public life; that things in the United States were painted so black both relatively and absolutely that the young men naturally reasoned, "Why shall we concern ourselves about a country which is surely going to destruction?" Far better, they may have said, to pattern after Plato's philosopher who kept out of politics, being "like one who retires under the shelter of a wall in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along."[191]

Such considerations undoubtedly lost The Nation valuable subscribers. I have been struck with three circumstances in juxtaposition. At the time of Judge Hoar's forced resignation from Grant's Cabinet in 1870, The Nation said, "In peace as in war 'that is best blood which hath most iron in't;' and much is to be excused to the man [that is, Judge Hoar] who has for the first time in many years of Washington history given a back-handed blow to many an impudent and arrogant dispenser of patronage. He may well be proud of most of the enmity that he won while in office, and may go back contented to Massachusetts to be her most honored citizen."[192] Two months later Lowell wrote to Godkin, "The bound volumes of The Nation standing on Judge Hoar's library table, as I saw them the other day, were a sign of the estimation in which it is held by solid people and it is they who in the long run decide the fortunes of such a journal."[193] But The Nation lost Judge Hoar's support. When I called upon him in 1893 he was no longer taking or reading it.

It is the sum of individual experiences that makes up the influence of a journal like The Nation, and one may therefore be pardoned the egotism necessarily arising from a relation of one's own contact with it. In 1866, while a student at the University of Chicago, I remember well that, in a desultory talk in the English Literature class, Professor William Matthews spoke of The Nation and advised the students to read it each week as a political education of high value. This was the first knowledge I had of it, but I was at that time, along with many other young men, devoted to the Round Table, an "Independent weekly review of Politics, Finance, Literature, Society, and Art," which flourished between the years 1864 and 1868. We asked the professor, "Do you consider The Nation superior to the Round Table?"—"Decidedly," was his reply. "The editors of the Round Table seem to write for the sake of writing, while the men who are expressing themselves in The Nation do so because their hearts and minds are full of their matter." This was a just estimate of the difference between the two journals. The Round Table, modeled after the Saturday Review, was a feeble imitation of the London weekly, then in its palmy days, while The Nation, which was patterned after the Spectator, did not suffer by the side of its model. On this hint from Professor Matthews, I began taking and reading The Nation, and with the exception of one year in Europe during my student days, I have read it ever since.

Before I touch on certain specifications I must premise that the influence of this journal on a Westerner, who read it in a receptive spirit, was probably more potent than on one living in the East. The arrogance of a higher civilization in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia than elsewhere in the United States, the term "wild and woolly West," applied to the region west of the Alleghany Mountains, is somewhat irritating to a Westerner. Yet it remains none the less true that, other things being equal, a man living in the environment of Boston or New York would have arrived more easily and more quickly at certain sound political views I shall proceed to specify than he would while living in Cleveland or Chicago. The gospel which Godkin preached was needed much more in the West than in the East; and his disciples in the western country had for him a high degree of reverence. In the biography of Godkin, allusion is made to the small pecuniary return for his work, but in thinking of him we never considered the money question. We supposed that he made a living; we knew from his articles that he was a gentleman, and saw much of good society, and there was not one of us who would not rather have been in his shoes than in those of the richest man in New York. We placed such trust in him—which his life shows to have been abundantly justified—that we should have lost all confidence in human nature had he ever been tempted by place or profit. And his influence was abiding. Presidents, statesmen, senators, congressmen rose and fell; political administrations changed; good, bad, and weak public men passed away; but Godkin preached to us every week a timely and cogent sermon.

To return now to my personal experience. I owe wholly to The Nation my conviction in favor of civil service reform; in fact, it was from these columns that I first came to understand the question. The arguments advanced were sane and strong, and especially intelligible to men in business, who, in the main, chose their employees on the ground of fitness, and who made it a rule to retain and advance competent and honest men in their employ. I think that on this subject the indirect influence of The Nation was very great, in furnishing arguments to men like myself, who never lost an opportunity to restate them, and to editorial writers for the Western newspapers, who generally read The Nation and who were apt to reproduce its line of reasoning. When I look back to 1869, the year in which I became a voter, and recall the strenuous opposition to civil service reform on the part of the politicians of both parties, and the indifference of the public, I confess that I am amazed at the progress which has been made. Such a reform is of course effected only by a number of contributing causes and some favoring circumstances, but I feel certain that it was accelerated by the constant and vigorous support of The Nation.

I owe to The Nation more than to any other agency my correct ideas on finance in two crises. The first was the "greenback craze" from 1869 to 1875. It was easy to be a hard-money man in Boston or New York, where one might imbibe the correct doctrine as one everywhere takes in the fundamental principles of civilization and morality. But it was not so in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where the severe money stringency before and during the panic of 1873, and the depression after it, caused many good and representative men to join in the cry for a larger issue of greenbacks by the government. It required no moral courage for the average citizen to resist what in 1875 seemed to be the popular move, but it did require the correct knowledge and the forcible arguments put forward weekly by The Nation. I do not forget my indebtedness to John Sherman, Carl Schurz, and Senator Thurman, but Sherman and Thurman were not always consistent on this question, and Schurz's voice was only occasionally heard; but every seven days came The Nation with its unremitting iteration, and it was an iteration varied enough to be always interesting and worthy of study. As one looks back over nearly forty years of politics one likes to recall the occasions when one has done the thing one's mature judgment fully approves; and I like to think that in 1875 I refused to vote for my party's candidate for governor, the Democratic William Allen, whose platform was "that the volume of currency be made and kept equal to the wants of trade."

A severer ordeal was the silver question of 1878, because the argument for silver was more weighty than that for irredeemable paper, and was believed to be sound by business men of both parties. I remember that many representative business men of Cleveland used to assemble around the large luncheon table of the Union Club and discuss the pending silver-coinage bill, which received the votes of both of the senators from Ohio and of all her representatives except Garfield. The gold men were in a minority also at the luncheon table, but, fortified by The Nation, we thought that we held our own in this daily discussion.

In my conversion from a belief in a protective tariff to the advocacy of one for revenue only, I recognize an obligation to Godkin, but his was only one of many influences. I owe The Nation much for its accurate knowledge of foreign affairs, especially of English politics, in which its readers were enlightened by one of the most capable of living men, Albert V. Dicey. I am indebted to it for sound ideas on municipal government, and for its advocacy of many minor measures, such for instance as the International Copyright Bill. I owe it something for its later attitude on Reconstruction, and its condemnation of the negro carpet-bag governments in the South. In a word, The Nation was on the side of civilization and good political morals.

Confessing thus my great political indebtedness to Godkin, it is with some reluctance that I present a certain phase of his thought which was regretted by many of his best friends, and which undoubtedly limited his influence in the later years of his life. A knowledge of this shortcoming is, however, essential to a thorough comprehension of the man. It is frequently said that Godkin rarely, if ever, made a retraction or a rectification of personal charges shown to be incorrect. A thorough search of The Nation's columns would be necessary fully to substantiate this statement, but my own impression, covering as it does thirty-three years' reading of the paper under Godkin's control, inclines me to believe in its truth, as I do not remember an instance of the kind.

A grave fault of omission occurs to me as showing a regrettable bias in a leader of intelligent opinion. On January 5, 1897, General Francis A. Walker died. He had served with credit as an officer during our Civil War, and in two thoughtful books had made a valuable contribution to its military history. He was superintendent of the United States Census of 1870, and did work that statisticians and historians refer to with gratitude and praise. For sixteen years he served with honor the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as its president. He was a celebrated political economist, his books being (I think) as well known in England as in this country. Yale, Amherst, Harvard, Columbia, St. Andrews, and Dublin conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. Withal he served his city with public spirit. Trinity Church, "crowded and silent" in celebrating its last service over the dead body of Walker, witnessed one of the three most impressive funerals which Boston has seen for at least sixteen years—a funeral conspicuous for the attendance of a large number of delegates from colleges and learned societies.

Walker was distinctly of the intellectual elite of the country. But The Nation made not the slightest reference to his death. In the issue of January 7, appearing two days later, I looked for an allusion in "The Week," and subsequently for one of those remarkable and discriminating eulogies, which in smaller type follow the editorials, and for which The Nation is justly celebrated; but there was not one word. You might search the 1897 volume of The Nation and, but for a brief reference in the April "Notes" to Walker's annual report posthumously published, you would not learn that a great intellectual leader had passed away. I wrote to a valued contributor of The Nation, a friend of Walker, of Godkin, and of Wendell P. Garrison (the literary editor), inquiring if he knew the reason for the omission, and in answer he could only tell me that his amazement had been as great as mine. He at first looked eagerly, and, when the last number came in which a eulogy could possibly appear, he turned over the pages of The Nation with sorrowful regret, hardly believing his eyes that the article he sought was not there.

Now I suspect that the reason of this extraordinary omission was due to the irreconcilable opinions of Walker and Godkin on a question of finance. It was a period when the contest between the advocates of a single gold standard and the bimetallists raged fiercely, and the contest had not been fully settled by the election of McKinley in 1896. Godkin was emphatically for gold, Walker equally emphatic for a double standard. And they clashed. It is a notable example of the peculiarity of Godkin, to allow at the portal of death the one point of political policy on which he and Walker disagreed to overweigh the nine points in which they were at one.

Most readers of The Nation noticed distinctly that, from 1895 on, its tone became more pessimistic and its criticism was marked by greater acerbity. Mr. Rollo Ogden in his biography shows that Godkin's feeling of disappointment over the progress of the democratic experiment in America, and his hopelessness of our future, began at an earlier date.

During his first years in the United States, he had no desire to return to his mother country. When the financial fortune of The Nation was doubtful, he wrote to Norton that he should not go back to England except as a "last extremity. It would be going back into an atmosphere that I detest, and a social system that I have hated since I was fourteen years old."[194] In 1889, after an absence of twenty-seven years, he went to England. The best intellectual society of London and Oxford opened its doors to him and he fell under its charm as would any American who was the recipient of marked attentions from people of such distinction. He began to draw contrasts which were not favorable to his adopted country. "I took a walk along the wonderful Thames embankment," he wrote, "a splendid work, and I sighed to think how impossible it would be to get such a thing done in New York. The differences in government and political manners are in fact awful, and for me very depressing. Henry James [with whom he stopped in London] and I talk over them sometimes 'des larmes dans la voix.'" In 1894, however, Godkin wrote in the Forum: "There is probably no government in the world to-day as stable as that of the United States. The chief advantage of democratic government is, in a country like this, the enormous force it can command in an emergency."[195] But next year his pessimism is clearly apparent. On January 12, 1895, he wrote to Norton: "You see I am not sanguine about the future of democracy. I think we shall have a long period of decline like that which followed (?) the fall of the Roman Empire, and then a recrudescence under some other form of society."[196]

A number of things had combined to affect him profoundly. An admirer of Grover Cleveland and three times a warm supporter of his candidacy for the Presidency, he saw with regret the loss of his hold on his party, which was drifting into the hands of the advocates of free silver. Then in December, 1895, Godkin lost faith in his idol. "I was thunderstruck by Cleveland's message" on the Venezuela question, he wrote to Norton. His submission to the Jingoes "is a terrible shock."[197] Later, in a calm review of passing events, he called the message a "sudden declaration of war without notice against Great Britain."[198] The danger of such a proceeding he had pointed out to Norton: Our "immense democracy, mostly ignorant ... is constantly on the brink of some frightful catastrophe like that which overtook France in 1870."[199] In 1896 he was deeply distressed at the country having to choose for President between the arch-protectionist McKinley and the free-silver advocate Bryan, for he had spent a good part of his life combating a protective tariff and advocating sound money. Though the Evening Post contributed powerfully to the election of McKinley, from the fact that its catechism, teaching financial truths in a popular form, was distributed throughout the West in immense quantities by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Godkin himself refused to vote for McKinley and put in his ballot for Palmer, the gold Democrat.[200]

The Spanish-American war seems to have destroyed any lingering hope that he had left for the future of American democracy. He spoke of it as "a perfectly avoidable war forced on by a band of unscrupulous politicians" who had behind them "a roaring mob."[201] The taking of the Philippines and the subsequent war in these islands confirmed him in his despair. In a private letter written from Paris, he said, "American ideals were the intellectual food of my youth, and to see America converted into a senseless, Old-World conqueror, embitters my age."[202] To another he wrote that his former "high and fond ideals about America were now all shattered."[203] "Sometimes he seemed to feel," said his intimate friend, James Bryce, "as though he had labored in vain for forty years."[204]

Such regrets expressed by an honest and sincere man with a high ideal must command our respectful attention. Though due in part to old age and enfeebled health, they are still more attributable to his disappointment that the country had not developed in the way that he had marked out for her. For with men of Godkin's positive convictions, there is only one way to salvation. Sometimes such men are true prophets; at other times, while they see clearly certain aspects of a case, their narrowness of vision prevents them from taking in the whole range of possibilities, especially when the enthusiasm of manhood is gone.

Godkin took a broader view in 1868, which he forcibly expressed in a letter to the London Daily News. "There is no careful and intelligent observer," he wrote, "whether he be a friend to democracy or not, who can help admiring the unbroken power with which the popular common sense—that shrewdness, or intelligence, or instinct of self-preservation, I care not what you call it, which so often makes the American farmer a far better politician than nine tenths of the best read European political philosophers—works under all this tumult and confusion of tongues. The newspapers and politicians fret and fume and shout and denounce; but the great mass, the nineteen or twenty millions, work away in the fields and workshops, saying little, thinking much, hardy, earnest, self-reliant, very tolerant, very indulgent, very shrewd, but ready whenever the government needs it, with musket, or purse, or vote, as the case may be, laughing and cheering occasionally at public meetings, but when you meet them individually on the highroad or in their own houses, very cool, then, sensible men, filled with no delusions, carried away by no frenzies, believing firmly in the future greatness and glory of the republic, but holding to no other article of faith as essential to political salvation."

Before continuing the quotation I wish to call attention to the fact that Godkin's illustration was more effective in 1868 than now: then there was a solemn and vital meaning to the prayers offered up for persons going to sea that they might be preserved from the dangers of the deep. "Every now and then," he went on to say, "as one watches the political storms in the United States, one is reminded of one's feelings as one lies in bed on a stormy night in an ocean steamer in a head wind. Each blow of the sea shakes the ship from stem to stern, and every now and then a tremendous one seems to paralyze her. The machinery seems to stop work; there is a dead pause, and you think for a moment the end has come; but the throbbing begins once more, and if you go up on deck and look down in the hold, you see the firemen and engineers at their posts, apparently unconscious of anything but their work, and as sure of getting into port as if there was not a ripple on the water."

This letter of Godkin's was written on January 8, 1868, when Congress was engaged in the reconstruction of the South on the basis of negro suffrage, when the quarrel between Congress and President Johnson was acute and his impeachment not two months off. At about this time Godkin set down Evarts's opinion that "we are witnessing the decline of public morality which usually presages revolution," and reported that Howells was talking "despondently like everybody else about the condition of morals and manners."[205] Of like tenor was the opinion of an arch-conservative, George Ticknor, written in 1869, which bears a resemblance to the lamentation of Godkin's later years. "The civil war of '61," wrote Ticknor, "has made a great gulf between what happened before it in our century and what has happened since, or what is likely to happen hereafter. It does not seem to me as if I were living in the country in which I was born, or in which I received whatever I ever got of political education or principles. Webster seems to have been the last of the Romans."[206]

In 1868 Godkin was an optimist, having a cogent answer to all gloomy predictions; from 1895 to 1902 he was a pessimist; yet reasons just as strong may be adduced for considering the future of the country secure in the later as were urged in the earlier period. But as Godkin grew older, he became a moral censor, and it is characteristic of censors to exaggerate both the evil of the present and the good of the past. Thus in 1899 he wrote of the years 1857-1860: "The air was full of the real Americanism. The American gospel was on people's lips and was growing with fervor. Force was worshiped, but it was moral force: it was the force of reason, of humanity, of human equality, of a good example. The abolitionist gospel seemed to be permeating the views of the American people, and overturning and destroying the last remaining traditions of the old-world public morality. It was really what might be called the golden age of America."[207] These were the days of slavery. James Buchanan was President. The internal policy of the party in power was expressed in the Dred Scott decision and the attempt to force slavery on Kansas; the foreign policy, in the Ostend Manifesto, which declared that if Spain would not sell Cuba, the United States would take it by force. The rule in the civil service was, "to the victors belong the spoils." And New York City, where Godkin resided, had for its mayor Fernando Wood.

In this somewhat rambling paper I have subjected Godkin to a severe test by a contrast of his public and private utterances covering many years, not however with the intention of accusing him of inconsistency. Ferrero writes that historians of our day find it easy to expose the contradictions of Cicero, but they forget that probably as much could be said of his contemporaries, if we possessed also their private correspondence. Similarly, it is a pertinent question how many journalists and how many public men would stand as well as Godkin in this matter of consistency if we possessed the same abundant records of their activity?

The more careful the study of Godkin's utterances, the less will be the irritation felt by men who love and believe in their country. It is evident that he was a born critic, and his private correspondence is full of expressions showing that if he had been conducting a journal in England, his criticism of certain phases of English policy would have been as severe as those which he indulged in weekly at the expense of this country. "How Ireland sits heavy on your soul!" he wrote to James Bryce. "Salisbury was an utterly discredited Foreign Secretary when you brought up Home Rule. Now he is one of the wisest of men. Balfour and Chamberlain have all been lifted into eminence by opposition to Home Rule simply." To Professor Norton: "Chamberlain is a capital specimen of the rise of an unscrupulous politician." Again: "The fall of England into the hands of a creature like Chamberlain recalls the capture of Rome by Alaric." To another friend: "I do not like to talk about the Boer War, it is too painful.... When I do speak of the war my language becomes unfit for publication." On seeing the Queen and the Prince of Wales driving through the gardens at Windsor, his comment was "Fat, useless royalty;" and in 1897 he wrote from England to Arthur Sedgwick, "There are many things here which reconcile me to America."[208]

In truth, much of his criticism of America is only an elaboration of his criticism of democracy. In common with many Europeans born at about the same time, who began their political life as radicals, he shows his keen disappointment that democracy has not regenerated mankind. "There is not a country in the world, living under parliamentary government," he wrote, "which has not begun to complain of the decline in the quality of its legislators. More and more, it is said, the work of government is falling into the hands of men to whom even small pay is important, and who are suspected of adding to their income by corruption. The withdrawal of the more intelligent class from legislative duties is more and more lamented, and the complaint is somewhat justified by the mass of crude, hasty, incoherent, and unnecessary laws which are poured on the world at every session."[209]

I have thus far spoken only of the political influence of The Nation, but its literary department was equally important. Associated with Godkin from the beginning was Wendell P. Garrison, who became literary editor of the journal, and, who, Godkin wrote in 1871, "has really toiled for six years with the fidelity of a Christian martyr and upon the pay of an oysterman."[210] I have often heard the literary criticism of The Nation called destructive like the political, but, it appears to me, with less reason. Books for review were sent to experts in different parts of the country, and the list of contributors included many professors from various colleges. While the editor, I believe, retained, and sometimes exercised, the right to omit parts of the review and make some additions, yet writers drawn from so many sources must have preserved their own individuality. I have heard it said that The Nation gave you the impression of having been entirely written by one man; but whatever there is more than fanciful in that impression must have arisen from the general agreement between the editor and the contributors. Paul Leicester Ford once told me that, when he wrote a criticism for The Nation, he unconsciously took on The Nation's style, but he could write in that way for no other journal, nor did he ever fall into it in his books. Garrison was much more tolerant than is sometimes supposed. I know of his sending many books to two men, one of whom differed from him radically on the negro question and the other on socialism.

It is only after hearing much detraction of the literary department of The Nation, and after considerable reflection, that I have arrived at the conviction that it came somewhat near to realizing criticism as defined by Matthew Arnold, thus: "A disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."[211] I am well aware that it was not always equal, and I remember two harsh reviews which ought not to have been printed; but this simply proves that the editor was human and The Nation was not perfect. I feel safe, however, in saying that if the best critical reviews of The Nation were collected and printed in book form, they would show an aspiration after the standard erected by Sainte-Beuve and Matthew Arnold.

Again I must appeal to my individual experience. The man who lived in the middle West for the twenty-five years between 1865 and 1890 needed the literary department of The Nation more than one who lived in Boston or New York. Most of the books written in America were by New England, New York, and Philadelphia authors, and in those communities literary criticism was evolved by social contact in clubs and other gatherings. We had nothing of the sort in Cleveland, where a writer of books walking down Euclid Avenue would have been stared at as a somewhat remarkable personage. The literary columns of The Nation were therefore our most important link between our practical life and the literary world. I used to copy into my Index Rerum long extracts from important reviews, in which the writers appeared to have a thorough grasp of their subjects; and these I read and re-read as I would a significant passage in a favorite book. In the days when many of us were profoundly influenced by Herbert Spencer's "Sociology," I was somewhat astonished to read one week in The Nation, in a review of Pollock's "Introduction to the Science of Politics," these words: "Herbert Spencer's contributions to political and historical science seem to us mere commonplaces, sometimes false, sometimes true, but in both cases trying to disguise their essential flatness and commonness in a garb of dogmatic formalism."[212] Such an opinion, evidencing a conflict between two intellectual guides, staggered me, and it was with some curiosity that I looked subsequently, when the Index to Periodicals came out, to see who had the temerity thus to belittle Spencer—the greatest political philosopher, so some of his disciples thought, since Aristotle. I ascertained that the writer of the review was James Bryce, and whatever else might be thought, it could not be denied that the controversy was one between giants. I can, I think, date the beginning of my emancipation from Spencer from that review in 1891.

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