CHAPTER X. EXTREME REPUBLICANISM
Benjamin Harrison, veteran of the Civil War in which he had attained the rank of brevet brigadier-general, and senator from Indiana for a single term, was hardly a party leader when he was nominated for the presidency. Although he was by no means unknown, he had been sufficiently obscure to be unconnected with factional party quarrels, and his career and character were without blemish. At the time of his accession to the executive chair he was fifty-six years of age, a short man with bearded face, and with head set well down between his shoulders. Accounts of his characteristics, drawn by his party associates, did not differ in any essential detail. As a public speaker, the new President was a man of unusual charm - felicitous in his remarks, versatile, tactful. In a famous trip through the South and West in 1891, he made speech after speech at a wide variety of places and occasions, and created a genuine enthusiasm. His remarks were widely read and highly regarded. Nevertheless there seems to have been some truth in the remark of one of his contemporaries that he could charm ten thousand men in a public speech but meet them individually and send every one away his enemy. His manner, even to senators and representatives of his own party, was reserved to the point of frigidity. When he granted requests for patronage he was so ungracious as to anger the recipients of favor. Although his personal character and integrity were as unquestioned as those of Hayes, and although he was a man of cultured tastes, well-informed, thoughtful and conscientious, it must be admitted that he lacked robust leadership and breadth of vision, and that he did not understand the real purposes of the policies which his party associates were embarking upon, or if he did that he tamely acquiesced in them. The party leaders were soon engaged in initiating practices and passing legislation which would strengthen the organization with certain groups of interested persons. Harrison, conscientious but aloof, provided no compelling force to turn attention toward wider and deeper needs.
Two appointments to the cabinet were important. Since Blaine was the foremost leader of the party and had done much to bring about the election of Harrison, it was well-nigh impossible for the latter to fail to offer him the position of Secretary of State. The appointment was so natural that popular opinion looked upon it as the only possibility, yet the natures of the two men were so diverse and their positions in the party so different that friction seemed likely to result. Even before the administration began it was freely predicted that Blaine would "dominate" the cabinet, a prophecy that might well create a feeling of restraint between the two. The invitation to John Wanamaker to become Postmaster-General was regarded as significant. Wanamaker was a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia, who had organized an advisory campaign committee of business men which contributed and expended large sums of money during the canvass. Critical reformers like the editor of The Nation were not slow to connect Wanamaker's large contribution to the campaign fund with his elevation to the cabinet, and to suggest that the business interests were being brought into close relations with the administration. T.C. Platt, expectant of a return for his campaign assistance, in the form of a cabinet position, and in fact understanding that a pledge had been made that he would be appointed, found himself superseded by William Windom of Minnesota in the Treasury and became a bitter opponent of the President.
It was an odd turn of the fortune of politics that brought Benjamin Harrison face to face with the responsibility for furthering the cause of civil service reform - the same Harrison who, as a senator, had sneered at Cleveland for surrendering to difficulties. The party platform had urged the continuation of reform, which had been "auspiciously begun under the Republican administration" and had declared that the party promises would not be broken as Democratic pledges had been; and Harrison had announced his adherence to the party statement. In some respects real progress was made. Secretary of the Navy Tracy introduced reform methods in his department. The appointment of Theodore Roosevelt to the Civil Service Commission was productive of good results. The work of reform was defended forcefully and successfully; its opponents were challenged to substantiate their charges. When Senator Gorman declared that in an examination for letter carriers in Baltimore the candidates were asked to tell the most direct route from Baltimore to China, Roosevelt at once wrote asking him to state the time and place of the examination himself or to send somebody to look over the papers, copies of which were in the commission's office. The senator did not reply.