CHAPTER X. EXTREME REPUBLICANISM
The removal of office holders, however, proceeded with amazing rapidity. The First Assistant Postmaster-General was J.S. Clarkson, who had been vice-chairman of the Republican National Campaign Committee. The speed with which he cleared the service of Democrats earned him the title "headsman" and is indicated by the estimate that he removed one every three minutes for the first year. When the force of clerks was increased for the taking of the census of 1890, the superintendent of the census office found himself "waist deep in congressmen" trying to get places for friends. The Republican postmaster of New York who had been continued by Cleveland was not re-appointed. It was soon discovered, also, that the President was placing his own and his wife's relatives in office and giving positions to large numbers of newspaper editors, thus indirectly subsidizing the press. The Commissioner of Pensions, Corporal James Tanner, distributed pensions so freely as to arouse wide-spread comment and was soon relieved of his position.
Curtis, addressing the National Civil Service Reform League, flayed the President because he had despoiled the service. A Republican newspaper, he declared, had said that the administration whistled reform down the wind "as remorselessly as it would dismiss an objectionable tramp." Prominent members of the party went to the President in person to urge on him the redemption of the platform promises.
Although progress was not general, nevertheless there were particular reforms that commended themselves. The offensive Clarkson gave way to hostile criticism and retired. During the last half of the administration, the civil service rules were amended so as to add a considerable number of employees to the classified service, especially in the post office department. Quay and Dudley found their methods condemned by public opinion and resigned their positions on the National Republican Committee.
Aside from his choice of subordinates, Harrison contributed little to the political history of his administration, for the leadership was seized by a small coterie of extreme Republicans in the House of Representatives, of whom the chief figure was the Speaker, Thomas B. Reed. The House which had been elected with Harrison contained 159 Democrats and 166 Republicans. The Republican majority was too slight for safety, for the questions which were coming before Congress were such as to arouse party feeling to a high pitch. The Republicans felt themselves commissioned, by a successful election, to put the party program into force, but so powerful a minority could readily block any legislation under the existing parliamentary rules. Only Reed knew what expedient would be resorted to in the attempt to put through the party program, and not even he could guarantee that the adventure would be successful.
Thomas B. Reed had long represented Maine in the House of Representatives. He was a man of huge bulk, bland in appearance, imperturbable in his serenity, caustic, concise and witty of tongue, rough, sharp, strong, droll. In the cut-and-thrust of parliamentary debate and manoeuvre, as well as in his knowledge of the intricacies of procedure, Reed was a past master. He worsted his adversaries by turning the laugh on them, and his stinging retorts, which swept the House "like grapeshot," made him a powerful factor in partisan contests.
The political and economic philosophy of Reed and his associates was unusually important, because it controlled their action during the time when they dominated the House and determined the character of the legislation passed during Harrison's time. When President Cleveland's tariff message welded the Democrats together to demand reduction, it likewise influenced the Republicans to adopt the other extreme. That is not to say, of course, that the Republican attitude was due solely to Cleveland, for the party was already committed to protectionism. Nevertheless, many of its prominent leaders, including its presidents, had urged revision. That recommendation was now no longer heard. Such men as McKinley in the House fairly apotheosized the protective system. The philosophy of the party leaders received full exposition in a volume edited by John D. Long, ex-governor of Massachusetts, and composed of articles written by sixteen of the most prominent Republicans. It had been published during the campaign. The attitude of the party toward its chief tenet was expressed in the phrase, "The Republican party enacted a protective tariff which made the United States the greatest manufacturing nation on earth"; and its conception of the Democratic party in the statement that the Democrats were mainly old slave-holders, liquor dealers and criminals in the great northern cities. In the field of national expenditure, also, the party reacted from Cleveland's frugality. Senator Dolph frankly urged the expenditure of the surplus revenue rather than the reduction of taxation. McKinley took the position that prices might be too low. "I do not prize the word cheap," he said; "cheap merchandise means cheap men and cheap men mean a cheap country." Harrison remarked that it was "no time to be weighing the claims of old soldiers with apothecary's scales." This philosophy was now to have its trial, but first the obstructive power of the minority must be curbed. Reed's plan for accomplishing this result appeared late in January, 1890.