CHAPTER XII. DEMOCRATIC DEMORALIZATION

The personal characteristics of President Cleveland have already appeared.[4] He had a burdensome consciousness of his own individual duty to conduct the business of his office with faithfulness; a courageous sense of justice which impelled him to fight valiantly for a cause that he deemed right, however unimportant or hopeless the cause might be; a reformer's contempt for hypocrisy and shams, and a blunt directness in freeing his mind about wrong of every kind. He had the faults of his virtues, likewise. Sure of himself and of the right of his position, he had the impatience of an unimaginative man with any other point of view; he was intransigent, unyielding, rarely giving way a step even to take two forward. It seems likely that his political experience had accentuated this characteristic. For years he had thrown aside the advice of his counsellors and had shown himself more nearly right than they. As Mayor of Buffalo he had used the veto and had been made Governor of the state; as Governor he had ruggedly made enemies and had become President; as President he had flown in the face of caution with his tariff message and his Reform Club letter and had three times received a larger popular vote than his competitor. And each time his plurality was greater than it had been before. If he tended to become over-sure of himself, it should hardly occasion surprise. Furthermore he looked upon the duties and possibilities of the presidential office as fixed and stationary, rather than elastic and developing. He was a strict constructionist and a rigid believer in the checks and balances of the Constitution. Although constantly aware of the needs and rights of the common people, such as composed the Populist movement, his adherence to strict construction was so complete that he was unable to advocate much of the federal legislation desired by them. It was only with hesitation and constitutional doubts, for example, that he had been able to sign even the Interstate Commerce Act. In brief, then, the western demand for social and economic legislation on a novel and unusual scale was to take its chances with an honest, dogged believer in a restricted federal authority.

The experience of the administration with the patronage question illustrates how much progress had been made in the direction of reform since the beginning of Cleveland's first term in 1885. In the earlier year it had required a bitter contest to make even the slightest advance; in his second term he retained Roosevelt, a Republican reformer, on the Commission and gradually extended the rules so as to cover the government printing office, the internal revenue service, the pension agencies, and messengers and other minor officials in the departments in Washington. Finally on May 6, 1896, he approved an order revising the rules, simplifying them and extending them to great numbers of places not hitherto included, "the most valuable addition ever made at one stroke to the competitive service." The net result was that the number of positions in the classified service was more than doubled between 1893 and 1897, making a total of 81,889 in a service of somewhat over 200,000.[5] By the latter year the argument against reform had largely been silenced. The dismal prediction of opponents who had feared the establishment of an office-holding aristocracy had turned out to have no foundation. Agreement was widespread that the government service was greatly improved. There were still branches of the service for the reformers to work upon but the great fight was over and won.[6]

Although the Democrats came into power in 1893 largely on the tariff issue, Cleveland felt that the most urgent need at the beginning of the administration was the repeal of the part of the Sherman silver law that provided for the purchase of 4,500,000 ounces of silver each month. The financial and monetary aspects of this controversy demand relation at another point.[7] Politically its results were important. Western and southern Democrats, friendly to silver, fought bitterly against the repeal, and became thoroughly hostile to Cleveland whom they began to distrust as allied to the "money-power" of the East. At the time, then, when the President was most in need of united partisan support, he found his party crumbling into factions.

Other circumstances which have been mentioned combined to make the time inauspicious for a revision of the tariff - the slight Democratic majority in the Senate, the deficit caused by rising expenditure and falling revenue, the imminent industrial panic and the prevailing labor unrest. Nevertheless it seemed necessary to make the attempt. If the results of the election of 1892 meant anything, they meant that the Democrats were commissioned to revise the tariff.

The chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means was William L. Wilson, a sincere and well-read tariff reformer who had been a lawyer and a college president, in addition to taking a practical interest in politics. The measure which he presented to the House on December 19, 1893, was not a radical proposal, but it provided for considerable tariff reductions and a tax on incomes over $4,000. There was a slight defection in party support, but it was unimportant because of the large majority which the Democrats possessed, and the bill passed the House without unusual difficulty.