January 10, 1870
In the annual message transmitted to the General Assembly, a few days ago, a brief exposition of the condition of the State Government was given, and such measures were recommended as the public good seemed to me to require. It will, therefore, not be expected that on this occasion I should again discuss subjects pertaining to the usual routine of legislation.
The most important questions concerning State affairs which in the ordinary course of events will engage the attention of the people of Ohio, during the term of office upon which I now enter, are those which relate to the action of a Constitutional Convention authorized to be called by a vote of the people at the October election in 1871. The present organic law provides for submitting to the electors of the State once in twenty years the question of holding “A Convention to revise, alter, or amend the Constitution.” It is no disparagement of the work of the last Constitutional Convention to say that experience has already demonstrated the wisdom of this provision. It would be strange, indeed, if the last eighteen years had developed no defects in the Constitution of 1851.
It is, perhaps, not improper at this time to call attention to some of the amendments of the existing fundamental law which the next Constitutional Convention will probably be required to consider.
The provision of the present Constitution which prohibits the General Assembly from authorizing “any county city, town or township by vote of its citizens or otherwise,” from giving aid to any “company, corporation or association,” was designed to remedy an evil of the greatest magnitude. Unlimited power to authorize counties, cities and towns to subscribe to the stock of Railroad Companies had burdened the people of the State with indebtedness and taxation to an extent which threatened bankruptcy. Experience has shown, however, that the clauses of the Constitution on this subject are so sweeping that they are almost equivalent to a prohibition of the construction or railroads, except where those who control the existing railroad lines furnish the means. In many localities the people are thus deprived of the only artificial instrumentality for intercourse with other parts of the State and country which is now regarded as valuable. By reason of it important sources of wealth in large sections of the State remain undeveloped. It is believed that amendments can be framed under which effective local aid can be furnished for the building of railroads, and which, at the same time, shall be so guarded and limited as to prevent a dangerous abuse of the power.
For many years political influence and political services have been essential qualifications for employment in the civil service, whether State or National. As a general rule, such employments are regarded as terminating with the defeat of the political party under which they began. All political parties have adopted this rule. In many offices the highest qualifications are only obtained by experience. Such are the positions of the Warden of the Penitentiary and his subordinates, and the Superintendents of asylums and reformatories and their assistants. But the rule is applied to these as well as to other offices and employments. A change in the political character of the executive and legislative branches of the government is followed by a change of the officers and employees in all of the departments and institutions of the State. Efficiency and fidelity to duty do not prolong the employment; unfitness and neglect of duty do not always shorten it. The evils of this system in State affairs are, perhaps, of small moment compared with those which prevail under the same system in the transaction of the business of the National Government. But at no distant day they are likely to become serious even in the administration of State affairs. The number of persons employed in the various offices and institutions of the State must increase under the most economical management in equal ratio with the growth of our population and business.
A radical reform in the civil service of the General Government has been proposed. The plan is to make qualifications, and not political services and influence, the chief test in determining appointments, and to give subordinates in the civil service the same permanency of place which is enjoyed by officers of the army and navy. The introduction of this reform will be attended with some difficulties. But in revising our State Constitution, if this object is kept constantly in view, there is little reason to doubt that it can be successfully accomplished.
Our judicial system is plainly inadequate to the wants of the people of the State. Extensive alterations of existing provisions must be made. The suggestions I desire to present in this connection are as to the manner of selecting judges, their terms of office, and their salaries. It is fortunately true that the judges of our courts have heretofore been, for the most part, lawyers of learning, ability and integrity. But it must be remembered that the tremendous events and the wonderful progress of the last few years are working great changes in the condition of our society. Hitherto population has been sparse, property not unequally distributed, and the bad elements which so frequently control large cities, have been almost unknown in our State. But, with a dense population crowding into towns and cities, with vast wealth accumulating in the hands of a few persons or corporations, it is to be apprehended that the time is coming when judges elected by popular vote, for short official terms, and poorly paid, will not possess the independence required to protect individual rights. Under the national constitution judges are nominated by the Executive and confirmed by the Senate, and hold office during good behavior. It is worthy of consideration whether a return to the system established by the fathers is not the dictate of the highest prudence. I believe that a system under which judges are so appointed, for long terms and with adequate salaries, will afford to the citizen the amplest possible security that impartial justice will be administered by an independent judiciary.
I forbear to consider further at this time the interesting questions which will arise in the revision and amendment of the constitution. Convinced of the soundness of the maxim that “that government is best which governs least,” I would resist the tendency common to all systems to enlarge the functions of government. The law should touch the rights, the business and the feelings of the citizen at as few points as is consistent with the preservation of order and the maintenance of justice. If every department of government is kept within its own sphere, and every officer performs faithfully his own duty without magnifying his office, harmony, efficiency and economy will prevail.
Under the providence of God, the people of this State have greatly prospered. But in their prosperity they cannot forget “him who hath borne the battle, nor his widow, nor his orphan,” nor the thousands of other sufferers in our midst, who are entitled to sympathy and relief. They are to be found in our hospitals, our infirmaries, our asylums, our prisons, and in the abodes of the unfortunate and the erring. The Founder of our religion, whose spirit should pervade our laws, and animate those who enact, and those who enforce them, by His teaching and His example has admonished us to deal with all the victims of adversity as the children of our common Father. With this duty performed, we may confidently hope that for long ages to come our country will continue to be the home of freedom and the refuge of the oppressed.
Grateful to the people of Ohio for the honors they have conferred, I approach a second term in the Executive office, deeply solicitous to discharge, as far as in me lies, the obligations and duties which their partial judgment has imposed.