Fellow-citizens, my purpose in addressing you this evening is to spread before the people of the Second District my views on the questions of national policy which now engage the public attention.
In the present condition of the country, two things are of vital importance, - peace and a sound financial policy. We want peace, honorable peace, with all nations, - peace with the Indians, and peace between all the citizens of all the States. We want a financial policy so honest, that there can be no stain on the national honor, and no taint on the national credit; so stable, that labor and capital, and legitimate business of every sort, can confidently count upon what it will be next week, the next month, and the next year. We want the burdens of taxation so justly distributed, that they will bear equally upon all classes of citizens, in proportion to their ability to sustain them.
We want our currency gradually to appreciate, until, without financial shock, or any sudden shrinkage of values, but in the natural course of trade, it shall reach the uniform and permanent value of gold. With lasting peace assured, and a sound financial condition established, the United States and all her citizens may reasonably expect to enjoy a measure of prosperity without a parallel in the world’s history.
When the debates of the last presidential election were in progress, four years ago, there were troubles with other nations threatening the public peace; and, in particular, there was a most difficult, irritating, and dangerous controversy with Great Britain, which it seemed almost impossible peaceably to settle. Now we are at peace with all the nations; the American Government is everywhere abroad held in the highest honor; and the example of submitting national disputes to the decision of a court of arbitration has been set, which is of incalculable value to the world.
Four years ago, frequent outbreaks of savage hostilities along a frontier of more than two thousand miles disturbed the country with the apprehensions of another long, expensive, and fruitless war against the Indians. During the last three years and a half, eighty thousand Indians have been gathered upon reservations, where, by their own labor, they are self-supporting. About one hundred and thirteen thousand others have been collected at the agencies, where, - under instruction, by perhaps fifty agents, selected by the religious denominations of the country, aided by blacksmiths, carpenters, and farmers hired by government, - they are prepared to live peaceably on reservations. Only about fifty thousand wild and hostile Indians remain. The policy of the government is to gather them also, as rapidly as possible, upon reservations, and to compel them, by force if necessary, to abandon savage life. This policy has met with such a success, that judicious men are confident that a solution of the Indian question has been reached which is consistent with the safety of the frontiersman, and with humanity toward the Indian. Even if this hope shall not be realized, it is, nevertheless, certain that a general Indian war of three months’ duration would cost more than the total expenditure on account of Indians for the last three years and a half.
There are several questions relating to the present and the future, which merit the attention of the people. Among the most interesting of these is the question of civil service reform.
About forty years ago, a system of making appointments to office grew up, based on the maxim, ‘To the victors being the spoils.’ The old rule, - the true rule, - that honesty, capacity, and fidelity constitute the highest claim to office, gave place to the idea that partisan services were to be chiefly considered. All parties in practice have adopted this system. Since its first introduction, it has been materially modified. At first, the president, either directly, or through the heads of departments, made all appointments. Gradually, by usage, the appointing power, in many cases, was transferred to members of Congress, to senators and representatives. The offices, in these cases, have become not so much rewards for party services as rewards for personal services in nominating and electing senators and representatives. What patronage the president and his cabinet retain, and what offices congressmen are by usage entitled to fill, is not definitely settled. A congressman who maintains good relations with the Executive usually receives a larger share of patronage than one who is independent. The system is a bad one. It destroys the independence of the separate departments of the government; and it degrades the civil service. It ought to be abolished…… The work should be begun. Let the best obtainable bill be passed, and experience will show what amendments are required. I would support either Senator Trumbull’s bill, or Mr. Jenk’s bill, if nothing better were proposed. The admirable speeches, on this subject, of the representative of the First District, the Hon. Aaron F. Perry, contain the best exposition I have seen of sound doctrine on this question; and I trust the day is not distant when the principles which he advocates will be embodied in practical measures of legislation. We ought to have a reform of the system of appointments of the civil service, thorough, radical, and complete.
The duties levied under our present tariff-laws were largely adopted during the war, when all home productions were burdened with heavy taxation under the internal revenue laws. All tax-laws, whether internal revenue or tariff, were then regarded as war-measures. Now that war-expenditures are happily ended, and the internal taxes are abolished, our tariff-laws need extensive revision. In all changes of laws affecting the business of the country, a prudent legislator will move cautiously. When capital has been invested, and labor employed, in the faith of existing laws, the importance of stability is not to be overlooked. Reductions should be gradual and moderate. Violent and sweeping laws affecting the business of the country should be avoided. But where inequality has crept into the laws, it is never too early to begin to head the ship in the right direction. The tariff-laws now contain many inconsistencies and inequalities. Duties are levied which cost more to collect them than the revenue they produce. All such ought to be abolished. Some duties, now that the internal revenue taxes are repealed, amount to jobs in favor of special interests, and increase to the consumer the cost of the dutiable articles far beyond the revenue realized by the government. In some cases the duties upon the articles deemed necessaries are greater than upon luxuries. On all these heads, revision and correction are demanded. Upon this subject, each representative is accustomed, more, perhaps, than any other, to regard the particular interests of his own constituents. In the needed revision of the tariff-laws it will be the special duty of the representative to see that the wishes and interests of his own constituents are fully and fairly represented. The question is not a party question, and cannot be made one.
The Democrats have ignored it in their national, state, and congressional platforms, and all sides they are supporting candidates for Congress without regard to their opinions on this subject.
In the congressional debates of a very few months ago, the subject of amnesty was a great deal discussed. But the recent sweeping act of amnesty, which relieved the great mass of those who were disqualified by the Fifteenth Amendment, has deprived this question of its interest and importance. The policy of amnesty having been thus fully adopted, it should be extended to all whose only offence is participation in the Rebellion. Certain leading rebels, it is well known, are implicated in the attempts to burn hotels, steamboats, and cities, and in sending garments infected with contagious diseases into Union hospitals. They ought not to be allowed to sit again in the Senate of the United States, or to hold any office of honor or profit under the government.
It is one of the encouraging facts of the present condition of politics that public men now enjoy and exercise great independence of opinion and action, without losing the confidence of their supporters. Indeed, the number of questions of a political and party character upon which a member of Congress is required to act is very small. The greater part of his duties relates to general or local affairs, on which parties are not divided. A vast majority of the votes given in Congress are no longer party votes. A man may differ on important questions with the president of his choice, or support measures recommended by the president of the party he opposes, without losing his influence or position. If the people of the Second District shall see fit to honor me with their support, I hope to be able, without forgetting my Republicanism, to so act on a large majority of subjects as to secure the approval of my constituents of all parties. If I should fail, it will not be from a lack of disposition to do what is becoming in the independent representative of an intelligent constituency.…
If elected a member of Congress, I shall deem it my duty to support every constitutional and proper measure calculated to give prosperity, impartial justice, and equal right to all classes of the Southern people, and to aid every just measure which will increase the means of communication between the South and the North.