1876 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SPEECH TO THE COMMITTEE OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION
July 8, 1876
Gentlemen: In reply to your official communication of June 17, by which I am informed of my nomination for the office of President of the United States by the Republican National Convention at Cincinnati, I accept the nomination with gratitude, hoping that, under Providence, I shall be able, if elected, to execute the duties of the high office as a trust for the benefit of all the people. I do not deem it necessary to enter upon any extended examination of the declaration of principles made by the convention. The resolutions are in accord with my views, and I heartily concur in the principles which they announce. In several of the resolutions, however, questions are considered which are of such importance that I deem it proper to briefly express my convictions in regard to them.
The fifth resolution adopted by the convention is of paramount interest. More than forty years ago, a system of making appointments to office grew up, based upon the maxim, “To the victors belong the spoils.” The old rule, the true rule, that honesty, capacity, and fidelity constitute the only real qualifications for office, and that there is no other claim, gave place to the idea that party services were to be chiefly considered. All parties in practice have adopted this system. It has been essentially modified since its first introduction. It has not, however, been improved. At first the president, either directly or through the heads of departments made all the appointments; but gradually the appointing power, in many cases, passed into the control of the members of Congress.
The offices in these cases have become not merely rewards for party services, but rewards for services to party leaders. The system destroys the independence of the separate departments of the government; it tends directly to extravagance and official incapacity: it is a temptation to dishonesty: it hinders and impairs that careful supervision and strict accountability by which alone faithful and efficient public service can be secured: it obstructs the prompt removal and sure punishment of the unworthy. In every way it degrades the civil service and the character of the government. It is felt, I am confident, by a large majority of the members of Congress, to be an intolerable burden, and an unwarrantable hinderance to the proper discharge of their legitimate duties. It ought to be abolished. The reform should be thorough, radical, and complete. We should return to the principles and practice of the founders of the government, supplying by legislation, when needed, that which was the formerly established custom. They neither expected nor desired from the public officers any partisan service. They meant that public officers should owe their whole service to the government and to the people: they meant that the officer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal character remained untarnished, and the performance of his duties satisfactory. If elected, I shall conduct the administration of the government upon these principles, and all the constitutional powers vested in the Executive will be employed to establish this reform.
The declaration of principles by the Cincinnati Convention makes no announcement in favor of a single presidential term. I do not assume to add that declaration; but believing that the restoration of the civil service to the system established by Washington, and followed by the early presidents, can best be accomplished by an Executive who is under no temptation to use the patronage of his office to promote his own re-election, I desire to perform what I regard as a duty, in stating now my inflexible purpose, if elected, not to be a candidate for election to a second term.
On the currency question I have frequently expressed my views in public, and I stand by my record on this subject. I regard all the laws of the United States relating to the payment of the public indebtedness, the legal-tender notes included, as constituting a pledge and moral obligation of the government, which must in good faith be kept. It is my conviction that the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity from an irredeemable paper currency, with its fluctuations of value, is one of the great obstacles to a revival of confidence and business, and to a return to prosperity. That uncertainty can be ended in but one way, - the resumption of specie payment; but, the longer the instability connected with our present money system is permitted to continue, the greater will be the injury inflicted upon our economical interests, and all classes of society. If elected, I shall approve every appropriate measure to accomplish the desired end, and shall oppose any step backward.
The resolution with respect to the public school system is one which should receive the hearty support of the American people. Agitation upon this subject is to be apprehended, until, by constitutional amendment, the schools are placed at bay, and all danger of sectional control and interference is passed. The Republican party is pledged to secure such an amendment. The resolution of the convention on the subject of the permanent pacification of the country, and the complete protection of all its citizens in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights, is timely and of great importance.
The condition of the Southern States attracts the attention, and commands the sympathy, of the people of the whole Union in their progressive recovery from the effects of the war. Their first necessity is an intelligent and honest administration of the government, which will protect all classes of citizens in all their political and private rights. What the South most needs is “peace,” and peace depends upon the suppremacy of law. There can be no enduring peace, if the constitutional rights of any portion of the people are habitually disregarded. A division of political parties, resting merely upon distinctions of race, or upon sectional lines, is always unfortunate, and may be disastrous. The welfare of the South, alike with that of every part of the country, depends upon the attractions it can offer to labor, to immigration, and to capital; but where the Constitution and the laws are set at defiance, and distraction, apprehension, and alarm take the place of peace-loving and law-abiding social life. All parts of the Constitution are sacred, and must be sacredly observed, - the parts that are new, no less than the parts that are old. The moral and material prosperity of the Southern States can be most effectually advanced by a hearty and generous recognition of the rights of all by all, - a recognition without reserve or exception. With such a recognition fully accorded, it will be practicable to promote, by the influence of all legitimate agencies of the General Government, the efforts of the people of those States to obtain for themselves the blessings of honest and capable local government.
If elected, I shall consider it not only my duty, but it will be my ardent desire, to labor for the attainment of this end. Let me assure my countrymen of the Southern States, that, if I shall be charged with the duty of organizing an administration, it will be one which will regard and cherish their truest interests, - the interests of the white and of the colored people both and equally; and which will put forth its best efforts in behalf of a civil policy which will wipe out forever the distinction between the North and South in our common country.
With a civil service organized upon a system which will secure purity, experience, efficiency, and economy, a strict regard for the public welfare solely in appointments, and the speedy, thorough, and unsparing prosecution and punishment of all public officers who betray official trust; with a sound currency; with education unsectarian, and free to all; with simplicity and frugality in public and private affairs; and with a fraternal spirit of harmony pervading the people of all sections and classes, - we may reasonably hope that the second century of our existence as a nation, will, by the blessing of God, be pre-eminent as an era of good feeling, and a period of progress, prosperity, and happiness.
Very respectfully your fellow-citizen,
R. B. Hayes