S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[Born at Caldwell, N.J., 1837; mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., 1882; governor of New York, 1883; President of the United States, 1885–1889 and 1893–1897.]
Public office is a public trust.
This aphorism has been condensed from many declarations of President Cleveland concerning the responsibility of public officials. Thus, in accepting the nomination to the mayoralty of Buffalo, he said, “When we consider that public officials are the trustees of the people, and hold their places and exercise their powers for the benefit of the people, there should be no higher inducement to a faithful and honest discharge of public duty.” In his first message as mayor of Buffalo, Mr. Cleveland said, “It seems to me that a successful and faithful administration of the government of our city may be accomplished by constantly bearing in mind that we are the trustees and agents of our fellow-citizens, holding their funds in sacred trust, to be expended for their benefit.” This found an echo in a speech delivered by the Hon. R. P. Flower on the night of Mr. Cleveland’s election as governor of New York: “If you use your office as you would a private trust, and the moneys as trust funds, if you faithfully perform your duty, we, the people, may put you in the Presidential chair.” In replying to the committee appointed by the National Democratic Convention to inform him of his nomination to the Presidency, July 28, 1884, Gov. Cleveland said, “The party and its representatives who ask to be intrusted at the hands of the people with the keeping of all that concerns their welfare and their safety, should only ask it with the full appreciation of the sacredness of the trust, and with a firm resolve to administer it faithfully and well.” In his inaugural address, March 4, 1885, President Cleveland said, “Your every voter, as surely as your chief magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust.”
In a letter to George William Curtis, president of the National Civil Service Reform League, Dec. 29, 1884, the President-elect wrote: “But many now holding such positions [government offices not within the letter of the civil service statute] have forfeited all just claim to retention, because they have used their places for party purposes, in disregard of their duty to the people, and because, instead of being decent public servants, they have proved themselves offensive partisans and unscrupulous manipulators of local party management…. The lessons of the past must be unlearned.” The President-elect, when asked what he intended to do in regard to office-holders and their interference in elections, said his views had been clearly expressed in his letter of acceptance, but added, “Let them attend to their work; let them attend to their work.” In a proclamation to the heads of departments of the general government, July 14, 1886, office-holders were told that “they are the agents of the people, not their masters, and they should scrupulously avoid in their political action, as well as in the discharge of their official duty, offending, by a display of obtrusive partisanship, their neighbors who have relations with them as public officials. Office-holders are neither disfranchised, nor forbidden the exercise of political privileges; but their privileges are not enlarged, nor is their duty to party increased to pernicious activity, by office-holding.” The first warning to office-holders was issued by Daniel Webster when Secretary of State, in a proclamation, March 20, 1841, in the name of President Harrison, which said, “It is a great abuse to bring the patronage of the general government into conflict with the freedom of elections;” it directed that information should be given “that partisan interference in popular elections,… or the payment of any contribution, or assessment on salaries, or official compensation for party or election purposes, will be regarded by him as a cause of removal.” It adds that “persons employed under the government are not expected to take an active or official part in attempts to influence the minds or votes of others.” This order was the result of the introduction of the “spoils system” under President Jackson, justified by Gov. Marcy’s celebrated saying that “to the victors belong the spoils of the enemy” (vide), a policy which was announced by Duff Green (called during the war by President Lincoln “a political hyena”) in the “Washington Telegraph,” the organ of Jackson’s party, Nov. 2, 1828: “We do not know what line of policy Gen. Jackson will adopt [on assuming the presidency]. We take it for granted, however, that he will reward his friends and punish his enemies.” Those office-holders who were turned out, many of whom were too old or unfitted to enter other business, might, to use a vulgar expression which Green either invented or popularized, “root, hog, or die.” “Rotation in office” was another phrase coined in the Jackson administration; and John C. Calhoun declared in January, 1835, that “the only cohesive principle which binds together the powerful party rallied under the name of Gen. Jackson is official patronage;” and, anticipating President Cleveland, he added, “The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts.” That “public office, in a republican government like ours, should not be solicited, nor yet, when conferred, declined,” was said by Gen. Jackson in a letter to Major Maury, M.C., written from the Hermitage, Sept. 21, 1825. “What are we here for if not for the offices?” was the plaintive cry of Mr. Flanagan of Texas in the Republican National Convention of 1880.The term “offensive partisanship” was repeated by President Cleveland in a letter to the Attorney General, Nov. 23, 1886, declining to reinstate William A. Stone, attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania, for participating in the political campaign in that State; “and that, whatever offensive partisanship he had deemed justifiable in other circumstances,… he would content himself with a quiet and unobtrusive enjoyment of his political privileges.” He spoke of Stone’s participating with “noisy enthusiasm” in two or three public meetings in which the administration was abused. “His course renews and revives … the charges of offensive partisanship heretofore made.”
In a message to the Senate, March 1, 1886, declining to furnish papers on file relative to suspensions from office during the recess of that body, President Cleveland said, “And so it happens that after an existence of nearly twenty years of an almost innocuous desuetude these laws are brought forth, apparently the repealed as well as the unrepealed, and put in the way of an executive who is willing, if permitted, to attempt an improvement in the methods of administration.”He referred particularly to a statute passed by Congress in 1867, during President Johnson’s administration, enacting that “in cases of suspension from office during a recess of the Senate, the President should report, within twenty days after the next meeting of the Senate, such suspension, with the evidence and reasons for his action in the case.” The message of President Cleveland was called forth by a resolution of the Senate censuring the Attorney-General for his refusal to transmit certain papers relating to suspensions from office, as requested by the Senate, particularly in the case of George M. Dustin, attorney of the United States for the southern district of Alabama.The Presidential campaign of 1884 brought into use the word “mugwump,” signifying a Republican who repudiated the nomination of James G. Blaine; or, as “The Nation” defined the word, “a man who, for some reason or other, is unable to vote his regular party ticket.” Such men were called by the Republicans, “Holier-than-thou men,” “Dudes and Pharisees,” a term accepted by “The Nation;” or, as Thomas B. Reed, M.C., called them, in 1886, “long-tailed birds of Paradise.” The derivation of the word “mugwump” excited discussion; and Dr. J. Hammond Trumbull of Hartford, Conn., in the New York “Critic,” Sept. 6, 1884, and other writers in “Notes and Queries,” maintained that the word was of Algonquin origin, in use on the New England coast, and occurring in Eliot’s translation of the Bible, as in St. Matt. viii. 5, where the word “centurion” is rendered mugquomp, and in passages in the Old Testament, where it stands for “great man,” “leader,” or “duke,” as in Gen. xxxvi. 40–43. Col. T. W. Higginson accepted this derivation in a speech during the campaign, “because,” as he said, “‘mugwump’ meant a man with a large following.” A writer in “Notes and Queries” (S. 7, i. 173) says that a Jesuit father, when translating the New Testament into an Indian dialect, found himself puzzled to give a good rendering for “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think,” and, consulting an Indian parishioner, was told, “That’s easy enough; that’s ‘mugwump.’” The word was first applied to bolting Republicans by the New York “Sun” as early as June 15, 1884; but the same paper had used it March 23 of that year, in speaking of a local controversy at Dobb’s Ferry, printing “Mugwump D. O. Bradley” in large type at the top of a conspicuous column. The word had, however, been employed by the Indianapolis “Sentinel” as early as 1872. The expression, “Turn the rascals out,” referring to the Republican party then in power, found its first use in the “Sun” in September, 1883: “The first step toward a reform in the civil service is to turn the rascals out: the Republican party must go.”. At the Democratic National Convention in 1884, Gen. Bragg of Wisconsin alluded to the opposition to Gov. Cleveland by Tammany Hall, by saying, “We love him for the enemies he has made.” Near the close of the campaign, Oct. 29, at a reception given by Mr. Blaine to two hundred clergymen in New-York City, the Rev. Dr. Burchard denounced the Democratic party as “the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” A similar alliteration was used by the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, who said that in the general election to the House of Commons in 1885, “we had a most unusual and extraordinary combination against us, and I am inclined to describe it as the combination of the five P’s; in the order of their importance they are Priests, Publicans, Parsons, Parnellites, and Protectionists.”