Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 21. George William Curtis

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 21. George William Curtis

In a few years recruits were gathered from the intellectual and literary class. George William Curtis, editor and essayist, was chairman of the first commission to draft rules for the civil service. After Congress failed to provide an appropriation and also after a period of flirtation with the issue by political parties, Curtis became, in 1881, the first president of the National Civil Service League. For ten years he was “the intellectual head, the guiding force, and the moral inspiration of the Civil Service movement. The addresses he delivered at the annual meetings of the League were like milestones in the progress of the work—he reported to the country what had been done and what was still to be done, enlightening public sentiment, encouraging his fellow-labourers and distributing with even-handed justice, praise and reproof among the political parties as they deserved it.” Other early leaders of the cause were Dorman B. Eaton, whose Civil Government in Great Britain (1880) ranks with Jenckes’s report in the literature of the reform movement; Carl Schurz, Curtis’s successor as head of the Civil Service Reform League and champion of the movement in the President’s cabinet; Andrew D. White and Charles W. Eliot, presidents of Cornell and Harvard; and a group of young politicians, among whom were Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. Soon the attitude toward civil service reform became the test of executive independence.

Hayes was notable for the aid he rendered it, while Cleveland’s declaration “Public office is a public trust” won for him wide popularity. The principle involved, that efficiency and merit rather than party loyalty should be the standard for public office, aroused the interest of the intellectual class as had no other issue except that of slavery. It caused thousands to break party lines and played a great part in the rise to power of the independent vote.