Over the past few months, we've been considering the wholly negative history of the so-called "Progressive"-era constitutional amendments, none of which did anything to improve the nation but did much to undermine its founding principles. Until the end of the Civil War, the constitution had only been amended twice since the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791: the obscure, jurisdictional 11th Amendment, (1795), which had to do with lawsuits involving state and federal courts, and the 12th, (1804), which partially clarified the procedures for presidential elections. Then, between 1865 and 1870, came the three Reconstruction amendments, abolishing slavery (except as a punishment for a crime, such as a prison chain gang) and giving African-Americans citizenship and voting and other rights.
And then after a 43-year break, came the Progressive Era and its assault on Americans' money and personal freedom, the radical changes in how the Senate is selected, Prohibition of a formerly legal substance, and finally the extension of the franchise to women, in defiance of all historical norms going back to the ancient Greeks, on the theory that it wasn't "fair." All have been proven disasters.
It's not just the constitutional amendments that have contributed to the decline of the Republic, however: it's also the actions of an ever-burgeoning federal government, which has simultaneously abandoned its core fiscal, executive, judicial, and legislative responsibilities, and extended its intrusive reach into almost every facet of our existence via the creation of the regulatory agencies, which now essentially control every aspect of a citizen's public and private life.
Created by Congress, often at the urging of the president, these independent, immortal bureaucratic golems are a second form of government that co-exist with the constitutional system most Americans think we have. Being "independent," they are at once legislative in function but also judicial in essence: their wishes have the force of law (often written by themselves), tried before administrative law judges, and enforced at gunpoint by their private police forces when necessary. They are effectively beyond the direct supervision of all three legitimate branches of government, to the extent that they now form a fourth branch of government.
Who's in charge here?
Like most things involving the feds, they are largely staffed by members of the Civil Service -- nearly three million employees and counting. Many, if not most, belong to one of some one hundred civil-service unions, through which they bargain with the IRS-funded government regarding their wages and working conditions; you, the taxpayer, have no say in the matter. So it's no surprise that over the past hundred years, jobs in the "public" sector now pay better and have greater benefits, including more time off and greater job security, than do jobs in the private sector. So what if it's become the employer of last resort for a significant portion of the population? They vote, en masse, for the folks who pay them.
Like much of the legislation of the "Progressive" era, civil-service "reform" began as a Republican idea. Until 1871, the "spoils system"—instituted by Thomas Jefferson and expanded by Andrew Jackson— had obtained. Incoming administrations staffed their own departments, generally along party lines; patronage jobs were rewards for having supported Candidate X. The old bums were thrown out and the new bums rushed in.
That couldn't stand, of course, and so the United States Civil Service Commission was formed during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant in order to select government employees on the basis of merit instead of connections. It lasted two years, until its funding ran out. Succeeding Republican presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield, agitated for its restoration, but Garfield's assassination by a lunatic patronage seeker in 1881 after just a few months in office, halted the notion. However, in 1883, Garfield's vice president (and now president) Chester A. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law, and there was no stopping it after that.
At first the Democrats hated the idea. As the Tammany Hall fixer, George Washington Plunkitt, wrote:
This civil service law is the biggest fraud of the age. It is the curse of the nation. There can’t be no real patriotism while it lasts. How are you goin’ to interest our young men in their country if you have no offices to give them when they work for their party? Just look at things in this city today. There are ten thousand good offices, but we can’t get at more than a few hundred of them. How are we goin’ to provide for the thousands of men who worked for the Tammany ticket? It can’t be done. These men were full of patriotism a short time ago. They expected to be servin’ their city, but when we tell them that we can’t place them, do you think their patriotism is goin’ to last? Not much.
They say: “What’s the use of workin’ for your country anyhow? There’s nothin’ in the game.” And what can they do? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what I do know.I know more than one young man in past years who worked for the ticket and was just overflowin’ with patriotism, but when he was knocked out by the civil service humbug he got to hate his country and became an Anarchist.
This ain’t no exaggeration. I have good reason for sayin’ that most of the Anarchists in this city today are men who ran up against civil service examinations. Isn’t it enough to make a man sour on his country when he wants to serve it and won’t be allowed unless he answers a lot of fool questions about the number of cubic inches of water in the Atlantic and the quality of sand in the Sahara desert?
When the people elected Tammany, they knew just what they were doin’. We didn’t put up any false pretenses. We didn’t go in for humbug civil service and all that rot. We stood as we have always stood, for rewardin’ the men that won the victory. They call that the spoils system. All right; Tammany is for the spoils system, and when we go in we fire every anti-Tammany man form office that can be fired under the law.
When bad guys get what's coming to them.
Today they love it. Civil Service and unionized public employees offer the donkeys a far, far wider field for graft and corruption than the spoils system ever did. A permanent bureaucracy enjoying the perks of "public service" in perpetuity that consistently votes for the Democrats? What's not to like?
But who's to say Plunkitt was wrong? The metastasized growth of government and an unfirable Civil Service work force have functioned in symbiosis for nearly a century and a half, with the result being the toxic kluge in Washington that has permanently altered the balance of power between Citizen and State. With everything subject to "regulation" at the whim of an unelected drone who can call down the wrath of the administrative state upon your head with the touch of a button, what chance does even an honest man have against this "work force"? Which is, in any case, lots of force and damn little work other than shakedown artistry.
It brings to mind the bill of particulars against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, particularly this one: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” The colonists, having not approved the imposition of new military courts and customs officers via their legislatures, rose up in arms against this and the other counts of the indictment that justified the overthrow of the Crown in the colonies.
Today's Americans, however, are made of decidedly lesser stuff. As the Covid Hoax and the nearly unopposed fascist lockdowns imposed by governments around the world without a shred of evidence that "Covid-19" posed any extraordinary existential threat have recently demonstrated, our citizens no longer have the gumption to say no to government, having bought into the Marxist notion that government is in and of itself the highest form of human endeavor as well as the final authority, and that nothing must go unobserved or unregulated by the Panopticon.
What was so bad about the spoils system? Had Donald Trump and some even halfway decent advisors—not Javanka—had free reign in the early days of his administration, the Swamp would have been drained overnight and, en passant, the election of 2020 might have been won. Was the spoils system perfect? Of course not. But the perfect can never be the enemy of the good, and sometimes the arc of "progressivism" needs to be reversed—by any means necessary, as our friends on the Left like to say—pounded into scrap metal and buried on the ash heap of history. This is such a time.