Charles Guiteau was unhappy with the way the civil service treated him, so he shot President Garfield.
It is very seldom that an event of any kind is accepted by the public as a lesson or source of instruction on any definite point to the degree to which the attempt on Presi-dent Garfield’s life has been. Hardly any one who has spoken or written about it has confined himself to a simple expression of horror or sympathy. Nearly every one finds a moral in it, and the moral is that our system of appointment to office must be changed. We do not think we have taken up a newspaper during the last ten days which has not in some manner made the crime the product of ‘the spoils system.” There has hardly been an allusion to it in the pulpit which has not pointed to the spoils system as the fons et origo mali. In fact, the crime seems to have acted on public opinion very like a spark n a powder-magazine. It has fallen on a mass of popular indignation all ready to explode. It did not, we now plainly see, find the public ignorant or indifferent regarding the abuses of the civil service. The attempt on the President’s life has not been treated as proof that there is something grievously wrong with our mode of appointing to office, because it is nothing of the kind. A crazy fellow might conceive himself aggrieved by the working of the best conceivable mode of appointment to office, and proceed to avenge himself by assassination. He might, for instance, think himself unjustly dismissed for gross incom-petency or misconduct, or he might think that promotion had been withheld from him which he had fairly earned, or that in a competitive examination he had been unjustly marked. The act of a madman or a weak-minded man never proves anything except that the man is mad or weak-minded.
Guiteau’s offence has, therefore, not, been accepted as evidence of something which people doubted or did not know, but as a striking and dreadful illustration of the wroking of an evil of which they had known for a long time. The extraordinary unanimity of the expressions of opinion about the origin of the crime, and the wideness of the area over which they have been uttered, and the almost complete absence of any counter opinion, show very clearly how small and uninfluential that portion of the public which is inter-ested in the perpetuation of the spoils system really is. Nobody, so far as our observa-tion has gone, has come forward in its defence. No man or newspaper has ventured to deny the connection of Guiteau’s crime with the system. All the other inferences from it have been a good deal gainsaid; but nobody has risen up to maintain that as “it was the best civil service on this planet,” it was absurd to condemn it because a man who had unsuccessfully tried to enter it had sought to avenge himself by an attempt on the Presi-dent’s life. Nor has any one come forward and declared that, inasmuch as it is “as good as the civil service of any European country,” Guiteau’s crime no more suggested the need of alteration in it than in that of Great Britain or France. Nor do any of the philoso-phers who used to declare that the spoils system was a useful, original, and purely American system, peculiarly adapted to the needs of a democratic country, now pro-claim that it would be as silly to propose changing it because a disappointed office-seeker had tried to murder the President, as it would be to propose abolishing universal suffrage because there were occasional frauds at the elections. These various classes of defenders of the spoils system undoubtedly exist: we have heard from them fre-quently within the last five years through one channel or another; but they are now si-lent. Not one of them has lifted up his voice to protest against the gross perversion of the popular indignation which must to them certainly seem involved in the use now made of Guiteau’s crime by the civil-service reformers.