LETTER FROM "MARK TWAIN"
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA.]
Concerning Government Salaries -- Female Clerks -- Distribution of the Places -- Secretary's Seward's Real Estate Bargains -- A Shaky Piece of Property -- The Sutro Tunnel.
WASHINGTON, December 14, 1868.
Salaries and Clerkships.
Our Government pays the poorest salaries of any first-Power in the world, no doubt. She invites her servants, by poor salaries, to steal; she persuades them, by great opportunities, to steal; she forces them, by the necessity of keeping up some degree of state, and lack of the means to do it with, to steal. With poor salaries, she procures the services of men of second-rate standing and seventeenth-rate ability, and then debauches their little modicum of honesty, and turns them adrift considerably worse than they were before.
Members of the President's Cabinet, heads of all great Departments of the Government, get $8,000 a year -- something over $7,000 after the income tax is subtracted. House rent is $2,500 to $3,000; carriage, horses, servants, champagne blow-outs and other necessaries, $6,000 (with purchase of vehicle, etc.); wife, daughters, oysters and other luxuries -- well, anything, from $3,000 up to $10,000 a year, according to the style of your wife and the quality of your oysters. These gentlemen of the Cabinet represent the great Ministers of State of a monarchy, and of course are obliged to live in a style somewhat in keeping with the high dignity of their positions. Not one of them can make his salary keep and clothe himself and family a year. Here is a temptation to steal. Have they the opportunity? Probably not one of them is without opportunities, and most seductive ones withal. I am aware of two cases where the head of a Department, by rendering a decision in favor of two great companies, could have profited them to the amount of $7,000,000, and would have received a "present" of a matter of $600,000 for doing it. His decision would have been final -- from it there would have been no appeal. The parties benefited would have praised him, the parties not benefited would have abused him; the general public would not have cared much about the matter one way or the other. It was a cruel temptation to set before a man who was striving hard to make his salary support him and not by any means succeeding. The heads of the great Departments are assailed by these dazzling temptations every day. Is not an inadequate salary a bid for corruption? At least is it not a stronger bid than a full belly and a comfortable livelihood would be?
We pay our European Consuls just enough to keep them out of the poorhouse, and then we add an exquisite cruelty to this by giving the majority of them no chance to steal. The necessary consequence is that we get little, cheap pot-house politicians and other people who -- are just worth the money, and no more. They are not paid to add to the country's reputation abroad; with the utmost fidelity they don't do it. Great Britain gets better men for such offices, for she pays better prices. She educates her servants, and promotes them as they deserve it. When a French Envoy to Turkey acquits himself well, he becomes a great Minister of State, next. He has that reward before him all the time. When a representative of ours learns, after long experience, how to conduct the affairs of his office, we discharge him and hire somebody that don't know anything about it.
But the clerkship business in Washington seems to me to be the chief wonder of this metropolis. The heads of Departments are harassed by Congressmen to give clerkships to their constituents until they are fairly obliged to consent in order to get a little peace. I heard one of these gentlemen say that if he dared dismiss one-third of his clerical force, he could transact the business of his department infinitely better with the other two thirds. In one or two of these Departments, crowded as they are with officers, everything is at odds and ends, and paper that ought to be found in a moment, by reference to properly kept indexes, is often chased for miles through the vast Circumlocution Office and found at last in a basket of loose documents! I have this from men who have proven it by personal experience.
They tell hard stories about these Departments which employ women. The women tell these things themselves. I will not enter largely into this subject. I will only mention a suggestive conversation said to have occurred lately between a Chief Clerk of a Bureau and a friend of a lady office-seeker. The clerk excused himself -- was sorry, etc., but declined to make the appointment.
"But," the gentleman said, "the place is vacant, and I have shown you that the lady is thoroughly competent."
"Competent! -- why she is as homely as an oyster!"
This may be a fabrication -- I don't know. I only know that the several hundred girls in the Treasury Seraglio and in the other Government harems (I get these terms on the street -- they are not mine) average astonishingly well in the matter of youth and beauty. And yet experience teaches us that young and beautiful clerks are seldom the most valuable. Forty-two women applied for a vacant clerkship in one of the Departments, all within three hours, a day or two ago. They were of the oyster style of comeliness; they didn't get the clerkship; whether the one fact were the cause and the other the effect of that cause, is a question I cannot decide. But seriously, very many of the female clerks are faithful to their duties and bear spotless reputations. If a different class creep in, it cannot be helped. The labor they have to perform is better suited to them than to sturdy, able-bodied men, and the Government has done an act that is not more generous than just in extending their sphere of usefulness and their opportunity of earning a livelihood. No man can go into the Departments and pick up hair-pins and gaze upon the beauty there without being kindly disposed toward the innovation.
This brings me easily and comfortably to an interesting feature of this subject. These Departments are crowded with clerks and other small Government fish. Illinois heads the list. She furnishes four hundred and fifty of them! Whenever an official tooth needs filling, Mr. Washburne always stands ready with an Illinois plug, and the thing is done. He is the most inveterate dentist of them all, and the most successful.
Pennsylvania comes next. She furnishes four hundred. Indiana comes next; then Ohio, then Massachusetts, and then the great State of New York! Rhode Island, which is so small that the inhabitants have to trespass on other States when they want to take a walk, furnishes more than the whole Pacific Coast put together. Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Washington Territory furnish twelve, all told. There are plenty of people from those districts who would like well to sit at the official feast, but they cannot get the chance.
But Mr. Newcomb, of Missouri, has just introduced a resolution into Congress, inquiring how many clerks are employed in the various Departments, how long they have held their offices, what salaries they get, and what Congressional Districts they were recommended from. This will make a stir; and if there were an inquiry added of how much these clerks do, and how much they don't do, the stir would become an absolute flutter. As it was, Mr. Washburne jumped to his feet and objected to the measure, and so it had to lie over under the rule. But it will come up again.
All Washington is laughing about our unfortunate purchases of territory. We bought the Island of St. Thomas not long ago. We may have got it at a bargain, for its inhabitants were all dying off with the fevers of the country, and it promised to be nothing more than a cemetery in a little while, and an eligible place to die in. Young Seward was sent down to pay all the property, and the sailors stole all the money while he was ashore. More was procured and the business completed; and then began a series of catastrophes such as never astounded an unsuspecting purchaser before since the world was created. A storm arose, and the sea swept the island as clean as a ship's deck. A few days afterward an earthquake shook it up in a most outrageous way. Before the people had had a chance to recover their tranquillity, a volcano started up in their midst and threatened to hoist them all into eternity. The Secretary of the Navy sent two men-of-war down there to reconnoitre, and another earthquake rushed them ashore and shook half the timbers out of them. For thirty days the unhappy island has been torn and drenched and scorched by earthquakes, by storms, by malignant volcanoes! The inhabitants that are not too sick with fevers to be astonished, are astonished as they never were in all their lives before, and distressed beyond all possible description. Porto Rico is undergoing a similar siege of supernatural disasters, and the people of Washington begin to suspect, from these signs, that we must have purchased Porto Rico too, through some secret treaty that has not yet transpired. Whether the adventures of the St. Thomas purchase have set the Senate against territorial speculations or not, I cannot say, but certainly a number of its members refuse to entertain the idea of paying for our former acquisition -- Walrussia. If the Senate should refuse to pay for it, they would do a very absurd thing. To offend so powerful a friend as Russia for the trifle of $7,000,000 would be unwise. Russia, by her simple attitude of friendship, and without lifting a hand, is able to save us from wars with European powers that would eat up the price of Walrussia in four days. But perhaps we had better hold on to that money and buy some more earthquakes with it.
Return of the Sutro Tunnel from Europe.
Mr. A. Sutro, of the great Sutro Tunnel scheme, arrived yesterday from Europe, in the Russia. He brought his tunnel back with him. He failed to sell to the Europeans. They liked the tunnel -- they said it was a good tunnel! -- they said it was a good tunnel and a long tunnel, and appeared to be a straight tunnel, but that they would look around a little before purchasing; if they could not find a tunnel to suit them nearer home, they would call again. Many capitalists were fascinated with the idea of owning a tunnel, but none wanted such a long tunnel or one that was so far away that they could not walk out, afternoons, and enjoy it. Evidently these Europeans think a tunnel is some kind of a curious ivory-handled ornament suitable for a philopene present.
But seriously, the Europeans said they were afraid of American stocks. That was it. Sutro was received with distinguished courtesy by the savans and official dignitaries of half a dozen nations, and by the chiefs of all the great mines in those countries; he showed his ores and his certified maps and statistics, and astounded them with the wonderful productiveness of the Comstock, a lode they had never heard of, and whose richness and extent they would not have believed but for the attested facts and figures. But they said capital was afraid of American stocks.
Sutro visited all their little mines, and gathered a mass of information which will always be interesting if never useful. In all the mines of Europe he found American pupils. In the great school of mines of Frieberg he found one hundred and four students, and forty-three of them were Americans! This is something of an argument in favor of Senator Stewart's recent bill for the founding of a national mining school in Nevada.
Mr. Sutro is not discouraged about the great tunnel enterprise, but has come straight to Washington to see if he cannot get Congress to grant the corporation some aid, in grants of land or otherwise. Sutro ought to succeed with his great enterprise. Energy and everlasting industry and tenacity like his, deserve a generous success. Any other man would have lost heart and abandoned this thing long before this time.
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