It is neither sinful nor criminal to be a politician, or an officeholder, or both. Abstractly considered, politics, if not a profession, is at least a field in which the greatest abilities should find honorable employment. Office holders are necessaries of life, and the mere fact of holding an office should be the reverse of a reproach. Further, we do not believe that the world is worse now than it used to be, and regard the “praiser of the things that were” as a very tiresome bore. But the politician, as we know him “averages” Generally speaking; he is a fraud, a disappointment. The canker gets him, and he ripens as a speckled crab instead of a high-bred pippin. He has even deteriorated from the standard of some years ago, as statute books and State debts now, and speeches and newspapers then show, in this; while his predecessor was the greater ruffian, he is the greater rascal. Consequently, he is amenable to the scarifying reviewer.
Now, having got him down, and kicked him afterward, let us proceed, with becoming charity, to inquire why he is such a naughty beast. Very likely the condition of public morals is responsible for a part of his badness.
The character of the politician is in a great measure what the tone of public sentiment permits it to be. When the public is guided by a high moral tone the politician reflects that condition. When the moral tone of the public is questionable the politician is dishonest. Since the first years of the war there has undoubtedly been a lowering of the standard of morality. Then commenced the era of reckless stock gambling and wild speculation. Men were eager to be rich. The chances of making money by questionable means were largely increased. Great contracts were let by the Government, by which fortunes were quickly and often corruptly made. Money was abundant. Patriotism and integrity were, in a measure, forgotten, in the race for wealth. The mania extended to all classes. Strict rules of business and honor were lost sight of. Every unscrupulous advantage was taken. The sole effort was to get money, either honestly or dishonestly. It is to be wondered at that in the general scramble for wealth the politician and the officeholder forgot his honor. Was he expected to remain pure while all about him was impure? Was it hoped that his standard of morality was higher than that of the public, whose servant he was? His demoralization followed quickly. It manifested itself all over the country; in the great ring frauds in New York; in the Credit Mobilier and Pacific mail briberies in Congress.
The lax conditions of public sentiment made all these things possible. We shall not have honest politicians and officeholders until we shall have a higher standard of public morality. The evil is permitted by the public. The remedy is also with the public. It must purify itself. The history of civilization teaches that the downfall of nations commenced with the corruption of the people. The history of the politics of this country shows that official depravity commenced with the decay of public morality.
It is useless to cry out against political corruption. It is vain for the press to publish individual instances of official depravity. The public itself must attain a higher standard of morality. There must be such a sentiment that a public man dare not be otherwise than honest. Until such a standard is reached, we may expect nothing better from officeholders and politicians. The New Orleans Times, April 29, 1875.