The Civil Service and the Patronage/Chapter 04

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The Civil Service and the Patronage by Carl Russell Fish
Chapter IV. A Genesis of the Spoils System. 1775-1828.


CHAPTER IV.


GENESIS OF THE SPOILS SYSTEM.

1775-1828.


Thus far the national civil service alone has been considered; but it is no longer possible to ignore the states, inasmuch as many national officers were appointed from the states to act in the states, and much of the service was thus affected by local political ideals. It has been seen that members of Congress possessed great influence over appointments. Many members chosen in New York and Pennsylvania owed their election to a skilful abuse of the patronage at home, and few abandoned their arts at the threshold of the capital. Thus it happened that, while the main fountain remained fairly pure, the stream of the patronage was mudded by the soil through which it flowed. It is to the states, too, that we must look for prophecies of the future; for nearly all our great national political movements have grown slowly and unevenly, appearing first in one state, then in another, and remaining for many years local in their manifestation.

Slowly but persistently there were found developing in the states, during the period we have been studying, two tendencies that burst suddenly and violently into national politics: first, the custom of using the public offices openly and continuously as ammunition in party warfare; second, the evolution of the idea of rotation in office. These together constituted the spoils system. It has not seemed expedient to treat at length the history of every state, or to study transitory tendencies or inchoate theories in such states as are taken up; attention will be confined to those states and those phases of state history which are typical and suggestive.

Rotation in office is said to have been an old Dutch custom, brought over to New Amsterdam and continued in New York.[1] It is to be found also in colonial New England;[2] but perhaps the most significant instance of its early use in America was its incorporation by William Penn in the Pennsylvania “Frame of government” of 1682, which provided that no councillor should hold his office for more than three years continuously, being then obliged to retire for one year, “that all may be fitted for government and have experience of the care and burden of it.”[3] This, then, was what the colonists ordinarily meant by rotation; it was to be applied to the lawmakers, and its objects were to educate the people and equalize the burdens of office-holding. With the quickening of political life, office ceased to be a burden; but the notion that it was a means of education persisted, and was welcomed by the democratic sentiment of the Revolution.

Although the “frame of government” had been discontinued in 1696, this particular provision was revived in the radical constitution devised for Pennsylvania in 1776. A similar regulation was adopted by the neighboring state of Maryland with regard to the delegates to Congress. New Hampshire followed Maryland's example,[4] and this restriction was finally incorporated in the Articles of Confederation. In the Philadelphia convention of 1787 a debate arose over a proposition to apply rotation to the office of senator. Doubtless the unfavorable experience of the Confederation had much to do with the defeat of the proposal; but the persistence with which it was urged is evinced by the fact that it is found among the amendments to the constitution proposed by various state conventions.[5]

The weakness of the argument that rotation would educate the public in the business of government was brought out by Pelatiah Webster, who said that, instead of making many men experienced in affairs, it made “many jacks at all trades, but good at none.” The idea of its educational value, however, was not dropped, but was transmogrified. Elbridge Gerry said of rotation that it “keeps the mind of man in equilibrio, and teaches him the feelings of the governed, and better qualifies him to govern in his turn.” This version of the benefits of rotation, that it was intended to educate the office-holder in the virtues of the people, grew in popularity during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when it was not supposed that the people needed instruction in the arts of government.[6]

Education was not, however, the only motive for the adoption of rotation during the revolutionary period. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 provided, “In order that the people may not suffer from the long continuance in place of any Justice of the Peace, who shall fail of discharging the important duties of his office with ability or fidelity, all commissions of Justices of the Peace shall expire and become void, in the term of seven years.” The New Hampshire constitution of 1784 gave them tenure for five years instead of during “good behavior,” “in order that the people may not be oppressed.” Elbridge Gerry had this conception also in mind, for he spoke of the practice as a “check to the overbearing insolence of office.”[7]

This new theory led to an extension of rotation from legislative to executive offices, and in this form it continued to gain ground until 1830. By that date, fifteen states had some such regulation in regard to the office of governor; that is, he should have a definite term, could serve a definite number of terms, and then, either forever, or for some fixed period, could not serve again. Nineteen states had similar regulations in their constitutions in regard to some offices; and included in this number were nearly all the states that had new constitutions. The states differ interestingly in details. Even conservative Massachusetts distrusted the officer in charge of the public funds, and Maine followed her example in 1820 by providing that the treasurer should not hold continuously. Pennsylvania and the states that copied her contented themselves with restricting the eligibility of the chief executive, and did not see fit to apply rotation where it might have proved a more practical safeguard.

In eleven states the office of sheriff or marshal was made rotative, a fact which is significant because of the light it throws on an otherwise anomalous provision in one of the laws for the organization of the national government. Of all the officers provided for by the great administrative acts of the first Congress, the marshals alone were to serve a fixed term; all the others, even the district attorneys, created by the same act, were to serve during the pleasure of the executive.[8] The reappointment of the marshals was not forbidden, and seems to have taken place as a matter of course; but, standing as a solitary exception to the general rule, this limitation attached to one class of commissions could not have been the result of oversight, but must have had some object, although a search for direct evidence as to its cause has been in vain. In 1821 Madison had quite forgotten it, and supposed that the only precedents for the Four Years' Law of 1820 were to be found in the case of the territorial offices, the regulations for which were carelessly adopted in toto from the Confederation.[9]

The indirect evidence to which one naturally first turns is the practice of the colonies and of England. Virginia and Pennsylvania at one time chose their marshals or sheriffs annually,[10] and so, apparently, did New Hampshire;[11] in the other colonies, either they served indefinitely or the practice is obscure.[14] English precedent may have had unusual weight in this case, for several of the framers of the judiciary act were close students of English law. Blackstone, whose work was certainly consulted, says that the under-sheriffs, whose functions would most resemble those of the marshals, could serve but one year, under heavy penalty. These precedents may explain the provision of the national law, but the widespread application of rotation to this particular office must have rested on some living principle. The fact seems to be that the sheriff or marshal was regarded with suspicion because of his relation to the court, particularly for his part in the selection of the jury. It was this latter function that rendered him more dangerous than the attorney, whose term is seldom regulated.[15]

Rotation, therefore, meant to the men of the formative period the limitation of the number of years during which a man might continuously hold an elective office. Its main objects were to educate as many of the people as possible in the business of political life, and to protect them from the usurpations of men habituated to office. It did not in strictness apply to the appointive offices of the civil service, nor could it logically be extended to very many of them, as few were calculated to give much political experience, or conferred powers liable to become dangerous to the people. By association of ideas, however, rotation in office came to be regarded as an end in itself, and to be regarded as applicable to all offices. The first steps in this extension are apt to be overlooked, for formal rotation was never widely extended by legislative enactment. The simple fixation of a term of office, however, even when reappointment was not forbidden, was caused by the same democratic feeling that led to rotation, and ultimately produced the same results; this introduction of the fixed term for general administrative offices should, therefore, be regarded as a stage in the evolution of the idea of rotation.[16]

The process of transition is illustrated by the case of the marshal which has just been considered. The office involved powers which might become dangerous to the people, and, as it was elective, rotation was applied to protect them; when appointment was substituted for election, a definite term was provided to take the place of rotation. The justices of the peace were not usually elective, and, as their functions were such as might possibly become dangerous, it was provided that they should be commissioned for fixed periods. In both these cases limitation of term was clearly a substitute for rotation. Associated thus closely with the popular doctrine of rotation, the limited term came to be regarded as essentially democratic, and was soon extended to offices which conferred no dangerous powers. As in the case of rotation, the form remained popular after the principle had been forgotten.

South Carolina was the first state to make this extension on a large scale. It is found in her first constitution of 1776, and was gradually extended, until by 1812 nearly all the offices were limited in term. In this state there were no swiftly succeeding party changes, and the limited term does not seem to have led to a real rotation in office. State politics were exceptionally pure, and there are no indications of an abuse of the patronage, except possibly at the time of the nullification troubles.[17] By 1820 the idea was gaining ground in Pennsylvania, where rotation had always been popular,[18] in Ohio, and in most of the newer states.

Such a movement could not advance far without affecting the national government, and a rapid survey of a few of the laws relating to the tenure of office will, besides illustrating this fact, put in its proper relation Crawford's Four Years' Bill, the political aspect of which has already been discussed. The Northwest Ordinance, which was continued in force, and the governmental provisions of which were extended to the territory south of the Ohio, by the first Congress, provided a fixed term for governor and secretary, but allowed the judges to hold for good behavior. This precedent with regard to territories was always followed by the Federalists. In organizing the judiciary they made the singular distinction between marshals and attorneys which has already been noted, and the term of directors of the Bank of the United States they fixed in 1791 at one year. At the close of Adams's administration they provided that the justices of the peace in the District of Columbia should hold for five years.[19]

Under Jefferson the tendencies of the times readily found expression, and it is therefore not surprising to find that the demand for short terms was distinctly recognized. The law providing for the government of Louisiana limited the term of the judges to four years, a provision which remained in the various laws for that territory. Not so when Michigan was set off. There the older arrangement was followed, perhaps because the territory was already under the Ordinance of 1787, for in 1812, when Missouri was set off from Louisiana, the limited term was again employed. The practice continued to be irregular. In 1817 Alabama was provided with judges holding for good behavior; while in 1819 Arkansas, a portion of Louisiana, was to have them with a four years' term. In 1817 the office of reporter of the Supreme Court was created for three years only, and was so continued by successive acts until 1842.[20]

The law of 1820, then, did not fail to cast its shadow before, nor did the unfavorable comment which it excited prevent the more extensive application of its principles. In 1822 and 1823 new territorial acts limited the terms of the judges; the Michigan law was changed in this respect, and the surveyors-general were added to the officers holding with a limited tenure.[21]

After the incoming of Jackson the idea of a fixed term seems to have been fully recognized. Indian agents, postmasters, some clerks, the judges for Iowa, were all to have commissions expiring at the end of four years. In 1840 a term of five years was fixed for certain receivers-general of public moneys. The office of commissioner of pensions was created for two-year periods only. A surprising exception occurred in 1836, when the act organizing Wisconsin provided that judges should be appointed to serve during good behavior. Possibly this exception was a result of the great discussion of the civil service which occurred in that year.[22]

Whatever may have been true of Crawford, it is certain that many other politicians wished this limitation to lead to actual rotation in the minor offices. When certain senators requested Adams to send in “different nominations, and to introduce a principle of change or rotation,”[23] they gave voice to a growing demand. It is evident that the end to be obtained was exactly opposite to that which made rotation popular, for every limitation of the term of appointive offices, every new nomination called for, increased the power of the executive; but, though its meaning had completely changed, the word “rotation” continued to have a true democratic ring in popular discussions. Later, a still further twist was given to its significance: offices came to be regarded simply as prizes; and the phrase “rotation in office” served to give a pleasing and respected form to the doctrine that they should be shared as widely and as rapidly as possible.

While the path of the spoils system was thus being prepared, and a theoretical basis for it established, the actual practice was keeping pace with the theory. New York was the first state in which the offices were openly and continuously used for partisan purposes. There the royal appointments had been conspicuously bad, and colonial politics especially active. This experience was probably responsible for the elaborate attempt, made in the first constitution, to limit the appointing power of the executive, and to secure proper recognition for the various geographical sections. The state was divided into four districts, each represented by an equal number of senators. One senator from each district was elected by the House of Representatives to serve in the council of appointment. With these four the governor was associated, but in exactly what capacity was not made clear by the constitution. The original idea seems to have been that the nominations should be made by the council, and that the governor was to approve or disapprove;[24] but later the governor claimed that the exact reverse was true.

The conditions which governed the working of this machinery of appointment were complicated, and do not readily admit of brief explanation. New York politics had been controlled in the colonial period by family groups or combinations, based largely on land and old manorial privileges. The power of some of these groups was broken by the Revolution, but a large part of the population lacked American political experience and ideals, and were still ready to follow leaders;[25] hence the influence of certain families remained. The Livingstons were the most conspicuous; the Van Rensselaers were prominent for years; and the Schuylers, united with Alexander Hamilton by marriage, dominated the Federalist party. Besides these older families, the long governorship of George Clinton seems to have created a strong permanent interest, which passed to his nephew, De Witt Clinton,[26] while in New York City the democracy was marshalled by such organizations and leaders as Tammany Hall and Aaron Burr. Although Republican formulas were used, politics continued to be a game played by a number of factions, some aristocratic, some democratic, by bosses and patrons. The political situation reproduced in miniature that of England during the eighteenth century.

Probably no system of appointment could have been better devised to continue this condition than that just described for New York. It successfully divested every one of any feeling of responsibility, and opened an opportunity for an endless variety of jobs and deals, combinations and recombinations. The council, although requested by the House of Representatives, refused to publish its minutes.[27] How completely the popular will could be thwarted may be seen later.

From 1777 until 1795 continuously George Clinton was governor. His opponent at his first election was Philip Schuyler, whom he seems to have much respected, and whom he later appointed surveyor-general.[28] Many of the offices had been filled before he entered on his duties, and he wrote that he would remove no man from office without a hearing. Either he or the council of appointment did, however, distress one man by making him third, instead of second, on a list of judges. In answer to some protest from Schenectady, he said that, so far as he had anything to do with appointments, the people of every part of the state should be equally represented. The Tryon County people proposed that they be allowed to choose their own county officers, because three of the council of appointment are “unquainted with us, and the other hath but an imperfect knowlidge of us”; but Clinton would not accede to the request, although the method was actually used in the case of Vermont, the conditions of which were totally unfamiliar to him and his colleagues. He urged the Vermonters to be impartial, and to have regard for merit and abilities; in particular he hinted that they give lucrative offices to refugees.[29] During his first governorship, Clinton had little call to be prescriptive; almost the only opponents in office were those whom he placed there, and it should be said that these were numerous. He closely controlled the council of appointment, and once when the Federalists secured it, he managed to delay a good deal of business until a new council was elected. Although his use of the patronage was moderate, it was skilful, and was one of the chief means by which he maintained his hold on the state.[30]

The establishment of the national government weakened the influence of the state executive in New York, particularly as the new appointments were largely controlled by Hamilton. The latter, however, could not successfully cope with the governor in the use of offices for party purposes; and the Livingstons were driven by the neglect of the national government into alliance with Clinton,[31] who, in spite of lost patronage and the strong government reaction of the early nineties, was able to keep his office until 1795. His successor, John Jay, announced in his first message to the legislature that he would “regard all his fellow citizens with an equal eye, and . . . advance merit wherever found.” Appointments were, however, confined to Federalists. The few direct removals seem to have been made for cause, but some for party purposes were brought about indirectly as follows: the commissions of justices of the peace ran for only three years, but it was customary to recommission the incumbents; under Jay, when the new lists were made out, the names of Clintonians were omitted.[32] It is probable that Jay was deceived into signing these commissions, and that the first intimation he received of their prescriptive character was from the denunciations of the opposition press.

In 1800 the New York Republicans elected a council of which De Witt Clinton was a member. The council promptly claimed for its members a nominating power concurrent with that of the governor, to whom it denied even a veto. This interpretation the Federalists had successfully maintained against Clinton in 1794; and, as has been mentioned, it seems to have been what was intended when the constitution was framed. Jay, however, rejected it;[33] hence during the last part of his term the appointing power was dead-locked, and the curious spectacle was presented of a Republican council maintaining the correctness of a Federalist precedent, while a Federalist governor, supported by the advice of Clinton, the Republican ex-governor, denounced it as unconstitutional. A constitutional convention called to pass upon the question in 1801 decided in favor of the council. From this time until 1821 the history of the patronage in New York coincides with that of the council of appointment.[34] The establishment of the supremacy of the council greatly facilitated the growth of the spoils system. In 1801 George Clinton was again elected governor; but he was then old, and his nephew, De Witt Clinton, controlled the council and the appointments. He followed quite exactly the tactics of Jefferson, reinstating with a great flourish of trumpets the few who had been removed during Jay's term, and with this start carrying out a genuine proscription, so severe that his uncle refused, in some instances, to sign the minutes of the council. According to the Evening Post, it was still felt necessary to justify removals by traducing the character of those removed; but this sense of shame soon disappeared, and all parties acted openly on the belief that they were held together by the cohesive power of public office, and that to the victors belonged the spoils.[35]

The spoils system was particularly dangerous in New York, because of the enormous extent of the patronage. The council of appointment, according to a report presented in the constitutional convention of 1821, filled directly 8287 military and 6663 civil offices, and compensation was relatively high. It appointed nearly all the state officers, all mayors, and some minor city officers, militia officers, and justices of the peace.[36] The potentialities of this mass of patronage are illustrated by the machine created by Judge Spencer, one of the chief political figures of the time. Apart from his abilities, which were very good, he owed his influence to his manipulation of the appointments of justices of the peace. In his circuits he would make friends of prominent local politicians, who would recommend to him persons to be appointed justices of the peace. He would obtain the desired commissions at Albany, and this would aid his friends in securing an election to the legislature. Once there, they would vote for a council of appointment which would listen to the suggestions of Judge Spencer.[37]

The danger to the political morality of the state was keenly appreciated, and was one of the chief causes for summoning the convention of 1821. In the new constitution then framed the council of appointment was abolished, and the appointing power was given to the governor by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. Only 28 military and 325 civil appointments, however, were left to be thus disposed of; for the vast majority of the minor offices, as those of justice of the peace and the militia offices, were to be filled by direct popular election. The spoils system, however, was too firmly established to yield to these measures. Indeed, the power of the governor was more increased by the abolition of the council of appointment than it was lessened by the withdrawal of the minor offices; and his power over the patronage that remained was still further extended by the fact that the convention fixed a definite term for many of the offices which had previously been held “at pleasure.” The making of the minor offices elective, moreover, did not remove them from the realm of politics; it merely necessitated a new method of management. Manipulation of the legislature ceased to be sufficient; small elective and petty nominating bodies had to be controlled. The want was soon supplied; and the Albany Regency, whose members first perfected a caucus system, and acquired the art of managing directly the small subdivisions of the electorate, obtained as its reward a firm and lasting hold on New York politics.[38]

Almost contemporaneous with the establishment of the spoils system in New York was its triumph in Pennsylvania, but the conditions of its rise were very different. The revolution of 1776 in the latter state was preceded by a long and bitter triangular contest between the Quakers, the proprietary party, and certain democratic elements. The last named won, and in their hour of triumph, organized by George Bryan and advised by Benjamin Franklin, they framed what was probably the most democratic constitution the country has ever known. With a legislature of but one house and a multiple executive, it afforded none of those checks and balances that were considered essential by most statesmen of the period. From the first, therefore, the more conservative elements of the population, under the name of Republicans, fought for a revision. This struggle, which continued until the adoption, in 1790, of a constitution which provided for a stronger executive, served to divide the state into two distinct parties and to prevent the development of such factions as were found in New York; it accounts largely for the early development of party organization and nominating conventions, and, through these, of the spoils system.[39]

Under the first constitution most appointments in Pennsylvania were controlled by the legislature, either alone or in conjunction with the president of the commonwealth who also was practically elected by it. Though no instances of removal have been found, complaint was made that offices were used to win adherents, and it is mentioned as remarkable that Rittenhouse should have held his office of treasurer for thirteen successive years, under legislatures now of one party, now of the other. In 1783 the Council of Censors called the attention of the legislature to the low standard of the holders of public offices.[40] Mifflin, the first governor under the new constitution, began his term by refusing to reappoint certain officers who had served under the old. Although elected as a Constitutionalist, that is, as of the more democratic party, he soon turned Federalist, and apparently confined his appointments to members of that party.[41]

Such was the situation that Thomas McKean found when, in 1799, he was elected governor, first of the fin de siècle Republican victors. He accused of combination against him the “officers and expectants of office under the President of the United States, not only in Pennsylvania, but in neighboring states,” and he wrote to John Dickinson, “I have been obliged (though no Hercules) to cleanse the Augean stable.” To Jefferson, in July, 1801, he outlined his theory of the civil service. “It appears,” he said, “that the anti-Republicans, even those in office, are as hostile as ever, though not so insolent. To overcome them they must be shaven, for in their offices (like Samson's hair-locks) their great strength lieth; their disposition for mischief may remain, but their power of doing it will be gone. It is out of the common order of nature, to prefer enemies to friends; the despisers of the people should not be their rulers.” The whole tone of this letter indicates that already in Pennsylvania the civil offices were considered as ammunition for political warfare, — a fact which Jefferson must have seen clearly when he wrote to McKean, “Some states require a different regimen from others.”[42]

It is impossible to say exactly how far McKean carried out the policy he sketched. The Eagle reported that, of twenty-one particular appointments, seven were reappointments, one a promotion, and thirteen were new. Probably most of the latter were occasioned by removals. The proscription did not stop with the limits of the governor's authority, for the mayor of Philadelphia is said to have swept all Federalists from office in that city. In making appointments, McKean seems to have consulted his own pleasure; he is said to have been guilty of nepotism and favoritism, and his conduct received much unfavorable criticism.[43] When, in 1805, the Duane branch of the party broke with him, and he was reëlected a second time by a combination of the Quids and Federalists, he removed from office men whom he had himself appointed. It is unnecessary to follow the successive party changes; the only point of interest is that henceforth the spoils system was accepted in Pennsylvania. Here, as in New York in 1821, the politicians took advantage of the democratical slogan of “rotation in office” to effect a limitation of tenure, and thus to make more easy the path of the spoilsman.[44]

The results of the spoils system in New York and Pennsylvania seem to have been as different as were the circumstances of its growth. The average standard of men called into the New York state service was certainly higher. Nearly always some men of eminent ability were to be found in the civil list. This was partly due to the system of family cliques which made politics fashionable, and also partly to the fact that at first the confusion of factions, and later the even balance of parties, always afforded an opportunity for talent. Many other causes might, of course, be enumerated. Besides this difference there seems to have been more actual corruption in Pennsylvania than in the neighboring state, if we except New York City. Cases of actual sale of office are reported. Niles gives an instance in which a note was actually sued out, the drawer of which had promised to pay the holder a certain sum if he were appointed to a post which the latter was about to resign,[45] the consideration presumably being the influence of the old occupant with the governor. Naturally the offices of the national government local to these states did not escape the contagion. The charges of Governor McKean and Governor Clinton, and the case of Dr. Leib, have been mentioned;[46] and it is to be presumed that New York and Pennsylvania appointments caused presidents before Jackson's day to pass sleepless nights.

While these two states are most noted and most notable for the abuse of the patronage during this period, they did not stand alone. In many localities where there was no complaint of proscription, the immunity was due to the long and continued domination of one party; the same process was going on, but took the form of the silent exclusion of one party from power. In New Hampshire there was nothing like a spoils system; but in 1801 it was stated that all the vacancies would be filled with Federalists, and again in 1815, when the governor and council belonged to different parties, the appointments were in deadlock.[47] Moreover, the Langdon family controlled and absorbed all the patronage which the Republicans could command.[48] Rhode Island was praised as the land of “steady habits”; attention was called to the fact that one treasurer had served for forty-five years, and that there had been only six secretaries in colony and state during one hundred and twenty-seven years. Our wonder somewhat diminishes when we find that the total annual state expenditure in 1828 was only $8010.75;[49] and the praise is not entirely deserved, for, when the Rhode Island Tammany Society succeeded in carrying the state for the Republicans in 1810, they made a partial sweep. When the Federalists came back the next year they acted magnanimously in leaving some of their opponents in office,[50] and so the evil was stayed.

Of the northern states, Massachusetts was perhaps the most exemplary in the conduct of the civil service; yet there, as in Rhode Island, an element existed eager for the spoils. Under the early state government there was practically no complaint as to appointments; but when the Federalists began to condemn Jefferson's removals, their opponents replied by accusing them of excluding all Republicans from office. The best vindication of their administration is found in the conduct of James Sullivan, the first Republican governor. He was a strong, conscientious man, and refused to make any removals. The radicals of the party under the lead of Levi Lincoln controlled the executive council and urged proscription, finally putting on file a protest in which they argued that to make no removals “would be arraigning the wisdom and justice of the national administration, a censure and reproach of its most deliberate acts.” Had they been able to add that the conduct of the Federalist governors had been notoriously unfair, Sullivan could hardly have resisted. The next year the executive council was composed of Federalists, who worked harmoniously with Sullivan; and when the succeeding election brought in once more a Federalist governor, no removals were made.[51]

In 1810 another Republican, Elbridge Gerry, was elected governor. In his first term he made no removals and reappointed those whose commissions expired, although he doubtless found the great majority of office-holders Federalists. His course disappointed his followers; and there is probably some grain of truth in the charge of his enemies, that the Republicans made a change of policy a condition of his renomination, — that is, there was probably some understanding as to what course he would pursue. After his reëlection the Republican legislature proceeded to make the path toward a proscription as smooth as possible.[52] They did this by the trick, so often mentioned, of fixing a definite tenure for certain offices, thus hiding the increase of executive patronage under the guise of a democratic innovation.[53] The most important offices to which this limited term was applied were those of the county sheriffs and the clerks of the county courts. Still further to smooth the path of the governor, the appointment to the offices last mentioned was transferred from the court itself to the governor and council,[54] and it was of course arranged that the commissions should expire during the term for which Governor Gerry had been elected.

When the time came for Gerry to declare himself, the respectable old commonwealth was stirred to its depths. The protests of the Federalists were long and caustic and edifying, while on the Republican side a stern puritanic note was raised by a country minister who preached his election sermon from the text, “But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come to pass that those that ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.”[55] Governor Gerry fulfilled the wishes of his party,[56] and was bombarded with protests from the public in general,[57] and from dispossessed office-holders. He tried to explain and justify his conduct, arguing that the reappointment of the former discredited office-holders would alarm the Republicans; that Democratic principles demanded that, when the offices fell vacant, equal consideration should be shown to all citizens, no preference being extended to incumbents.[58] His extenuations could not, however, do away with the appearance of sharp practice. It must have been hard for the most discriminating Federalist to believe that the limitation of terms was made simply to hasten the triumph of pure democracy, when he saw that about forty members of the legislature received offices which they had helped to make vacant, not to mention the number given to relatives of members. As the Massachusetts Spy expressed it: —

'Tis a mighty fine thing, Sir, to be son-in-law
To a very magnificent three-tailed Bashaw.”[59]

The Republican administration of Massachusetts was thoroughly discredited by this affair of the patronage combined with that of the gerrymander, and it seems no exaggeration, as the election was so close, to attribute to these scandals the defeat of Gerry, although he personally erred rather in weakness than by desire.[60] Governor Strong, who succeeded him, had his conduct marked out by public opinion. By one order he removed all the Gerry appointees whose predecessors had been removed, and reinstated the old officers.[61]

After the defeat of Gerry no more is heard of the misuse of the patronage in Massachusetts for many years. The Federalist party gradually disappeared, but its exit was marked by no great proscription. The soil of the state was not kind to the spoils system, a majority of the population disapproved of it and did not intend to allow it. We note, however, that a minority were ready and willing to introduce the practice, and were longing after the plums now out of their reach. If they could not command the state, they might, by allying themselves with a national party, obtain control of the federal patronage; and this is just what happened when Jackson was elected.

In the old South, between the Potomac, the Alleghanies, and the ocean, there is less evidence of discontent and new methods. Of South Carolina, Calhoun said in 1849, “Party organization, party discipline, party proscription, — and their offspring, the spoils principle, have been unknown”;[62] and this seems to have been generally true, although Grayson says that during the nullification contest men were bribed “with money, with promises of office.”[63] In Georgia there is a faint evidence of a desire for the spoils system in 1829, when George R. Gilmer, a representative of the Troup faction, was elected governor through the assistance of the Clarke faction; and the Clarke leaders wished him to divide the patronage between the two bodies of his supporters.[64] He refused, and for a long time there is no mention of the spoils.

The frontier democracy of the West shared the characteristics of both North and South. During this period the people were divided according to personal sympathy and special issues, and consequently party lines were fluctuating. Hence there was no persistent and studied use of patronage to maintain party organization; but offices were none the less used by the leaders to promote the ends of the moment, while the people demanded that all public servants, appointive as well as elective, should be in sympathy with the majority. The conditions of this section are best illustrated by a study of Illinois,[65] for which the career of Ninian Edwards serves as a convenient nucleus, if for no other reason than because the Chicago Historical Society has preserved and published his wide and candid correspondence. It will, moreover, be profitable to discuss the national civil service in Illinois rather than the trifling and disorganized service of the state itself.

Ninian Edwards was a Kentuckian of wealth and ability, belonging to the class of Western politicians who relied more on the impression caused by gentlemanly bearing and eloquence than on a democratic aping of the manners of their constituents. While he made no pretence of being one of the people, he was a close and successful student of their desires. When he went to Washington in 1818 as senator, he was thrown into close contact with William Wirt, a friend of his boyhood, representative of the best traditions of Republican purity. One could not be long in Washington at that time without being drawn into the presidential campaign, and Edwards soon became an ardent supporter and close friend of Calhoun.[66] In 1823 he had the pleasure of introducing to his leader his brother-in-law, General Duff Green, a Western editor, who afterwards became connected with Calhoun by the marriage of their children.[67] These bonds of friendship and marriage formed the basis of Edwards's political affiliations.

In 1820 Edwards became interested in the appointments to land offices in Illinois. The other senator from the state was Thomas, a political rival, and a supporter of Crawford's candidacy for the presidency. Edwards did not hope to secure all the new positions for his supporters or friends, but he made a vigorous effort to obtain an equal share of the patronage. December 22, 1820, he wrote to President Monroe advising that at least one appointment be made from eastern Illinois, recommending several available candidates, and condemning one of the men who had been already nominated, but whose nomination had not yet been acted on. In conversation with Crawford, the secretary of the treasury, he was more explicit, suggesting that all the nominations be left to the senators to divide equally between their respective parties. This proposition was considered as an attack on the prerogatives of the president, and was vigorously condemned by William Wirt in a long though friendly letter. Wirt said the president thought it wrong that a president of the United States “should permit himself to be influenced by considerations of local parties in a state, and that he should nominate with reference to the local effect on the respective senators in their states. For my own part,” he adds, “I should consider it a species of bribery.” Wirt in another letter made perhaps the first suggestion of “senatorial courtesy.” “There is, indeed, another course which he may take and I think he ought to take; which is, to nominate no person whom either senator declares unworthy of an office, if he can find a deserving man in the state free from such objection, — unless, indeed, the objection itself is destroyed by being discovered to proceed from a personal feeling, or weakened by flowing from the animosity of local faction.”[68]

Edwards disclaimed all intention of weakening the executive power,[69] but continued to urge that appointments be made on a political basis. He was supported in this last position by his other friend, Calhoun, who wrote to him August 20, 1822: “Since the return of the President to the city, I have urged on his attention the subject of making appointments to the offices to which you referred, and brought before him the names which you mentioned. ... I do trust that he begins to feel the necessity of taking a decided stand. I agree with you that it is much easier to put down the opposition, where its existence is once acknowledged, than to prove, to the satisfaction of the people, its existence. Until the President shall uniformly make the distinction between friends and foes, in his appointments, this cannot be done. If he will not see the opposition . . . the country will be incredulous as to its existence.”[70]

This episode either caused or intensified that enmity to Crawford which blighted Edwards's future career. In 1823 he published in the Republican,[71] the Calhoun organ at Washington, over the signature “A. B.,” a series of attacks on Crawford's management of the treasury department. Then he gave weight to these letters by acknowledging the authorship, but too late, as it seemed, for the charges to be investigated before the presidential election of 1824, or till after he himself had left Washington on a foreign mission. Crawford's friends acted with promptness, recalled Edwards to give testimony, and secured a report which found the charges unsubstantiated. Edwards felt compelled to resign his appointment as minister to Mexico, and was visited with a general popular condemnation, which most historians have considered just. He did not, however, lose the friendship of Calhoun, received a mild support from John Quincy Adams, and was elected governor of Illinois in 1826.[72]

As governor of Illinois, with intimate friends at Washington, he continued his attempt to influence the distribution of the national patronage within the state. September 21, 1826, he wrote to Clay, now secretary of state, that his election as governor had been opposed by the Jackson men, that his success had given him full control of the situation, and that he could dictate the political allegiance of Illinois. “In regard to the Presidential election,” he adds, “I am entirely uncommitted, and it is my candid opinion that I shall remain so. So long as some of the Jackson papers continue to assail me, as they have done, and are now doing, my pride would never suffer me to be led into any kind of coöperation with them. And so long as Mr. Adams' officers are permitted imprudently to use his own declarations, and conduct to my disadvantage in my own State, as is done in the accompanying handbill, though it may not drive me from neutrality, I never will enlist under his banners. Some of his warmest friends however have more cause of complaint against the author of this handbill. And I am persuaded that the time is at hand, when the wisdom of Mr. Jefferson's course in regard to the patronage of the administration must become too obvious to be any longer neglected.”[73]

Governor Edwards must have felt that he had indeed correctly gauged popular sentiment when but a few days after writing this letter he received one in exactly the same tone from a friend in Philadelphia: “Mr. Adams's magnanimity and forbearance, in regard to non-removals from office, excites my astonishment. . . . I marvel that Mr. Clay is not more on the qui vive, in this respect. . . . This policy not only places weapons in the hands of Mr. Adams's foes, but it takes weapons out of the hands of his friends.”[74] The administration was obdurate, though courteous. The president wrote to Edwards, August 22, 1827: “Your recommendation for the appointment of a sub-agent at Peoria will, in the event of a vacancy in that office, receive the deliberate consideration to which it is entitled, and a disposition altogether friendly to him as recommended by you. And your opinion in regard to any appointment of the General Government, in the state of Illinois, will be always acceptable to me.”[75]

The desire of the Jackson men in Washington to favor this political trickster was not restrained by the cool temperament and old-fashioned political ideas of John Quincy Adams. John McLean, the postmaster-general, but a supporter of Jackson, wrote to Edwards, November 1, 1826, “Had your letter been received before I re-appointed ——, I should, as I have always done, have appointed the person you named.”[76] September 1, 1826, Duff Green, who was now established in Washington, wrote: “I hear that Anderson is dead. Let Cook [Edwards's most important political friend in Illinois] write immediately to Mr. Adams and demand as matter of right that he be appointed his successor. Mr. Adams will scarce deny him and if nominated I will rely upon Calhoun and my friends in the Senate to get him through without opposition.” Consequently, when Governor Edwards, after a long hesitation,[77] was forced at length to abandon his neutral position, the policy of the two parties with regard to the patronage was one of the reasons which caused him to take his followers to the Jackson camp.

By the year 1828, then, in every state throughout the North and West the spoils system either was established or there existed an element eager to introduce it. The movement was a growing one, and it was but a question of time and circumstance when the custom would become national. The leaders of the Albany Regency, confident by reason of their success at home, looked for widespread influence through the control of the national patronage. Less powerful state leaders hoped to make secure their local position; while petty politicians the country over longed to see the federal offices change hands as often as did those of the states — at least until they fell into their hands. The people in general, as was pointed out in the last chapter, disliked the life tenure and the aristocratic manners of the officials of the existing régime; those who enjoyed the national salaries should, they thought, be of the people. In the frontier states particularly, the superb self-confidence born of the pioneer's single-handed victory over nature balked not at the full measure of democracy, but boldly asserted that all men were created equally able to fulfil the duties of government offices.

It was an age of lotteries, and the prospect of a complete change in the administration offered to all prizes more dazzling than had ever before been presented to the public. The positive, virile virtue of loyalty to one's friends ranked higher in the moral code of most Americans of that day than the more complex one of justice to one's enemies. To reward his friends and to punish his enemies was the proper conduct of a victor. The Jackson managers, therefore, were wise in emphasizing the demand for a reform in the conduct of the civil service. They proposed to forbid the appointment of congressmen to office, and to introduce rotation in office;[78] but the first measure of reform, and for many the culminating one, was to be the turning out, as one New Yorker expressed it, of the “damned rascals” who supported Adams, and the substitution of original Jackson men in their places. Thus the attack on the civil service appealed alike to the people and to their leaders, to the democracy of the East and of the West. It was a phase, and a most important one, of the great revolution which brought Andrew Jackson into the presidency; and John Quincy Adams's attempt to preserve the ancient decorum of office but hastened its overthrow.


  1. A. E. McKinley, Transition from Dutch to English Rule in New York, in American Historical Review, vi. 712.
  2. In the New England Confederation of 1643, and many other instances.
  3. Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1520.
  4. Ibid. ii. 821, 1291, 1531, 1544.
  5. Mrs. Catharine Macaulay Graham to Washington, June, 1790, “It is true, that, in that sketch of a democratical government, I endeavoured to keep out corruption by enforcing a general rotation; but I must acknowledge to you, that the corruptions, which have crept into our legislature since the revolution, with the wise caution used by the French patriots in the rules to which they have subjected their National Assembly, have led me to alter my opinion” (Washington, Writings (Sparks ed.), x. 71, note); Elliot, Debates, ii. 34; Federalist (Ford ed.), 644. New York, Virginia, and North Carolina wished to apply it to the presidency.
  6. Pelatiah Webster, Political Essays, 205; Ford, Pamphlets on the Constitutions, 11; Niles's Register, xxiii. 162, xxvii. 216.
  7. Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1290; Ford, Pamphlets on the Constitutions, p. 11, § 9.
  8. Statutes at Large, i. 87, 92.
  9. Madison to Jefferson, January 7, 1821, Madison, Letters and Other Writings, iii. 202.
  10. Channing, Town and County Government (Johns Hopkins University, Studies, ii. No. 10), 46; E. R. L. Gould, Local Government in Pennsylvania (Ibid. i. No. 3), 21.
  11. New Hampshire Colonial Records, i. 21.
  12. The Connecticut practice is very difficult to distinguish. In October, 1771, Oliver Walcott resigned his commission as sheriff, which was signed November 14, 1751 (Connecticut Colonial Records, xiii. 568); yet in 1676 the sheriff or marshal seems to have been appointed for but one year (Ibid. ii. 275). It is possible that each county had a separate custom (General Laws and Liberties of Connecticut Colonie, 18), or that it was the custom to reëlect the old incumbent without renewing his commission (Connecticut Colonial Records, iii. 252). The attorneys were chosen from time to time (Ibid. v. 48, vii. 279). The Connecticut practice is of importance because of the prominence of Oliver Ellsworth in framing the national judiciary.
  13. The Connecticut practice is very difficult to distinguish. In October, 1771, Oliver Walcott resigned his commission as sheriff, which was signed November 14, 1751 (Connecticut Colonial Records, xiii. 568); yet in 1676 the sheriff or marshal seems to have been appointed for but one year (Ibid. ii. 275). It is possible that each county had a separate custom (General Laws and Liberties of Connecticut Colonie, 18), or that it was the custom to reëlect the old incumbent without renewing his commission (Connecticut Colonial Records, iii. 252). The attorneys were chosen from time to time (Ibid. v. 48, vii. 279). The Connecticut practice is of importance because of the prominence of Oliver Ellsworth in framing the national judiciary.
  14. The Connecticut practice is very difficult to distinguish. In October, 1771, Oliver Walcott resigned his commission as sheriff, which was signed November 14, 1751 (Connecticut Colonial Records, xiii. 568); yet in 1676 the sheriff or marshal seems to have been appointed for but one year (Ibid. ii. 275). It is possible that each county had a separate custom (General Laws and Liberties of Connecticut Colonie, 18), or that it was the custom to reëlect the old incumbent without renewing his commission (Connecticut Colonial Records, iii. 252). The attorneys were chosen from time to time (Ibid. v. 48, vii. 279). The Connecticut practice is of importance because of the prominence of Oliver Ellsworth in framing the national judiciary.
  15. Note that the assembly of 1675 in Virginia provided that sheriffs hold one year and that the office rotate. Hening, Statutes, ii. 341.
  16. McMaster (United States, iii. 146-183) discusses the fixation of the term for judges.
  17. Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1625, 1632; Cooper, Statutes, v. 238, 352, 570, 674, vi. 60, 164, 189, 322; Grayson, J. L. Petigru, 129.
  18. S. B. Harding, First Pennsylvania Constitution. American Historical Association, Report, 1894, pp. 371-402.
  19. Statutes at Large, i. 123, 193, 549; ii. 107.
  20. Ibid. ii. 284, 309, 331, 746; iii. 371, 376; v. 545.
  21. Ibid. iii. 655, 657, 697, 769.
  22. Statutes at Large, iv. 736, 779; v. 13, 26, 88, 187, 238, 369, 388, 597, etc.
  23. J. Q. Adams, Memoirs, vi. 520-521.
  24. Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1336; Federalist (Ford ed.), 513; Assembly resolution, October 2, 1777, Clinton Papers, ii. 357.
  25. C. Becker, Nominations in Colonial New York, in American Historical Review, vi. 260-275; a delegation from German Flats, for example, laid a petition before Governor Clinton in 1779, “hoping your natural affection towards true and faithful Subjects will give us redress” {Clinton Papers, iv. 746).
  26. In 1804 sixteen members or connections of the Livingston and Clinton families held office in state or nation, and drew $60,500 in annual salaries. Lancaster Journal, Extra, March 21, 1804.
  27. New York Council of Appointment, Military Minutes, i. 186-187.
  28. Clinton Papers, iv. 537, note.
  29. Ibid. ii. 552, 746-784; iii. 54, 165, 173, 217, 398.
  30. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 53 ff.; 5, 33, 83, 104; 38.
  31. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 30. Lamb, collector of New York, seems to have been the only important exception, and he was not personally unfriendly to Hamilton. Leake, Lamb, 321; Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 107; Lodge, Hamilton, 82.
  32. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 95, 119, 127, notes, 580; Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1337. See, however, New York Evening Post, January 14, 25, 1802.
  33. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 8i; Jay to New York legislature, February 26, 1801; Jay, Correspondence and Public Papers, iv. 289.
  34. New York Council of Appointment, Military Minutes, i. 555-563; Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 155, 168.
  35. Columbian Centinel, August 19, 1801; New York Evening Post, February 23, 1801, January 14, February 19, 1802; New York Council of Appointment, Military Minutes, i. 562. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 134, 178, 227, 234, 236, 238, 315-327, 330, 442, 460, 469. See also the lives of the New York leaders, as Burr, Van Buren, Tompkins, De Witt Clinton, etc., passim.
  36. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, ii. 65. Niles says that there were 709 civil offices in New York City. Niles's Register, xxi. 128; New York Evening Post, January 26, 1802.
  37. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, i. 420.
  38. Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1336,1345. Hammond, Political Parties in New York, ii. 66, 72, 429; Mackenzie, Van Buren, 112, 207, and passim; Weed, Autobiography, 108.
  39. Lincoln, The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, 286, and passim; Christopher Marshall, Diary, 68; Graydon, Memoirs, 288, 332, 342.
  40. Lincoln, The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, 280; Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1540-1548; Graydon, Memoirs, 332; Barton, Rittenhouse, 339; Sharpless, Two Centuries of Pennsylvania History, 211.
  41. Charles Biddle, Autobiography, 243, 245; Hildreth, United States, v. 361; Buchanan, McKean, 98; Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, January 13, 1800; New York Evening Post, February 12, 1802.
  42. Pittsburg Gazette, December 7, 1799; Armor, Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania, 302. Jefferson, Writings (Ford ed.), viii. 78.
  43. Pennsylvania Eagle, January 25, 1800; Lancaster Journal, December 29, 1801; Armor, Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania, 302; Brown, The Forum, i. 343-347; Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser, May 1, 1800; Buchanan, McKean, 90, 92, 97, 98; Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, January 13, 1800; Gallatin to Jefferson, September 12, 1801, Gallatin, Writings, i. 48; Pennsylvania Magazine, xvii. 474.
  44. Niles's Register, xvi. 157; xxxiii. 332-337; xxxvi. 67, 164. The Connecticut Courant, January 27, 1801, contains an interesting letter of Samuel Bryan, register-general, to a member of the legislature, accusing it of yielding to the “malignant rage of Party Spirit,” and also records the proposal of the House to have him arrested for slander in consequence. The zeal for office is illustrated by the fact that there were thirty candidates for the clerkship of the legislature. Lancaster Journal, December 17, 1801; Poore, Charters and Constitutions, ii. 1345; Laws of Pennsylvania (edition of 1834), 162, 184 (edition of 1837), 143, 628, 898.
  45. Niles's Register, xvi. 107, 160; xvii. 157, 428.
  46. Niles's Register, xvi. 107, 160, xvii. 428; Pittsburg Gazette, December 7, 1799.
  47. Columbian Centinel, June 13, 1801; Niles's Register, viii. 352.
  48. Columbian Centinel, March 1, 1801.
  49. Niles's Register, xvi. 239; xxxi. 222; xxxiv. 234.
  50. Massachusetts Spy, etc., May 15, 1811; Jernegan, The Tammany Societies of Rhode Island, 22.
  51. Lowell, The New-England Patriot, 132; Bradford, Massachusetts, iii. 95; Massachusetts Spy, February 12, August 21, 1811.
  52. Austin, Gerry, ii. 322; Massachusetts Spy, etc., August 7, 14, 21, 1811.
  53. Of the Massachusetts laws passed in June, 1811, ch. xxxiii. provided for the reorganization of the circuit court and the court of common pleas; ch. xlix. forbade county treasurers to serve more than five years continuously; ch. lxxi. gave sheriffs a term of five years, adding, “The Governor shall remove from office all Sheriffs now in commission, who shall not be reappointed.”
  54. Laws of 1811, ch. viii. This law was repealed in 1814 (see laws of that year, ch. lxxvii.).
  55. Massachusetts Spy, December 11, 1811.
  56. Austin says that he placed one Federalist and two Democrats in every circuit, and retained some of the most highly paid officials. Austin, Gerry, ii. 343.
  57. Columbian Centinel, January 22, 27, February 15, 19, 1812; Massachusetts Spy, October, December, 1811, passim; February 12, 1812.
  58. Austin, Gerry, ii. Appendix B. See also Massachusetts Spy, etc., December 11, 1811; Columbian Centinel, January 15, 1812.
  59. Massachusetts Spy, etc., July 26, October 23, 1811.
  60. Barry, Massachusetts, iii. 346, 364-369; Columbian Centinel, June 6, 1812.
  61. Columbian Centinel, June 24, 1812; Bradford, Massachusetts, iii. 129.
  62. Calhoun, Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States in his Works, i. 405.
  63. Grayson, J. L. Petigru, 129.
  64. Gilmer, The Georgians, 316; Phillips, Georgia and State Rights (American Historical Association, Reports, 1901, ii.), 110-111.
  65. The struggle in Kentucky over the reorganization of the supreme court brought about by the bank issue is also a good illustration. See Shaler, Kentucky, 180-185; Little, Hardin, 155; National Republican and Ohio Political Register, December 30, 1825; Jackson Gazette, February 7, 1829.
  66. Calhoun thinks that Edwards should be one of the ministers to our “southern neighbors” (Calhoun to Edwards, June 12, 1822, Edwards, Illinois, 489-491).
  67. Calhoun to Edwards, September 23, 1823: “I have been much pleased with Gen'l Green. He is intelligent and decisive; and must in time become important in the West” (Edwards Papers, 210).
  68. Edwards Papers, 168, 176, 181-185.
  69. Edwards to Crawford, January 11, 1821; Ibid. 183-185.
  70. Edwards, Illinois, 491-492.
  71. Benton, Thirty Years' View, i. ch. xiv.
  72. D. P. Cook to Edwards, April 17, 1824: “I shall give the papers to Mr. Clay to-morrow. I want first to show them to some of my friends, who will aid me. Mr. Calhoun, and so do I, think it will he best not to publish them in the Republican until after they are printed by the House. . . . Mr. Adams' friends will aid, and stand by you. If Clay acts fairly, I think there will be no danger” (Edwards Papers, 223-224). J. Q. Adams, Memoirs, vi. 387, 389.
  73. Edwards Papers, 259-263.
  74. S. Simpson to Edwards, September 22, 1826; Ibid. 263-264.
  75. Edwards, Illinois, 147.
  76. Ibid. 484.
  77. Edwards Papers, 253-254. Wirt, writing to Edwards, March 22, 1828, still hoped that he would support the administration. Edwards, Illinois, 455.
  78. Political Mirror, 65.