The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Patronage

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Edition of 1920. See also Patronage on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PATRONAGE, the right vested in a person, official, or political party, of appointment to offices and positions, the award of contracts, the disposition of emoluments, pensions, etc. Except in special cases, the right of appointment to office was vested by the Constitution of the United States in the President, his selections to be confirmed by the Senate, and up to the time of the Civil War, the President maintained actual as well as nominal control of appointments. But during and after that period the patronage at the disposal of the national government increased at such a rate that the political manipulation of offices became exceedingly complex. Practical dictation to certain offices was gradually acquired by the senators who by courtesy secured the control of appointments, each in his own State, although in form, the initiative and the responsibility remains with the President.

In the field of State and local government, cities furnish the greatest display of the misuse of patronage as appointments are numerous and elective officers few. Except in the matter of building contracts, supplies, etc., education, fortunately, has usually been considered outside the domain of politics, and teachers have been chosen primarily with a view to fitness for their positions. In the combination of Federal and local patronage, the number of voters who get, or expect to get employment in case of a party victory is so large that it tends to destroy true party balance. The need of controlling this power has led several States to enact civil service laws with the object of taking most of the appointive offices out of politics.

Experience shows that instead of being the support of the party system, patronage tends rather to its destruction. There are never spoils enough to “go round”; bitter factions grow up and their selfish strife disrupts the party. Patronage is in fact a concealed form of bribery; the giving of office or contracts as rewards for party service works insidious corruption of political morality. A large proportion of voters regard offices as perquisites of the party, as gifts bestowed upon the faithful, rather than as positions of public trust, and as Horace Bushnell has strikingly observed, “such a system would corrupt a nation of angels.”

Ecclesiastical patronage is the right vested in a church body or a layman to appoint a properly qualified person to a vacant church appointment. Marked by much contention and various abuses during the Middle Ages, the history of ecclesiastical patronage goes far back into the centuries and still exists, to some extent, in the Protestant churches of Europe. In the United States, ecclesiastical patronage is vested usually in the official body of laymen supporting a church, with the exception of Catholic churches where it is vested in the diocesan bishop on the general principles of the canons of the third and fourth Lateran councils as decreed by the plenary councils of Baltimore. See Church Government.