patronage

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Patronage

The practice or custom observed by a political official of filling government positions with qualified employees of his or her own choosing.

When the candidate of a political party wins an election, the newly elected official has the right to appoint a certain numbers of persons to jobs in the government. This is the essence of the patronage system, also known as the spoils system ("To the victor go the spoils"): appointing persons to government positions on the basis of political support and work rather than on merit, as measured by objective criteria. Though the patronage system exists at all levels of U.S. government, the number of positions that are available through patronage has decreased dramatically since the 1880s.

The patronage system thrived in the U.S. federal government until 1883. In 1820 Congress limited federal administrators to four-year terms, leading to constant turnover. By the 1860s and the Civil War, patronage had led to widespread inefficiency and political corruption. Where patronage had once been confined to the cabinet, department heads, and foreign ambassadorships, by the 1860s low-level government positions were subject to patronage. The loss of a presidential election by a political party signaled wholesale turnover in the federal government. When President Benjamin Harrison took office in 1889, 31,000 federal postmaster positions changed hands.

The assassination of President james garfield in 1881 by a disgruntled office seeker who did not receive a political appointment spurred Congress to pass the Civil Service Act, or Pendleton Act of 1883 (5 U.S.C.A. § 1101 et seq.). The act, which at the time only applied to 10 percent of the federal workforce, created a Civil Service Commission and advocated a merit system for the selection of government employees. By 1980, 90 percent of federal positions had become part of the civil service system. In addition, the passage in 1939 of the Hatch Act (53 Stat. 1147) curtailed or restricted most partisan political activities of federal employees.

State and local governments have employed large patronage systems. Big-city political machines in places such as New York, Boston, and Chicago thrived in the late nineteenth century. A patronage system not only rewards political supporters for past support, it also encourages future support, because persons who have a patronage job try to retain it by campaigning for the party at the next election.

Large-scale patronage systems declined steadily during the twentieth century. During the Progressive Era (1900–1920), "good government" reformers overthrew political machines and installed civil service systems. Chicago, under Mayor Richard J. Daley, remained the last bastion of patronage, existing in its purest form until the late 1970s.

Patronage has its defenders. It is a way to maintain a strong political organization by offering campaign workers rewards. More importantly, patronage puts people into government who agree with the political agenda of the victor. Cooperation, loyalty, and trust flow from this arrangement. Finally, patronage guarantees some turnover, bringing new people and new ideas into the system.

Opponents have long agreed that patronage is acceptable at the highest levels of government. Presidents, governors, and mayors are entitled to select their cabinet and department heads. However, history indicates that patronage systems extending far down the organizational chain are susceptible to inefficiency and corruption.

Congress took another look at patronage issues in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (92 Stat. 1121–1131, 5 U.S.C.A. 1201–1209). Concerned that federal bureaucrats were too independent and unresponsive to elected officials, the act replaced the Civil Service Commission with the Office of Personnel Management, under closer control of the president. The act also created the Senior Executive Service, which gives the president greater discretion in reassigning top officials to departments and agencies.

Cross-references

Bureaucracy; Civil Service; Tammany Hall.

patronage

(Power to appoint jobs), noun advantage, assistance, auctoritas, authority, backing, choice, control, controlling power, directing agency, dominance, favor, good offices, gratia, indulgentia, influence, patrocinium, persuasion, position of influence, power, praesidium, predominance, preference, right of choice, selection, sway

patronage

(Support), noun aid, assistance, backing, care, commendation, commercial backing, cordial assissance, countenance, encouragement, favor, friendly interrst, friendship, guardianship, guidance, help, influence, protection, protectorship, recommendation, special privileges, sponsorship, support, tutelage
See also: advantage, advocacy, aid, assistance, auspices, charge, charity, commerce, control, custody, favor, goodwill, guidance, help, nepotism, protection, safekeeping, sanction, supervision, support, trade

PATRONAGE. The right of appointing to office; as the patronage of the president of the United States, if abused, may endanger the liberties of the people.
     2. In the ecclesiastical law, it signifies the right of presentation to a church or ecclesiastical benefice. 2 Bl. Com. 21.

References in periodicals archive ?
Who: Leaders from business, politics, religion and the arts, plus patrons of the arts
The honours were presented in four categories: Distinguished Patrons of the Arts, Patrons of the Arts, Supporters of the Arts, and Friends of the Arts.
The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards include four categories: Distinguished Patrons of the Arts, Patrons of the Arts, Supporters of the Arts, and Friends of the Arts.
Rohit Walia, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Bank Sarasin Alpen and Alpen Capital Group, said, "We are proud to be honoured with the Patrons of the Arts award for the third time in a row and this encourages us to continue with our efforts at supporting the arts and culture in Dubai.
While the tribute is intended to raise money for the theater, the event also will benefit other arts organizations, including the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center and the college's Patrons of the Arts program.
Any involved in French style and interior design must have French Connection: it surveys distinctive interiors which blend French with other international elements, providing a survey of French designers and patrons of the arts and dual pursuits of glamour and ease in home tastes.
Drawing on the extensive letters and account books in the state archives at Modena, scholar of Renaissance art and architecture Hollingsworth, reconstructs the household life of Ippolito d'Este, one of the leading cardinals of the 16th century, a serious contender for papal election on several occasions, and one of the most important patrons of the arts in Rome.
George III's record as one of the greatest patrons of the arts and sciences has been overshadowed by his image as "the mad king" and the monarch who lost America.
Many patrons of the arts are more than willing to help support the creation of new music, and one or two small gifts can significantly increase the base commission amount.
Throughout the centuries patrons of the arts, be they the aristocracy, religious bodies, governments, business leaders, or any individual with a disposable wealth and inclination to purchase artistic objects, have bought what they personally wanted.
Elizabeth McKenna's essay on women as patrons of the arts in medieval Ireland provides fascinating insights on a little known subject, though McKenna also suggests that the evidence is only fragmentary.
Thanks in large part to a group known is Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, who have thirteen chapters in the United States, an exhibit comprising nearly one hundred works of angelic beings has been touring across the United States.