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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.


Bureaucracy; Civil Service; Tammany Hall.


(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


(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 ?
Spurred on by the prestige of royal patronage, he unleashed all his creativity to produce works of unprecedented beauty and inventiveness.
Summary: SHARJAH -- Shaikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Women Establishment, wife of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Royal Ambassador of the Pink Caravan, recently extended her royal patronage to a private auction evening in support of the Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) Pink Caravan Initiative.
She argues that he was a skillful politician who understood well how to keep the king's favour and how to use royal patronage.
Now renamed the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund, it has enjoyed royal patronage ever since.
As Mr Payne comments, here is a golden opportunity for commercial sponsorship, to market the creme de la creme of racing with wall-to-wall BBC coverage, royal patronage and national press coverage.
Summary: Under the Royal Patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
AaAaAaAa The Bavarian Minister expressed his pride and that of his accompanying delegation for visiting the Sultanate and the great efforts being exerted in providing citizens with health care, the substantial progress made at the services level as part of the comprehensive renaissance lived by the Sultanate, thanks to the royal patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The inaugural Bahrain International Airshow, which opened on Thursday, is being held under Royal patronage and organised by Civil Aviation Affairs for the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Al-Markazia Central Trade and Auto Company, Lexus, Toyota and Hino dealer in the Kingdom, participated in Amman Centennial Parade organized by Greater Amman Municipality last Friday, under the royal patronage to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the KingAAEs Accession to the Throne, and the 100th anniversary of Amman Municipality.
TODAY'S Buccleuch Cup is sponsored for the first time by The Royal Caledonian Hunt, granted Royal patronage in 1822, the same year the original Kelso Grand Stand was erected.
The Royal Cambrian Academy enjoyed Royal Patronage on its foundation in 1882 when Queen Victoria accepted its invitation.
The spokesman did not name the charities involved but they include groups with Royal patronage supporting the homeless, people on low incomes and the elderly and disabled.

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