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 ?
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Patronage hiring has a long and lamentable history in all branches of Massachusetts government, but is really a symptom of a much deeper malady - a lack of transparency - that afflicts all three branches.
We learn that patronage of the Danish Cistercian abbey of Soro helped create an identity for the otherwise disparate kin-group of the Hvide 'family'.
Contesting what he calls a "seductive narrative of linear development in which readers replace aristocratic patrons," Bergeron thus "offer[s] a competing, displacing narrative with a more complicated plot," one in which emerging commerce and existing aristocratic patronage "intertwine, mix, and mingle" (14).
In the introduction, Shoemaker astutely lays out the stakes for studying patronage and then, in chapter 1, reviews in general terms the ambiguities and paradoxes of the patron-client relationship.
Andrew is not content with simply arguing that patronage encouraged intellectual creativity.
Kim Esmark looks at the Danish abbey of Soro and how monastic patronage helped produce a family identity.
RSF charges Unesco backed out of its patronage because of pressure from some of those nations.
Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence.
Patronage was a system of reciprocal relationships of mutual benefit between unequals.