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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.

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 ?
Affluent and educated patrons of the arts appear the ideal demographic for a variety of targeted campaigns.
Potential applicants can visit to download and submit their nominations in four categories: aACAyDistinguished Patrons of the Arts', aACAyPatrons of the Arts', aACAySupporters of the Arts', and aACAyFriends of the Arts', for their support towards the four main disciplines of art -- visual arts, performing arts, film, and literature.
The 'Distinguished Patrons of the Arts' honourees are: Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council; the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD); Jumeirah Group; Emirates Airline; Dr Farhad Farjam and Abraaj Capital.
"A first of its kind initiative, the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards is an annual award that honours and recognizes individuals, businesses or organizations that have demonstrated financial or in kind contributions to the arts in Dubai.
Patrons of the arts come in all shapes and sizes, and few overriding guidelines or patterns seem to govern clients' motives for funding artistic projects.
Virgil became a member of Augustus' court circle and was aided by the imperial minister Maecenas, one of the most famous patrons of the arts. He died of a fever contracted on a visit to Greece.
Dubai Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, yesterday honoured patrons of the local arts during the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards ceremony at Zabeel Saray Hotel on Palm Jumeirah.
Summary: DUBAI - The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) will honour the patrons of the city's cultural and artistic scene with the third cycle of the Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards on April 9.
Dubai's cultural and artistic scene now has a new roadmap that was underscored at the inaugural 'Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards' by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate's dedicated authority for culture, heritage and the arts.
The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards honours patrons of the arts from the region, and entries are open to individuals and organisations who have made financial or in kind contributions through sustained support to visual arts, performing arts, literature and film during 2007 to 2009.
This was a friendship of long standing which was to involve Poussin in one of the most ambitious and coherently organized centers of learned patrons of the arts ever to gain access to the power and wealth of the papacy.
Alliance Francaise comprises a network of more than 1,160 non-profit organisations in 131 countries, and is the recipient of the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards 2010 by Dubai Culture.