Tag Archives: Patronage

Not unless they’ve changed their minds!

… [choose] a sound preponderance of those who are friendly to the order of things so generally approved by the nation. men hostile to that, & whose principal views are to embarras & thwart the public measures, cannot be too carefully kept out of the way of doing it. I do not mean by this to proscribe honest, well meaning men, heretofore federalists, and now sincerely disposed to concur with the national sentiment & measures.
Thomas Jefferson to Robert Williams, April 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Reasonable people wake up and smell the coffee!
This letter to soon-to-be Territorial Governor Williams (1773-1836) of Mississippi is very similar to the previous post, a letter to the corresponding official in the Indiana Territory. The President had been asked by the legislature in each territory to pick five men from a list of 10 for a legislative council. In each case, not knowing the individuals nominated, Jefferson delegated the decision to the Governor and suggested criteria for the selection.

One standard for Indiana was no Federalist appointments. It appeared to be a blanket rejection of anyone from the other party and an endorsement of strict political patronage. He moderated that position in this letter, written the same day.

To Indiana, he cited an opposition with no interest but to obstruct. To Mississippi, he allowed for political opponents who understood that in the election of 1800, citizens had changed political direction and reinforced that choice in 1804. He would not prohibit the appointment of “honest, well-meaning men, heretofore federalists” who recognized the political climate had changed and had shifted with it.

“…our sincere appreciation to you for your exceptional presentation
at our recently concluded convention.”
President/General Manager, Missouri Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
Do you want an exceptional speaker for your meeting?
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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THIS is how we shrink the size of government.

I return you the letter of mr Miller notifying the resignation of the Supervisor of Maryland, & I approve your proposition of suppressing [eliminating] the office, annexing it’s duties to that of Surveyor of the district of Baltimore with the salary of 250. D. a year & a reasonable allowance for Clerk hire.
I return you also your proposed report on the suppression [elimination] of the Commissionrs. of loans, with an entire approbation [approval] of it.
To Albert Gallatin, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders keep their word.
Jefferson claimed the Washington and Adams administrations, with the help of Alexander Hamilton, had greatly expanded the reach and expense of the national government by multiplying the number of offices and officers under its control. The resulting patronage worked to their advantage since they appointed only political supporters to those jobs.

The President vowed to reverse this trend in his first inaugural address. One of his priorities would be “economy in the public expense, that labor [taxpapers] may be lightly burthened.”

Firing Federalist office-holders would create a firestorm of political protest. To avoid offending his opponents unnecessarily, Jefferson would often simply eliminate an office when it became vacant. In this letter, he approved two recommendations of his Secretary of the Treasury to do just that.

“The President was outstanding!
He was very well prepared and his remarks were truly appreciated …”
Executive Director, Missouri Society of Professional Engineers
Your audience will truly appreciate Thomas Jefferson’s preparation!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Your eyes make me happy!

I am extremely happy when I can recieve recommendations for office from characters in whom I have such entire confidence; as nothing chagrins me so much as when I have been led to an injudicious appointment … the other duties of administration are easy in comparison with this. the appointment to office, where one cannot see but with the eyes of others, is far the most difficult of my duties.
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need and appreciate sound input from others.
Kirby had recommended a trusted acquaintance for an opening on Connecticut’s Bankruptcy Commission. He cited the man’s background, credentials and qualifications. Jefferson trusted Kirby and was effusive in his appreciation for Kirby’s insight.

Personnel issues were always the most vexing for Jefferson, far more difficult than administrative ones. He had to rely on others’ advice for many appointments and had been burned when some recommendations turned out to be faulty. Kirby’s advice would protect him from that fate and serve the public interest well.

“Your presentation on Thomas Jefferson was outstanding
and very realistic.”
Utah Council of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Does the victor get the spoils now … or later?

… the monopoly of all the offices of the US. by [one party, the Federalists] … we have ourselves condemned as unjust & tyrannical. we cannot then either in morality or decency imitate it. a fair & proportionate participation however ought to be aimed at. as to the mode of obtaining this I know there is great difference of opinion; some thinking it should be done at a single stroke; others that it would conduce more to the tranquility of the country to do the thing by degrees, filling with republicans the vacancies occurring by deaths, resignations & delinquencies, and using the power of removal only in the cases of persons who continue to distinguish themselves by a malignant activity & opposition to that republican order of things which it is their duty to cooperate in, or at least to be silent.
To Nicholas Norris, October 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders keep an even-handed approach to the opposition.
When Jefferson came into the Presidency in 1801, every executive and judicial office was held by appointees of Presidents Washington and Adams. Indeed, Adams made a number of “midnight appointments” just before leaving office, to saddle the man who defeated him with even more opposition. (The famous Marbury v. Madison case arose from one of these last-minute appointments.)

Jefferson had strong views on the subject:
1. One party control of all offices was unjust and would lead to tyranny.
2. Republicans would be just as wrong to claim all offices for themselves.
3. “Proportionate participation” from each party should be the goal.
4. Republicans disagreed how that proportion was to be gained.
– Some wanted it done immediately.
– Others thought it better for the country to do it gradually as vacancies occurred. (Jefferson’s position)
5. He would dismiss only those in active opposition to his administration.

“On a personal level, Mr. Lee was very knowledgeable,
interesting to talk with and easy to work with.”
Ass’t. Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
I am low maintenance. So is Mr. Jefferson.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What makes for a good public servant?

there is here a mr John Barnes … he is old (between 60. and 70) but is as active as a boy, always in good health, and the most punctual and assiduous man in business I ever knew. after an acquaintance with him of 40. years, I can pronounce him in point of fidelity as to any trust whatever, worthy of unbounded confidence. there is not a man on earth to whom I would sooner trust money untold. he is an accurate accountant, of a temper incapable of being ruffled, & full of humanity. I give you his whole character because I think you may make good use of him for the public … I would deem it a great favor to myself were you to think of him …
To J.P.G. Muhlenberg, October 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Savvy leaders will occasionally set policy aside in favor of principle.
John Barnes had been required to move his business from Philadelphia to Washington when the national government relocated but was unable to prosper there and was returning to his former place of residence. Muhlenberg had been appointed Collector of Revenue in Philadelphia earlier in the year.

The President, who made a rule of staying out of personnel matters, asked his appointee to find Barnes a job paying about $1,000/year, and cited his qualifications:
1. While old, he was mature, very active and in good health.
2. He was always diligent and on time.
3. He was trustworthy in every endeavor, meriting unlimited confidence.
4. He could be trusted completely with other’s money and would account for it accurately.
5. He was incapable of losing his temper.
6. He was compassionate.

Jefferson apologized for making the recommendation, a practice he strongly avoided, but his concern for Barnes outweighed his reluctance to get involved. He did ask Muhlenberg to keep his recommendation private, so as not to stir any additional opposition in the newspapers.

Muhlenberg complied with a position paying $600/year. It allowed Barnes enough free time to make additional money until a better paying position became available.

“Thank you for a very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson will be an excellent addition to your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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It is not personal. It is business. It is life.

I have duly recieved your favor of the 7th. and have taken care that it shall be communicated to the Secretary at war, within whose province it is to consider of the best means of promoting the public interest within his department, and of the agents whom it is best to employ … the duty is a very painful one, which devolves on the Executive [President], of naming those on whom the reductions are to fall which have been prescribed by the law. we trust to the liberality of those on whom the lot falls, to consider the agency of the Executive as a general not personal thing, and that they will meet it, as they would any other of the numerous casualties to which we are exposed in our passage through life.
To Frances Mentges, July 15, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Tough minded leaders accept the good and bad effects of their decisions.
Mentges, now unemployed, had been a U.S. military agent and buyer, distinguishing himself by his diligence and economy. In two pleading letters, he asked the President’s help in recovering $1,700 in unpaid commissions. He also begged for a government job, or he would have to sell his land to support himself, an asset he needed for old age.

With regard to unpaid commissions, Jefferson delegated the decision to the proper subordinate, his Secretary of War. Employment prospects were slim, as the President was reducing the size of the military. Down-sizing was a painful duty for him, because he knew what job losses meant to those affected.

He trusted in the “liberality” of those affected by loss of employment, that they would see it as necessary but not personal. He asked Mentges to treat the setback as he would any other, just one of the “numerous casualties” that come with life.

“On behalf of the WMTA, I would like to say how much we enjoyed
your leadership addresses as Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone.”
Past President, Washington Municipal Treasurer’s Association
Thomas Jefferson (& Daniel Boone) want to share their leadership with your audience!
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I wish I could tell you yes, but the answer is no.

… [you wish to] know whether some officers of your country could expect to be employed in this country … I hasten to inform you that we are now actually engaged in reducing our military establishment one third, and discharging one third of our officers. we keep in service no more than men enough to garrison the small posts dispersed at great distances on our frontiers … thus circumstanced you will percieve the entire impossibility of providing for the persons you recommend. I wish it had been in my power to give you a more favorable answer; but next to the fulfilling your wishes, the most grateful thing I can do is to give a faithful answer
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, April 2, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders cannot honor all patronage requests, even from close friends.
Jefferson’s freedom fighter friend from Revolutionary War days sought employment in America’s army for fellow military officers from Poland. Jefferson could not accommodate his old friend.

True to his pledge to shrink the national government, Jefferson and Congress were reducing the size of its army and its officer corps by 1/3. There were no jobs to be had.

Since the President could not grant his friend’s request, the next best thing to do for him was to explain the issue truthfully.

“Thank you for participating in the first ParkPalooza …
at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The event was a success …”

Superintendent, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior
Mr. Jefferson’s participation will contribute greatly to the success of your event.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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The principle must rule. I cannot help you.

The friendship which has long subsisted between the President of the United States [James Madison] and myself gave me reason to expect, on my retirement from office, that I might often receive applications to interpose with him on behalf of persons desiring appointments … It therefore became necessary for me to lay down as a law for my future conduct never to interpose in any case, either with him or the Heads of Departments (from whom it must go to him) in any application whatever for office. To this rule I must scrupulously adhere …
Circular to Office Seekers, March 9, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders should respect old friends and not impose unnecessarily.
The ex-President prepared this form letter declining to help those who might seek his influence in finding a job with the new administration. President Madison was his friend of more than 30 years, and he would not impose on him in that way.

Jefferson went on to explain in the remainder of the letter that his inaction was due only to this principle and not to any lack of interest in the applicant’s cause. He further stressed that he wanted to be “useful to my friends” in any other proper way.

“…our sincere appreciation for your magnificent portrayal of Thomas Jefferson
to our worldwide guests during the Caterpillar ThinkBIG Global Conference.”
President, Linn State Technical College
Invite Mr. Jefferson to inspire your audience.
Call 573-657-2739
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I wish I could help you, but …

The undersign’d … a Young Man, without a Friend, dares to sollicit the first Magistrate of a free People, for some inferior employ, in the various Departments, that, might suit his Talents….
The undersign’d is the Son of an English Gentleman of decay’d Fortunes …
William Gardiner to Thomas Jefferson, September 2, 1801, Baltimore

The nomination of the principal officers of the government only resting with me, and all subordinate places being in the gift of those immediately superintending them, I … propose … [you] make application to those directly who have the appointment in their several lines. if any vacancy be to be found it is less likely to be in the principal offices at Washington (which I know to be overflowing) than in the seaports & other distant places. it would have given me real pleasure to have been able to answer your friendly letter more to your satisfaction.
To William Gardiner, September 11, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders can’t always do what they like.
Gardiner wrote a flowery letter to the President seeking a federal job. He had lost an eye as a child, was 30 years old, married, knew several languages, worked as a tutor, and enclosed letters of reference.
Jefferson responded graciously, explaining he filled the senior positions, but those appointees hired all underneath them. He returned Gardiner’s reference letters and suggested he would have better success calling on local magistrates for a local position. In a bit of wry humor, Jefferson observed that job prospects in Washington were slim, because offices were already “overflowing” with employees, holdovers from the previous Federalist administration.
He concluded by thanking the job seeker and wishing he could have helped him more.

“What a wonderful session you provided …
I thank you for your well-received keynote address.”
Missouri School Age Care Coalition
Mr. Jefferson looks forward to a wonderful session with your attendees.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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How do you judge fitness for office?

I happened to be in the neighborhood of Lynchburg immediately after the death of mr Leak the postmaster, & availed myself of the opportunity I had to enquire, from good persons, into the characters of the competitors for the office. they are as follows.
1 Christopher Lynch … they are half quakers in religion, & more than half feds [Federalist Party, the oppostion] in politics. avaricious, oppressive & disliked extremely by the inhabitants. his appointment would be very displeasing.
2. Cocke … unoffending, but entirely insignificant in character, having neither the enmity nor the friendship of any body. of no character in politics, but of federal society.
3. Seth Ward. of a well known & longstanding family of Virginia … of strict integrity & worth, esteemed & beloved by every body; now keeping a tavern for a livelihood, the best one in the place. firmly & thro’ all times republican. [Jefferson’s persuasion]
4. the revd. William Heath of whom I know nothing but from Dr. Jennings, a worthy man, who sais in his letter to me ‘he is struggling to raise half a dozen children to be an ornament to society & instruments for the perpetuation of republican principles.’
To Gideon Granger, September 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Supportive leaders help subordinates make their own decisions.
Jefferson had visited Poplar Forest, his plantation and second home near Lynchburg, VA. While there, he scouted potential replacements for the recently deceased postmaster and passed what he learned to his Postmaster General. Below are some of the characteristics he noted, ones he thought ought to be considered in choosing a replacement.

  1. Political leanings, whether “fed” or “republican”
  2. How each was regarded by people who knew him well
  3. Personal information: Background, character, family, business interests, and in one instance, religion.

Jefferson expressed a negative opinion about Lynch only, not a reflection of his religion or politics, but that he was greedy, mean and disliked.

Jefferson left the decision to Granger.

“Every county official I spoke with who attended the Opening Session
was grateful that we had you as a speaker.”
Executive Director, Association of Indiana Counties
Your members will appreciate and value Mr. Jefferson’s remarks.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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