Tag Archives: Patronage

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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Who gets sacked and why?

nothing presents such difficulties of administration as offices. about appointments to them, the rule is simple enough … but removals are more difficult. no one will say that all should be removed, or that none should. yet no two scarcely draw the same line. I consider as nullities … [see below] but the freedom of opinion, & the reasonable maintenance of it, is not a crime, and ought not to occasion injury. these are as yet matters under consideration …
To Gideon Granger, March 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even-handed leaders are just in evaluating the opposition.
Granger (1767-1822) was a Connecticut lawyer and writer and a strong supporter of Jefferson and the republican cause. Later in 1801, the new President would appoint him Postmaster General, an office he would hold for both of his administrations and the first of Madison’s.

Three and a half weeks into his Presidency, Jefferson was already experiencing the formidable challenge any new elected official faces, which employees to keep and which to remove. He was receiving requests for appointments in the new administration. For someone to be appointed, someone else had to be removed. Not all current employees should stay, nor should all be removed. What criteria should apply? These standards are taken from text in this letter not included above:

  1. Republicans should enjoy “the same general proportion” of offices in the government as they did in the population at large. At this point, they held none, because Federalist partisans held all.
    2. Appointments by President Adams after his defeat but before he left office were “nullities” and should be vacated.
    3. Those who ” perverted their offices to the oppression of their fellow citizens” should be removed. Examples cited:
    – “Marshalls packing juries”
    – “attorneys grinding their legal victims”
    – “intolerants removing those under them for opinion sake”
    – “substitutes for honest men removed for their republican principles”
“We heard nothing but praise from audience members.”
Policy Director, Washington State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will earn the praise of your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Watch out! This will bite us in the end!

Have you considered all the consequences of your proposition respecting post roads? I view it as a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress and their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money. You will begin by only appropriating the surplus of the post-office revenues but the other revenues will soon be called in to their aid, and it will be a scene of eternal scramble among the members who can get the most money wasted in their state, and they will always get most who are meanest … Think of all this … and pardon my freedom.
To James Madison, March 6, 1796

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Grasping leaders will increase their influence with public money.
Madison authored a resolution in Congress authorizing President Washington to recommend “post roads,” the best route for carrying the mail from Maine to Georgia, with an estimate of the cost of establishing those roads. The postal service was producing a surplus, and that surplus was to be used for establishing and surveying those roads.

Jefferson saw these dangers:
1. It put “boundless patronage” jobs and money at the President’s discretion.
2. The President would reward Congressmen and their friends with this patronage.
3. The surplus would soon be used up, and then more funds would be required.
4. There would be an “eternal scramble” among the states for this money.
5. The “meanest” in that scramble would always get the most money.

Jefferson asked his friend to think it through and to forgive his frankness. Nonetheless, Madison’s resolution was approved by the House in May, 1796. The Senate did not pass it.

“Patrick Lee is a professional … easy to work with … and very effective…”
Director, Living History Associates, for OpSail 2012, Norfolk, Virginia

Likewise, Thomas Jefferson is effective, professional and low-maintenance!
Invite him to inspire your audience. Call 573-657-2739

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