Lincoln and the Patronage


Though espousing that party conflict must cease during the war, Republicans continued the spoils system of DeWitt Clinton by purging Democrats from choice patronage positions, like the highly-remunerative Collector of Customs at New York. Lincoln removed thirty-five federal inspectors from the Custom House in late October, 1861, and soon many clerks were replaced as Republicans rewarded themselves with the rich mine of government jobs.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Lincoln’s and the Patronage:

“To Republican members of Congress as well as to his official family, Republican governors of loyal States, and Vice President

[Hannibal] Hamlin – to all these Lincoln was gracious in caring for their relatives. Specific illustrations in this respect are not lacking.:

Senator Trumbull’s brother was given a job in the Land Office, and his brother-in-law, William Jayne…was made governor of Dakota Territory.  Moreover…Charles A. Washburn and William D. Washburn, brothers of the famous Washburn Congressional trio, were named minister to Paraguay and United States Surveyor General for Minnesota respectively. Enoch J. Smithers, relative of Congressman Nathaniel B. Smithers, of Delaware, received a consulship in Turkey.

Every cabinet officer had one or more of his family on the federal payroll or received for them military promotions at some time during the war: [William] Seward had three sons – Frederick was assistant Secretary of State, Augustus was a paymaster in the Army, while William H. Jr. (running the family countinghouse in Auburn [New York] in 1861) became a lieutenant-colonel of volunteers in 1862, then colonel, and in 1864 a brigadier-general.  Seward’s nephew, George F., was assigned as consul, then consul-general, at Shanghai, China.

Secretary [Salmon P.] Chase, after a tilt with Seward over the issue, succeeded in having Lincoln appoint his brother as United States Marshal for the Northern District of New York. Secretary [Simon] Cameron’s son, Major Brua Cameron, was stationed at Washington for some time as paymaster in the United States Army.  Secretary of the Navy [Sumner] Welles had a son, Thomas, for whom he secured quick promotion in the Army.  Vice President Hamlin had his brother, Elijah L. Hamlin, appointed commissioner under a reciprocity treaty between the United States and Canada.

Lincoln himself was not entirely free from practicing nepotism. Mrs. Lincoln…added her influence… for cousin Capt. John S. Todd…Lincoln tendered Todd, a West Pointer, a commission as brigadier-general of volunteers. For his son, Robert, Lincoln arranged that upon completion of his studies at Harvard College in 1864 he attend Harvard Law School, after which he obtained for him a captaincy in the adjutant-general’s department.

Then there was that most extraordinary character. Mark W. Delahay, probably Lincoln’s most confidential friend in Kansas, who had preached the Lincoln gospel even before Lincoln had the least idea that he would be president. In 1861 Lincoln selected Delahay as United States Surveyor General for Kansas and Nebraska, and in December 1863…nominating him to the Senate as Judge of the United States District Court for Kansas, over the protest of the bar and press of the State. “There is not a respectable lawyer in the State that is not absolutely shocked at the appointment,” protested one Kansas opponent of Delahay.

[Collector of Internal Revenue] Jackson Grimshaw of Quincy, Illinois said of Delahay: “The appointment is disgraceful to the President who knew Delahay and all his faults…He is no lawyer, could not try a case properly even in a Justice’s Court, and has no character.”

After prolonged debate the Senate confirmed Delahay. The President had reason to regret the selection, for so flagrant was Delahay’s conduct on the federal bench in Kansas that impeachment proceedings were instituted.  The testimony was so damaging that Delahay resigned.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, H. Carman & Luthin, Peter Smith Publishers, 1964, pp. 114-118)