‘Honest’ patronage? For Abe, answer was yes

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SHARE ‘Honest’ patronage? For Abe, answer was yes

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bill Daley and incumbent Pat Quinn earlier this month exchanged barbs over who is a bigger beneficiary of patronage.

Republican candidates jumped in with their own criticisms of political hiring.

That exchange might have come as a surprise to Illinois’ most revered politician, Abraham Lincoln.

Author David Von Drehle and his book “Rise to Greatness.”

According to David Von Drehle’s 2012 biography of Lincoln, Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year, Lincoln saw great value in handing out political jobs.

In an April 1, 1861, memo, Secretary of State William Seward complained Lincoln was too busy handing out patronage jobs. The president didn’t agree and spent dozens of hours every week, month after month, doling out federal employment.

Drehle writes that the “line of supplicants often ran from the waiting rooms in the president’s second floor office, out the door, along the corridor, and down the stairs.”

When Seward escorted in the new U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, a distracted Lincoln said, “… I’ve this morning decided the Chicago post-office appointment.”

What critics didn’t see, at least at first, Drehle writes, is that Lincoln was using patronage to hold the fragile Union together.

But Lincoln didn’t have enough jobs to hand out, and so he often disappointed his friends while satisfying other important constituencies.

As Lincoln put it, he “always had more horses than oats.”

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