President Lincoln and Patronage

President Lincoln and Patronage


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(Columbia University Press, 1943)
When Abraham Lincoln sent aide John G. Nicolay in July 1860 to confer with an anxious Indiana politician, he wrote out instructions that stated: “Tell him my motto is ‘Fairness to all.’ But commit me to nothing.” Nicolay added: “When, in the following December, after his triumphant election, he sent Seward his letter tendering him the office of Secretary of State, it repeated his motto of ‘Fairness to all’ in this significant sentence: “In regard to the patronage sought with so much eagerness and jealousy, I have prescribed for myself the maxim ‘Fairness to all;’ and I earnestly beseech your cooperation in keeping the maxim good.”1
Fairness was Mr. Lincoln’s watchword as President. New York newspaper editor Charles A. Dana recalled a meeting of anti-Seward New York Republicans at the White House shortly after Mr. Lincoln’s first inaugural: “Mr. Lincoln received us in the large room upstairs in the east wing of the White House, where he had his working office. The President stood up while General James Wadsworth, who was our principal spokesman, and Mr. George Opdyke stated what was desired. After the interview had begun, a big Indianian, who was a messenger in attendance in the White House, came into the room and said to the President:

“She wants you.”
“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Lincoln, without stirring.
Soon afterward messenger returned again, exclaiming, “I say, she wants you!”
The President was evidently annoyed, but instead of going out after the messenger he remarked to us: “One side shall not gobble up everything. Make out a list of places and men you want, and I will endeavor to apply the rule of give and take.”
General Wadsworth answered:
“Our party will not be able to remain in Washington, but we will leave such a list with Mr. Carroll, and whatever he agrees will be agreeable to us.”
Mr. Lincoln continued: “Let Mr. Carroll come in to-morrow, and we will see what can be done.”
‘This is the substance of the interview, and what most impressed me was the evident fairness of the President. We all felt that he meant to do what was right and square in matter. While he was not the man to promote factious quarrels and difficulties within his party, he did not intend to leave in the lurch the friends through whose exertions his nomination and election had finally been brought about. At the same time he understood perfectly that we of New York and our associates in the Republican body had not gone to Chicago for the purpose of nominating him, or of nominating any one in particular, but only to beat Mr. Seward, and thereupon to do the best that could be done as regards the selection of the candidate.2

Historian William B. Hesseltine noted that Mr. Lincoln “was fully, even keenly, aware of the role of patronage in building and maintaining a political party.”3 But that knowledge did not lessen the pressure he was under as President. The primary presidential secretary, John G. Nicolay wrote in late March 1861: “the intense pressure does not seem to abate as yet but I think it cannot last more than two or three weeks longer. I am looking forward with a good deal of eagerness to when I shall have time to at least read and write my letters in peace and without being haunted continually by some one who ‘wants to see the President for only five minutes. At present this request meets me from almost every man, woman and child I meet whether it be by day or night in the house or on the street”4 In their biography of President Lincoln, Nicolay and John Hay wrote:

“The city was full of strangers; the While House full of applicants from the North. At any hour of the day one might see at the outer door and on the staircase, one line going, one coming. In the anteroom and in the broad corridor adjoining the President’s office there was a restless and persistent crowd, – ten, twenty-, sometimes fifty, varying with the day and hour, each one in pursuit of one of the many crumbs of official patronage. They walked the floor; they talked in groups; the scowled at every arrival and blessed every departure; the wrangled with the doorkeepers for the right of entrance; they intrigued with them for surreptitious chances; they crowded forward to get even as much as an instant’s glance through the half-opened door into the Executive chamber. They besieged the Representatives and Senators who had privilege of precedence; they glared with envy at the Cabinet Ministers who, by right and usage, pushed through the throng and walked unquestioned through the doors. At that day the arrangement of the rooms compelled the President to pass through this corridor and the midst of this throng when he went to his meals at the other end of the Executive Mansion; and thus, once or twice a day, the waiting expectants would be rewarded by the chance of speaking a word, or handing a paper direct to the President himself – a chance which the more bold and persistent were not slow to improve.”5

Mr. Lincoln’s notions of patronage changed with time. As Lincoln scholar Edward J. Kempf observed: “As a Whig, and even more so characterologically, he opposed the political philosophy of President Andrew Jackson ‘to the victors belong the spoils,’ as the culture of party favoritism and official incompetence at the expense of the people.”6 Mr. Lincoln began to understand that parties were built on patronage as well as principles. As President-elect, he tried to delay the crush for offices in his Administration, but a New York journalist reported in mid-November: “The rush for office has already commenced.” He quoted President-elect Lincoln as saying: I have made up my mind not to be badgered about those places. I have promised nothing, high or low, and will not. By-and-by, when I call somebody to me in character of an advisers, we will examine the claims to the most responsible posts, and decide what shall be done. As for the rest, I shall enough to do without reading recommendations for country postmasterships; these and all others of the sort, I will turn over to the heads of departments, and make them responsible for the good conduct of their subordinates.”7 It would not be that easy particularly for the office of Springfield postmaster for which friends and family competed.
Patronage problems in fact began for Mr. Lincoln at the 1860 Republican National Convention at which his campaign team made promises to key states like Pennsylvania and Indiana in exchange for their support of Mr. Lincoln. Historian Harry E. Pratt wrote: “Having made them, Judge David Davis was insistent that they be kept, so much so that he annoyed Mr. Lincoln. Jealousy was rife among the factions in the Republican party in the President’s own state.”8 But even his campaign team were not united. Lincoln friend Ward Hill Lamon recalled: “After Mr. Lincoln’s election to President he was sorely beset by rival claimants for the spoils of office in his own State, and distracted by jealousies among his own party adherents. The State was divided so far as the Republican party was concerned into three cliques or factions. The Chicago faction was headed by Norman B. Judd and Ebenezer Peck, the Bloomington faction by judge David Davis, Leonard Swett, and others, and that of Springfield by J.K. Dubois, O.M. Hatch, William Butler, and others; and however anxious Mr. Lincoln might be to honor his State by a Cabinet appointment, he was powerless to do so without incurring the hostility of the factions from which he could not make a selection.”9
Henry Clay Whitney was one of the lawyer-friends of Mr. Lincoln, who helped organize the Chicago convention effort. Whitney wrote how Lincoln handled the ambitions of his Illinois friends, particularly Judge Davis: “Judge Davis possessed an energetic, restless spirit, and as soon as Lincoln had received the nomination (which had been achieved largely through the efforts of the Judge) he thought he ought to be consulted and counseled with, as to the appointments and policy of the incoming administration. But Lincoln didn’t seem inclined to that view of the case at all; in fact, the only man in our old circuit that he consulted with at all on national subjects was Leonard Swett, and there were but two other Illinois men whom he thus honored, viz.: Norman B. Judd and Elihu B. Washburne.” Whitney wrote that Mr. Lincoln “held no conferences, took no advice, and sought no counsel from either Herndon, Logan, Stuart, Hatch or Dubois; two of them had been his partners and Herndon still was so, and the latter had been one of the architects and builders of Lincoln’s political fame. Davis tried in various ways to push his schemes, the principal of them being to get his cousin, H. Winter Davis, installed as a cabinet officer; and, in so doing, made himself offensive to Lincoln, who knew of it in many ways; in fact, Davis had a wonderful gift of loquacity, and as he lived but sixty miles distant, and saw many persons who immediately thereafter saw Lincoln, the latter could not fail to be fully advised of Davis’ animus and designs; and it had not gone on long till it was very offensive to the former, so he took the Lincolnian mode of counteracting it, thus: among others who came to see Lincoln was Thurlow Weed, and Davis somehow managed to ‘button-hole’ him, and (without seeming to have any personal bias or desire) indoctrinated him with some of his ideas: and with the result that when this wily old intriguer saw the President, and the latter asked his distinguished guest whom he had better name as Secretary of War, the reply was the echo of his recent Bloomington conference; he said: ‘Henry Winter Davis.’ Here was Lincoln’s opportunity to silence Davis, for he knew that Weed would tell it as an idle joke, and that it would stir the capacious bosom of the Judge to its profoundest depths; so said: ‘Oh! I see Davis (meaning the Judge) has been posting you up: he has Davis on the brain: I think the east shore of Maryland must be a good place to emigrate from. That puts me in mind of an old feller who was once testifying in a case, and on being asked his age, replied ‘Fifty-three:’ the judge, who knew him to be much older, cautioned him, and re-repeated the question: the judge then threatened him with punishment if he persisted in his mendacity, to which the witness responded: ‘You are figuring in the time I lived on the eastern shore of Maryland; that don’t count.'” It will be known that that is where the Judge came from, a fact of which, for some reason or other, he was very vain, and while Lincoln was apparently regaling Weed with a little story by the way, he was really serving notice on the Judge that his meddlesome ways were not appreciated and amounted nothing.”10
Stating the maxim of fairness was easier than applying it. Historian Roy F. Nichols wrote: “Since Lincoln had been nominated he had been laboring to make a unified party out of the coalition of northern Whigs, Free Soilers, Know-Nothings, and anti-Nebraska Democrats so recently fused into the Republican party. The instability of this coalition was exaggerated by rivalries between its eastern and western wings. In making up his Cabinet and distributing his patronage, Lincoln had sought to give fair representation to these various elements. This he had been compelled to do in the midst of rumors of war and of war itself. “11 Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale wrote: “Lincoln was constantly and acutely aware that he was a minority President – the winner only because of the number of entries in the field – and therefore in need of appeasing powerful rivals far more than of rewarding old friends. He would listen to all sides, and try to do the best he could for everyone who had a claim. But he would not throw himself into the arms of any one side, for fear of losing the support of the other.”12 White House bodyguard William Crook wrote: “The thing that most impressed me was that, with one exception, Mr. Lincoln was not influenced in his judgment of men in the slightest degree either by personal liking or by enmity. It was the more remarkable in a man so well fitted for war friendship, so lovable. At this time of grave personal danger his only standard of measurement was fitness to serve the Government. Men came in a never-ending stream to the White House. While, as I have said, his constant attitude was one of kindly consideration, it was also one of control. He was eager to recognize the ability and character of men who were his bitter political enemies; he allowed his personal friend to retire to private life if he knew the general interest would be promoted by so doing.”13
Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln, recalled: early in the Lincoln Administration “The day was not half spent before the house was full of office seekers, halls, corridors, offices, and even private apartments were invaded; and this throng continued and increased for weeks, intercepting the President on his way to his meals; and strange to say, about every tenth man claimed the honor of having raised Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency, until he was fain to exclaim ‘Save me from my friends.'”14 Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard wrote: “The Executive Mansion was a curious study during many days and weeks following the inauguration. Its halls and offices were literally packed with human beings. There were days when the throng of eager applicants for office filled the broad staircase to its lower steps; the corridors of the first floor; the famous East Room; the private parlors; while anxious groups and individuals paraded up and down the outer porch, the walks, and the Avenue.”15
“The throng of office-seekers is something absolutely fearful. They come at daybreak and still are coming at midnight,” wrote John Hay in mid-March to a friend who was looking for a job. Hay then explained how he could not help: “Mr. Lincoln positively refuses to make any recommendations for positions in the departments; he rejects the entreaties even of his most intimate friends and relatives. I have a pile of unanswered letters from more than a dozen of my old friends, and it grieves me exceedingly to be unable to afford the assistance they ask.”16 Alexander K. McClure reported: “When the Republican party came into power, Washington swarmed with office-seekers. They overran the White House and gave the President great annoyance. The incongruity of a man in his position, and with the very life of the country at stake, pausing to appoint postmasters, struck Mr. Lincoln forcibly. “What is the matter, Mr. Lincoln,” said a friend one day, when he saw him looking particularly grave and dispirited. “Has anything gone wrong at the front?” “No,” said the President, with a tired smile. “It isn’t the war; it’s the postoffice at Brownsville, Missouri.”17 Indiana Congressman George W. Julian recalled: “The pressure for office during the first few months of the new administration was utterly unprecedented and beggared all description. It was a short of epidemic, and Mr. Lincoln, at times, was perfectly appalled by it. It gave him no pause, but pursued him remorselessly night and day; and there were moments when his face was the picture of an indescribable weariness and despair. It jarred upon his sentiment of patriotism, when the country was just entering upon the awful struggle for its life, and seemed to make him sick at heart.”18President Abraham Lincoln later told journalist Noah Brooks: “Sitting here, where all the avenues to public patronage seem to come together in a knot, it does seem to me that our people are fast approaching the point where it can be said that seven-eighths of them were trying to find how to live at the expense of the other eighth.”19
“Illinois is here in perfect hordes,” wrote presidential secretary John G. Nicolay three days after Abraham Lincoln’s presidential inauguration. “You may look out for a tremendous crop of soreheads.”20 After the Civil War, President Lincoln’s other top aide, John Hay, wrote: “I remember Mr. Lincoln once estimated with some disgust the number of office-seekers who visited Washington at 30,000; but, he quickly added, ‘There are some 30,000,000 who ask for no offices.’ But those who came were either of a singularly aggravated type, or the circumstances of the time made on impatient of their peculiarities. There is no one who can appreciate the tightness of a shoe except the man whose toe is pinched; and so the heart of the office-seeker knoweth its own bitterness. To him the disposition of his post-offices was a matter of more account than a battle or an earthquake. A dozen times the same dispatch was received in different names. ‘Unless Muggins gets the Podunk P.O. the Republican party is dead in this State.’ You rarely found an office-seeker who wanted a place for its own sake. He wanted to help the cause, and could it better from that vantage ground than from any other.”21
Washington in 1861 was a Southern city with southerners and southern-sympathizers occupying the bulk of the government positions. Aide William O. Stoddard wrote: “I doubt if ever before there was so general displacement as at the beginning of Mr. Lincoln’s term. This was owning largely to the fact that the departments fairly swarmed with the family dependents and connections of the Southern political magnates who then, for so long a time, had controlled the dominant party….Many of the men from the North were strong Southern sympathizers, and so accustomed were they to consider their offices their property that even avowed secessionists considered themselves bitterly injured when required to make way for more loyal men.”22 At a time when the country was virtually paralyzed by secession, the incoming Lincoln Administration was virtually paralyzed by the need to fill government jobs and by the government job-seekers who lined the halls of the White House. “For weeks indeed, for months after the inauguration, the anterooms, halls and staircases of the White House swarmed with office-seekers. More important public business was at times impeded by their brazen importunity, and every man who was supposed to have ‘influence’ was besieged day and night.”23 Stoddard wrote that he “was quite unprepared for the Egyptian locust swarm which crowded every hotel and boardinghouse, before the inauguration was fairly un fait accomplit.”24
President Lincoln was often accused of excessive attention to patronage, but he understood as many others did not the importance of patronage in maintaining a political organization and political power. It was a lesson he had probably learned most pointedly when he sought the office of lands commissioner in 1849, only to see it go to a candidate who had not even supported his party’s nominee. President Lincoln “was fully, even keenly, aware of the role of patronage in building and maintaining a political party,” wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. “When rumor reached Illinois in 1849 that Zachary Taylor was about to appoint Justin Butterfield as Commissioner of the General Land office, Lincoln raised a hue and cry and wrote vigorously to leading Whigs to bring pressure on the president. Butterfield’s appointment, he assured them, would be an ‘egregious political blunder.’ It would dissatisfy, rather than gratify,’ the Whigs of Illinois. Butterfield was a ‘drone’ who had ‘never spent a dollar or lifted a finger in the fight.’ ‘Shall this thing be?’ he cried in anguish. “Our Whigs will throw down their arms and fight no more.”25 From that disappointing experience, Mr. Lincoln knew the dangers of political patronage mishandled.
Unlike his critics, Lincoln understood politics was not practiced in a vacuum. Patronage was the oxygen that fueled a political maneuver; Lincoln learned that lesson when the administration of President Taylor virtually shut him out of any meaningful patronage role and virtually shut down his political career. Lincoln understood that Republicans in Congress may not have liked or respected him, but they usually needed him. Everyone, sooner or later, needed a favor. Patronage was especially important to cabinet officers. Therefore, it had to be important to President Lincoln. They were not shy about imposing their wishes on departments other than their own. Chase interfered in the War Department and criticized Seward for appointing an insufficient number of diplomats from Ohio. Well-placed patronage was one of the great advantages of the Treasury Department. Customs agents were the most lucrative positions, but Chase also utilized agents who worked with freed slaves and in collecting revenue.
Suddenly, Mr. Lincoln was besieged by long-lost acquaintances. Historian Allen G. Bogue noted that “A surprising number of Lincoln’s contacts during his single congressional term in Washington emerged to lay claims upon his generosity, including his former landlady. But a direct supplication, accompanied if possible by one’s member of Congress, or the presentation of one’s papers by a friendly representative or senator, was the more usual course.” President Lincoln tried to oblige such individuals while not committing himself unless necessary. Bogue wrote: “Lincoln accepted the patronage responsibilities of party leadership, agonized over the difficult decisions, and fully understood the coercive implications of the system.”26 But it was an enervating responsibility. “From day to day, to the very end, Lincoln thus had to concern himself with the distribution of the spoils,” note 20thth Century historian James G. Randall. “Only by doing so could he hold his party together, and only by holding the party together could he hope to accomplish his program. He did not succeed perfectly but, considering the magnitude and complexity of his tasks, he did extremely well. If his predecessor and his successor had handled the patronage as carefully, they might have been more nearly as successful in the presidency. He accomplished more than James Buchanan or Andrew Johnson partly because he was more of a politician.”27
Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: “Lincoln complained bitterly and frequently about the time he was compelled to waste on the office-seekers who lined the corridor outside his office and sometimes queued all the way down the staircase to the front door of the White House. He told Robert Wilson that ‘he was so badgered with applications for appointments that he thought sometimes that the only way that he could escape from them would be to take a rope and hang himself on one of the trees in the lawn south of the president’s house.'”28 After House Speaker Galusha Grow in 1861 complained to him about his failure to appoint his brother as a territorial judge, President Lincoln told a friend that “he had then been president five months and was Surprised anybody would want the office.”29
Under siege, the President remained in control. Lincoln scholar Emanuel Hertz wrote: “Lincoln never abdicated his power of appointing and filing the appointive position in his administration. He had no general almoner or dispenser of patronage. He looked into every appointment himself and no matter how low were the fortunes of war he was always read to consider the strengthening of the party in one place or another by judicious distribution of patronage.”30 Mr. Lincoln sought the input of the senior Republican delegation members in Washington because he valued the unity of party in pursuing his policies. “The last word in patronage,” according to historian Allen C. Guelzo, “remained Lincoln’s. He intervened directly in numerous patronage appointments, overriding Chase, Blair, and other cabinet officers to demand the hiring of certain party faithful or to provide reliable incomes for party workers. In August, 1861, when one of Chase’s lieutenants in charge of Philadelphia mint hesitated to hire Elias Wampole, a loyal Lincoln campaigner in Illinois, Lincoln irritably insisted that a job be found for Wampole, even it if meant make-work. ‘You must make a job of it, and provide a place. You can do it for me, and you must.’ If patronage petitions stretched Lincoln’s patience, it was a stretching he asked for himself.”31
The Republican Party faced a unique situation. First, there was a turnover in political control of the government from Democrats to Republicans. Second, there was a vast expansion of the number of jobs in government. And third, this was the very first time that the Republican party had any jobs in the federal government to distribute. Fourth, many of the government employees in Washington at the beginning of the war were of questionable loyalty to the government. “Lincoln later described himself as ‘rich with honorable and fat offices’ when he arrived in Washington, and with the outbreak of the Civil War a political system already lubricated essentially by patronage was required to distribute thousands of new offices. The Civil War provided a patronage bonanza unparalleled in the history of the Republic. Most obvious initially were military commissions of both large and small degree. But the war effort also required the appointment of many new civil officers clerks, auditors, assistant secretaries, assessors, revenue collectors, treasury agents, and assorted commissioners. A slate of political offices had to be filled for each of the growing number of territories,” wrote historian Allen G. Bogue. “The congressmen were prepared to meet the challenge of distribution, and their performance had both short- and long-run effects on individual and congressional careers, as well as on the consolidation of political power that the Republican party managed to effect.”32
Mr. Lincoln liked slates of political appointees that had been pre-approved by state Republican congressional delegations. Historian Allen Bogue noted: “The members of congressional delegations tried to reduce competition among themselves by holding meetings and endeavoring to agree on a unified slate in the case of overlapping offices.”33 Guelzo noted that by the end of his first term President Lincoln was “securely in control of his own executive patronage network, and used patronage appointees to enforce his wishes on local situations. The Radical Indiana congressman George W. Julian counseled his colleagues against any more quarrels with Lincoln because Lincoln’s mastery of the patronage system was making him ‘the virtual dictator of the country.'”34 Historian William B. Hesseltine observed that “Lincoln kept control of patronage, subjecting himself to the ordeal of listening to office-seekers, and doling out the appointments.”35 Although he sought to accommodate members of Congress, noted Hesseltine, “Lincoln made no gesture towards the local politicians or the political leaders of the states. The patronage was national, and he used it, not primarily to balance factions but to build a national party.” Hesseltine observed that President Lincoln disliked factional rivalries. ‘Fairness to all’ continued to be his watchword, and factionalism continued to distress him. ‘There is not a more foolish way of conducting a political rivalry,’ he signed in 1864 when Kansas’ Senator James H. Lane and Governor Thomas Carney were squabbling, ‘than these fierce and bitter struggles over the patronage.'”36
Patronage was a question of balance. Richard Cunningham McCormick recalled a discussion with the President about the chief justice for the Arizona territory. He wrote “the President quickly said that he had a man for that place, and begged that we would not name any one. ˜It is Iowa Senator Grimes’s man,’ said he, ‘and I must do something for Grimes. I have tried hard to please him from the start, but he complains, and I must satisfy him is possible.'”37 One petitioner for appointment recalled: “Upon the sudden death of Mr. Gurley, which he much deplored, I went with one of the judges of Arizona to ask the appointment of Mr. Goodwin, then chief justice of the territory, to the vacancy. We were at the White House by 8 A.M., while William Johnson, the colored servant who had attended Mr. Lincoln from Springfield, was in the act of shaving him. He looked up and said: ‘Is it the best judgment of you all (referring to the territorial officers) that Mr. Goodwin should be appointed?’ Being told that it was, and that prompt action in the matter was important, that the starting of our party, already delayed might not be seriously retarded, he said: ‘Well, see the members of the Cabinet, and we will try to fix it at the meeting at noon today.’ It was so fixed, and at two o’clock we had the new governor’s commission from the State Department.”38
Massachusetts Congressman John B. Alley wrote: “Senator Sumner and myself called upon him, one morning to urge the appointment of a Massachusetts man to be a Secretary of Legation, chiefly upon the ground of his superior qualifications. We urged the appointment somewhat persistently, but Mr. Lincoln said emphatically, ‘No;’ that he should give the place to an applicant from another States, who was backed by strong influence, although he acknowledged that he did not think him fit fort the position. We were naturally indignant, and wished to know if one of acknowledged fitness was to be rejected because he was a Massachusetts man, and one whom he was willing to say was not fit, was to be appointed. ‘Yes,’ said the President, ‘that is just the reason’ and facetiously added, ‘I suppose you two Massachusetts gentlemen think that your State could furnish suitable men for every diplomatic and consulate station the Government has to fill. We replied that we thought it could. He appeased our displeasure by saying he thought so too, and that he considered Massachusetts the banner State of the Union, and admired its institutions and people so much that he had sent his ‘Bob’. to Harvard for an education. He said he could do nothing further in the way of appointments for Massachusetts, because he could not afford to and she did not need it. Massachusetts, he said, was intelligent and patriotic. Her people would do right and support his administration, eve if he offended scores of her most esteemed public men. ‘But,’ he added, ‘no so with this other State. It is a close State. I can mention half a dozen of her public men, Republicans, who have influence enough to carry the State over to the other side. For this reason,’ he concluded, ‘I cannot afford to disregard the wishes of these men.’ His reasons, together with his shrewd compliment to Massachusetts, restored our good humor, and we went away satisfied.”39
Guelzo wrote that “for all his complaining, no one since Andrew Jackson played with the federal patronage system more vigorously than Lincoln. Of the 1,520 federal offices directly under president control, Lincoln emptied nearly 1,200 of them of Democrats after his election to replace them with Republicans. If he hesitated to appear as a ‘military chieftain,’ he had no qualms about appearing as a political one. Although ‘it had been the policy of successful administration to make sweeping changes of opponents,’ Gideon Welles wrote, ‘the President and some of the Cabinet, particularly the Secretary of State, were disposed to go beyond others in these respects.’ The war would serve to quintuple the number of civilian patronage jobs in the government, from 40,000 in the entire network of federal employment to nearly 195,000 by the war’s end, and all of them would become plums for Republican party loyalists.”40
Although not all of his appointments seemed wise, they generally served his larger purposes. Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, “As an executive dispenser of patronage and offices, of favors and benefits, Lincoln had grown without ceasing in his instincts about where to give and where to withhold. As at no previous time observers and participants in the game of American politics hesitated at laughing over this or that appointment. They would look it over and study about it before they cared to say Lincoln didn’t know what he was doing so often had he fooled them.”41 Historian James G. Randall wrote that President-elect Lincoln “could not ignore entirely the well-established patronage rule of punishing enemies and rewarding friends. The pressure on him was too great. From November throughout the winter and spring jobseekers crowded into Washington in number inferior only to those of 1860-61. Some friends of Lincoln worried lest he, like Presidents Harrison and Taylor before him, suffer a physical breakdown as a result of his hounding by the spoils men. Despite his determination against a large-scale shift of officeholders, he had a number of political debts arising from the campaign, and he paid off many of them. Up to the day of his death in April 1865, he was busy with appointments of collectors of internal revenue and other such officers, sometimes making the appointments in batches. On the eve of his assassination he penned a note to the secretary of the treasury in which he said he ‘would like to oblige Gen. Schenck by the appointment of his nephew’ to a collectors’ job in California.”42 And Schenck, although an acquaintance from their service in Congress in the late 1840s, was not one of the President’s favorite congressmen.
Mr. Lincoln had a practical view of patronage, according to friend Henry Clay Whitney: “I had no hesitation at all in asking Lincoln the square question, at his house, after he was elected: what place he thought I had better take under government: he told me his advice would be thought I had better take under government: he told me his advice would be to take contracts for surveying the public lands. I saw I knew nothing about it: and he said he did, as he had thought at one time – under Taylor’s administration – of procuring such contracts, in order to make some money, which he needed then, and supposed I needed now: he asked me if I had ever surveyed at all. I told him I had some, chiefly in an amateurish way. ‘That won’t make any difference,’ he said. ‘You need not do the actual work: of course you will have to organize surveying parties.’ He then went on in detail to inform me what I would have to do; and how much I could make during his term: he said I could make $50,000 during his term. I asked how I could secure these contracts. ‘Leave that entirely to me,’ he said. ‘I’ll see that you get the contracts,’ he said with emphasis. ‘If I was a young man like you: that would be exactly what I would go at, if I had the opportunity that you now have.’ I declined it, as it would keep me out on the frontier away from my family: and asked him to appoint me as Register of the Fort Scott (Kansas) land office: this he said he would do, and it would give him great pleasure to do it: but the change in circumstances disinclined me to take that place and I so advised him.”43 Whitney apparently did not get his desired reward despite repeated trips to Washington. In a letter to Ward Hill Lamon in April 1861, David Davis wrote: “Whitney is here & has got nothing & wants me to write to Mr. Lincoln for him. I told him that I had written once & spoken to Mr. Lincoln 4 or 5 times & was not disposed to write again.”44
Patronage requests could put the President in a distinctly bad mood, recalled Whitney: “I once went to him to procure a very small favor me at the War Department while I was in the army. He had not yet come from breakfast, and I sat in his office to wait. In a few minutes he came in the best of humor, and I made known my errand, which he could perfectly fulfill by a line on a card; but upon hearing me, he said: ‘I reckon we can do that better if I go straight to the Department with you. I reckon Col. Benjamin F. Larned will be there by this time,’ and we started together, he being in the best of humor. But I, unfortunately, had seen an applicant for office, waiting in an ante-room, whom I knew, and he implored me to help him; so I immediately commenced to say: ‘William Houston is here, waiting to see you, and I think ____,’ but Lincoln stopped me from advocating Houston’s claims, by as dark a frown and as severe a burst of anger as I ever knew him to display. I desisted at once, and we did our errand, and his good humor being immediately restored. The fact was that William Houston was a brother of the celebrated Sam. Houston, and much resembled him. He had come from Memphis, Tennessee, where he had been a lumber merchant; and was now an applicant for a clerkship. I thought he should have it, but Lincoln seemed very inimical to the appointment, for some reason which he did not disclose to me; but I never saw Lincoln, or any one else, change from good-humor to rage, and back to good-humor again, so quick as on that occasion.”45
As President, Mr. Lincoln turned aside the complaints of some patronage-seekers by saying: “Gentlemen, suppose all the property you were worth was in gold, and you had put it in the hands of Blondin to carry across the Niagara river on a rope; would you shake the cable, or keep shouting out to him, ‘Blondin, stand up a little straighter! Blondin, stoop a little more go a little faster lean a little more to the north lean a little more to the south?’ No! You would hold your breath as well as your tongue, and keep your hands off until he was safe over. The Government is carrying an immense weight. Untold treasures are in their hands. They are doing the very best they can. Don’t badger them. Keep silence, and we’ll get you safe across.”46 President Lincoln told David Dixon Porter: “Admiral, this brings to my mind a fellow who once came to me to ask for an appointment as minister abroad. Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally, he asked to be made a tidewaiter. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. But is well to be humble.”47
After the war ended, John Hay observed: “The daily life of the White House during the momentous years of Lincoln’s presidency had a character of its own, different from that of any previous or subsequent time. In the first days after the inauguration there was the unprecedented rush of office seekers, inspired by a strange mixture of enthusiasm and greed, pushed by motives which were perhaps at bottom selfish, but which had nevertheless a curious touch of that deep emotion which had stirred the heart of the nation in the late election. They were not all ignoble; among that dense crowd that swarmed in the staircases and the corridors there were many well-to-do men who were seeking office to their own evident damage. Simply because they wished to be a part, however humble, of a government which they had aided to put in power and to which they were sincerely devoted. Many of the suitors who presented so piteous a figure in those early days of 1861 afterward marched, with the independent dignity of a private soldier, in the ranks of the Union Army, or rode at the head of their regiments like men born to command. There were few who had not a story worth listening to, if there were time and opportunity. But the numbers were so great, the competition so keen, that they ceased for the moment to be regarded as individuals, drowned as they were in the general sea of solicitation. Few of them received office; when, after weeks of waiting one of them got access to the President, he was received with kindness by a tall melancholy-looking man, sitting at a desk with his back to a window which opened upon a fair view of the Potomac, who heard his story with a gentle patience, took his papers and referred them to one of the Departments, and that was all; the fatal pigeonholes devoured them. As time wore on, the offices were filled, the throng of eager aspirants diminished and faded away.””48
Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: “In making appointments below Cabinet rank Lincoln also followed practices in keeping with American political tradition. The change in party control from Democrats to Republicans under Lincoln was the occasion for the most sweeping removal of federal office-holders up to that time in American history. He consulted members of his own party in the United States Senate in making nominations for or from their states. Minor offices were usually given to those men nominated by members of the House of Representatives. Fully cognizant of the power of the various states in national councils, he listened to recommendations from governors of the loyal states.”49 Mr. Lincoln’s thinking on patronage is revealed in a letter from the President to Secretary William H. Seward in mid- March 1861: “I believe it is a necessity with us to make the appointments I mentioned last night – that is, Charles F. Adams to England, William L. Dayton to France, George P. Marsh to Sardinia, and Anson Burlingame to Austria. These gentlemen all have my highest esteem, but no one of them is originally suggested by me except Mr. Dayton. Mr. Adams I take because you suggested him, coupled with his eminent fitness for the place. Mr. Marsh and Mr. Burlingame I take because of the intense pressure of their respective states, and their fitness also.

The objection to this card is that, locally they are so huddled up – three being in New England, and two from a single state. I have considered this, and will not shrink from the responsibility. This being done leaves but five full missions undisposed of – Russia, China, Brazil, Peru, & Chili. And then, what about Carl Schurz? or, in other words, what about our german friends?
Shall we put the card through, and arrange the rest afterwards?
What say you? 50

After his appointment as Minister to Great Britain, Adams began to thank the President when Mr. Lincoln interrupted: “Very kind of you to say so Mr. Adams but you are not my choice. You are Seward’s man.” He then continued the conversation by saying to Seward, “Well Seward, I have settled the Chicago Post Office.”51 Adams was appalled by the juxtaposition of the two appointments. The Chicago Post Office appointment was important, however – as the naming of John Locke Scripps to the post seriously aggravated another important Lincoln ally, Congressman Isaac N. Arnold.
Henry C. Whitney recalled meeting with President Lincoln in late July 1861: “He was apparently devoid of care for the time being; I remarked this with gratulation, to which he replied, his face becoming sad for a moment: ‘I have trouble enough; when I last saw you I was having little troubles; they filled my mind full; since then I have big troubles, and they can do no more.’ Said he:’what do you think has annoyed me more than any one thing?’ I replied: ‘Bull Run, of course.’ ‘I don’t mean,’ said he, ‘an affair which is forced by events, and which a single man cannot do much with, but I mean of matters, wholly mine to manage. Now, I will tell you; the fight over two post-offices – one at our Bloomington, and the other at ___, in Pennsylvania (I think),’ and he told me at length of the various elements in those struggles – being quite equally balanced which had disturbed him so much.”52 Whitney wrote: “I was in Washington in the Indian service for a few days before August, 1861, and I merely said to President Lincoln one day: ‘Everything is drifting into the war, and I guess you will have to put me in the army.’ “The President looked up from his work and said, good-humoredly: ‘I’m making generals now; in a few days I will be making quartermasters, and then I’ll fix you.'”53
Historians Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, defended the emphasis on patronage when the Union was falling apart: “Had Lincoln led a united party he might have utilized his time and effort somewhat differently. His wise use of the patronage in holding the party together was a necessary antecedent to the formulation of any statesmanlike policy concerning the nation. Many Lincoln admirers find it distasteful perhaps unbelievable to recognize in their hero the shrewd practical politician that he was. But to witness how, as a politician, he utilized the patronage in holding together diverse conflicting factions in common purposes the preservation of the Union, the success of his administration, and the reward of the party faithful is only to enhance the greatness of Lincoln. Essentially a practical man, reared in the realism of the frontier and educated in the old school of Whig politics, Lincoln recognized the necessity of patronage as a weapon in party leadership under the American system. In being a competent politician, he became a statesman. Had he not displayed his ability as a politician with such signal success, it is doubtful whether he would be regarded today as a statesman. Had he not wielded the patronage so skillfully something that his predecessor James Buchanan and his successor Andrew Johnson did not do – probably his administration would not have been as successful. Certainly his task of holding the union together would have been more difficult.”54
To the distress of his friends, friendship played relatively little role in the assignment of patronage. “The President cultivated no animosities, and for the public good would sometimes appoint those who criticized his acts,” recalled presidential aide Edward Duffield Neill.55 Aide John Hay wrote: “There never was a President who so little as Lincoln admitted personal considerations in the distribution of places. He rarely gave a place to a friend – still more rarely because he was a friend. He had one characteristic which was often imputed him as a fault, but which I think a most creditable quality. He was entirely destitute of gratitude for political services rendered to himself. He filled his Cabinet with enemies and rivals, and refused any reward to those energetic politicians who did so much to nominate him in Chicago.”56 Congressman Isaac N. Arnold was probably writing about himself when he recalled: “After he became President, the member of Congress representing the Chicago district, in behalf of a son of Mr. Justin Butterfield who had received appointment as federal land commissioner in 1849 over Mr. Lincoln asked for an appointment in the army. When the application was presented, the President paused, and after a moment’s silence, said:’Mr. Justin Butterfield once obtained an appointment I very much wanted, and in which my friends believed I could have been useful, and to which they thought I was fairly entitled, and I have hardly ever felt so bad at any failure in my life, but I am glad of an opportunity of doing a service to his son.’ And he made an order for his commission.”57
The high-powered team who organized Mr. Lincoln’s nomination in Chicago in May 1860 did not appreciate Mr. Lincoln’s political sensitivities and balance. He did however generally honor the commitments they made. When his friend from Illinois, State Auditor Jesse K. DuBois, pestered the President for a Indian Affairs job for his son-in-law, the President replied: “I was nearly as sorry as you can be about not being able to give Mr. Luce the appointment you desired for him. Of course I could have done it; but it would have been against the united, earnest, and I add, angry protest of the republican delegation of Minnesota, in which state the office is located. So far as I understand, it is unprecedented, to send an officer into a state against the wishes of the members of the congress of the State, and of the same party.”58
Mr. Lincoln was not, however, immune to the importunities of friends. Lincoln Administration official Hugh McCulloch wrote that “he sometimes permitted his partiality of his friends to influence his action in a manner that was hardly consistent with an upright administration of his great office.”59 But not all friends were happy. Leonard Swett wrote of Mr. Lincoln’s Illinois associates: “They all had access to him, they all received favors from him, and they all complained of ill treatment; but while unsatisfied, they all had ‘large expectations,’ and saw in him the chance of obtaining more than from anyone else whom they could be sure of getting in his place. He used every force to the best possible advantage. He never wasted anything, and would always give more to his enemies than he would to his friends; and the reason was, because he never had anything to spare, and in the close calculation of attaching the factions to him, he counted upon the abstract affection of his friends as an element to be offset against some gift with which he must appease his enemies. Hence, there was always some truth in the charge of his friends that he failed to reciprocate their devotion with his favors. The reason was, that he had only just so much to give away ‘He always had more horses than oats.'”60
President Lincoln was also not immune to the anger of powerful political allies like the speaker of the House of Representatives. Illinois friend Robert L. Wilson recalled: “I was with the President one day when Mr. Galusha Grow, from the Wilmot district in Pennsylvania came in, and in an excited manner demanded of the President the reason why he did not appoint his brother-in-law, to one of the judgeships in one of the New Territories. Mr. Lincoln excused himself by saying that he had forgotten his brother-in-law, at the time the appointment was made, but assured him that his friend should have an appointment at an early day. Mr. Grow was very angry, and talked, as it looked to me, impertinently. Mr. Seward came in, and took part defending Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Grow used threats that surprised me. After Mr. Grow and Mr. Seward had retired, and we were alone, Mr. Lincoln was troubled and said he had then been President five months, and was surprised anybody would want the office; he went on to speak about the duties; he said when he was inaugurated, he supposed that although he realized that the labor of administering the offices of the nation would be arduous, and severe, and that he had made up his mind, and would do it, all the duties were rather pleasant and agreeable except making the appointments. He had started out with the determination to make no improper appointments and to accomplish that result he imposed upon himself the labor of an examination into the qualifications of each applicant. He found to his surprise that members of his Cabinet, who were equally interested with himself in the success of his administration, had been recommending parties to be appointed to responsible positions who were often physically, morally and intellectually unfit for the place. He said that it did not appear that most of the Cabinet officers, and members of Congress, had a list of appointments to be made, and many of them were such as ought not to be made, and they knew, and their importunities were urgent in proportion to the unfitness of the appointee; he said he was so badgered with applications for appointments that he thought sometimes that the only way that he could escape from them would be to take a rope and hang himself on one of the trees in the lawn of the Presidential house looking out at the trees through the window at the same time.”61
Historians Carman and Luthin wrote: “Military appointments were made in much the same way as those in the civil service. In naming men to army posts, however, Lincoln found it desirable to call on Democrats. But in making civil appointments, the President almost invariably selected Republicans. Moreover, it would seem that Lincoln, except in a few cases, made no very searching effort to ascertain whether the persons appointed were those best fitted by talent and experience for the job. In other words, he followed the time-honored rule of political expediency. To friends particularly those of long standing he was inclined to show favoritism. Nepotism was not entirely absent.62
Not all applicants were realistic. An old New Salem friend Charles Maltby sent President Lincoln a letter in September 1864. Maltby first met Mr. Lincoln when they were soldiers in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and Mr. Lincoln had boarded with the Maltby family in Springfield. When Mr. Lincoln had been elected President, Maltby had first been appointed to as a collector of customs by President Lincoln. Later Maltby sought elevation to superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. Mr. Lincoln clearly thought that was overreaching: ” Good gracious! Why didn’t he ask to be Secretary of the Treasury and have done with it. I never thought Maltby had anything more than average ability when we were young men together now he wants to be Superintendent of the Mint! But then I suppose he thought the same thing about me, and here I am.”63 Pennsylvania Republican leader Alexander K. McClure recalled pressure on President Lincoln over the appointment of commissioner to the Hawaiian Islands most of whom claimed they could recover the their health in the islands’ warm climate. After a pitch from one delegation, President Lincoln cut them short: “Gentlemen, I am sorry to say that there are eight other applicants for that place, and they are all ‘sicker’n’ your man.”64
Chicagoan Whitney wrote: “Upon another occasion, I was passing through the Treasury Department and the walk in front of his house, to the War Department, when Mr. Lincoln came out of his front door alone, and started at a brisk pace in the same direction. I ran and caught up with him and took his hand. He neither halted nor looked around, but seeing who it was, he at once said: ‘A man from your place has just left me, who is a great judge of horses.’ ‘Oh! Yes,” said I, ‘I know him,’ named a man.’No,’ said he, ‘his name is ___, do you know him?’ I said no, when he went on: ‘Well, he tried to argue to me that he could be of great service to me, in inspecting horses bought for the army; and I tried to get rid of him, and the more I tried, the more he hung on and would not give up. So I had to say to him at last, so that he would understand:’I haint got anything to give you! I HAIN’T got anything to give you!’ and when I said that, he looked at me in such a pitiful way such a despairing look that I can’t get over it it hurts me. I expect his family little children perhaps are depending upon my giving him something to do.'”65
Lincoln aide John Hay recalled: “I was sitting with him on one occasion when a man who had been calling on him almost daily for weeks in pursuit of an office was shown in. He made his usual request, when Lincoln said: ‘It is of no use, my friend. You had better go home. I am not going to give you that place.’ At this the man became enraged, and in a very insolent tone exclaimed, ‘Then, as I understand it, Mr. President, you refuse to do me justice.’ At this, Lincoln’s patience, which was near the infinite as anything that I have ever known, gave way. He looked at the man steadily for a half-minute or more, then slowly began to lift his long figure from its slouching position in the chair. He rose without haste, went over to where the man was sitting, took him by the coat-collar, carried him bodily to the door, threw him in a heap outside, closed the door, and returned to his chair. The man picked himself up, opened the door, and cried, ‘I want my papers!’ Lincoln took a package of papers from the table, went to the door and threw them out, again closed it, and returned to his chair. He said not a word, then or afterward, about the incident.”66
Although Mr. Lincoln understood the patronage system, he could be offended by the impertinence of office seekers. Alexander Milton Ross, who was recruited by President Lincoln to do espionage in Canada, recalled being accompanied to Willard’s Hotel by the President. “Before we reached the hotel, a man came up to the President and thrust a letter into his hand, at the same time applying for some office in Wisconsin. I saw that the President was offended at the rudeness for he passed the letter back without looking at it, saying: ‘No, sir! I am not going to open shop here.’ This was said in a most emphatic manner, but accompanied by a comical gesture which caused the rejected applicant to smile. As we continued our walk, the President spoke of the annoyances incident to his position, saying: ‘These office-seekers are a curse to this country; no sooner was my election certain, than I became the prey of hundreds of hungry, persistent applicants for office, whose highest ambition is to feed at the government crib.'”67
Friend Henry Clay Whitney recalled: “To a member of Congress who applied to him for a mess of patronage, he said: ‘Your demand illustrates the difference between the abstract and the concrete. When a bill is pending to create more army officers, you take the floor and denounce it (although you dodge a vote on it) as a needless scheme to increase the power and tyranny of the executive; but as soon as the bill becomes a law you come here and demand all of your brothers-in-law and cousins and nephews be appointed under it: your action in Congress is abstract, but in the executive is concrete.”68
Journalist and friend Noah Brooks wrote: “One of the best things he ever said about the office-seeking that consumed so much of the precious time which should have been given to more important matters was that he was like a man who was so busy renting out rooms at one end of his house that he could not stop to put out the fire that was burning the other end. On another occasion, he said that it sometimes seemed to him that each one in the unending stream of place-hunters that approached him seized and took away a bit of his vitality. No wonder the harassed President was often so worn and spent with his day’s labors, in the midst of tremendous cares of office, that he sunk into a semi-conscious state, his eyes fixed on vacancy, and became so deeply abstracted that it was with difficulty that he could be roused by the friend, or member of his own household, who stood over him.”69 Not even the President’s mild case of small pox in November-December 1863 could keep office-seekers away, reported aide William O. Stoddard. The President thought that if he went to a smallpox hospital the “officeseekers would only wait until they had been vaccinated and would then come buzzing back around me like so many greenhead flies.”70
Mr. Lincoln’s skillful use of patronage paid dividends when President Lincoln sought reelection in 1864. Mr. Lincoln’s Republican adversaries were concentrated in Washington, while Mr. Lincoln’s patronage supporters were mostly back in their respective states. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: “The President made use of his powerful patronage in securing the nomination. At nearly all the state conventions the office holders were always very active on his behalf. As the national convention approached the radicals found that the patronage was a power too difficult to overcome; especially when the guiding force behind its distribution was a master politician like Abraham Lincoln.”71The candidacy of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was killed by these forces as well as by the ineptitude of his own supporters.
With the advent of the second Lincoln Administration in 1865 came a second rush for jobs. Historian Carman and Luthin wrote: “As in 1861, Lincoln himself was not left unmolested. From the time of his reelection to the even of his assassination Washington was filled with seekers of federal jobs who literally lay in wait for him. One witness of his second inauguration in March, 1865, sent word home from Washington:’Many persons are here from a distance, looking after their private interests, and seeking influence to assist them in the procurement of high as well as low positions. They do not seem to be mindful of the fact that there are to be no wholesale removals from place.'”72 Muriel Burnitt wrote: “Following Lincoln’s reelection in November, 1864, new troubles broke out within the party. In the creation of the complex, intricate, and bitter struggle between conservatives and radicals, rivalry for public office seemed at times to have been almost as potent a source of discord between the two main factions as difference of opinion over the Reconstruction policy to be adopted toward the crumbling states of the Confederacy.
“The criticism that Lincoln gave too much time to patronage, especially during the early weeks of his administration – time that could have been utilized to effect a settlement with the South before the opening of hostilities – is perhaps not entirely justified. Under the circumstances it is difficult to see how the matter could have been handled otherwise. To have entrusted it to an underling less astute politically than was Lincoln would have been unwise. The defense of Lincoln on this point by his Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles is apt:

In striving to reconcile and bring into united action opposing views he Lincoln was accused of wasting his time in a great emergency on mere party appointments. Under the pressure and influence that were brought to bear upon him some things were doubtless done, which, under other circumstances and left to himself he would have ordered differently. Extensive removals and appointments were not only expected, but absolutely necessary, yet never under any administration were greater care and deliberation required. A host of ravenous partisans from Maine to California…who had participated in the election of Mr. Lincoln filled Washington and besieged the White House and Departments, demanding for themselves or their friends the local appointments, regardless of the patriotism or real merits of the incumbents. This crowd of active friends with their importunities at such a crisis was of course extremely embarrassing to the new administration, which commenced its labors with a demoralized government and crumbling Union that needed the vigilant attention of the wisest and most considerate statesmanship.73

In early January 1865, Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “The saying is just as true of a President as of a King, and even now, I suppose, Father Abraham lies uneasy o’nights, as he thinks of the sluice of office-hunting which may shortly be opened upon him by the cruel thoughtlessness of his friends (?), as they call themselves. The President considers that as the people have voted to keep him in another term, because the public good could best be served, he ought to make no changes in office which the public good does not demand; but politicians will not see it in that light, and will avail themselves of the excuse of a new term to have a new deal.” New Hampshire Senator Daniel Clark did not make much of a mark during his service, but artist Francis B. Carpenter reported that in late winter 1865, President Lincoln said to Clark: “Can’t you and others start a public sentiment in favor of making no changes in offices except for good and sufficient cause? It seems as though the bare thought of going through again what I did the first year here, would crush me.” Carpenter recalled Mr. Lincoln saying: ‘Sitting here, where all the avenues to public patronage seem to come together in a knot, it does seem to me that our people are fast approaching the point where it can be said that seven eighths of them are trying to find how to live at the expense of the other eighth.”74
Mr. Lincoln came to exercise considerable diplomacy in the award of patronage, noted California Congressman John Conness. He noted that in the winter of 1864-65, “there were two leading places in the Internal Revenue service in California to be filled. Two names had been presented by my colleague for those places, and Secretary of the Treasury William P. Fessenden wished to gratify him by their appointment. No more unfit men could be chosen and I went to the President to hinder the work of my colleague and the Secretary, saying to him that he could not afford to give commissions to the person in question. Always considerate to me, he accepted my statements, and by this time Mr. Fessenden had again been chosen Senator by Maine to take office after the 4th of March next ensuing. The President, taking this into account, but not naming it, said:
Suppose we wait awhile about this matter, and then it will be all right.”
Conness observed: “In this way he saw how to avoid discourtesy to the Secretary and at the same time accomplish his purpose. After the new Secretary came in, through Mr. Fessenden he was disposed to make, or to recommend the President to make, those offensive appointments. Calling on Mr. Lincoln again one morning on this subject, he took up a card, and addressing his new Secretary on it as follows, closed out the transaction:

“I think that Lewis A. Gunn for assessor and Frank Soulé for collector are about right.” When writing Soul, he said
“How do you write this. Soule with a twichet over it. Is that it?”
And assenting, the “twichet” was put over the “e” and the transaction ended.75

The press of patronage affected the health of Mr. Lincoln, who fell ill after his Second Inaugural. Carman and Luthin wrote: “Throughout the month of March, 1865, the rush for office continued unabated, and fear was expressed that the President would fall a victim to the remorseless tormentors as had President Harrison and Taylor, whose health was said to have become impaired by the constant pressure of job seekers. During April, the month of Lincoln’s assassination, the federal capital was still filled with spoils men who maneuvered to secure the President’s ear regarding appointments for themselves or their supporters.”76
President Lincoln was particularly solicitous of the sons and relatives of Republicans in appointments to West Point and Annapolis. But he was always conscious that in patronage as in policy, the national interest was paramount. In referrals for patronage, President Lincoln often wrote “if consistent with the public interest.” Some Americans took their requests to the President directly. Some took their requests to him in writing as this war widow did in 1864: “I take mi pen in hand to aske yu about the munney cumming to me from my husband Daniel Spielman who as a solger in the 2d Mariland Ridgment in cumpany c who was kill in a fite with the rebs last fal near Boonsborow M.D. I hanit got no pay as was cummin toe him and none of his bounty munney and now Mr President I am a pore widder wumman and have no munny and have borrered all what I lived on last winter and this summer toe – I have one littel gurl who is to smal toe help me – Now Mr President I can soe and cook and wash and du enny kind of wurk but I cant get none – se if you cant git me a plaice in one of your hospittles and I will goe rite toe wur – but I don’t want to leve mi little gurl so I want to git a plaice what I can take her toe – I no yu du what is rite and yu will se tu me a pore widder wumman whose husband fote in your army your younion army Mr. President – So Mr. President I sign myself your servant to command.”77
Patronage was a never-ending balancing act. Historian William E. Gienapp wrote: “Lincoln excelled as a leader of his party because he knew how to maintain good personal relations with individuals and because he paid close attention to organizational details Lincoln probably devoted more time and energy to patronage matters than any other concern except the military. A president never has enough offices to satisfy every office-seeker, but Lincoln made effective use of the patronage because under his policy of justice to all’ he recognized all party factions in his appointments.”78
“While Mr. Lincoln was in the broadest sense a statesman – comprehending thoroughly the situation as it stood, the things necessary to be done to reestablish the unity of the Republic on a permanent basis, and the materials with which he had to bring about the desired results – he was at the same time a thoroughly practical politician,” recalled New York Republican Chauncey M. Depew. “He knew the value of workers,’ as they are called, of training politicians, of political methods, and precisely how to utilize them, better than any man in his Cabinet or out of it, with the possible exception of Thurlow Weed”, the Republican leader in New York State.79
President Lincoln did not need to be surrounded by people who liked each other. It was important to unify the party and the country behind the war effort – like them or not. “Like most politicians, the President must have secretly enjoyed the atmosphere of intrigue in his official family, otherwise he would certainly have ended the situation much sooner than he did,” wrote historian George H. Mayer.80 “One can also can see excuses for what on the part of Mr. Lincoln seemed an abuse of patronage,” wrote contemporary editor John Russell Young. “He was racing for his life with the wolves afoot and the wolves must be fed. Only upon the theory that all interests however despicable must be considered and conciliated can we understand many of the military and some of the Southern judicial appointments of Mr. Lincoln. The wolves were afoot and the wolves must be fed! For the very life of the Union they must be fed! Throw out a judgeship, a brigadier’s commission – they must be fed!”81


  1. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays , p. 94.
  2. Charles Dana, Recollections of the Civil War , pp. 3-4.
  3. Richard N. Current, editor, Sections and Politics: Selected Essays by William B. Hesseltine , p.115.
  4. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 31 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Therena Bates, March 24, 1861).
  5. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History , Volume IV, pp. 68-69.
  6. Edward J. Kempf, Abraham Lincoln’s Philosophy of Common Sense: An Analytical Biography of a Great Mind , Volume I, p. 157.
  7. Charles M. Segal, editor, Conversations with Lincoln , p. 42 ( New York Tribune , November 20, 1860).
  8. Harry E. Pratt, David Davis, 1815-1886, pp. 81-82.
  9. Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln , pp. 27-28.
  10. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln , pp. 186-187.
  11. Roy F. Nichols, The Stakes of Power, 1845-1877, p. 117.
  12. William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People,
  13. Margarita Spalding Gerry, editor, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, pp. 30-31.
  14. Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, “Six Months in the White House”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October-January, 1926-1927, p. 48.
  15. William O. Stoddard, Abraham Lincoln: The Man and the President, p. 211.
  16. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 5 (Letter from John Hay to William Leete Stone, March 15, 1861).
  17. Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln’s Own Yarns and Stories , p. 139.
  18. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln ,p. 50 (George W. Julian).
  19. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, p. 211 (“Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln”).
  20. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 30 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Ozias M. Hatch, March 7, 1861).
  21. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 125 (“The Heroic Age in Washington”).
  22. Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times, p. 160 (White House Sketch #5).
  23. Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times , p. 161 (White House Sketch #5).
  24. Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times,: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln’s Secretary, William O. Stoddard , , p. 198. (White House Sketches, No. 13)
  25. William B. Hesseltine,“Abraham Lincoln and the Politicians,” Civil War History, March 1960, p. 44.
  26. Allen G. Bogue, The Congressman’s Civil War, pp. 34, 35.
  27. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure, p. 297.
  28. Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, p. 277.
  29. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants , p. 206 (Letter from Robert L. Wilson to William H. Herndon, February 10, 1866).
  30. Emanuel Hertz, The Wizardry of Lincoln’s Political Appointments and Party Management, p. 21.
  31. Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , p. 279.
  32. Allen G. Bogue, The Congressman’s Civil War, p. 31.
  33. Allen G. Bogue, The Congressman’s Civil War, p. 33.
  34. Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, p. 363.
  35. Richard N. Current, editor, Sections and Politics: Selected Essays by William B. Hesseltine , p.120.
  36. Richard N. Current, editor, Sections and Politics: Selected Essays by William B. Hesseltine, p. 121, 118.
  37. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 255 (Richard Cunningham McCormick, New York Evening Post, May 3, 1865).
  38. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 255. (Richard Cunningham McCormick, New York Evening Post, May 3, 1865).
  39. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 577-579. (John B. Alley)
  40. Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , p. 278.
  41. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years , Volume IV, p. 133.
  42. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure , pp. 293-294.
  43. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln , p. 422.
  44. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Abraham Lincoln , (Letter from David Davis to Ward Hill Lamon, April 14, 1861, used in introduction by Paul M. Angle),
  45. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 216.
  46. Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 485.
  47. Don E. and Virginia E. Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln , p. 366.
  48. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings , (“Life in the White House in the Time of Lincoln”), pp. 131-132.
  49. Charles Hubbard et al, editors, The Many Faces of Lincoln (Reinhard H. Luthin, “Lincoln the Politician”), p. 61.
  50. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume IV, pp. 292-93 (Letter to William H. Seward, March 18, 1861).
  51. Martin Duberman, Charles Francis Adams , p. 257.
  52. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, pp. 438-439.
  53. William H. Herndon and Jesse Weik, Herndon’s Lincoln , p. 435.
  54. Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, pp. 335-336.
  55. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 606.
  56. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 125 (“The Heroic Age in Washington”).
  57. Isaac N. Arnold, Life of Abraham Lincoln , p. 81.
  58. Harold Holzer, editor, Dear Mr. Lincoln , pp. 143-44 (Letter to J. K. Dubois, March 30, 1861).
  59. Hugh McCulloch, ”Addresses, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters Upon Various Subjects” , p. 43 (Address delivered at Fort Wayne, October 11, 1865).
  60. William H. Herndon and Jesse Weik, Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, p. 429.
  61. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln , , p. 33-34 (Letter from Robert L. Wilson to William H. Herndon, February 10, 1866).
  62. Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage , p. 334.
  63. Milton Henry Shutes, Lincoln and California , p. 222.
  64. Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln’s Own Yarns and Stories , p. 85.
  65. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln , p. 216.
  66. Joseph Bucklin Bishop, Notes and Anecdotes of Many Days , pp. 65-66.
  67. Osborn H. Oldroyd, editor, The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles, p. 421.
  68. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 185.
  69. Noah Brooks, Washington Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Eira by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, p. 254.
  70. Michael Burlingame Editor, Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Report of Lincoln’s Secretary: William O. Stoddard, p. xii.
  71. Charles Hubbard et al, editors, The Many Faces of Lincoln (William Frank Zornow), p. 98.
  72. Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage (New York Herald, March 6, 1865), p. 301.
  73. Muriel Burnitt, editor, “Two Manuscripts of Gideon Welles” , The New England Quarterly, September, 1938, p. 594.
  74. Francis B. Carpenter, Six Months at White House, p. 276.
  75. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln,pp. 569-570 (John Conness).
  76. Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, p. 301.
  77. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, p.128 (July 23, 1864).
  78. James M. McPherson, editor, “We Cannot Escape History”: Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth, p. 69 (William E. Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and Presidential Leadership”).
  79. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln , p. 437 (Chauncey M. Depew).
  80. George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1964, p. 109.
  81. John Russell Young, Men and Memories: Personal Reminiscences, pp. 54-55.