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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Struggle for Patronage

By Josiah Quincy (1772–1864)

[Born in Boston, Mass., 1772. Third bearer of the name. Died at Quincy, Mass., 1864. From a Speech on the Influence of Place and Patronage. U. S. H. of R., 30 Jan., 1811.]

BUT as to that other class of persons, who are open, notorious solicitors of office, they give occasion to reflections of a very different nature. This class of persons, in all times past, have appeared, and (for I say nothing of times present), in all times future, will appear, on this and the other floor of Congress,—creatures who, under pretence of serving the people, are in fact serving themselves,—creatures who, while their distant constituents, good easy men, industrious, frugal, and unsuspicious, dream in visions that they are laboring for their country’s welfare, are in truth spending their time mousing at the doors of the palace or the crannies of the departments, and laying low snares to catch, for themselves and their relations, every stray office that flits by them. For such men, chosen into this high and responsible trust, to whom have been confided the precious destinies of this people, and who thus openly abandon their duties, and set their places and their consciences to sale, in defiance of the multiplied strong and tender ties by which they are bound to their country, I have no language to express my contempt. I never have seen, and I never shall see, any of these notorious solicitors of office for themselves or their relations, standing on this or the other floor, bawling and bullying, or coming down with dead votes, in support of executive measures, but I think I see a hackney, laboring for hire in a most degrading service,—a poor earth-spirited animal, trudging in his traces, with much attrition of the sides and induration of the membranes, encouraged by this special certainty, that, at the end of his journey, he shall have measured out to him his proportion of provender.

But I have heard that the bare suggestion of such corruption was a libel upon this House, and upon this people. I have heard that we were, in this country, so virtuous that we were above the influence of these allurements; that beyond the Atlantic, in old governments, such things might be suspected, but that here we were too pure for such guilt, too innocent for such suspicions. Mr. Chairman, I shall not hesitate, in spite of such popular declamation, to believe and follow the evidence of my senses and the concurrent testimonies of contemporaneous beholders. I shall not, in my estimation of character, degrade this people below, nor exalt them far above, the ordinary condition of cultivated humanity. And of this be assured, that every system of conduct, or course of policy, which has for its basis an excess of virtue in this country beyond what human nature exhibits in its improved state elsewhere, will be found, on trial, fallacious. Is there on this earth any collection of men in which exists a more intrinsic, hearty, and desperate love of office or place, particularly of fat places? Is there any country more infested than this with the vermin that breed in the corruptions of power? Is there any in which place and official emolument more certainly follow distinguished servility at elections, or base scurrility in the press? And as to eagerness for the reward, what is the fact? Let, now, one of your great office-holders, a collector of the customs, a marshal, a commissioner of loans, a postmaster in one of your cities, or any officer, agent, or factor for your territories or public lands, or person holding a place of minor distinction, but of considerable profit, be called upon to pay the last great debt of nature. The poor man shall hardly be dead, he shall not be cold, long before the corpse is in the coffin, the mail shall be crowded, to repletion, with letters and certificates, and recommendations and representations, and every species of sturdy, sycophantic solicitation, by which obtrusive mendicity seeks charity or invites compassion. Why, sir, we hear the clamor of the craving animals at the treasury trough, here in this capital. Such running, such jostling, such wriggling, such clambering over one another’s backs, such squealing because the tub is so narrow and the company so crowded! No, sir, let us not talk of stoical apathy towards the things of the national treasury, either in this people or in their Representatives or Senators.