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POLITICAL PATRONAGE AND ETHNIC GROUPS: Foreign-born in the United States Customhouse Service, 1821-1861 Leonard Tabachnik The use of political patronage by political parties in America has had two major functions: to reward with favors and jobs loyal workers already in the party, and to attract the political allegiance of new voters.1 During the early nineteenth century, with the arrival of more than five million immigrants into the country, both the Whig and Democratic parties sought to attract these immigrants through political patronage. This was especially the case in the major cities where the immigrant came to represent a major portion of the population. For example, in New York and Boston the alien population represented only 4 percent of the total population in 1820; by 1860, they represented from one-third to one-half of the population.2 The story was the same in other cities. Aliens constituted only 2 percent of Philadelphia's and Baltimore's population in 1820, but, by 1860, they constituted approximately one-third of the total population of these cities. Considering the numerical importance of the immigrant in American politics at this time, his share of political patronage has been a neglected field of historical investigation, and what is available is highly impressionistic and often unreliable. The neglect of the subject is rather surprising, in view of the fact that during this period there existed a widespread belief that the foreign -born were monopolizing patronage positions. This belief led to the creation of a major political movement in the form of the Native American party. Organized in some cities as early as 1835, the Native American party was to become a formidable political force in the urban areas by the forties and fifties. The party elected mayors, members of local governing bodies, state legislators, and congressmen. In Philadelphia , where the party was especially strong, it had a continuous existence for fourteen years, winning elections and maintaining a per1 James Q. Wilson, in his article "The Economy of Patronage" Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 69, ( 1961 ) 371, lists four functions of patronage. While I do not disagree with his particular categorization, it seems to me that the four functions he lists can be subsumed under the two general categories which I have listed. 2 For population statistics refer to the published United States Census reports for the respective states. 222 manent organization and leadership.3 The fears most commonly expressed by the nativists were that members of the new ethnic groups were unqualified to hold elective and appointive political offices; that the foreign-born, even after naturalization, continued to maintain loyalties to their country of birth, and, therefore, represented a danger to the country, especially when placed in political office; and finally, that patronage jobs were given to the foreign-born at the expense of the native-born.4 With the belief that the patronage practices of both major parties represented a serious threat to the country's security, nativists proposed two means of circumscribing the political influence of the immigrant . First was the extension of the naturalization period from five to twenty-one years, with the intent of delaying the immigrant's entrance into the political arena; and second, the exclusion of all foreignborn from elective and appointive office. If properly understood, then, the study of patronage and ethnic groups is important for a better understanding of the patronage practices during this period as well as a challenge to nativist mentality. In spite of its importance, among the numerous histories dealing with the immigrant and the nativist reaction to the immigrant for this period, only two discuss the problem of political patronage and ethnic groups at any length.0 In his study of the roots of American nativism, Ray A. Billington writes that, "Both Whig and Democratic parties were denounced for truckling to aliens appointing the foreign-born to profitable state and local governments."0 Although Billington was mainly interested in attitudes held by contemporaries toward the immigrant, there was no attempt at verifying what the actual situation was in regard to the foreign-born holding patronage jobs. Robert Ernst's discussion of the same problem in his Immigrant Life in New York...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 222-231
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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