Presidents Trump and Lincoln and Managing the Bureaucracies
February 10, 2017
Newt Gingrich and Allen Guelzo
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President Trump will soon discover that federal bureaucrats are far more hostile, destructive, and obstructionist than federal judges.
Ninety-five percent of federal bureaucrats’ donations were for Clinton (99 percent at the State Department, 97 percent at the Department of Justice), so it is clear there will be continuing resistance to President Trump’s policies.
And the intense hostility of the Left will encourage these pro-Clinton bureaucrats to feel noble about undermining and betraying the president.
Eventually, President Trump will be faced with a choice: either dramatically shrink his goals and accommodate the Left or learn from Abraham Lincoln and force bold, deep change on the bureaucracy.
Once he took office, Lincoln fired almost 80 percent of federal employees. This aggressiveness enabled him to replace pro-secession bureaucrats, who would have ensured the North lost the war, with pro-Union enthusiasts who helped him win.
Allen Guelzo, a Henry R. Luce professor of the Civil War era and the director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College, has written on Lincoln’s experience. The Trump team should meet with Guelzo. He writes:
“Until the 1883 Pendleton Act every federal office-holder – from cabinet secretaries to postmasters – could be removed without cause or explanation by the president. And since federal appointments generally paid better than their private-sector equivalents, competition for these jobs was intense, and tended to be handed out as compensation for political services. In the 19th century, political parties did not command huge campaign chests of their own; political operatives worked largely in the expectation that their time and services would be paid-for by appointment to political office. That, in turn, meant that presidents guarded their appointment powers jealously, since dangling the prospect of federal jobs was the surest way of guaranteeing the loyalty of a political party’s ground-game.
“Lincoln was fully as willing to work the patronage lever when he became president. Lincoln’s White House staffer, William O. Stoddard, remembered that Lincoln hired and fired federal office-holders with dizzying energy. ‘I doubt if ever before there was so general displacement as at the beginning of Mr. Lincoln’s term.’ Partly, this was because patronage appointments remained the principal means of securing political loyalty. But it was also a matter of ‘draining the swamp.’ Lincoln, as the first Republican – and first anti-slavery – president, came to Washington after six decades of almost-uninterrupted Democratic dominance of the executive branch. Successive Democratic presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to James Buchanan, had stocked federal offices with pro-slavery Southern appointees who would not shrink from sabotaging the presidency of Lincoln, ‘the Black Republican.’
“As Stoddard explained, ‘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.’ John Floyd, a Virginian who had been Secretary of War under Lincoln’s predecessor, had actually arranged to ship artillery and munitions to Southern arsenals before leaving office in the expectation that these could then be seized by Southern secessionists. But the possibility of betrayal from within was not limited to Southern Democratic appointees. ‘Many of the men from the North were strong Southern sympathizers,’ Stoddard explained, ‘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.’
“So, once in office in 1861, Lincoln did not hesitate to purge the executive branch of anything which hinted at disloyalty. Of the 1,520 executive branch positions immediately under Lincoln’s oversight, Lincoln fired 1,195 of their occupants, which amounted to ‘the most sweeping removal of federal officeholders in the country’s history up to that time.’ Lincoln especially ‘liked to provide for his friends, who were often remembered gratefully for services given him in his early struggles in life,’ wrote Noah Brooks, who was himself in line to receive a White House appointment at the time of Lincoln’s death. ‘Sometimes he would ‘break the slate,’ as he called it, of those who were making up a list of appointments, that he might insert the name of some old acquaintance who had befriended him in days when friends were few.’
“Lincoln also cast a keen eye on patronage appointments which were technically under the control of the Secretary of the Treasury and the Postmaster General. In August, 1861, Lincoln notified James Pollock, the director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, to find a job for an Illinois political operative at the mint. When Pollock hesitated, Lincoln tartly wrote to him:
the bearer of this, Elias Wampole. Make a job of it with the
Collector, and have it done. You can do it for me, and you must.
Yours as ever A. LINCOLN
“As Emanuel Hertz wrote in The Wizardry of Lincoln’s Political Appointments and Party Management, ‘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.’”
Within a month or two it will be clear that large elements of the federal bureaucracy are dedicated leftists who believe it is their duty to stop the Trump Administration and destroy it if possible.
The challenge to President Trump and his team is going to be real and unavoidable.
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