The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIV
McKEAN AND THE PATRONAGE POWER

WHILE RUNNING for the governorship in 1799, McKean had been subjected to a constant stream of virulent abuse. One month after the election, with the insults still rankling in his mind, he lashed out at his critics in an address to the Republicans in the Philadelphia area. The enemies who had combined against him, he said, were "traitors, tories, French Aristocrats, British agents, and British subjects, and their corrupt dependants, together with not a few apostate Whigs. . ." They lied and resorted to every practice to snatch votes, he continued, and, significantly enough, almost all the men holding office under the appointment of John Adams in Pennsylvania and neighboring states had joined the coalition against him.1 There was no mistaking McKean's anger or the implied retaliation in this last remark, and if the Federalist office holders were not already stirring uneasily in their chairs they soon had cause to do so.

The patronage allotted to the Chief Executive of Pennsylvania was so extensive that even McKean was satisfied with it, and in doling out the plums at his disposal, he was, as usual, practical and realistic. Not wishing to act without advice, he called William Findley and some other leaders in for a consultation. When they asked him what his policy would be, he told them that he intended to remove incompetents and all those incumbents who had abused him personally.2 But in other statements of policy he went much farther than that. Realizing that his appointive power could be used in the interest of partisan aggrandizement, he intended "to give a preference to . . . real republicans or whigs having equal talents and integrity, and to a friend before an Enemy . . ." He thought it "at least imprudent" to surround himself with hostile and spying officials.3 To defeat the Federalists, he told Jefferson, they would have to be thrown out of office or, as he stated it, with Biblical allusions, they would have to "be shaven, for in their offices (like Sampsons locks of hair) their great strength lieth. . . The despisers of the people should not be their rulers, nor men be vested with authority in a government which they wish to destroy: a dagger," he continued, "ought not to be put into the hands of an assassin."4

The office holders of Federalist persuasion must have known that the Dionysian innuendoes in McKean's address to the Philadelphia Repub

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