Patronage, Moral Regulation and the Recruitment of Indian Affairs Personnel: 1879-1900

By Satzewich, Vic | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Patronage, Moral Regulation and the Recruitment of Indian Affairs Personnel: 1879-1900


Satzewich, Vic, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


In 1878 there were 54 people working for the Indian Affairs Branch of the federal government. Three years later the number of employees in an upgraded Department of Indian Affairs more than doubled to 139, and at the beginning of World War I the Department had nearly 700 employees spread throughout the country.

In June 1887 a perturbed Lawrence Vankoughnet, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, issued the following "Order" to all employees in the Department:

Several of the employees of the Department hav[e] attempted to bring political influence to bear upon the Minister at the head of the Department and upon the undersigned with a view to obtain an increase in salary or promotion . . . [T]he undersigned has decided to notify all the employees of the Department that no such means will have the effect of obtaining for the official the object which he desires . . . but on the contrary, that the adoption of such extraneous measures will be considered tantamount to an admission on the part of the applicant that he is not worthy of the increase or of the promotion sought for. . . .(1)

The dramatic increase in the size of the Department of Indian Affairs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coupled with Vankoughnet's threat to employees who relied on political influence to get ahead, raises a number of important questions about the role of patronage in the process of state formation. In a Department whose stated objective was to morally regulate, and socially transform, Indian people into ideal-typical European men and women, what role did patronage play in the initial appointment of employees? What role did political patronage play in the upward mobility of employees? What effects did the practice of patronage have on the operation of the Department? And finally, what were the limits of patronage?

Using the case of the expansion of the Department of Indian Affairs during the last two decades of the 19th century, this paper analyses the relationship between political patronage and moral regulation in the process of state formation. I argue that both political patronage and the moral regulation project played central roles in determining who was appointed to positions in the Department. The practice of appointing personnel on the basis of their political, family or religious connections was at times antithetical to the moral regulation project that constituted the raison d'etre of the Department of Indian Affairs. One's marital status, competence and physical abilities played roles in determining whether those appointed on the basis of patronage stayed employed in the Department for very long. I conclude by suggesting that the moral regulation project acted as a brake on patronage within the Department of Indian Affairs.

State Formation, Moral Regulation and Political Patronage

Literature on state formation focusses on two different, yet interrelated processes. One approach is concerned with the macro-level questions about the establishment of geopolitical boundaries and forms of rule and the nature of the hierarchical relationships between states. Tilly (1985, 1990), for example, focusses on why European states eventually converged around different variations of the national state, Skocpol (1979) on how and why social revolutions occur, Moore (1966) on why some states became dictatorships while others sustained more or less representative forms of democracy, and Chase-Dunn (1989) and Wallerstein (1974; 1980) analyse the historical emergence of an unequal and hierarchical interstate system.

A second approach is less interested in what Tilly (1985) refers to as "big structures, large processes [and] huge comparisons" and instead conceives of state formation as a process of moral regulation. Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer (1985: 2), in proposing what has become both an influential (Curtis, 1992; Valverde, 1994), and contested (Dean, 1994) problematic, argue that "state activities, forms, routines, and rituals [are central to] the constitution and regulation of social identities [and] ultimately our subjectivities. …

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