Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Philip Pell of the Manor of Pelham: An Early Victim of the "Spoils System" in New York at the Turn of the 19th Century

Occasionally I have published to the Historic Pelham Blog postings about Philip Pell, one of the most illustrious citizens and Patriots ever to have lived in Pelham. See, e.g.:

Mon., July 17, 2006: 1780 Letter To George Clinton from American Patriot Philip Pell of Pelham Manor, Commissary of Prisoners of the State of New York

Thur., Apr. 20, 2006: 1788 Campaign Broadside Urging Support for Candidate Opposing Philip Pell of Pelham Manor

One interesting aspect of Philip Pell's life involved his removal as Surrogate of Westchester County in 1801. In a fascinating study entitled "DeWitt Clinton and the Origin of the Spoils System in New York" Howard Lee McBain argues that Pell was an early casualty of the emerging spoils system in New York. According to McBain, after New York Governor William Jay and the Federalists swept into office, Jay began to oust Antifederalist Republican office-holders in New York. McBain notes that Jay's son, in a biography of his father, made the statement that "not one individual was dismissed by him from office on account of his politics."

In disproving this conclusory assertion, McBain outlines numerous examples of such dismissals including that of Philip Pell. He pointed out that when Republicans returned to power, a number of deposed officials including Philip Pell wrote letters to Governor DeWitt Clinton seeking reinstatement. As McBain put it:

"The facts are of course more or less elusive, but it seems well assured that a considerable number of lesser officials paid the price of their opposition with their positions. Certain it is that when the republicans were restored to power in 1801, a number of letters from deposed officers seeking reinstatement assert that they were removed during the administration of Governor Jay on account of their politics. . . . Philip Pell, writing to Governor Clinton in 1801, states that twelve years previous he was appointed surrogate of Westchester county and 'continued until some time in October last, when,' he goes on, 'I was superseded by the then Governor and Council of Appointment. Why this removal from office I know not, unless to gratify the desire of Samuel Youngs who probably was a favorite.' His statement is borne out by the fact that the minutes bear no record of the cause of his removal."

Source: McBain, Howard Lee, DeWitt Clinton and the Origin of the Spoils System in New York, pp. 51-52 (Howard Lee McBain 1907) (submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University; citing "July 7, 1801; Civil Files of the Council of Appointment" and "MS. Minutes of the Council, iv, 277").

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
Located at
Please Click Here for Index to All Blog Postings.


Post a Comment

<< Home