To Jacob Dolson Cox

7 January 1871


[MS in Jacob Dolson Cox Papers, Oberlin College Archives, 30/3]


Oberlin 7th Jan. 1871.

My Dear Son Dolson.

I have just read your very able

& important article on Civil Service

Reform. But what are these pages?

Are you publishing a book?

Your article seems only a part of

a book & other topics seem to

be discussed by John A. Church.

Will you explain.

How are you all. Through Julia

we heard that Kenny is not so

well. How is he? I most earnestly

hope that nothing will be

allowed to divert public attention

from the Civil Service reform.

Shall we not need a constitu

tional amendment to make

such a reform permanent?

Will the trial we have had

[page 2]

under the repeal of a law

establishing this reform, impossible

to any party. Shall you not

publish again answering more

fully the objections urged against

such a reform.

I was much disgusted some years

since with Chief Justice Chase

who at our house defended the

present abominable doctrine

that "the spoils belong to the victors".

I settled it then in my own mind

that his ambition to be president

should never be gratified if I

could prevent it. At any rate

that what little influence I may

have should never be wielded

in his favor. I hope you may

get time to keep up a strong

fire against this strong hold

until there shall be an uncon

ditional surrender. This article

[page 3]

is a strong one. But "line upon

line & precept upon precept

here a little & there a little"

will be needed until the

multitude are so instructed

that the sophistry of demagogues

can no longer prevail.

All well here, & at Nortons & Julias.

May we not hear from you some.

How do you get on in business?

I suppose you hear from Norton

He has a great work on his

hands & is doing it with

all his might.

Mother joins in much love to

you all. God bless you.

C. G. Finney.



Chase was in Oberlin on October 1, 1852 when he lectured to the Young Men's Antislavery Society (See Oberlin Evangelist [13 October 1852], p. 166; and Young Men's Antislavery Society Minute Book, Oct 1, 1852). There is no definite record of him being there at any other time, so that may have been the occasion. However, he may have been in Oberlin on other occasions. James Monroe recalled wanting to see Chase when he was Governor of Ohio:

I did not feel diffident about approaching him, as we had all known him here in an earlier time when he used to come & speak for free soil in the little wooden school houses of Lorain County (undated manuscript reminiscence, filmed after #1397, in Finney Papers, microfilm, roll 4).

The statement that the "spoils belong to the victors" had been made by William L. Marcy in the senate in 1832. James McPherson explained:

The 'spoils system'--by which the victors in an election rewarded party workers with appointments to public office--was one of the most venerable institutions in American politics. The hope of office was the glue that kept the party faithful together when the party was out of power. An assessment of 2 or 3 percent on government salaries kept party coffers filled when in power." (James McPherson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982], p. 551).

On 4 July 1864, Chase wrote a letter to Horace Greeley explaining his policy about patronage in which he said: "Now I never accepted the maxim that 'the spoils belong to the victors.' " (See John Niven [editor] The Salmon P. Chase Papers, Vol. 4 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1997), pp. 416-17).

Isaiah 28:10 reads: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little."