“Precious Jewell of They Return”

September 5, 1874

Thomas Nast

“Precious Jewell of They Return”

Analogy, Shakespearean; Postal Service; Presidential Administration, Ulysses S. Grant; Presidential Cabinet, Postmaster General;

Grant, Ulysses S.; Jewell, Marshall;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

This cartoon honors Marshall Jewell (left), who returns from his assignment as the American minister to Russia in order to accept the position of postmaster general of the United States.  As he disembarks from the ship, Jewell is greeted by (left-right) Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, President Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of War William Belknap, and Secretary of the Navy George Robeson.  The title's quote is from Shakespeare's Richard II.  

Marshall Jewell was born in New Hampshire in 1825, and did not receive a formal education.  As a young man, he was employed constructing and supervising telegraph lines, as well as in his family's belt factory in Hartford, Connecticut, in which he became a partner in 1850.  Over the next several years, he worked in banking, railroad, and other businesses, and was part owner of the Hartford Evening Post.  

Jewell entered politics after the Civil War, running unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Connecticut State Senate in 1867 and the Connecticut governorship in 1868.  The next year, he won the annual election as the state's chief executive, and then lost his reelection bid in 1870, only to regain the governorship in 1871.  Two years later, President Grant appointed Jewell as the minister to Russia, and again turned to him in 1874 after having difficulty finding a replacement for the postmaster generalship.

Taking office in September 1874, Jewell manifested his commitment to civil service reform, and refused to appoint Republicans to postal positions simply because they were Republicans.  He believed that applying the business principles of merit appointments, promotion, and tenure would improve the efficiency of government service and enhance the Republican reputation as the party of reform.  Although President Grant initially supported him, tensions arose between Jewell and Grant and other Republican leaders as the 1876 elections approached.  

The Post Office Department was by far the major source of government patronage, employing tens of thousands of workers who doubled in election years as partisan campaign workers and financial contributors (being compelled to return a percentage of their salaries to their party).  Jewell's adamant refusal to dismiss Democrats in order to replace them with Republicans put him at odds with his party's mainstream.  Adding insult to injury, the postmaster general backed Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow's prosecution of those implicated in the Whiskey Ring scandal.  Grant asked for Jewell's resignation, and received it on July 12, 1876.

Jewell continued to participate in Republican politics, campaigning for presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, opposing Grant's bid for a third term in 1880, and serving as national party chairman from 1880 until his death in February 1883.  Jewell did live long enough to see passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in January 1883.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Precious Jewell of They Return”
December 5, 2022

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