Money and Politics: The Oldest Connection

Money and Politics: The Oldest Connection

Gil Troy

Would Abe Lincoln have raised an eyebrow over Bill Clinton's guest list for the Lincoln bedroom? Probably not. Long ago, "Honest Abe" had his men generously sprinkle "material aid" among voters in New York.

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The story of the president prostituting himself and his office to secure re-election seems all too familiar. During the campaign, reports came from all over the country that his men "were paying out money like water" to bring about the desired result. "All has been done that can be done here," a crony in New York assured the chief executive shortly before the election. "Every Ward--here [in Manhattan] and in Brooklyn--and every Election District, is abundantly supplied with 'material aid.'" To justify their efforts, the president and his men denounced their rivals' "aristocratic party," filled with "millionaires."

The spectacle is not only familiar; it is venerable. The president who sank so low was America's sainted Abraham Lincoln, seeking re-election in 1864. His Republican supporters claimed to represent "the hard-handed people" against the Democrats' "plantation and bank paper aristocracy . . . who in case of success would gather five times the amount [contributed] out of the public chest."

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