The use of public employment for political patronage is an ancient phenomenon seldom studied by political scientists in systematic and objective detail. Texts and treatises on political parties reckon with the subject, but usually support their generalizations and conclusions with illustrations rather than comprehensive evidence. Detailed studies date back to the muck-raking period, and deal chiefly with large metropolitan centers. The role of patronage in maintaining the thousands of rural and small city party units across the country, in the face of marked changes in the methods of national party operation over the past generation, is largely guesswork. Yet the vitality of these organizations is a matter of general concern for the future of the party system.
This study is an attempt to apply some of the more familiar assumptions about the value and role of patronage to actual experience in a rural county in central Pennsylvania where it can have little to do with policy control. Exactly what are the political uses of state patronage at this low level? Has it been used to reward the party faithful, or to encourage party activity and contributions, or to woo new partisans? In short, what does a small group of political jobholders contribute to the party that placed them in office—money? service? votes?