« PreviousContinue »
Hitherto only one President has appointed relations, and that was John Adams; but he found public opinion, inspired by the example of Washington, so strong against it, that, after a slight experiment, he replied to an applicant, "You know it is impossible for me to appoint my own relations to anything, without drawing forth a torrent of obloquy."1 The judgment of the country found voice in Thomas Jefferson, who, in a letter written shortly after he became President, used these strong words: 'Mr. Adams degraded himself infinitely by his conduct on this subject."2 But John Adams, besides transferring his son John Quincy Adams from one diplomatic post to another, appointed only two relations. Pray, Sir, what words would Jefferson use, if he were here to speak on the open and multifarious nepotism of our President?
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF NEPOTISM.
THE Presidential pretension is so important in every aspect, and the character of republican institutions is so absolutely compromised by its toleration, that it cannot be treated in any perfunctory way. It shall not be my fault, if hereafter there is any doubt with regard to it.
The word "Nepotism" is of Italian origin. First appearing at Rome when the Papal power was at its height, it served to designate the authority and influence exercised by the nephews, or more generally the family, of a Pope: all the family of a Pope were nephews, and the Pope was universal uncle. From Italian the word passed into other European languages, but in the lapse of time or process of naturalization it has come to denote the
1 Letter to Benjamin Adams, April 22, 1799: Works, Vol. VIII. p. 636. 2 Letter to George Jefferson, March 27, 1801: Writings, Vol. IV. p. 388.
misconduct of the appointing power, and has amplified so as to embrace others besides Popes who appoint relations to office. Johnson in his Dictionary defines it simply as "Fondness for nephews"; but our latest and best lexicographer, Worcester, supplies a definition more complete and satisfactory: "Favoritism shown to relations; patronage bestowed in consideration of family relationship and not of merit." Such undoubtedly is the meaning of the word as now received and employed.
The character of this pretension appears in its origin and history. As far back as 1667 this undoubted abuse occupied attention to such a degree that it became the subject of an able historical work, entitled "Il Nipotismo di Roma," which is full of instruction and warning even for our Republic. In the early days of the Church Popes are described as discarding all relationship, whether of blood or alliance, and inclining to merit alone in their appointments, although there were some with so large a number of nephews, grand-nephews, brothers-in-law, and relations, as to baffle belief; and yet it is recorded that no sooner did the good Pope enter the Vatican, which is the Executive Mansion of Rome, than relations fled, brothers-in-law hid themselves, grand-nephews removed away, and nephews got at a long distance.1 Such was the early virtue. Nepotism did not exist, and the word itself was unknown.
At last, in 1471, twenty-one years before the discovery of America by Columbus, Sixtus the Fourth became Pope, and with him began that nepotism which soon became famous as a Roman institution.2 Born in 1414, the son of a fisherman, the eminent founder
1 Nipotismo di Roma, Parte I. p. 34.
2 Ibid., pp. 41. 60.
was already fifty-seven years old, and he reigned thirteen years, bringing to his functions large experience as a successful preacher and as general of the Franciscan friars. Though cradled in poverty, and by the vows of his Order bound to mendicancy, he began at once to heap office and riches upon the various members of his family, so that his conduct, from its barefaced inconsistency with the obligation of his life, excited, according to the historian, "the amazement and wonder of all." The useful reforms he attempted are forgotten, and this remarkable pontiff is chiefly remembered now as the earliest nepotist. Different degrees of severity are employed by different authors in characterizing this unhappy fame. Bouillet, in his Dictionary of History,2 having Catholic approbation, describes him as "feeble toward his nephews"; and our own Cyclopædia,3 in a brief exposition of his character, says "he made himself odious by excessive nepotism." But in all varieties of expression the offence stands out for judgment.
The immediate successor of Sixtus was Innocent the Eighth, whom the historian describes as "very cold to his relations," 4 since three only obtained preferment at his hands. But the example of the founder so far prevailed that for a century nepotism, as was said, “lorded it in Rome," 5 except in a few instances worthy of commemoration and example.
Of these exceptions, the first in time was Julius the Second, founder of St. Peter's at Rome, whose remarkable countenance is so beautifully preserved by the genius
1 Nipotismo di Roma, Parte I. p. 60.
2 Dictionnaire Universel d'Histoire et de Géographie.
8 Appleton's New American Cyclopædia.
4 Nipotismo di Roma, Parte I. p. 68.
5 Ibid., p. 89.
of Rafael. Though the nephew of the nepotist, and not declining to appoint all relations, he did it with such moderation that Rome was said to have been "almost without nepotism" in his time.1 Adrian the Sixth, early teacher of Charles the Fifth, and successor of Leo the Tenth, set a better example by refusing absolutely; but so accustomed had Rome become to this abuse, that not only the ambassadors, but the people, condemned. him as "too rude" with his relations. A son of his cousin, studying in Siena, started for Rome, trusting to obtain important recognition; but the Pope, without seeing him, sent him back on a hired horse. Relations thronged from other places, and even from across the Alps, longing for that greatness which other Popes had lavished on family; but Adrian dismissed them with a slight change of clothing and an allowance of money for the journey one who from poverty came on foot was permitted to return on foot. This Pope carried abnegation of his family so far as to make relationship an excuse for not rewarding one who had served the Church well.2 Similar in character was Marcellus the Second, who became Pope in 1555. He was unwilling that any of his family should come to Rome; even his brother was forbidden: but this good example was closed by death, after a reign of twenty days only; and yet this brief period of exemplary virtue has made this pontiff famous. Kindred in spirit was Urban the Seventh, who reigned thirteen days only in 1590, but long enough to repel his relations, and also Leo the Eleventh, who reigned twenty-five days in 1605. To this list may be added Innocent the Ninth, who died after two months
1 Nipotismo di Roma, Parte I., p. 80.
of service. It is related that his death displeased his relations much, and dissolved the air-castles they had built. They had hurried from Bologna, but, except a grand-nephew, all were obliged to return poor as they came. In this list I must not forget Pius the Fifth, who reigned from 1566 to 1572. He set himself so completely against aggrandizing his own family, that he was with difficulty persuaded to make a sister's son cardinal, — and would not have done it, had not all the cardinals united, on grounds of conscience, against the denial of this dignity to one most worthy of it. Such virtue was part of that elevated character which caused his subsequent canonization.
These good Popes were short-lived, their reigns for the most part counting by days only; but they opened happy glimpses of an administration where the powers of government were not treated as a personal perquisite. The opposite list had the advantage of time.
Conspicuous among nepotists was Alexander the Sixth, whose family name of Borgia is damned to fame. With him nepotism assumed its most brutal and barbarous development, reflecting the character of its pontifical author, who was without the smallest ray of good. Popes were less cruel and bloody, but not less determined in providing for their families. Paul the Third, who was of the great house of Farnese, would have had the estates of the Church a garden for the "lilies" which flourish on the escutcheon of his family. It is related that when Urban the Eighth, who was a Barberini, began his historic reign, all his relations at a distance flew to Rome like the "bees" on the family arms, to suck the honey
1 Nipotismo di Roma, Parte I. pp. 99-100.
2 Ibid., p. 94.
8 Ibid., Parte II. p. 132.