“I am Known to be a True Whig:” James Manning Hall, Postmaster of Perrysburg
by Alan Borer
Before the Civil Service Act of 1882, getting a government job depended on who you knew. If you were a Democrat and worked hard to get local Democratic candidates elected, you might reasonably expect to be favored with a postmastership, a consular position, or some other emolument. That is, of course, if your party won the election.
Before 1882, all federal government jobs were filled by the President. No matter how small the office, it was the President’s prerogative to give or take away. Since the President could not possibly be acquainted with every candidate personally, he relied on the postmaster-general and other aides to point out party loyalists and workers who were deserving of federal jobs.
Needless to say, that arrangement led to cases of bitter irony. Take as an example the postmastership of Perrysburg, Ohio, in the winter of 1840-41. On February 15, a new postmaster was installed named James Manning Hall. We do not know many details of the life of Hall. Born in New Hampshire in 1809, James Manning Hall settled in Perrysburg in the 1830s. He was a merchant, running a general store, a Freemason, and a Presbyterian. He married a girl named Roxana Allen in 1838, and they had two children, a boy and a girl. And in February of 1841, he wrote an interesting letter to the folks back home, which survives.
In that particular February, Hall complained of how bad the business situation was in Perrysburg. A financial panic in 1837 had caused bank failures, a collapse of western land values, and driven Martin Van Buren from the White House:
Business is exceedingly dull, & Cash! the article is hardly to be seen in these “diggings” but we have got “Old Tip” Elected and hope for better times soon
“Old Tip” was of course William Henry Harrison of “Old Tippecanoe” fame. Elected president by the Whig Party in the fall of 1840, Harrison spent the winter of 1840-41 being pestered by federal job seekers, especially for the many would-be postmasters who clamored for jobs under his Administration.
James Manning Hall got the postmaster’s job in Perrysburg. The cover in Figure 1 may therefore be a “first use of postmaster’s frank.” In his own words,
You will perceive by this that I am the P.M. [postmaster] at this place. I have this day taken the oath of office, it has happened in consequence of it becoming necessary for D. Allen (my Brother in Law) to leave for Newport…
David Allen, who had been the postmaster of Perrysburg since 183x, was Roxana Allen Hall’s brother. Family business had forced him to resign. While Allen (a Democrat) would likely lose the postmaster job in March of 1841 when Harrison was inaugurated, he found a way to please his sister, taking advantage of the “lame duck” situation in Washington to give his sister’s husband a recommendation.
There were doubts about Hall’s party loyalty:
Whether I retain it or not remains to be seen, as there are some few who object in consequence of the appointment coming from the present Administration and (as they insinuate, through Loco Foco difference), but as I am known to be a True Whig. I think it is doubtful whether they will think it best to remove me…
Hall did not sound concerned. “Loco Foco,” a contemporary obnowious nickname for Democrats, might hold up the appointment while Van Buren was still in office, but Hall felt comfortable about his Whig credentials. As he said, he was a “True Whig,” and had nothing to fear from the incoming President’s postmaster-slashing.
Hall served as postmaster of Perrysburg until 1846. Although “Old Tip” died after only a month in office, Harrison’s successor, John Tyler, let him keep the job. It was not until July of 1845 that Hall was turned out of office by a new Democrat, James K. Polk.
Shortly after, James Hall died in1847 when he was only 37. Roxana lived much longer, dying in 1885 in Haskins. She never remarried. James left no other letters that I know of; his declaration that he was a “True Whig” could serve as a summary of his short life.
[Other than the letter itself, see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=53623129 and http://webpmt.usps.gov/pmt003.cfm.]