Political partisanship has never been pretty.

Preston Brooks, for example, beat Charles Sumner with his cane on the Senate floor because he objected to Sumner's speech but that was individual and Brooks was a senator seeking his state's interests. It's not difficult to imagine a senator from one state passing a bill that hurts a different state but helps his own.

But playing favorites or seeking an advantage for one state is one thing. Trump recently proposed dropping immigrants off at sanctuary cities, in a move that he believes punish those cities and would severely strain their resources:

The president pointed to California in particular as a target destination and referred to California Governor Jerry Brown, saying "California certainly is always saying, 'oh we want more people' ...well we'll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply and let's see if they're so happy. They say 'we have open arms.' They're always saying they have open arms, let's see if they have open arms."


Senior-level sources familiar with the matter told ABC News that the proposal was aimed, in part, to punish political rivals by placing immigrants in their respective districts.


I'm curious if there's ever been a case of a president singling locations out and specifically punishing them before.

To be clear, I'm not asking about bills that are more advantageous to one state and disadvantageous another, because often that can't be helped and if the law is universal, then it's a different approach. Like freeing the slaves was bad for the south that relied on slavery, but it wasn't a bill to punish the south, it was a bill to undo slavery. Its purpose wasn't punishment.

Trump's stated purpose with this idea seems to be punishment, and the proposal targets specific cities because of their political opposition, not spreading immigrants evenly among all cities.

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    Insofar as the Emancipation Proclamation affected Southern states but not Northern slaveholding ones, it actually was targeted at hurting the South. The leader of the House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens famously argued for emancipation as a means of diminishing the labor force and thus the war effort of the South. Abolitionist moral sentiment was certainly part of it, but not the only factor.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 16, 2019 at 4:25
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    @Fizz I worried about that when asking. In the grand scheme of things, it's relatively small, bussing a few hundred immigrants to specific cities, sometimes identified as sanctuary cities. The point is, selecting enemies and sending immigrants to them as punishment is different than a bill or law or executive action that applies equally to everyone. Maybe I could word it better, but this appears like a deliberate punishment not a policy. I'm looking for other example when that was done. And yes, maybe that's still too vague. I'm open to suggestions.
    – userLTK
    Apr 16, 2019 at 4:54
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    Lincoln did say of one political appointee "I made him ambassador to Russia because we do not have a mission in the North Pole." To give context, back in the day, the Russian Embassy seen as the place to send people who were tactically helpful to your campaign but Politically damaging. It was probably the most distance from the United States and Moscow isn't known for being a comfortable city to live in. It's Hell on Earth three months out of the year and Hell Froze Over for the remaining 9.
    – hszmv
    Apr 16, 2019 at 13:42
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    Your example doesn't make any sense. According to these sanctuary cities, having illegals is highly beneficial to society and would add to the labor force rather than be a burden. In fact the mayors of these sanctuary cities agreed to have migrants dropped off in their cities. Apr 16, 2019 at 14:33
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    @MatthewLiu Regardless of whether it's a good or bad policy or one that the cities in question would support or oppose (which would depend a lot on the specifics of the proposal), Trump clearly believes that it would be a punishment that singles out these specific cities.
    – divibisan
    Apr 16, 2019 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


TLDR: President Jackson transferred a large amount of money out of Federal hands and into state banks, using a method that favored Western expansion at the expense of Northern credit because the wealthy elite businessmen in the North and wealthy plantation owners in the South didn't like him.

The Presidential Election of 1828 was very bitter and decided between John Quincy Adams (Incumbent) and Andrew Jackson. From here:

And by the time the votes were cast, both men would have wild stories circulated about their pasts, with lurid charges of murder, adultery, and procuring of women being plastered across the pages of partisan newspapers. [...] For those who detested Andrew Jackson, there existed a goldmine of material. Jackson was famed for his incendiary temper and had led a life filled with violence and controversy. He had taken part in several duels, killing a man in a notorious one in 1806. [...] Those opposed to John Quincy Adams mocked him as an elitist. The refinement and intelligence of Adams were turned against him. And he was even derided as a "Yankee," at a time when that connoted shopkeepers reputed to take advantage of consumers.

1828 was a replay of the election in 1824, and Adams won the first round. Jackson was raised "somewhere" in South Carolina, and spent much of his life on the frontier as a soldier (after also being a lawyer, congressman, and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice). Adams was raised in Massachussetts, and spent formative years in Europe as his father served on diplomatic missions. Jackson won the second time around, becoming the first president not born in either Virginia or Massachussetts. He won again in 1832 against Henry Clay after he campaigned against the renewal for the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which was located in Philadelphia. The President of the bank Nicholas Biddle instigated the issue by asking President Jackson to renew the bank's charter in 1832 at the urging of the Whigs before the election, even though it wasn't due to expire until 1836.

Much through his second term the country had a roaring economy, culminating in a federal surplus of $30 million in 1836 sourced mostly from tarriffs and public land sales, and much of it was deposited in and loaned from the (still somewhat functioning) 2nd Bank. Clay, as a Senator after the election, favored distributing the funds to the states. At first Jackson argued doing so would be unconstitutional, but as the surplus grew larger the states were keen on cashing in. In 1833, Jackson and his Secretary of Treasury Roger Taney supported a policy of distribution of that money to "pet banks", which were chosen from a pool of those loyal to Jackson. The effect of this policy was a shift in a massive (for the time) amount of money off of the East Coast and towards the Western frontier where a lot of those banks were located, forcing many Northern banks to slow their lending. Ultimately this led to rampant land speculation in the west, high inflation, high rate of defaults, and contributed to the Panic of 1837, along with tightening credit in the North and insistance on "Specie" payments for purchase of federal lands.

[T]he Deposit and Distribution Act of 1836 placed federal revenues in various local banks (derisively termed "pet banks") across the country. Many of these banks were located in western regions. The effect of these two policies was to transfer specie away from the nation's main commercial centers on the East Coast. With lower monetary reserves in their vaults, major banks and financial institutions on the East Coast had to scale back their loans, which was a major cause of the panic along with the real estate crash.
Panic of 1837

Is that a "punishment"? I included the bit about the 1828 election because it could be very easy to interpret it that way. That election was just as acrimonious as anything 2016 may have thrown at voters. Jackson and his followers were deeply skeptical of both Northern and Southern elites, and his economic policies were informed by those beliefs.

As a challenge to your premise, I think there's a bigger point here. Regardless of what this president's stated intentions are, I believe that in choosing such locations the general welfare of the population in question will, hopefully, ultimately be better, and I can believe this since the population and elected leaders in those areas have expressed concerns about them. Since they need to be housed somewhere in the interim while each individual status is adjudicated, coupled with the President not showing any inclination to change course on his immigration policy, the President's position could be interpreted as an opening bid for some sort of compromise.

It is possible to not look at this like 'punishment' regardless of what Trump says because he says lots of things, sometimes I think because they just sound good to those who already agree with him. He may even in his heart believe it to be a punishment, but that doesn't really matter. It could also be interpreted as an opportunity, which can be squandered just as easily as $30 million can be back in 1836, or embraced in a way that some amount of "good" (however you wish to measure it) can still come out of it. But if all we're doing is trying to figure out who is the biggest victim, I'm not sure if there's anything positive to be had. Sometimes leaders just like to kick the bee-hive of the opposition.

Pre-Update Answer

President Nixon maintained an "Enemies List" for the purpose of manipulating "grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc." John Dean, White House Counsel for Nixon, explained the purpose further in a memo to Lawrence Higby, who at the time was an assistant to Nixon's Chief of Staff Haldeman:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

The original list contained just about 20 people, but morphed into a Master List that was much more comprehensive, ultimately growing to 576 names. The types of harassment that came to light included spreading of rumors concerning business practices in order to hurt opponents' business prospects, and even going so far as targetted IRS Audits for those who spoke out against Nixon. This is not to mention the employment of burglars with the intention of wiretapping the rival political party's headquarters.

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    I am not sure if these actions by Nixon can be directly compared to those of Trump. Nixon was using methods which were used covertly and which were not his official rights as president, while Trump is threatening to openly use his presidential powers. Also, Nixon was targeting the private interests of individual opponents while Trump is threatening whole communities.
    – Philipp
    Apr 16, 2019 at 11:15
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    @Philipp There is no presidential power that allows the President to drop illegal aliens off at any place other than outside the United States. I also think (but do not have a source at present) that Nixon closed military bases in Massachusetts because that state did not vote for his re-election. So I think the comparisons to Nixon are apt.
    – Joe
    Apr 16, 2019 at 11:33
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    @Philipp Nixon was decidedly abusing his powers and authority over the IRS to target his enemies. They were definitely his rights as president, excepting impeachment risks of the abuses. Such abuses, and his own personal tax cheats, spurred the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1976. Apr 16, 2019 at 12:24
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    If we go to such lists, even Juncker has one, albeit of just people who "betrayed" him. Apr 16, 2019 at 17:01
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    @Fizz OP has updated his question since I answered. Originally the wording was not restricted "by district."
    – user5155
    Apr 16, 2019 at 17:18

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