The pork barrel was a prized culinary possession in the 19th century, able to feed many mouths. “Pork barrel” and “pork” came to mean special political benefits to a particular constituency over other constituencies. The “pork” terms were used in the 1870s, but achieved most notice from 1884, when the New York (NY) Times but the words “pork barrel” on front-page headlines. States were fighting over federal money for public buildings.
The words “pork” and “pork barrel” replaced the political term “log-rolling,” although that term is still sometimes used.
A political saying involving “pork barrel” and “bring home the bacon” is “One man’s pork is another man’s bacon.”
Wikipedia: Pork barrel
In United States politics, the term pork barrel refers to the appropriation of government spending for projects that are intended primarily to benefit particular constituents, such as those in marginal seats or campaign contributors. This usage originated in American English.
The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. In the popular 1863 story “The Children of the Public”, Edward Everett Hale used the term pork barrel as a homely metaphor for any form of public spending to the citizenry. After the American Civil War, however, the term came to be used in a derogatory sense. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873. By the 1870s, references to “pork” were common in Congress, and the term was further popularized by a 1919 article by Chester Collins Maxey in the National Municipal Review, which reported on certain legislative acts known to members of Congress as “pork barrel bills”, and claimed that the phrase originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. More generally, a pork barrel (presumably holding the less-perishable salt pork) was a common larder item in 19th century households, and could be used as a measure of the family’s financial well-being. For example, in his 1845 novel The Chainbearer, James Fenimore Cooper wrote “I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel.”
Typically, “pork” involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
pork barrel, n.
Polit. (orig. U.S.). The state’s financial resources regarded as a source of distribution to meet regional expenditure; esp. central funds (in the U.S., chiefly Federal funds) appropriated for local projects designed to please the electorate or legislators and win votes. Cf. PORK n.1 1b. Freq. attrib.
1873 Defiance (Ohio) Democrat 13 Sept. 1/8 Recollecting their many previous visits to the public pork-barrel,..this hue-and-cry over the salary grab..puzzles quite as much as it alarms them.
1896 Overland Monthly Sept. 370/2 Another illustration represents Mr. Ford in the act of hooking out a chunk of River and Harbor Pork out of a Congressional Pork Barrel valued at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
1913 R. M. LA FOLLETTE Autobiogr. 60 It was on the so-called ‘pork-barrel’ bill for river and harbor appropriations.
1950 Sun (Baltimore) 24 Aug. 4/3 The section of the bill is sometimes called the ‘pork-barrel’, and as it contains funds for projects in virtually every state, it is one that is the hardest to cut item by item.
1976 H. WILSON Governance of Brit. x. 172 In Westminster, the Government has complete control over expenditure… Thus, in Britain, ‘pork-barrel’ expenditure is ruled out.
1994 Maclean’s 13 June 26/1 Power is based on the pork barrel and purchased with patronage.
U.S. slang. Government funds or benefits dispensed by politicians in order to gain favour with patrons or constituents. See PORK BARREL n. 2.
[1862 in D. W. Mitchell Ten Yrs. in U.S. xv. 271 To put myself in a position in which every wretch entitled to a vote would feel himself privileged to hold me under special obligations, would be giving rather too much pork for a shilling.]
1879 Congress. Rec. 28 Feb. 2131/1 St. Louis is going to have some of the ‘pork’ indirectly; but it will not do any good.
1916 N.Y. Evening Post 12 May 8/2 ‘Pork’ has hitherto stood for just one process, the parcelling out of Federal moneys for court houses, post offices, and waterways, not by States, but by Congressional districts.
1949 Marshfield (Wisconsin) News-Herald 19 July 4/3 That difference of more than $54,000,000 includes a lot of pork for individual senators.
1962 Economist 20 Oct. 252/1 Pork is the generic name for the tasty morsels of federal spending..which a member of congress likes to bring back to his constituents.
1992 Economist 31 Oct. 120/3 Congressional pork and other forms of influence are not so much direct bribes to voters as appeals to the political action committees (PACs) that fork out money to pay for advertising campaigns.
2005 Los Angeles Times (Electronic ed.) 15 Jan. A4 The PRI and the leftist..PRD..adopted a federal budget full of pork to benefit state governments under their control.
5 March 1878, Newport (RI) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 1:
THE SAVINGS BANKS.—What with General Butler’s denunciation of the savings banks as rotten and the passage of the silver bill, the country has had a good deal to unsettle it this week, and people go home from work feeling for their pocketbooks and go to bed to dream that Congressmen are crawling into the cellar window and rummaging the pork barrel.
11 April 1884, New York (NY) Times, “THE PUBLIC BUILDING RAID; THE HOUSE PORK BARREL STILL YIELDING PRIZES,” pg. 1, col. 4:
Although “pork” may be alluded to in the House, and no member is overstepping the rules by using that vulgar word, “log rolling” is a term that is permitted only to newspapers and the plain-speaking outside public.
21 May 1884, New York (NY) Times, pg. 1:
THE “PORK” BARREL OPENED AGAIN.
The public buildings “pork barrel” was opened in the senate to-day long enough for Mr. Palmer to secure a good-sized chunk for Detroit, in which city he has him home. Mr. Miller, of New-York; Mr. Sherman, of Ohio, and Mr. Call, of Florida, were anxious to get hold of similar favors, but were put off until to-morrow, when an effort will be made to have a general distribution of “pork.”
23 May 1884, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 4:
IN the U.S. Senate the passage of bills for public buildings in different cities is now called “opening the pork barrel.”
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, February 02, 2009 • Permalink