Maryland State Archives
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The History of Maryland's Green Bag

Why a green bag? On March 26, 1935, the Evening Sun asked that question and reported that although the "combined resources of the Enoch Pratt Library and half a dozen private information agencies were thrown into the search, the origin of the term 'green bag,' used so frequently recently in referring to Governor Nice's political appointees, remains almost as much a deep, dark secret as ever." More recently, one knowledgeable Baltimore politician contended that green is the color of money, and patronage appointments in the green bag are an effective way to reward the governor's supporters. Others theorized that the term evolved from President Andrew Jackson's practice of presenting official documents to Congress in a green-colored folder.

In England a green bag can be found hanging behind the speaker's chair in the House of Commons where public petitions to the House are placed. More generally, since the seventeenth century, when British barristers and solicitors carried official documents in bags made of green cloth, the term has meant 'lawyer.' By 1889 a legal journal, The Green Bag, began publication in Boston. It was described as "A Monthly Illustrated Magazine Covering the Higher and Lighter Literature Pertaining to the Law."

The earliest known reference in print to the green bag in Maryland is in the Baltimore, Maryland Sun on February 26, 1845 concerning Baltimore City mayoral appointments: "The 'green bag', as it is familiarly called, was sent up (yesterday)...."

By 1882 "green bag" was also used occasionally in reference to the governor's appointments. The Annapolis correspondent to the St. Mary's Beacon wrote in the March 2nd issue, "At last the governor's green-bag has been emptied, and if this may be styled letting the cats out of the bag there are many who would like to be called a cat." Not until the twentieth century, however, did "green bag" become synonymous with appointment to statewide offices, and did references to the Baltimore City "green bag" disappear.

Probably until recent time the use of "green bag" was more symbolic than real. There is no hard evidence that there was an actual bag in Maryland until the 1950s. In 1951, when Governor Theodore R. McKeldin's Secretary of State, John R. Reeves, was assigned the task of delivering the governor's appointments to the Senate, he could not find the green bag which, one newspaper speculated, was last used "years ago." Stripping the green cover off an office chair, Reeves made his own. Over the years the original chair-cover green bag has been replaced by others, including one tied with a pink ribbon by the first woman to be named appointments officer. In 1983 a handcrafted green leather pouch embossed with the state seal became the governor's "official" green bag, contributing dignity and authority to what is today a very special Maryland tradition. Henceforth, each year this authentic "green bag" will be retrieved from the Archives to be used temporarily in the ceremonies surrounding the submission of the Governor's appointments as required by Article II, sec. 13 of the Maryland Constitution.

 

© Maryland State Archives, 2003