Spoils system

Spoils system


In the politics of the United States, a spoils
system is a practice where a political party, after winning an election, gives government
jobs to its supporters, friends and relatives as a reward for working toward victory, and
as an incentive to keep working for the party —as opposed to a merit system, where offices
are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity. The term was derived from the phrase “to the
victor belong the spoils” by New York Senator William L. Marcy, referring to the victory
of the Jackson Democrats in the election of 1828, with the term spoils meaning goods or
benefits taken from the loser in a competition, election or military victory. Similar spoils systems are common in other
nations that traditionally have been based on tribal organization or other kinship groups
and localism in general. Origins
Before March 8, 1829, moderation had prevailed in the transfer of political power from one
presidency to another. President Andrew Jackson’s inauguration signaled
a sharp departure from past presidencies. An unruly mob of office seekers made something
of a shambles of the March inauguration, and though some tried to explain this as democratic
enthusiasm, the real truth was Jackson supporters had been lavished with promises of positions
in return for political support. These promises were honored by an astonishing
number of removals after Jackson assumed power. Fully 919 officials were removed from government
positions, amounting to nearly 10 percent of all government postings. The Jackson administration attempted to explain
this unprecedented purge as reform, or constructive turnover, aimed at creating a more efficient
system where the chain of command of public employees all obeyed the higher entities of
government. The hardest changed organization within the
federal government proved to be the post office. The post office was the largest department
in the federal government, and had even more personnel than the war department. In one year 423 postmasters were deprived
of their positions, most with extensive records of good service. Corruption
Less obvious than the incompetence and/or indolence of many of its political appointees
was the spoil system’s propensity for also corrupting or installing already corrupt public
officials. An early and glaring example of the perfidy
that was associated with the spoils system is the matter of Clerk of the U.S. House of
Representatives Caleb J. McNulty’s alleged embezzlement of U.S. House funds, or what
then former U.S. President and sitting Whig Party U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams
called a “… memorable development of Democratic defalcation.” Reform
By the late 1860s, citizens began demanding civil service reform. Running under the Liberal Republican Party
in 1872, they were soundly defeated by Ulysses S. Grant. After the assassination of James A. Garfield
by a rejected office-seeker in 1881, the calls for civil service reform intensified. Moderation of the spoils system at the federal
level came with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a bipartisan Civil
Service Commission to evaluate job candidates on a nonpartisan merit basis. While few jobs were covered under the law
initially, the law allowed the President to transfer jobs and their current holders into
the system, thus giving the holder a permanent job. The Pendleton Act’s reach was expanded as
the two main political parties alternated control of the White House every election
between 1884 and 1896. After each election the outgoing President
applied the Pendleton Act to jobs held by his political supporters. By 1900, most federal jobs were handled through
civil service and the spoils system was limited only to very senior positions. The separation between the political activity
and the civil service was made stronger with the Hatch Act of 1939 which prohibited federal
employees from engaging in many political activities. The spoils system survived much longer in
many states, counties and municipalities, such as the Tammany Hall ring, which survived
well into the 1930s when New York City reformed its own civil service. Illinois modernized its bureaucracy in 1917
under Frank Lowden, but Chicago held on to patronage in city government until the city
agreed to end the practice in the Shakman Decrees of 1972 and 1983. Modern variations on the spoils system are
often described as the political machine. See also
Patronage Political corruption
Whig Party Notes References
Griffith; Ernest S. The Modern Development of the City in the United Kingdom and the
United States Hoogenboom, Ari Arthur. Outlawing the Spoils: A history of the civil
service reform movement, 1865-1883 Ostrogorski; M. Democracy and the Party System
in the United States Rubio; Philip F. A History of Affirmative
Action, 1619-2000 University Press of Mississippi Van Riper, Paul. History of the United States Civil Service
Greenwood Press External links
 “Civil Service Reform”. Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.   “Civil-Service Reform”. New International Encyclopedia. 1905.  Fish, Carl Russell. The Civil Service and the Patronage. New York. 

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