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The Spoils System: What do you think of the spoils system?

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The “spoils system”, a system for appointing government officials, was first used by Andrew Jackson. This system allowed newly-elected presidents to replace officeholders with people who supported them. For example, Jackson replaced some of his cabinet members, so his cabinet would be more in favor of the decisions he made before those policies went into effect. Most of his cabinet members resigned and were replaced, however, because the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton was judged for her moral character. Jackson did not always rely on his cabinet for advice. He also had an informal group of friends that he left confidential concerns to that he called his “kitchen cabinet”.

Senator William L. Marcy was a supporter of Andrew Jackson. When he said “To the victor belongs the spoils,” the name for this system was given. The “spoils system” dealt with political considerations rather than who was best fit for the position of officeholder. This practice increased the number of bureaucrats in the American government. Jackson thought that any smart man could perform the tasks of officeholders since he believed that their jobs were easy.

During Jackson’s presidency, he replaced some of his cabinet members for political reasons, but less than twenty percent of his cabinet was removed and replaced for these reasons. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and Secretary of War John Eaton, two members of his first cabinet, were actually allied against him. Some people viewed Jackson’s actions as corrupt. They also thought that it violated the oath of republicanism.

The “spoils system” was used by other presidents and later revised by acts of Congress. Abraham Lincoln used this system to his advantage, so he would have support for both his Republican political views and the Civil War. Reformers in the 1860’s saw a need for a civil service system. When the Pendleton Act was passed in 1883, the “spoils system’ came to a halt. This new law gave a Civil Service Commission permission to evaluate job candidates as well as granting the President the right to give an appointee a permanent job through transfers.

With improvements made to this system, members from both of the main political parties were able to hold government jobs in the White House. By 1900, civil service was used to evaluate these jobs whereas the old “spoils system” had limited favor to positions of seniority. The Hatch Act prevented people holding jobs within the federal government from being involved in politics. Most state governments held on to old “spoils system” for a longer period of time than did the federal government, until the city of Chicago dispatched its use in 1972 and 1983 through the Shakman Decrees. Other nations’ governments continue to use systems similar to the “spoils system”, because their leaders are trying to keep people in power who are favorable to their causes.

1. America: Past and Present Vol. I & II2. Wikipedia

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