Spoils system

In politics and government, a spoils system (also known as a patronage system) is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its supporters, friends (cronyism), and relatives (nepotism) 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.

In memoriam--our civil service as it was, a political cartoon by Thomas Nast showing a statue of Andrew Jackson on a pig, which is over "fraud", "bribery", and "spoils", eating "plunder". Included in Harper's Weekly on 28 April 1877, p. 325.

The term was used particularly in politics of the United States, where the federal government operated on a spoils system until the Pendleton Act was passed in 1883 due to a civil service reform movement. Thereafter the spoils system was largely replaced by nonpartisan merit at the federal level of the United States.

The term was derived from the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils" by New York Senator William L. Marcy,[1][2] referring to the victory of Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828, with the term spoils meaning goods or benefits taken from the loser in a competition, election or military victory.[3]

Similar spoils systems are common in other nations that traditionally have been based on tribal organization or other kinship groups and localism in general.

OriginsEdit

In 1828, moderation was expected to prevail in the transfer of political power from one U.S. president to another. This had less to do with the ethics of politicians than it did with the fact the presidency had not transferred from one party to another since the election of 1800-known historically for the extraordinary steps the outgoing Federalist Party took to try and maintain as much influence as possible by exploiting their control over federal appointments up until their final hours in office[4][5] (see: Marbury v. Madison and Midnight Judges Act). By 1816, the Federalists were no longer nationally viable, and the U.S. became effectively a one party polity under the Democratic-Republican Party.[6] The Jacksonian split after the 1824 Election restored the two-party system.[7] Jackson's first inauguration, on March 4, 1829, marked the first time since 1801 where one party yielded the presidency to another. A group of office seekers attended the event, explaining it as democratic enthusiasm. Jackson supporters had been lavished with promises of positions in return for political support. These promises were honored by a large number of removals after Jackson assumed power. At the beginning of Jackson's administration, fully 919 officials were removed from government positions, amounting to nearly 10 percent of all government postings.[8]: 328–33 

The Jackson administration aimed at creating a more efficient system where the chain of command of public employees all obeyed the higher entities of government. The most-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.[8]: 334 

ReformEdit

By the late 1860s, citizens began demanding civil service reform. Running under the Liberal Republican Party in 1872, they[clarification needed] 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.[citation needed] 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. Following each election, the outgoing President applied the Pendleton Act to some of the positions for which he had appointed political supporters. By 1900, most federal jobs were handled through civil service, and the spoils system was limited to fewer and fewer positions.

Although state patronage systems and numerous federal positions were unaffected by the law, Karabell argues that the Pendleton Act was instrumental in the creation of a professional civil service and the rise of the modern bureaucratic state.[9] The law also caused major changes in campaign finance, as the parties were forced to look for new sources of campaign funds, such as wealthy donors.[10]

The separation between 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 machine, which survived until the 1950s 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.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Andrew Jackson | The White House". The White House. Retrieved 2010-09-05.
  2. ^ "1314. Marcy William Learned (1786–1857). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2010-09-05.
  3. ^ "spoils" dictionary definition
  4. ^ McCloskey (2010), p. 25.
  5. ^ Chemerinsky (2019), § 2.2.1, p. 40.
  6. ^ Stoltz, Joseph F. (2012). ""It Taught our Enemies a Lesson:" the Battle of New Orleans and the Republican Destruction of the Federalist Party". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 71 (2): 112–127. JSTOR 42628249.
  7. ^ Stenberg, R. R. (1934). "Jackson, Buchanan, and the "Corrupt Bargain" Calumny". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 58 (1): 61–85. JSTOR 20086857.
  8. ^ a b Howe, Daniel W. (2007). What hath God Wrought, The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford University Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-19-507894-7.
  9. ^ Karabell, pp. 108–111.
  10. ^ White 2017, pp. 467–468.

SourcesEdit

  • Ostrogorski, M. Democracy and the Party System in the United States (1910)
  • Rubio, Philip F. A History of Affirmative Action, 1619–2000 University Press of Mississippi (2001)
  • Van Riper, Paul. History of the United States Civil Service Greenwood Press (1976; reprint of 1958 edition)
  • White, Richard (2017). The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age: 1865–1896. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190619060.

External linksEdit