spoils system

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Related to spoils system: Rotation in office

spoils system,

in U.S. history, the practice of giving appointive offices to loyal members of the party in power. The name supposedly derived from a speech by Senator William Learned MarcyMarcy, William Learned,
1786–1857, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices.
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 in which he stated, "to the victor belong the spoils." On a national scale, the spoils system was inaugurated with the development of two political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans, and was used by the earliest Presidents, particularly Thomas Jefferson. The system soon became entrenched in state politics and was practiced more extensively on a national scale during the administration of Andrew JacksonJackson, Andrew,
1767–1845, 7th President of the United States (1829–37), b. Waxhaw settlement on the border of South Carolina and North Carolina (both states claim him). Early Career

A child of the backwoods, he was left an orphan at 14.
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, who declared (1829) that the federal government would be bettered by having civil servants rotate in office. He replaced incumbent officeholders with members of his own party. Nevertheless, during Jackson's eight years in office not more than one fifth of officeholders were replaced. The dispensation of offices by strict party allegiance was followed in succeeding years and critical opposition grew. The corruption and inefficiency bred by the system reached staggering proportions in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, and reaction against this helped bring about civil servicecivil service,
entire body of those employed in the civil administration as distinct from the military and excluding elected officials. The term was used in designating the British administration of India, and its first application elsewhere was in 1854 in England.
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 reform, which was inaugurated by creation of the Civil Service Commission in 1871. The spoils system has, however, continued for many federal offices and is even more prevalent in state and local governments.


See A. A. Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils (1968); W. d. Foulk, Fighting the Spoilsmen (1974).

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References in periodicals archive ?
The centrality of the spoils system in our politics ensures that there is no incentive to remedy this.
The whole discussion of merits (qualifications, knowledge, competences) versus spoils system (the use of kinship, political party membership, money, bribe, acquaintances) in employment within the bureaucracy has been supported by substantial research.
This antiquated international spoils system is a leftover of the post-World War II order, in which the victorious powers divided the leading positions in the world economic institutions among themselves.
In the context of nineteenth-century presidents, Summers concludes, Lincoln managed to use the spoils system "in a masterful way" (40).
The secretaries who focused on budgetary matters at best restrained spending in peacetime but failed to systemically alter the spoils system used by the services in the wake of the intense budget battle between the Navy and the Air Force in 1948.
The dedication may have also jangled these advocates of the canon because Hawthorne's focus on Pierce's "kindness" valorized an aspect of Jacksonian democracy most opposed to the establishment of authority based on quality: the spoils system. For modern Americans, "spoils system" may suggest jobs-for-votes, might-makes-right, and all the violence and inefficiency that led Progressive-Era reformers to replace it with a "merit system" professionalizing government bureaucracy.
Barack Obama's nomination of a soi disant "wise Latina woman" to the Supreme Court looked for a moment as if it might prompt a national debate on the racial spoils system euphemistically known as "affirmative action." At issue was less whether Sonia Sotomayor herself had advanced--to the top of her class at Princeton, no less--through reverse discrimination than her support for the policy from the bench.
The civil service system was built as a bulwark against excessive political partisanship and the spoils system. By removing employee protections, and contracting out significant portions of state government activity, the market model provides considerable opportunity for partisan-minded political operatives to build a new spoils system.
According to the NYT, money for many of the local construction projects still under way is divided up by a spoils system controlled by neighborhood politicians and tribal chiefs.
of North Carolina-Charlotte) looks at the US procurement system, long assumed to have been the usual spoils system in which elected officials used government jobs and contracts to reward party faithful.
Routine assumptions about patronage and the spoils system have been challenged by political reformers, though one of the most ardent of them, Sir Robert Borden, needed the accident of a coalition "Unionist" coalition government to make serious headway with civil service reform.