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Spoils System

Jackson and the Spoils System

In the United States, the Spoils System is the practice of appointing public offices and giving employment in the public service on the basis of nepotism (political affiliation or personal relationship) rather than on the merit of appointees. Basically, it is an extensive form of political patronage. Robert E. Burke, M.A., Ph.D. believes that the spoils system is a practice of favoritism in the award of contracts for public works or other public purposes. The spoils system originated during the colonial period and flourished in the state governments after 1800. Obviously from Robert E. Burke’s point of view, the spoils system, when institutionalized by Andrew Jackson definitely benefited the common man because it let various different people hold a job in a public office instead of one person obtaining and keeping the same job.

Burke says that Jackson was politically motivated by three considerations. The first is his determination to end the domination of the federal government by the representatives of the financial interests of New England and of the aristocratic planters of the southern states. Jackson’s second motivation was his fear of the development of bureaucracy with an interest in perpetuating its hold on the government. Jackson’s third motivation was to remove his political opponents from office. He therefore favored a policy of rotation in office.

According to Richard Harwood, the author of The Alienated American Voter, “the spoils system is by large a thing of the past.” Harwood says the “political party bosses are extinct. The party machine that once provided the foot soldiers of politics have been replaced by political consultants who were paid $250 million to manage the elections of congressional candidates.” In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled against the hiring and firing of public employees except where party membership could be proved to be essential to the requirements of the job.

Kristen Lovett and Dave Kotlyar say “our country seems to have progressed by ridding itself of the spoils system in modern times. As a whole, we have created a more democratic society by removing ways to create a majority in the government without the peoples consent. We have realized that the spoils system is not an affective way to run the country. Most government officials, however, got their jobs based on previous experience, or their ability to do that job. The spoils system was not an evenhanded way to run the country. Once people realize this, they stopped using the spoils system; since then the government has been working better.”

In the opinion of Lovett, Kotlyar and Harwood, the spoils system made its impact on the United States, an impact that has given the United States experience with rotating office positions which will not be in the Unites States ever again.

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