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 civil service 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.
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,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.
Similar spoils systems are common in other nations that traditionally have been based on tribal organization or other kinship groups and localism in general.
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 328–33(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. The Jacksonian split after the 1824 Election restored the two-party system. 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. :
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. 334:
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.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.
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.
The United States postmaster general (PMG) is the chief executive officer of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The postmaster general is responsible for managing and directing the day-to-day operations of the Postal Service.
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act is a United States federal law passed by the 47th United States Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur on January 16, 1883. The act mandates that most positions within the federal government should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political patronage.
The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leadership. A civil servant is a person employed in the public sector by a government department or agency or public sector undertakings. Civil servants work for central government and state governments, and answer to the government, not a political party. The extent of civil servants of a state as part of the "civil service" varies from country to country. In the United Kingdom, for instance, only Crown employees are referred to as civil servants whereas employees of Local Authorities are generally referred to as "local government civil service officers" who are public servants but not civil servants. A civil servant is a public servant but a public servant is not necessarily a civil servant.
George Hunt Pendleton was an American politician and lawyer. He represented Ohio in both houses of Congress and served as the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1864.
Jacksonian democracy was a 19th-century political philosophy in the United States that expanded suffrage to most white men over the age of 21, and restructured a number of federal institutions. Originating with the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. The term itself was in active use by the 1830s.
The Mugwumps were Republican political activists in the United States who were intensely opposed to political corruption. They were never formally organized. Typically they switched parties from the Republican Party by supporting Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland in the presidential election of 1884. They switched because they rejected the long history of corruption associated with Republican candidate James G. Blaine. In a close election, the Mugwumps claimed they made the difference in New York state and swung the election to Cleveland. The jocular word "mugwump", noted as early as 1832, is from Algonquian mugquomp, "important person, kingpin", implying that they were "sanctimonious" or "holier-than-thou" in holding themselves aloof from party politics.
The merit system is the process of promoting and hiring government employees based on their ability to perform a job, rather than on their political connections. It is the opposite of the spoils system.
The Stalwarts were a faction of the Republican Party that existed briefly in the United States during and after Reconstruction and the Gilded Age during the 1870s and 1880s. Led by U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling—also known as "Lord Roscoe"—Stalwarts were sometimes called Conklingites. Other notable Stalwarts include Chester A. Arthur and Thomas C. Platt, who were in favor of Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth President of the United States (1869–1877), running for a third term. They were the "traditional" Republicans who opposed Rutherford B. Hayes's civil service reform. They were pitted against the "Half-Breeds" (moderates) for control of the Republican Party. The most prominent issue between Stalwarts and Half-Breeds was patronage. The Half-Breeds worked to get civil service reform, and finally created the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This was signed by Arthur, who became President after the assassination of James A. Garfield, a Half-Breed. Stalwarts favored traditional machine politics.
The United States Civil Service Commission was a government agency of the federal government of the United States and was created to select employees of federal government on merit rather than relationships. In 1979, it was dissolved as part of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978; the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board are the successor agencies.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, (CSRA), reformed the civil service of the United States federal government, partly in response to the Watergate scandal. The Act abolished the U.S. Civil Service Commission and distributed its functions primarily among three new agencies: the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).
Historians and political scientists use Second Party System to periodize the political party system operating in the United States from about 1828 to 1852, after the First Party System ended. The system was characterized by rapidly rising levels of voter interest, beginning in 1828, as demonstrated by Election Day turnouts, rallies, partisan newspapers, and high degrees of personal loyalty to parties.
The United States federal civil service is the civilian workforce of the United States federal government's departments and agencies. The federal civil service was established in 1871. U.S. state and local government entities often have comparable civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.
The George H. Pendleton House is a historic house in the Prospect Hill Historic District of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was built in 1870 in the French Second Empire style. From 1879 until his death in 1889, this was the residence of Senator George Hunt Pendleton (1825-89). As a U.S. Senator (1879-1885), Pendleton spearheaded civil service reform, meeting here in 1882 to draft the Pendleton Act, which created the Civil Service merit system. The building, now in mixed commercial and residential use, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
The "Half-Breeds" were a political faction of the United States Republican Party in the late 19th century.
The presidency of Chester A. Arthur began on September 19, 1881, when Arthur became the 21st President of the United States upon the assassination of President James A. Garfield, and ended on March 4, 1885. Arthur, a Republican, had been Vice President of the United States for only 199 days when he succeeded to the presidency. In ill health and lacking the full support of his party by the end of his term, Arthur made only a token effort for the Republican presidential nomination in the 1884 presidential election. He was succeeded by Democrat Grover Cleveland.
Chester Alan Arthur was an American attorney and politician who served as the 21st president of the United States from 1881 to 1885. Previously the 20th vice president, he succeeded to the presidency upon the death of President James A. Garfield in September 1881, two months after Garfield was shot by an assassin.
U.S. civil service reform was a major issue in the late 19th century at the national level, and in the early 20th century at the state level. Proponents denounced the distribution of government offices—the "spoils"—by the winners of elections to their supporters as corrupt and inefficient. They demanded nonpartisan scientific methods and credential be used to select civil servants. The five important civil service reforms were the two Tenure of Office Acts of 1820 and 1867, Pendleton Act of 1883, the Hatch Acts and the CSRA of 1978.
Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990), was a United States Supreme Court decision that held that the First Amendment forbids a government entity from basing its decision to promote, transfer, recall, or hire low-level public employees based upon their party affiliation.
According to the United States Office of Government Ethics, a political appointee is "any employee who is appointed by the President, the Vice President, or agency head". As of 2016, there were around 4,000 political appointment positions which an incoming administration needs to review, and fill or confirm, of which about 1,200 require Senate confirmation. The White House Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) is one of the offices most responsible for political appointees and for assessing candidates to work at or for the White House.
Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976), is a United States Supreme Court decision regarding political speech of public employees. The Court ruled in this case that federal employees may be active members in a political party, but cannot allow patronage to be a deciding factor in work related decisions. The court upheld the decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the respondent.
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