Spoils system

In memoriam--our civil service as it was / Th. Nast.

A drawing by amous political cartoonist Thomas Nast. The drawing depicts President Jackson riding a large hog labelled "fraud," "bribery," and "spoils" eating "plunder."

Andrew Jackson's spoils system is the most obvious way in which he broke his promise to fight Washington corruption. Under the spoils system, Jackson replaced many upstanding civil service agents--approximately 10% of federally appointed positions--with his own friends and supporters, many of whom brought incompetence to their posts. [1] While Jackson advertised federal reform as a means to clean out the corrupt ilk left behind by Adams, his spoils system aw a rash of appointments based on personal relationships and favors owed rather than merit and eligibility. This reeked heavily of the corruption Jackson swore to crusade against.

In Jackson's mind, the importance of maintaining a stong political network often superceded the need to have qualified civil servants. This is exemplified with the case of Postmaster General John McLean, who had insisted on taking a nonpartisan stance during the 1828 campaign. [1]

Important Jacksonian ally Duff Green, an editor at the United States Telegraph, insisted that McLean be removed from his post since he never endorsed Jackson. Green and McLean both had close ties to Vice President Calhoun, so Jackson had to carefully navigate this situation. His solution was to move McLean to the Supreme Court and place his friend William Barry as the new Postmaster General. The consequences of replacing a skilled Postmaster General to pay a favor were predictable: as Daniel Walker Howe states, "Barry allowed the quality of the postal office to deteriorate while a clique of Jacksonian journalists led by Amos Kendall divvied up the spoils in his department." [1] Another famous blunder with spoils appointments came with Samuel Swartwout. Jackson assigned Swartwout to be Collector of the Port of New York. In Swartwout's time in office, he embezzled over $1,225,000 before fleeing the country. [2]

Andrew Jackson's actions with the spoils system jeapordized the smooth operation of the American government. In at least a few cases, unqualified appointees underperformed compared to their predecessors. These actions do not stand for the common man whatsoever. They are a massive blight on Jackson's record that seriously calls into question his status as a common man's champion.

[1] Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[2] Brunson, and B. R. "SWARTWOUT, SAMUEL." The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). June 15, 2010. Accessed November 29, 2018. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsw03.

Andrew Jackson to John Henry Eaton, April 8, 1831

A letter from Andrew Jackson to John Eaton, where he accepts the former Secretary's resignation. He says to Eaton, "I will...obtain some qualified friend to succeed you."