What Was Andrew Jackson’s Spoils System?

Andrew Jackson’s spoils system was a deliberate policy after he became president to remove federal employees he considered to be political opponents and replace them with his own supporters. The term justifying Jackson’s policy was coined by New York Senator William Macy, who said, “To the victors belong the spoils.”

Although since the presidency of George Washington presidents had hired sympathetic government employees, Jackson’s administration was the first to do so systematically as political policy. During his election campaign, Jackson had promised many people positions in government in return for support. Once he assumed office, he saw the spoils system as a means of making government operations run more smoothly and implementing needed reforms during his administration.

Historians estimate that 700 to 900 government officials, about 10 to 20 percent of all government workers, were fired in the implementation of Jackson’s spoils system. Although Jackson’s political adversaries accused him of corruption, dubbed him “King Andrew I” and formed a new party called the Whigs to oppose him, the system was implemented by future presidents. The spoils system was not reformed until 1881, when a disgruntled office-seeker assassinated President James Garfield. Soon after, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which required the hiring of civil workers to be apolitical, was passed.