The "spoils system" of giving government jobs as a reward for political services takes its name from an 1832 speech by the Democratic senator William L. Marcy. He defended Andrew Jackson's partisan dismissals from office, and professed that he saw "nothing wrong in the rule, that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy."
Permanent tenure had become rule in many federal offices. Following his election, Jackson proclaimed a policy of "rotation in office" to curb corruption and democratize opportunities for public service. Rejecting anyone's right to continue in office, Jackson dismissed political enemies and replaced them with active supporters.
Opponents condemned Jackson, but soon learned to follow his example. By the 1840s both Jackson's Democrats and the opposing Whigs routinely used patronage to inspire and discipline party workers. Partisan removals grew ever more extensive.
By the 1850s the spoils system was thoroughly entrenched as an instrument of political warfare. Calls for reform surfaced before the Civil War.
Eliminating the spoils system became a major crusade in the 1870. President James Garfield's assassination by a "disappointed office-seeker" undermined resistance and led to the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883. The act inaugurated a merit system of employment for certain classes of federal employees.
In the remainder of the century, presidents put more offices under civil service protection, largely replacing the spoils system with a career bureaucracy. Political patronage survives in some federal as well as state and municipal appointments, but its range has been drastically curtailed.
Source: Spoils System #2
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