The "Spoils System"

One of President Jackson's first actions following his inauguration was to dismiss [fire] hundreds of officials who had worked for the government for a long time. They were mostly educated members of the upper class from the Northeast.

In their places, the President put his own supporters, many of them poor and uneducated westerners. Jackson called this policy "rotation of office." He defended it on the ground that government officials paid less attention to the people when they remained in office too long. Jackson argued that it was in the interests of democracy to replace them with "new blood" every few years. Jackson also pointed out that a newly elected President needed officials whom he could trust to carry out his policies.

Jackson admitted that many of his appointees lacked education and experience. But he did not consider this a problem. "The duties of all public offices are so plain and simple," he said, "that men of intelligence may readily qualify for them."

Following Jackson's example, other newly elected government leaders, such as governors and mayors, began to fill government positions with their supporters. Many of these new appointees were dishonest or unskilled. This practice became known as the "spoils system." Spoils is an old word meaning "prizes taken in battle." Like conquerors of old, the winners of an election felt that they should take all that they could from the losers, including their jobs.