'Spoils System' Is AnachronisticAmong the U.S. presidents throughout its history, Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, is notable as being the progenitor of the spoils system. He was elected to the presidency in 1829 and re-elected for a second term. During his election campaign, he promised that he would fire crooks, long-term office holders and supporters of John Quincy Adams, then the president. He was referred as the "cowboy in the White House," because he was a former military officer famous for winning many battles against the British and in an expedition against American Indians. He thought that it was obvious that a party which won the election should get the spoils － in this case, government jobs.
Although he appointed some party loyalists to government jobs immediately after assuming the presidency, only 10 percent of the total public office positions throughout the United States were filled with his appointees. Mr. Jackson, the first president from what was then the western United States, promoted the spoils system with populist vigor and an aura of reform, but presidents who assumed office after him were more problematic. Benjamin Harrison, elected in 1889, loved to seek out incumbent office holders so enthusiastically that he replaced the heads of 31,000 post offices nationwide in the first year of his presidency.
The spoils system has some positive points by reviving the spirits and activity of a party. It also boosts loyalty and political responsibility as well as the will to keep pledges made during an election campaign. But it also includes some serious negative points, encouraging people to maintain personal connections with superiors for the sake of privileges. It leads to inefficient government and factional strife. In the United States, the spoils system was replaced by a merit system for public servants in the late 19th century. Today, the U.S. president can only appoint a limited number of public officials.
In Korean society during the Chosun Dynasty, "Bunkyeong," a tradition similar to the U.S. spoils system was once a serious problem. Although banned in the early period of the dynasty, people continued to go to the houses of influential peoples to give bribes when a government reshuffle was imminent.
An official from the Millennium Democratic Party recently explained that he only recommended a few hard-working people to government jobs, and there was strong public criticism of the recent reshuffle in the National Police Agency to the effect that it was balanced in terms of numbers but regionally biased in terms of the importance of jobs. It is not acceptable to say that this is the way things have always been done. Do we really have to perceive government jobs as spoils even in our small country, which is not even as large as Andrew Jackson''s native Tennessee?
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?