005 – To the Victor Go the Spoils: The Antebellum Spoils System

“Price Current” cartoon from 1838 about the Swartwout scandal, HarpWeek, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Corruption, political back-scratching, embezzlement of funds. No, this isn’t a ‘ripped from the headlines’ discussion. This week’s episode takes a look at the evolution of the spoils system in the US up to Harrison’s administration in 1841 including the largest theft of public funds in the antebellum period. We’ll explore how the Postmaster General position became one of the most important offices in the nation at the time as well as how and why William Henry Harrison wanted to reform the civil service over forty years prior to the passage of the Gilded Age civil service reform act.

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