To the victor belong the spoils

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 18, 2004

In Reply to: Oh, those Democrats! posted by Acme on June 18, 2004

: : : : Which phrase is correct?
: : : : "To the victor goes the spoils"
: : : : or
: : : : "To the victor go the spoils?"
: : : : Thanks!

: : : To the victor go the spoils.
: : : It's clear if you re-arrange the sentence;
: : : The spoils go to the victor.

: : : During a Congressional debate in 1831 a New York senator, William L. Marcy, used the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils." This saying accurately described the spoils system of appointing government workers. Each time a new administration came into power thousands of public servants were discharged and members of the victorious political party took over their jobs.

: : "To the victor belong the spoils. In a war or other contest, the winner gets the booty. The proverb originated in the United States and was first used in 1832 by Senator William Learned Marcy (1786-1857) of New York. 'The victor gets the spoils' and 'To the victor go the spoils' are variations of the proverb." Senator Marcy was quoted as saying, in 1832, "They (Democrats) see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." From Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman.

: Oh, those Democrats!

Senator Marcy's remark was largely in defense of Andrew Jackson, whose campaign against President John Quincy Adams, in 1828, was seen partly as a vendetta against Adams, and whose conduct and remarks when taking office seemed to justify the association of Jackson with the spoils system which has so sullied the reputation of most politicians in the U.S. (Adams was the last of the non-partisan or bipartison breed of politicians that characterized U.S. politics during the "Founding Fathers" era.) One story is that the day of the inauguration or shortly after the White House was so besieged by office-seekers that they were climbing in the windows. Jackson was responsible for many controversial stands, none more leprous than his consent to the forced march of 15,000 Cherokees to Oklahoma, evicted from their homes in Georgia and brutally forced to travel the "Trail of Tears," with at least a fifth of their number dying of starvation, disease or exposure along the way.
The attitude that "to the victor belong the spoils" undoubtedly goes back to the first time there were victors. A famous exponent of this doctrine was Pope Leo X, who shortly after learning of his election exclaimed, "The papacy is ours. Let us enjoy it!" SS

See also: the last words of John Quincy Adams.