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The spoils system is the practice of giving appointed offices to supporters of the political party that is in power as opposed to the merit system which fills positions based on ability.
John Quincy Adams used this system because supporters of the out going party that were still in these positions held grudges and sabotaged the efforts of the new party. He was quoted for saying " On such appointment all the wormwood and gall of the old party hatred squeezed out."
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