The Spoils System


The U.S. liberation and occupation of Iraq will help all freedom-loving people in one way or another. For the American student of antiquities, there will soon be an exciting new trove of objects lifted from Iraq at the National Archives. According to the Federal Register for August 21, “I [Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage] hereby determine that the historic and modern books, documents, parchment scrolls, and other items discovered in early May 2003 in the basement of the Mukhabahrat in Baghdad, most of which pertain to the Jewish community, imported from abroad for temporary exhibition in the United States, including restoration necessary thereto, are of cultural significance. The objects are imported pursuant to an agreement with the foreign owner or custodian. I also determine that their temporary exhibition or display by the National Archives and Records Administration, or another educational or cultural institution, is in the national interest.”

This is Washington gobbledygook for one of the most famous phrases ever uttered on the U.S. Senate floor. Aptly, it was New York’s William Learned Marcy, a future secretary of state, who, in defending the patronage system set up by his pal (and future president) Martin Van Buren, remarked in 1832 to his fellow senators that “to the victor belong the spoils.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Phoebe St John

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