Government and Politics

The American Presidency

What was the Kitchen Cabinet?

It was the name given to President Andrew Jackson’s unofficial group of advisers, who reportedly met with him in the White House kitchen. The group included the then secretary of state Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), who went on to become vice president (during Jackson’s second term) and president from 1837 to 1841; F. P. Blair (1791–1876), editor of the Washington Post, who was active in American politics and later helped get Abraham Lincoln elected to office (1860); and Amos Kendall (1789–1869), a journalist who was also a speech writer for Jackson and went on to become U.S. postmaster general. The Kitchen Cabinet was influential in formulating policy during Jackson’s first term (1829–33), many believe because the president’s real cabinet, which he convened infrequently, had proved ineffective. But Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, drew harsh criticism for relying on his cronies in this way. When he reorganized the cabinet in 1831, the Kitchen Cabinet disbanded.

Jackson’s favoritism to his circle of friends did not end with the Kitchen Cabinet, however. During his presidency the “spoils system” was in full force: Jackson gave public offices as rewards to many of his loyal supporters. Though the term spoils system was popularized during Jackson’s terms in office (it was his friend, Senator William Marcy, who coined the phrase when he stated, “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy”), Jackson was not the first president to grant political powers to his party’s members. And the practice continued through the nineteenth century. However, beginning in 1883 laws were passed that gradually put an end to, or at least limited, the spoils system.


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