Pendleton Civil Service Act 1883

During the late 19th century, after the Civil War, one of the many reforms stirred up were civil service reforms, due to popular demand. The more immediate cause of these reforms, though, was the assassination of President James A Garfield, who was killed by a "disappointed office seeker". The issue of civil service reform then became one of the main issues of the 1882 elections, resulting in the Pendleton (Civil Service) Act.

FIRST, A little more CONTExt

By the time Andrew Jackson became President, in 1828, the "spoils system" had become very well established in American politics. This idea that certain political supporters could potentially receive powerful positions in the government, simply for supporting the right person, quickly fell apart. With the growth of jobs and economy, the appointed persons would end up spending a lot more on political activities, and were badgered by people wanting jobs. In addition, America was increasingly becoming industrialized, meaning more and more jobs required specific requirements and skill.


Proposed by Senator George Pendleton of Ohio, and approved on January 16, 1883, the Pendleton Civil Service Act basically tossed the spoils system out of the metaphorical window. It established a system in which anyone could compete for any government job, regardless of political affiliation, race, or religion. This Act also made sure that all positions were given based on merit, and people could not fire others solely for political reasons. Finally, since the positions were to be merit-based, the Pendleton Act called for The Civil Service Commission, which was established to enforce and the act.

Andrew Jackson, representing the "spoils system" (left), and Mr. George Pendleton, representing the Pendleton Act (right).

Although at the time, this Act only applied to 10% of the federal government positions, it started a major reform that most presidents, after the Act was signed, continued to broaden. In fact, today, less than 10% of Federal employees aren't covered .



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