Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act

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Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
Great Seal of the United States
Nicknames Pendleton Act
Enacted by the 47th United States Congress
Statutes at Large ch. 27, 22 Stat. 403
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 133 by George H. Pendleton (D-OH)
  • Passed the Senate on December 27, 1882 (39–5)
  • Passed the House on January 4, 1883 (155–46)
  • Signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur on January 16, 1883

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (ch. 27, 22 Stat. 403) is a United States federal law enacted in 1883 that mandated that positions within the federal government should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation.[1] The act provided selection of government employees by competitive exams,[1] rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government officials for political reasons and prohibited soliciting campaign donations on Federal government property.[1] To enforce the merit system and the judicial system, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission.[1] This board would be in charge of determining the rules and regulations of the act.[2] The act also allowed for the president, by executive order, to decide which positions would be subject to the act and which would not.[2] A result was the shift of the parties to reliance on funding from business,[3] since they could no longer depend on patronage.


In 1877, there was growing interest in the United States concerning the effects of the spoils system on the American political system.[2] New York City established the Civil Service Reform Association to help address the issues, which would lead to several other organizations like it appearing in other cities.[2] The presence of these organizations was one of the first steps in trying to up end the spoils system in America.

The assassination of President James A. Garfield moved the Civil Service Reform from city organizations to a leading topic in the political realm.[2] President Garfield was shot in July 1881 by Charles Guiteau, because Guiteau believed the president owed him a patronage position for his "vital assistance" in securing Garfield's election the previous year.[4] Garfield died two months later, and Vice President Chester A. Arthur acceded to the presidency.[5] Once in office, President Arthur pushed through legislation for civil reform.[5]

On January 16, 1883 Congress passed the Civil Service Act, which is sometimes referred to as the Pendleton Act after Senator George H. Pendleton of Ohio,[2] one of the primary sponsors. The Act was written by Dorman Bridgman Eaton, a staunch opponent of the patronage system who was later first chairman of the United States Civil Service Commission. However, the law would also prove to be a major political liability for Arthur.[1] The law offended machine politicians, or politicians who belong to a small clique that controls a political party.[6] These politicians realized that with the Pendleton Act in place they would have to find a new means of income, since they could no longer count on donations from the wealthy hoping to receive jobs.[5]

The Act initially covered only about 10% of the U.S. government's civilian employees.[1] However, there was a provision that allowed outgoing presidents to lock in their own appointees by converting jobs to civil service. After a series of party reversals at the presidential level (1884, 1888, 1892, 1896), the result was that most federal jobs were under civil service.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Digital History".
  2. ^ a b c d e f Civil Service 2014. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  3. ^ Quigley, Carroll (1966). Tragedy and Hope: Ass History of the World in Our Time. San Pedro, CA: Macmillan Co. p. 71. ISBN 094500110X.
  4. ^ "Life and Death in the White House". The American Presidency. Smithsonian Natural Museum of American History. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "Gilded Age Politics: Political Machines & Civil Service Reform". Study.Com. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  6. ^ "Machine Politician". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 29 April 2015.

Further reading

  • Foulke, William Dudley (1919). Fighting the Spoilsmen: Reminiscences of The Civil Service Reform Movement. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Women's Auxiliary to the Civil Service Reform Association (1907). Bibliography of Civil Service Reform and Related Subjects (2nd ed.). New York.
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