Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (ch. 27, 22 Stat. 403) of United States is a federal law established in 1883 that stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit. The act provided selection of government employees competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government employees for political reasons. To enforce the merit system and the judicial system, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission
United States Civil Service Commission
The United States Civil Service Commission a three man commission was created by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed into law on January 16, 1883...


Started during the Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur was the 21st President of the United States . Becoming President after the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Arthur struggled to overcome suspicions of his beginnings as a politician from the New York City Republican machine, succeeding at that task by embracing...

 administration, the Pendleton Act served as a response to the massive public support of civil service reform that grew following President James Garfield
James Garfield
James Abram Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive...

's assassination by Charles Julius Guiteau. Despite his previous support of the patronage system, Arthur, nevertheless, became an ardent supporter of civil service reform as president. The Act was passed into law on January 16, 1883. The Act was sponsored by Senator George H. Pendleton
George H. Pendleton
George Hunt Pendleton was a Representative and a Senator from Ohio. Nicknamed "Gentleman George" for his demeanor, he was the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States during the Civil War in 1864, running as a peace Democrat with war Democrat George B. McClellan; they lost to...

, Democratic Senator of Ohio, and written by Dorman Bridgeman Eaton, a staunch opponent of the patronage system who was later first chairman of the United States Civil Service Commission
United States Civil Service Commission
The United States Civil Service Commission a three man commission was created by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed into law on January 16, 1883...

. However, the law would also prove to be a major political liability for Arthur. The law offended machine politicians within the Republican Party
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 and did not prove to be enough for the party's reformers; hence, Arthur lost popularity within the Republican Party and was unable to win the party's Presidential nomination at the 1884 Republican National Convention
1884 Republican National Convention
The 1884 Republican National Convention was a presidential nominating convention held at the Exposition Hall in Chicago, Illinois, on June 3–6, 1884. It resulted in the nomination of James G. Blaine and John A. Logan for President and Vice President of the United States. The ticket lost in the...


The law only applied to federal government jobs: not to the state and local jobs that were the basis for political machines. At first, the Pendleton Act only covered very few jobs, as only 10% of the US government's civilian employees had civil service jobs. However, there was a ratchet provision whereby outgoing presidents could lock in their own appointees by converting their 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. One result was more expertise and less politics. An unintended result was the shift of the parties to reliance on funding from business, since they could no longer depend on patronage hopefuls. The act also prohibits soliciting campaign donations on Federal government property.

See also

  • Civil Service
    Civil service
    The term civil service has two distinct meanings:* A branch of governmental service in which individuals are employed on the basis of professional merit as proven by competitive examinations....

  • Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
    Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
    The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, , reformed the civil service of the United States federal government.The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 abolished the U.S...

  • Hatch Act of 1939
    Hatch Act of 1939
    The Hatch Act of 1939 is a United States federal law whose main provision is to prohibit federal employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the President and the Vice President, from engaging in partisan political activity...

  • National Civil Service League
    National Civil Service League
    The National Civil Service Reform League was a non-profit organization in the United States founded in 1881 for the purpose of investigating the efficiency of the civil service. Largely through its influence many important civil service measures were passed. During World War I, its work was...

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