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Pendleton Civil Service Act: Political Pay-offs

Pendleton Civil Service Act

Since the beginning of the government, people gained and lost their jobs whenever a new president took office. These jobs were political pay-offs for people who supported them. Many people did not take their jobs too seriously because they knew they would be out of their office soon. As Henry Clay put it, government officials after an election are "like the inhabitants of Cairo when the plague breaks out; no one knows who is next to encounter the stroke of death." Over the years the flaws that were made and the problems that resulted became more obvious. After an election you could open a newspaper and find many advertisements, which offered government jobs that were filled before the election.

On January 16, 1883 the U.S. legislation established a law, which gave employment based on merit rather than on political party affiliation that leads to corruption in the government system. Widespread public demand for reform in the government was stirred after the Civil War by accusations of incompetence, corruption, and theft in federal departments. After a guy who was refused an office job that he was capable of assassinated President James A. Garfield in 1881, civil service reform became a leading issue in the elections of 1882. In January 1883, Congress passed a comprehensive civil service bill sponsored by Senator George H. Pendleton, providing for the open selection of government employees and guaranteeing the right of citizens to compete for federal jobs without regard to politics, religion, race, or national origin. The new law covered only about 10 percent of the positions in the federal government, but nearly every president after Chester A. Arthur, who signed the bill into law, broadened its scope. By 1980 more than 90 percent of federal employees were protected by the act.

The Pendleton Civil Service Act classified certain jobs, removed them from the ranks, and set up a Civil Service Commission to oversee a system based on merit and not political stance. The commission draws up the rules governing examinations for those positions that Congress places in the classified civil service. As the list of jobs overseen grew over the years, it provided the government with a competent, more efficient government system. By the time McKinley became president in 1897, 86,000, almost half of all federal jobs, were in classified positions. Today, nearly all-federal jobs...

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