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, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission.
Started during the Chester A. Arthur administration, the Pendleton Act served as a response to the massive public support of civil service reform that grew following President James Garfield'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, 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. However, the law would also prove to be a major political liability for Arthur. The law offended machine politicians within the Republican Party and did not prove to be enough for the party's reformers; hence, Arthur lost popularity within the Republican and was unable to win the party's Presidential nomination at the 1884 Republican National Convention.
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.
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