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The Pendleton Act

April 13, 2016

“The civil service can never be placed on a satisfactory basis until it is regulated by law.”  That’s what President James Garfield said in his inaugural address on March 4, 1881.  When spoilsman Roscoe Conkling heard Garfield’s words, he snickered to himself.  After all, Conkling’s lieutenant had just become Garfield’s Vice-President.

But by December 6, 1881 Garfield’s Vice-President had become Garfield’s successor, and in his first annual message to Congress, President Arthur offered many paragraphs on the subject of civil service reform.  The people affirmed these sentiments in the Congressional election of 1882.

On January 16, 1883 Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act.  This legislation created the Civil Service Commission, required competitive examinations for 10,000 government jobs, required promotion based on merit, and ensured office-holders would be under no obligation to support political candidates.

Arthur pleasantly surprised the reformers by his vigorous enforcement of the Pendleton Act.  Among these was Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.  The famous author wrote: “…it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”

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