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Pendelton Act 1883

← American People in the Great Depression

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The Pendleton act is the act that aims to improve civil service within the United States government. The federal bureaucracy after the civil war was full of flaws and irrationality in the supervision and selection of officials.  This made the existing system ineffective and inefficient. The Pendleton civil service reform act was passed into a law in 1883. The law applied to jobs within the federal government which became later placed under the civil service.  As a result of this, there was more expertise than politics. The act provided a basis through which government officials were selected and appointed on merit basis while the government employees are awarded through competitive examinations.

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The Act came to be after the assassination of President James Garfield by an unsatisfied job seeker who took revenge against him for the lack of his appointment. The act made it unlawful for any employee to be disqualified, demoted or promoted on the basis of political reasons. Presidents such as George Washington tried to play by the rules of the Act by making the federal appointments on merit. Afterwards after his term, subsequent presidents deviated from the Act and political supporters and friends were rewarded by being given positions in the government. By the time President Andrew Jackson was appointed, the spoils system was in full force. The flaws against the Act continued long after Andrew Jackson (Grossman, 2000). The act required that no government employees were to any political contribution or service but at that time, majority of the government employees were investing most of their time and money on political activities.

The Pendleton act transformed the civil service as workers appointed to different positions became more professional and better educated. In the selection of employees  political influence took a back seat and was replaced by competency and business skills that involved a technical know how in the job category.  A series of orders that were executive was also needed in order to put more emphasis on political reforms to the search of better personnel and procedures. At later times in the history of the states, this act took a better effect as the government increased and tightened its personnel procedures into ensuring efficiency (Pendleton, n.d).


With the Pendleton Act it ushered in the era of a merit system. It brought in changes as the appointment of employees in the government is mainly based on their abilities and not political connections. In this way the Pendleton act provided the American people with a more permanent and competent bureaucracy. In the present time, civil service appointments are based on merit as most if not all the federal jobs are enlisted under the civil service system.  Today well trained and professionals have found careers that are rewarding within the federal government. At the beginning of the Act it only catered and covered for only 20% of the federal government workers while today it has grown expansively as it covers 90% of the workers.

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