George Hunt Pendleton

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George Hunt Pendleton was a prominent nineteenth-century lawyer, congressman, senator, and ambassador who played the central role in passing the Civil Service Act, also known as the

Pendleton Act of 1883 (5 U.S.C.A. § 1101 et seq.). The Pendleton Act established a federal civil service system that was based on merit rather than on political patronage.

Pendleton was born on July 29, 1825, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After his admission to the Ohio bar in 1847, he established a law practice in Cincinnati. He soon turned his attention toward politics. A lifelong member of the democratic party, Pendleton was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1853, where he served for two years. In 1857 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until 1865. During the Civil War, Pendleton gained national prominence for his opposition to President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and other wartime measures that restricted civil liberties. In 1864 he was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, campaigning for peace between the North and the South on a ticket headed by Union General George B. McClellan. Lincoln and Vice President andrew johnson won reelection.

After the war Pendleton became the leader of the greenbacker movement, which sought to redeem Civil War bonds in paper currency (greenbacks) instead of gold. His advocacy of this cause cost him the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination, because East Coast Democrats disagreed with the scheme.

Pendleton did not reenter national politics until 1879, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. By 1883 the federal government was plagued by inefficiency and corruption, most of which was attributed to the way federal employees were hired. Under the patronage system (also known as the "spoils system"), federal employees were hired and fired for political reasons. It was understood that presidents were entitled to reward political allies with cabinet posts, judge-ships, and diplomatic posts, but the spoils system extended to routine and low-level government workers. This created employee turnover when a president left office and the opposition party came into power.

The 1881 assassination of President james garfield by a disappointed office seeker led to the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883. The act, which created a federal Civil Service Commission that administered a merit-based, open selection process for hiring government employees, began the process of professionalizing the federal government. Politics and factors such as religion and nationality were to have no

bearing on the hiring of civil servants. Although the act initially covered only about 10 percent of the jobs, subsequent legislation increased the percentage and it grew steadily.

Pendleton's efforts at patronage reform cost him his Senate seat. Democratic leaders who preferred political patronage prevented his return to the Senate for a second term in 1885. President grover cleveland appointed Pendleton minister to Germany in that year. He served in this position until his death on November 24, 1889, in Brussels, Belgium.

further readings

Case, H. Manley. 1986. "Federal Employee Job Rights: The Pendleton Act of 1883 to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978." Howard Law Journal 29 (spring).

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George Hunt Pendleton

George Hunt Pendleton (1825-1889), American politician and a leader of the Democratic party, sponsored the first civil service reform law in 1883.

George Pendleton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 29, 1825. He graduated from Cincinnati College in 1841 and, in 1844, traveled extensively in Europe and the Near East. He married into an aristocratic Southern family, studied law, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1847.

After 3 years in the Ohio Senate, Pendleton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856. He succeeded Stephen Douglas as a leader of Midwestern Democrats when Douglas died. At the time of the Civil War, southern Ohio was a center of antiwar sentiment in the Union, and Pendleton became the head of a group of Democrats who opposed President Abraham Lincoln's policies at every turn.

After the war Pendleton became a harsh critic of Republican Reconstruction measures, but he increasingly emphasized currency questions in his political deliverances. The "Ohio Idea, " which Pendleton traded on as his own, called for the redemption of the government's war bonds in paper money rather than gold, thereby establishing "greenbacks" as the permanent legal tender. Sentiment in favor of the "Idea" was high, and Pendleton remained in the public spotlight. But conservative financiers were still framing Federal fiscal policy, and deflation held the day.

After he was defeated by Rutherford B. Hayes for governor in 1869, Pendleton became president of the Kentucky Central Railroad, a position he held for 10 years. In 1878, however, he was elected to the Senate for a single term. At this time, all government appointments—down to clerkships—were at the disposition of the party in power. Despite reformers' disgust with the spoils system, it was impossible to put together a majority in favor of civil service reform until, in 1881, President James Garfield was assassinated by a mentally ill office seeker. The public furor could not be ignored. In 1883, Pendleton introduced an act establishing the Civil Service Commission, and it was passed by huge congressional majorities. By the end of the century the spoils system in politics was fairly well ended. The Pendleton Act earned Pendleton an immortality that his otherwise lackluster career would not have.

In 1884 Pendleton was defeated for renomination. In compensation for his long party services, President Grover Cleveland named him minister to Germany, where he served until his death. A dashing political leader, Pendleton was known as "Gentleman George" and is perhaps more charitably remembered for his fashionable haberdashery in an age of drab clothing than for any significant contributions to American political life.

Further Reading

Except for virtually worthless campaign tracts, there is no biography of Pendleton. Howard Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to McKinley (1969), provides a conveniently secured backdrop of Pendleton's political world; and Matthew Josephson, The Politicos, 1865-1896 (1938), includes a sympathetic but brief account. □

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