Pendleton Act 22 Stat. 403 (1883)

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PENDLETON ACT 22 Stat. 403 (1883)

A fundamental change in the operation of American government began with the adoption of the Civil Service Act of 1883—known as the Pendleton Act, for its sponsor, Senator George H. Pendleton (Democrat of Ohio). The act created a merit system for selection of nonpolicymaking employees of the United States government to replace the "spoils" system which rewarded political supporters. Although the immediate stimulus for adoption of the act was the assassination of President james garfield by a disappointed office seeker, a politically independent civil service had been a major goal of reformers for many years.

The act based eligibility for affected federal employment on performance in competitive examinations, and it created a Civil Service Commission to supervise the examinations and handle personnel administration. Initially extending to less than ten percent of federal employees, the competitive civil service now includes over ninety percent. Much of this growth was a result of the Ramspeck Act (Civil Service Act of 1940) which authorized the President to place virtually all federal employment under the system by executive order. The Civil Service Reform Act (1978) abolished the Civil Service Commission but retained the principle of political neutrality established by the Pendleton Act.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Rosenbloom, David H. 1971 Federal Service and the Constitution. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.