President Hayes anticipated making solid progress in combating the entrenched spoils system. Since he had pledged to serve only a single term, he was free to employ merit rather than party affiliation as a means to hire federal civil servants.
In compliance with the terms of the Compromise of 1877, Hayes appointed a Democrat, David M. Key, to his cabinet. Key was named postmaster general, a position that offered ample opportunities for the dispensation of patronage.
Fellow Republicans bitterly criticized the president for making this move.
Hayes further aroused the ire of his own party by issuing an executive order that prohibited federal civil servants from engaging in political activities.
More than any other action, it was Hayes' decision to clean out the New York Customhouse that alienated the president from his party. The port officials in New York City were loyal supporters of Roscoe Conkling, head of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party and chief dispenser of patronage in his state. Conkling was outraged when his chief lieutenant, port collector Chester A. Arthur, was dismissed from his position.
Actual civil service reform legislation was defeated in Congress, but Hayes won the admiration of many for his efforts to address a serious problem.
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