Civil Service Reform under Arthur

The assassination of James A. Garfield made it possible for the new president and longtime political spoilsman, Chester Arthur, to combat the patronage system's excesses. In January 1883, Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act, which provided for,

  • Creation of a Civil Service Commission, a three-member, nonpartisan board to create and administer competitive examinations for applicants to low-level federal jobs
  • Cessation of the practice of assessing federal workers a portion of their salary for the benefit of the political party that appointed them
  • Granting the president broad powers to apply civil service reform procedures to other classifications of federal workers.

Dorman B. Eaton, prime sponsor of the bill, was named the first chairman of the Civil Service Commission. Initially only about 10 percent of federal workers were covered by the reforms, but the percentage grew steadily over the years. Motives for the increased coverage were not always pure: Succeeding presidents provided security for their appointees by expanding coverage to new classifications before leaving office.

Further reform of the system would await the attention of Theodore Roosevelt.

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Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell.
The Gilded Age bon vivant who became America's unlikeliest chief executive-and who presided over a sweeping reform of the system that nurtured him Che...