Why Was the Pendleton Act Passed?

The Pendleton Act was passed following the assassination of James A. Garfield in 1881 by a man who believed he deserved a government job. The assassination caused public outrage, which led President Chester Arthur to push for an act that ended politicians appointing friends and family to government positions, and introduced the concept of awarding jobs based on merit.

Prior to the Pendleton Act, politicians and government officials could appoint jobs to friends and family. In 1881, a mentally unstable man assassinated James A. Garfield in protest against not obtaining a government job. The public's reaction caused President Chester Arthur to introduce the Pendleton Act in 1883. The act stated that jobs should be acquired through sitting exams and that candidates should prove their competencies before being appointed to a position. Although previous presidents, like George Washington, had appointed people based on merit, the subsequent ones did not follow suit.

The Pendleton Act also ensured it was illegal to fire or demote people based on political motives. In addition, it stated they should not be forced to give political service or make a payment for their position. To oversee the act's enforcement, a Civil Service Commission was established. Although the act changed how government officials were appointed, it was not popular among Chester Arthur's contemporaries, and so he was denied the right to run for a second term as president.