Chester his approval. The number of political appointments had

Chester
A. Arthur (1881-1885) became the president of US after the death of James
Garfield. Although definitely not the most popular US president, the impetus to
the coming progressive movement was greatly provided by Arthur. A notable
reform in Arthur’s presidency was in the civil-service sector; under the
Pendleton Act 1883. The spoils system that had been there since Jefferson’s era
was finally replaced by a more merit based system of job appointments on
federal level as a consequence of this act.

     Tracing the spoils system to its roots,
one can identify its initiation from Jefferson’s time. Afterwards, the
Jacksonian era saw a major surge in political appointments. People were given
jobs on the basis of their political loyalties and their political
affiliations. The spoils system, also known as the patronage system, entailed
with it nepotism and a lack of job security. Every time a new election would
take place, the individuals appointed on federal jobs would pray that the
political party they supported would win so that their jobs would not get
snatched. A glimpse of that can be seen in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter where the narrator of
the story loses his job when Zachary Taylor gets elected. Corruption and
bribery, besides nepotism and lack of job security, were also prevalent in the
patronage system.

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     When Chester A. Arthur took the office in
1881, after the assassination of James Garfield, an immense number of hungry
job-seekers were waiting for his approval. The number of political appointments
had been increasing multi-folds since the Jacksonian era. Particularly after
the civil war, the number of political appointments rocketed. Facing such
challenges, it was Chester A. Arthur, a Gilded Age president, who signed the
Pendleton Act in January 1883. The Act paved the way for the establishment of
the civil service commission for ensuring a merit-based system of federal job
appointments.

     Keeping in perspective the context of the
gilded age, it is remarkable that a president, who himself had held various
jobs through the patronage system in the past, brought about such a massive
reform. The passing of this Act stands out also because it was against the
political parties-civil service relationship prevalent in that age. Multiple
factors account for such a revolutionary act. Public pressure, the role of
reform leagues, the assassination of president Garfield in 1881, and the two
political parties, all of these contributed in bringing about the much needed
civil-service reform in 1883.

     Civil service reform leagues played a
major role in creating a public awareness regarding the merit system. The
National Civil Service Reform League was established in August 1881 after a
national conference of the reformers. Millions of pamphlets in support of the
merit system were distributed among the masses by the reformers. The cries of
reform among the public were amplified as a result of the efforts of reform
leagues.

     In the tragic summer of 1881, a
disgruntled office seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot President Garfield. The
reformers linked that act to the spoils system and the assassination was a huge
factor in the anti-spoils system drive. The mid-term election of 1882 also
contributed greatly to the reformist movement. Democrats, who favoured the
civil-service reform, won overwhelmingly against the Republicans who were
reluctant for civil-service reform. After the mid-term elections of 1882, the
Republicans realized that not supporting the merit system any longer would be
going against the public mandate.