Members of the Trump administration were not the first federal employees to have crossed the line into prohibited political advocacy. Over a century ago, a pivotal event prompted the passage of the Pendleton Act, also known as the Civil Service Act, in 1883. This landmark legislation aimed to reform the American civil service system, which was marred by political patronage and corruption.
The Pendleton Act was a direct response to the assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881. Garfield's assassin, Charles Guiteau, was a disgruntled office-seeker who believed he was entitled to a government position due to his political loyalty. This tragic event shed light on the dangers of the prevailing spoils system, where government positions were handed out as rewards for political support, leading to inefficiency and rampant corruption.
Chester A. Arthur, Garfield's vice president who ascended to the presidency following his assassination, recognized the urgent need for civil service reform. In 1882, Arthur delivered a powerful address to Congress, urging them to pass legislation that would end the spoils system and establish a merit-based civil service. This speech set the stage for the subsequent passage of the Pendleton Act.