Many factors influenced the development of civil service reform in America during the time period between 1865 and 1900. Compare and contrast the spoils system to the merit system. 
            Analyze how American society benefited or suffered from civil service reform. Include in your answer what led up to the reform, as well as the results of it.


          The Civil War accelerated developments already under way. The growing bureaucracy swelled abnormally and the rotation of officeholders increase. Under Lincoln, 1457 incumbents of the 1639 presidential offices were removed. In addition, the occupants of many offices were changed two and three times between 1861 and 1865…Although the number of offices under the spoils system had increased, the stress of war exposed deficiencies and stimulated interest in reform.

Source:  Thomas A. Jenckes, Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 2nd Session, January 29, 1867.


The attempt on the President's life has not been treated as proof that there is something grievously wrong with our mode of appointing to office, because it is nothing of the kind…

The extraordinary unanimity of the expressions of opinion about the origin of the crime, and the wideness of an area over which they have been uttered, and the almost complete absence of any counter opinion, show very clearly how small and uninfluential that portion of the public which is interested in the perpetuation of the spoils system really is…

Source:  "The Moral of It," The Nation, XXXIII, No. 837, July 14, 1881.


The necessity of a change in the civil administration of this Government has been so fully discussed in the periodicals and pamphlets and newspapers, and before the people, that I feel indisposed to make any further argument. This subject, in all its ramifications, was submitted to the people of the United States at the fall elections, and they have spoken in low or uncertain tone…

I do not say that the men who are employed in it are all corrupt or inefficient or unworthy. That would do very great injustice to a great number of faithful, honest, and intelligent public servants.

Source:  George Hunt Pendleton, Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 2nd Session, December 12, 1882.



…Because the spoils system, which can only be supplanted through agencies which have found expression in the act of creating the Civil Service Commission, has been for seventy years the most potent of all forces…No republic can permanently endure when its politics are corrupt and base; and the spoils system, the application in political life of the degrading doctrine that to the victor belong the spoils, produces corruption and degradation…

…Our aim was always to procure the extension of the classified service as rapidly as possible, and to see that the law was administered thoroughly and fairly…

From the beginning of the present system each President of the United States has been its friend, but no President has been a radical Civil Service reformer…

There is need of further legislation to perfect and extend the law and the system, but Congress has never been willing seriously to consider a proposition looking to this extension…

On the other hand, efforts to repeal the law, or to destroy it by new legislation, have been uniformly failures, and have rarely gone beyond committee…

…The growth of the principle of Civil Service Reform has been continually more rapid, and every year has taken us measurably nearer that ideal of pure and decent government which is dear to the heart of every honest American citizen.

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt, "Six Years of Civil Service Reform," Scribner's Magazine, XVIII, No. 2, August 1895.


       The obligation then, which were created by the charter to Dartmouth College were the same in the new that they had been in the old government. The power of the government was also the same. A repeal of this charter at any time prior to the adoption of the present Constitution of the United States would have been an extraordinary and unprecedented act of power…

Source:  Supreme Court Case, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819.


This cartoon is a sarcastic reference to a statement by Terence Powderly that "we (the Knights of Labor) work not selfishly for ourselves alone, but extend the hand of fellowship to all mankind." Powderly is in the center, a scab stands to his right and an employer stands to his left.

Source:  Puck Magazine, 1886.


          …The rules and regulations under which each public servant labors will be constantly before him; the causes for which he may be suspended or removed will be impressed upon his memory; the certainty that no amount of personal or political influence can prevent charges being preferred against him violates these rules…All these influences will create in the civil service that great stimulant to success so potent among companions in arms…

Source:  Thomas A. Jenckes, Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 2nd Session, January 29, 1867.


          It is not easy to compute in figures the exact economical difference between a good and bad system of the civil service. It is necessarily a matter of inference and of comparison between the probable operations of a careless and a careful method.

Source:  George William Curtis, Harper's Weekly, XVI, No 819, September 7, 1872.


          Our aim was always to procure the extension of the classified service as rapidly as possible, and to see that the law was administered thoroughly and fairly.

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt, "Six Years of Civil Service Reform," Scribners Magazine, August 1895.


DBQ Question created by:
 Mr. Stephen Grable 
student of Mr. Herb Meserve
Shoreham Wading River H. S.
Shoreham NY 11786

created in:  April, 2000