94th Congress COMMITTEE PRINT COMMITTEE
2d Session I PRINT No. 94-29
HISTORY OF CIVIL SERVICE MERIT
SYSTEMS OF THE UNITED STATES AND
SELECTED FOREIGN COUNTRIES
EXECUTIVE REORGANIZATION STUDIES AND
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE FOR THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON MANPOWER AND CIVIL SERVICE OF TME
COMMITTEE ON POST OFFICE AND CIVIL SERVICE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Printed for the use of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service
94th Congress} COMMITTEE PRINT C 1OMI ITTEE
2d Session PRINT No. 94-29
HISTORY OF CIVIL SERVICE MERIT
SYSTEMS OF THE UNITED STATES AND SELECTED FOREIGN COUNTRIES
EXECUTIVE REORGANIZATION STUDIES AND
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE FOR THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON MANPOWER AND
COMMITTEE ON POST OFFICE AND
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
DECEMBER 31, 1976
Printed for the use of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE 80-3550 WASHINGTON : 1976
COMMITTEE ON POST OFFICE AND CIVIL SERVICE
DAVID N. HENDERSON, North Carolina, Chairman
MORRIS K. UDALL, Arizona, Vice Chairman
DOMINICK V. DANIELS, New Jersey EDWARD J. DERWINSKI, Illinois
ROBERT N. C. NIX, Pennsylvania ALBERT W. JOHNSON, Pennsylvania
JAMES M. HANLEY, New York JOHN H. ROUSSELOT, California
CHARLES H. WILSON, California ANDREW J. HINSHAW, California
RICHARD C. WHITE, Texas JAMES M. COLLINS, Texas
WILLIAM D. FORD, Michigan GENE TAYLOR, Missouri
WILLIAM (BILL) CLAY, Missouri BENJAMIN A. GILMAN, New York
PATRICIA SCHROEDER, Colorado ROBIN L. BEARD, Tennessee
WILLIAM LEHMAN, Florida TRENT LOTT, Mississippi
GLADYS N. SPELLMAN, Maryland STEPHEN L. NEAL, North Carolina HERBERT E. HARRIS, II, Virginia WILLIAM M. BRODHEAD, Michigan PAUL SIMON, Illinois
NORMAN Y. MINETA, California JOHN W. JENRETTE, JR., South Carolina STEPHEN J. SOLARZ, New York JOHN H1. MARTIN, Chief Counsel VICTOR C. SMIROLDO, Staff Director and Counsel THEODORE J. KAZY, Associate Staff Director ROBERT E. LOCKHART, Counsel JAMES PIERCE MYERS, Assistant Counsel DAVID MINTON, Associate Counsel
SUBCO-MMITTEE ON MANPOWER AND CIVIL SERVICE
DAVID N. HENDERSON, North Carolina, Chairman
WILLIAM D. FORD, Michigan EDWARD J. DERWINSKI, Illinois
STEPHEN L. NEAL, North Carolina TRENT LOTT, Mississippi
WILLIAM M. BRODHEAD, Michigan GENE TAYLOR, Missouri
JOHN W. JENRETTE, JR., South Carolina STEPHEN J. SOLARZ, New York JAMES M. HANLEY, New York
(Paul W. Newton, Subcommittee Staff Director, Room B-370(b), Rayburn BuildingExt. 52821)
NOTE.-The chairman and ranking minority member are ex officio voting members of all subcommittees on which they do not hold a regular assignment.
Introduction -------------------------------------------------------- 1
Part I-Aferit principles and the Federal Civil Service, 1789 to the present ------------------ 7 ---------------------------------------- 3
Chapter 1. Merit system in perspective ---------------------------- 3
Concept of a merit system --------------------------- 3
Preview of historical periods ------------------------ 7
Chapter 2. Administrative beginnings, l7K-1829 ------------------- 11
Background and constitutional framework ------------ 13
Recruitment policies --------------------------------- 26
Congressional actions ------------------------------- 47
Conclusion ----------------------------------------- .58
Chapter 3. Prime of the spoils system, 1829-65 --------------------- 63
The setting and other background factors ------------- 64
Recruitment practices ------------------------------- 71
Activity in Congress --------------------------------- 8 '
Conclusion ----------------------------------------- ill
Chapter 4. Framework f or reform, 1865-83 ------------------------ 115
Background ---------------------------------------- 116
Early legislative initiatives ----- 7 -------------------- 122
The Grant Civil Service Commission ------------------ 135
Stalemate before ultimate success -------------------- 148
Passage of the Pendleton Act ------------------------ 164
Chapter 5. Extensions of the merit system, 1884-1932 --------------- 175
Background ---------------------------------------- 177
Actions by the Presidents ---------------------------- 193
Congressional actions -------------------------------- 226
Conclusion ----------------------------------------- 2 412
Chapter 6. From civil service reform to positive personnel administration, 1.933 to the present ----------------------- 249
Background ---------------------------------------- 249
1933-1940 ------------------------------------------ 253
1941-1952 ------------------------------------------ 262?
1953-1960 ------------------------------------------ 268
1960-present --------------------------------------- 279
Conclusion ----------------------------------------- 286
Part II-Statistical survey on the extension of the competitive civil
service merit system, 1884-1975, with supplementary notes
and tables on the competitive and excepted service systenis-_ 30.5 Part III-Selected foreign civil services ------------------------------- 315
Great Britain -------------------------------------------- 318
France ------------------------------------------------- 351
Germany ------------------------------------------------ 391
Italy --------------------------------------------------- 411
Canada ------------------------------------------------- 438
Part IV-A brief survey of major studies and personnel recommendations .
1905-1976 ----------------------------------------------- 465
Bibliography -------------------------------------------------------- 493
Digitized by the Internet Archive
The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress was requested by the Honorable David N. Henderson, chairman of the Subcommittee on Manpower and Civil Service. to conduct a study on the origin of the Federal civil service system, and to compare the Federal system with merit systems of other countries. The study was to include a brief survey of major executive reorganizations of the Federal Government and their effect on personnel matters.
This committee print contains the four-part report submitted to the subcommittee by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress.
Part 1, Merit Principles and the Federal Civil Service. 1"89-1969, is a historical study of the evolution of the present civil service system, and was prepared by Virginia. McMurtry. It is a careful and comprehensive tracing of events leading up to the development of the Civil Service Commission as it exists today. It supplies useful data to determine whether the original goals of the Civil Service Commission are currently being fulfilled. It is perhaps the most definitive work of its kind.
Part II, Statistical Survey on the Extension of the Competitive Civil Service Merit, System, 1884-1975. was prepared by Janes McGrath, and parallels part I with a statistical analysis of the growth of the Federal service since the passage in 1883 of the Pendleton Act. which created the Civil Service Commission. The data in part II also illustrates the change in the percentage of numbers of positions in the competitive career system.
Part III, Selectedt Foreign Civil Service Systems, was prepared by the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division of the Library of Congress. Comparisons were made with the systems of five different countries. The systems of Great Britain. Canada. Italy. France and West Germany were prepared by Edward T. Lampson. Pauline Mian. Carlo La Porta. and Francis Mkiko. respectively. The report gives a glimpse at the structure of these systems, the role of merit within each, the status civil servants hold in their particular societies, and a sketch of the different systems of compensation.
Part IV, Suriev of Executive Reorganizations and Personnel Recommendations, includes a historical view of the Federal reorganization plans beginning in the early 1900"s. The survey was prepared by Gary L. Galemory. Analyst in American National Government. Government Division. Library of Congress.
This report will be useful in understanding the Federal civil service structure. The various perspectives provided in this study hopefully will illuminate the problems in the Federal civil service and lead to corrective legislation which will provide a stronger and more useful Federal civil service merit vstem.
PART I.-MERIT PRINCIPLES AND THlE FEDERAL
CIVIL SERVICE :* 1789 TO THE PRESENT
CHAPTER 1.-MERIT SYSTEM 1N PERSPECTIVE
In 1792, by which time the new civil service under the Constitution was in full working order, there were about 780 employees-excluding the deputy postmasters-on the Federal payroll; 1 in 1976 there were over 2.8 million Federal civilian employees.2 Accompanying this
numerical expansion of the public work force over the years, there has been another dimension of growth in the Federal civil servicethe development of the merit system.3 In 1883, with the passage of the Pendleton Act, some 13,900 employees, or about 10.5 percent of the Federal civilian work force, were initially placed in the classified service and subject to the merit principles. By the mid-1970's, mo-re than 90 percent of Federal civilian employees were under some form of merit system.4
The subject of this study is the expansion of the merit system in the Federal service. The purpose of the report is twofold. One goal is descriptive-to provide a narrative of the historical evolution of the merit system in American public administration, tracing the introduction and gradual acceptance of the merit principles and the respective roles of the various Presidents, and the Congress in this process, as well as other significant factors such as the N ational Civil Serv ice Reform League and the Civil Servic Coms I itef he cn
objective is analytical-an examination of the state of the Federal civil service over time in light of the American constitutional framework, changing political configurations, executive -legislative branch interactions and conflicts, and underlying trends and themes throughout the historical periods.
In this introductory chapter we consider two preliminary matters. First, attention is focused on the concept of a merit system. Then we turn to a brief preview of the. five historical periods, which provide the organizational framework for the bulk of the report.
CONCEPT OF A MERIT SYSTEM.
Over the years the merit system has not only grown in scope: or
the number of employees covered, but also in depth, or comprehensive*Prepared for the committee by Virginia A. MeMurty, Ph. D., Analyst in American National Government. Government Division. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress under the direction of the staff of the committee.
1 White. Leonard D. The Federalists. New York. Macmillan Company  p. 255.
2 U.-S. Civil Service Conmmission. Federal Civilian Manpower Statistics; Monthly Release. 'May 1976. Washington, U.S. Civil Service Commission  p. 5.
3 For a definition of "merit system" and related terms. see subseauent discussion.
4 7.1S. Civil Service Commiss;ion. Biography of an Ideal. Washington. U.S. Govt. Print. Off.  n. 2. For detailed figures on the expansion of the merit system over the Years. see : 'McGrath, James P. Statistical Survey on the Extension of the Competitive Civil Service Merit Svstem. 1884-1975. Congressional Research Service. typed report [Feb. 9. 1976] 4Ip. The 90 percent figure cited above Includes the various independent merit systems (e.g.. Postal Service), whereas the percentages presented in the table reflect only the Classified Civil Service.
ness of the principles and rules incorporated into the system. Various attributes have come to be considered as integral components of the m-odern merit system-as surveyed shortly. However, at~ the most f undamental level, a study of the expansion of the merit system begins with a consideration of the nature of recruitment methods for nonelective governmental positions over the course of American history. As Paul Van Riper has explained in his respected work, "History of the United States Civil Service."
An entire civil service may be either nonpolitical or political or some combination thereof. Public employees selected through an examination sy stem open widely to public competition have been a novelty, except in the Orient, until relatively recent times. Before the nineteenth century -most civil servants were chosen upon what have been called, not always too appropriately, political grounds. That is, most public appointments were made on the basis of partisanship, influence, wealth, family, personal loyalty, blackmail, or charity, rather than intelligence or competence to do the work. This is the system of patronage as opposed to the merit system.5
It is useful at the outset to note that neither recruitment via patronage'6 nor via the merit system is a uniquely American phenomenon. As one writer has observed with respect to the practice of patronage:
Patronage was not invented or discovered in America: nor is it peculiar to government. In the general sense of appointments to office made for reasons of party or factional affiliation or personal gain, rather than because of personal qualifications for the posts, it has been practiced from time immemorial in diverse civilizations and in a variety of formS.7
Certain aspects of a career civil service based on merit principles can be observed in the history of ancient China, but the emergence of modern merit systems accompanied the process of industrialization and the development of the nation-state. Prussia, began a merit system in the mid-l8th century. followed shortly thereafter by France and then Great Britain. According to one source. "The U~nitedl States was among the last of the major industrialized nations to inaugurate a civil service based on meritt" 8
Congress has provided at least, implicit definitions of principles to be employed in the Federal merit system in various pieces of legislation, begrinningr with the Pendleton Act. The thruist of this legTislation in 188.3 (discussed in greater detail in chapter 4) was upon the process of entry into the service, it called for competitive examinations of a practical nature, with the successful applicant to be selected from among those graded highest. After describing the passage of the Pendleton Act and the framework it established, Van Riper suggested:
We can conclude, then, that the American legislation of 1883 stimulated the development in the United States of a merit system founded on British precedents; that is. a system of civil service recruitment and organization based on:
(1) competitive examinations. (2) relative security of tenure, and (3) political neutrality.9
However. the Civil Service Com-mission itself apparently did not focus serious attention to the definitional question until relatively
5 Van Riper, Paul P. History of the U.S. Civil Service. Evanston. Ill., Row, Peterson and Co. [ 19581 p). 8.
63 The so-called spoils system which was prominent in the mid-19th century United States, represents a "more personal and partisan" variant of patronage politics : "a patronage system, though it usually tends in that direction, is not necessarily a spoils system. * *" ibid.. p. 8
7 Mansfield, Harvey C. Political Parties, Patronage. and the Federal Government Service. American Assembly. The Federal Government Service. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., PrenticeHall [19651 p. 117.
8 Shafritz. Jay AT. Public Personnel 'Management: The Heritage of Civil Service Reform. New York. Praeger f 19751 p. 10.
Van Riper, p. 100.
recently. As is discussed further in chapter 6., in 19,555 a provision was added to the Civil Service Rules (section 66.7), aiAborizinu, interchange of Federal employees between the competitive civil service all(l other 'Federal merit systems. Befol-e Ile (rot lat lolls could beariii. thou(yh
it was first necessary to establisli standards by which to determine which of the various independent personnel sys"ienis in the Federal Government were merit systems within the meaning of this iiew provision of t1le Rules. A thorough search of public personnel literature, of previous publications of the Civil Service Commission, and of publications of other merit system jurisdictions railed to reveal commonly accepted standards of merit. Accordingly, the Commission undertook the development of such standards of merit.")
Tentative standards, included in the Conii-nission*s Annual Report for fiscal year 19,56, Were formulated as follows:
STANDARDS OF 'MERIT
These standards, adopted in tentative form, are stated in terms of objectives and principles rather than procedures or techniques, since the procedural requirements of each merit system may be peculiar to itself and not necessarily followed by other Federal merit systems.
The system must be designed to achieve, and in practice tend to achieve, the following general objections:
Securing the best qualified available personnel, either for particular jobs
or for entrance into a career in the system.
Securing a stable body of employees dedicated to carrying out the policies
established by officials responsible for policy formulation.
Providing a substantially equal opportunity for all interested citizens to be
considered for employment without discrimination based on political,
religious, racial, or other grounds.
The basic framework of the system must be established through law.,-;, rules, regulations, or instructions in written form.
Actual operations under the system must accord with the framework established.
In the filling of positions under the system, the following principles of open competition must be applied:
Publicity must be given so that a reasonable amount of information is
made available to citizens about the existence of vacancies.
Interested persons who have learned of the vacancy must have a reasonable opportunity to make known their availability for consideration.
Realistic and reasonably valid standards of competence and fitness must
be applied impartially to all persons who make themselves available.
The standards must contain no test which constitutes discrimination based
on factors other than competence and fitness. This includes the absence of
any political clearances of applicants.
Selection must be from among those determined on the basis of the standards to be most competent.
Each applicant should be able to learn what consideration was given
to his application.
Each applicant should have an opportunity to request and receive an
administrative review of the consideration given 'to his application.
Procedures must be followed under which persons, entitled to preference under the Veterans' Preference Act of 1944 are accorded the preference granted them in selection, and so that preference eligibles have an opportunity to ascertain how their preference was applied.
The above tentative standards have enabled the Commission to view employment operations in a new light and may eventually have. a significance far greater than the immediate purpose for which they were developed.'
Perhaps this effort by the Commission stimulated interest in the problem of defining merit standards. Be that as it may. Civil Service
10 U.S. Civil Service Commission. Seventy-third Annual Report, fiscal year ended June 30. 1956. Washington. U.S. Government Printing Office. [19561. pp. 28-29. Ibid., pp. 29-30.
Commissioners subsequently have attempted their own definitions. For example, Harris Ellsworth, who served as Chairman of the Civil Service Commission f rom 1957-59, articulated three principles relating to the merit concept:
As we see it, there are three basic elements involved in a complete merit concept. They are:
Compctecnc.-We seek the best-qualified people we can attract to perform the work of the Government.
S tahility.-The complexities of modern government require a stable 'career' work force, which serves all the people regardless of changes in political administration.
Equality of opportunity.-All citizens of our country, regardless of their politics, religious beliefs, race, creed, or color, have the right to compete for employment on the basis of their ability and fitness for the work to be done.1
Another recent Commissioni Chairman, JTohn 117. Macy, Jr., who sei-Ne(1 f rom- 1961-69. has dlisculssedI the merit concept in his book, Public Service. \Macv has called attention to the invtholory, su~rroiuding the merit concept which has emerged over the years and has suggested the need to rediscover the fundamentals. According to Macy,
Over the years since 188.3, a vast mythology has grown up around the merit system itself. This mythology is compounded of assorted concepts of what a merit system rea llv is-somie vague, some specific, and many contradictory-plus an accumulation of procedural details. In a contemporary evaluation it is necessarv to strip away the mythology and uncover the basic principles once again.
Theodore Roosevelt, the patron saint of a vigorous civil service, expressed these principles forcefully in his first presidential message to Congress: "The merit system of making appointments is in its essence as democratic and American as the common school system itself." This is the first basic principle. Democracy, open competition, equal employment opportunity-whatever you call it, the meaning is the same. The second basic principle is job ability. A merit system must select people who are competent and qualified for the jobs to which they are appointed. This was a key point in the basic act. It may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning today, but it was revolutionary in the nineteenth century, when the primary requirement for appointment was to be on the right side with the right people. The third basic principle is that of freedom from political influence or tribute and political neutrality on the part of civil servants. This principle is the basis of the civil service's stability and continuity.13
Perhaps the most recent and comprehensive definition of the modern merit system is contained iii the landmark Inte roovern mental Per-0onnel Act of 1970 (84 Stat. 1909). in which six component principles are outlined. Congrec-s "finds and declares," it is stated in the opening declaration of policy in that act, that the quality of public service at all levels of government can be improved by the development of Systems of personnel administration consistent with such merit principles as
(1) Recruiting, selecting, and advancing employees on the basis of their relative ability, knowledge, and skills, including open consideration of qualified applicants for initial appointment;
(2) Providing equitable and adequate compensation:
(3) Training employees, as needed, to assure high-quality performance;
(4) Retaining employees on the basis of the adequacy of their performance, correcting inadequate performance, and separating employees whose inadequate performance cannot be corrected;
(5') Assuring fair treatment of applicants and employees in all aspects of personnel administration without regard to political affiliation, race, color, national origin, sex, or religious creed and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights as citizens : and
12 E1lsworth. Harris. Foreword. U.S. Civil Service Commission. 'Biography of an Ideal. Waqshington. U.S. Government Printing Office. [19,58] p. v, vi.
13 Mac(,Iy. John WV.. Jr. Pubhlic Service: The Human Side of Government. New York, Harper and Row [ 19711 pp. 16. 17.
(6) Assuring that employees are protected against coercion for partisan purposes and are prohibited from using their official authority for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office.
Bernard Rosen. who served as Executive I)irector of the Civil Service Commission from 1971-7.5. incorporated the six items in this listing as the point of departure for his analysis of the present condition of the merit system in a recently published monograph.4
While the various formulations use assorted labels and have somewhat differing emphasis. one can sift through the respective definitions and ultimately arrive at three central principles of the merit system, important from its beginnings, along with three more recent. subsidiary conliponents. First among the historic principles is recruitment via competitive examinations, or on the basis of "job ability" or "individual competencee" A second major principle is absence of
arbitrary removals, or "relative security of tenure." The third fundamental principle is that of political neutrality in the civil service.'5 Eoual employment opportunity, while anll aspect of the central principle of recruitment solely on the basis of individual competence. nonetheless has received emphasis as a distinct component of the merit system in recent years. The other two principles of the merit system. here being termed subsidiary, include equitable compensation and training programs. Although these three latter factors are among the six principles cited in the Intergovernmental Personnel Act listing and are important considerations in any system of contemporary public personnel administration, historically these components have not figured prominentlv in the debate surrounding the merit system and its expansion until quite recently.
A variety of other terms recur in discussions regarding the
historical development of the U.S. civil service. We shall turn attention to the matter of definitions again in a later chapter.16
PREVIEW OF HISTORICAL PERIODS
The subsequent chapters. focusing on the evolution of the merit system, are organized around five historical periods.' It is not coincidental that the eras tend to divide along lines of Presidential administrations. As is described in greater detail in chapter 2, the American constitutional framework has bestowed on the President as Chief Executive primary responsibility for appointments and personnel matters. And the Pendleton Act. being in the nature of a framework law, left the precise contours and timing of future merit system expansion
largely to the discretion of the President. As was described in a special Issue of Good Government. focusing on "'The Presidency and the Civil Service." and prepared by the National Civil Service League: But only a small group of men-those gifted few who have held the Presidency of the United States-have ever had the power and the influence to '4 Rosen. Bernard. The Merit System in the U.S. Civil Service. Monograph prepared for the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. House. 94th Cong., 1st sess. (Committee Print No. 94-10). Washington. U.S. Government Printing Office.  pp. 7-37. '5While most observers acknowledge the importance of this principle, there is considerable disagreement as to what constitutes "political neutrality" and how it should be preserved. The current debate regarding proposed amendments to the Hatch Act. which would lift many of the current restrictions on political participation by Federal employees. illustrates this point.
16 See chapter 5. pp. 175-248.
~ The time periods utilized in this study have been adapted from those suggested in Biography of an Ideal [19731 and O. Glenn Stahl. Public Personnel Administration. New York. Harper and Brothers [19561 (4th ed.). pp. 14-39.
make meaningful and permanent the lengthening skein of reforms advocated by the League and activated by the Civil Service Commission. ..[Tihe major benchmarks of progress in the civil service can be measured by the active interest of our Presidents."8
Of -course, this is not to dismiss the very significant, albeit secondary, role of Cong-ress in the process as well.
The first period., 1789-1828 focuses on the initial development of recruitmnent, procedures under the new Constitution. While, generally characterized as a period of relative bureaucratic efficiency in the history of American public administration, political considerations in the making of appointments were not entirely absent during this tinie. However. the first six Presidents, whose terms encompass this era, all tended to stress individual fitness for office as a very important concern in making appointments.
The second period, 1829-65, is often characterized as the maturation of the spoils system. AXndrew Jackson certainly did not originate the spoils system. but hie did expand it at the Federal level and provided a. formal justification for it in terms of the democratic virtues of rotation in office. Increasingly during this period, partisan activities became the major qualification for public office. The dispensation of patronage was utilized to strengthen the party in power, and frequent turnovers in party control resulted in concurrent reshuffling of employees.
The period of 1865 to 1883 witnessed the beginning of a reform movement, culmninating in the passage of the Pendleton Act. The civil service reformers, motivated by considerations of public morals as well as Government efficiency, experienced various setbacks along the way, but persistently worked to gain supporters in Congress and to educate public opini-on. In 1871 an initial Civil Service Commission wa.s appointed by President Grant, on the basis of -authority contained in a rider' to an appropriations bill ; this experiment, was abandoned in 1875 for lack of appropriations. The assassination of President Garfield in 1881 by a disappointed officeseeker provided the necessary catalyst to spur more comprehensive action to reform the spoils system.
The, Pendleton Act of 1883 provided the framework for a merit system in Federal public employment. However, only about 10 percent of the civilian work force was covered by the provisions of the initial legislation. In the period, from 1883 to 193~2 considerable expansion occurred until around 80 percent of Federal employees were under the merit system. With respect to analyses 'of this expansion, however, one must be aware, of certain distortions often resulting from the spoils legacy. As one observer noted, "Another bothersome effect upon our thought. about the public service which results from the spoils tradition is the miistaken emphasis upon the number of positions that have been removed f rom the grasp of the spoilsman, whereas what really matters is the importance of the positions.""
The years from 1.933 to the present, tracing the emergence and development of modern public personnel administration, can be divided into at least two periods. The 20 years from 1932-52 saw the initial
IsNational Civil Service League. The Presidency and the Civil Service, Good Governme~nt. v. 84 (Spring 1967). p. 3~.
19 Friedrich. Carl Joachim. The Rise and Decline of the Spoils Tradition. The Annals, v. 189 (January 1937), p. 16.
setbacks of the early years under Franklin Roosevelt. as new agencies created to deal with the economic crisis were frequently exempted froin the iiierit system. But there were also major innovations and expansions under Roosevelt's leadership a few years later, and the syVstemn weathered the demands of World War II. 1The most recent period from 1952 to the present contains a story of continued growth-the passage of the Intergovernmiental Personnel Act. as noted previously. provided a manifesto of contemporary merit )princliples-as well as special challenges, threatening politicization of the merit system, as highlighted by the recent disclosures. However. one faces the usual difficulty here in attempting to relate contemporary history to a broad narrative survey.
The problem of perspective is compounded with a subject such as the merit system, which at the time of this writing has been much in the news. with new information concerning recent abuses coming to light. Against this background it should be noted that the years from 1932 to 1960 are covered in considerably more detail than the years from 1961 to 1976: likewise, the years from 1961 to 1968 are covered relatively more comprehensively than the years of the Nixon-Ford administration. The years since 1968 have of course been scrutinized in detail by the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service during the 94th Congress: in a sense this historical study ends where the report of the House investigations begins.
A final point to mention in this introduction is that in reality any given civil service usually operates with a mixture of political and merit principles. The American experience certainly appears to illustrate such a hybrid. The relative proportions of "merit" as compared with "spoils" considerations in recruitment of Federal employees have varied throughout our history. with certain periods illustrating one tendency much more than the other, as will be described in subsequent chapters. But to characterize the history of the U.S. civil service as one of the "noble merit system" slowly overtaking the "evil spoils system," as all too frequently occurs. constitutes a gross oversimplification.20
As we shall see. long before merit principles became formally adopted in the 1883 legislation, there was some attention to individual competence as well as to administrative stability in decisions regardin" recruitment al retention of Federal emil)lovees. Even (luring the height of the spoils era in the mid-19th century. many Government employees. particularly some of the chief clerks and those with special technical expertise. served for many years, providing a degree of continuity across administrations. And. of course' evidence which has come to light recently indicates that in the last few years, when many had come to take the observance of the merit principles for granted-although positions outside the classified service provided for acknowledged remnants of the spoils system even then--efforts to ilntroduce overt patronage considerations into the competitive service met with a degree of success for a time. So while expansion of the merit system and(l decline of the spoils system have represented eneral patterns or themes in the evolution of the Federal civil service.
An unpublished Civil Service Commission study. History of the Federal Civil Servie. 17R-1939. provides an example of such : "The history of the Federal civil serviee since 1883 is the story of the successful introduction and gradual extension of the classified service." [p. x]
one must be sensitive to the concurrent countertendencies as well. As Herbert Kaufman has cogently observed:
While the era of unmitigated spoils is certainly distinguishable f rom the periods that preceded and followed it, the distinctions are mainly differences in degree rather than in kind. In every period, we have expected the public service to realize multiple values; and what sets the periods apart, essentially, is the stress placed on one value relative to the others. Practically all values, however, have been recognized in some measure all of the time.' In short, the record has not been one of "unmitigated progress" for the, proponents of the merit principles.
21 Kaufman, Herbert. The Growth of the Federal Personnel System. American Assembly. The Federal Government Service. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall , pp. 29, 30.
ADMINISTRATIVE BEGINNINGS, 1789-1829
In this chapter we consider early developments in the history of the American civil service, through the Administration of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. This period has been characterized variously as illustrating "the staid, able service of the Federalist era,"i as the period of
relative administrative efficiency,"2 or as simply "the stable years."3
There has been some tendency, especially in the latter Nineteenth
Century, to look back upon this initial period and to idealize it as just short of utopian with respect to the pursuit of merit principles in the recruitment process to fill the newly created positions with the Federal government. For example, the Grant Civil Service Commission,4 in its first report, dated December 18, 1871, described this early period as follows:
During the early administrations, appointments [to public
office] were made from considerations of character and fitness,
and removals took place for cause. This practice, as it was the wisest and most reasonable, was also to be expected, because Washington, having been unanimously elected to the Presidency, party divisions, as we know them, developed only toward
the close of his administration. He required of applicants proof
'U.S. Civil Service Commission. Biography of an Ideal. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.  p. 5.
2Stahl, 0. Glenn. Public Personnel Administration. New York, Harper and Brothers [1956; 4th ed.] p. 14.
Kaufman, Herbert. The Growth of the Federal Personnel System, American Assembly. The Federal Government Service. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall  p. 12.
4For a description of the Grant Civil Service Commission, see chapter four below, pp.
of ability, integrity, and fitness. "Beypnd this," he said,
"nothing with me is necessary, or will be of any avail to them, in my decision." John Adams made few removals, and those for
cAuse. Jefferson said the pressure Ion him] to remove was like
a torrent. But he resisted it. Madison, Monroe, and John
Quincy Adams followed him so faithfully that the Joint Congres
sional Committee on Retrenchment reported in 1868 that, having
consulted all accessible means of information, it had not learned
of a single removal of a subordinate officer, except for cause,
from the beginning of Washingtonfs administration to the close of
that of John Quincy Adams.5
But, as the official Civil Service Commission history, Diog r ph 'of an Ideal, explains after referring to this quotation, "Actually ... fit] is not entirely accurate, Presidents Washington, John Adams, and Jefferson did not espouse pure merit as unqualifiedly as the report makes it appear."6 Moreover, in the words of one commentator, "The tendency of later generations to deify our first Presidents, whose achievements were indisputably remarkable, operates to obscure their brilliance as political leaders and practical administrators."7 In brief, while unusually competent people tended to be recruited during this era, there were occasional exceptions to the generalizations and political considerations were not entirely divorced from the process. As Van Riper has observed:
The Federalists were neither administrative nor political
angels. . To say that Federalist office-holders were generally
honest and competent is one thing. To infer that Federalist appointments -- among them Washington's -- were nonpolitical or were the
results of an almost modern conception of a merit system is completely to distort the reality.8
5Cited in Biography of an Ideal, p. 7.
61bid., p. 7.
7Kaufman, p. 19.
8Van Riper, Paul P. History of the United States Civil Service, Evanston, Illinois, Row, Peterson, and Company  p. 20,
Before turning to An examinAtion of the policies with respect to
appointnments followed by Washington and the other Presidents during this period, it i4 necessary to set the ptgge, )Following a consideration of the background setting and a survey, of the respective recruitment policies pursued by the first six Presidents and their subordinates, we turn to the matter of Congressional actions in the personnel. field and An examination of early patterns in executive-legislative Interactions. We conclude this chapter with a brief assessment of the extent to which merit principles were observed in this era and a preview of emerging trends.
1. Background and Constitutional Framework
In many respects American public administration in 1789 provided something of a clean slate. As one scholar has tersely observed: ". .. not only could Washington build a new executive structure; he had to."9 But while considerable innovation was necessary in implementing the new Constitution, particularly on the part of the early Presidents, clearly there were certain parameters derived from prior American experience, the establishment of the constitutional framework itself, and the realities of public administration at the time.
The practice of appointing governing officials for political reasons
accompanied the establishment of )British rule in the American colonies; offices in the British colonial ser-vice in AmericA "were secured through political connections, just as they were in England.'" Another writer, commenting on
9 Kaufman, p. 12.
Hoogenbloom, Ani. Outlawing the Spoils. Urbana, Illinois, University of
Illinois Press [19611 p. 4.
80-355 0 77 2
the origins of the so-caliled spoils system likewise has traced Its antecedents to the early colonial period:
Patronage came to this country with the settlers in Colonial
times. Pure as were the Puritans, it would be astonishing, indeed,
if a system which flourished in the mother country had not been
transplanted to its colonies along with most other habits, manners, and customs . . Throughout colonial times, government jobs were
looked upon essentially as favors bestowed upon the Job seeker in
recognition of past and in anticipation of future services.11
Another legacy of the British experience was the tendency to regard public off ice as a form of personal property; in the colonial administration office "1was sometimes bought and sold, tenure was often for life, kinship was important and office was often 'inherited' on an informal basis and. .. was
generally reserved for members of the upper saeiA1-classes."12 As was
noted in the previous chapter, formal merit principles were virtually unknown in Seventeenth Century Europe, so it is not surprising that the early colonial period reflected other practices.
Still another, rather contradictory legacy can be traced to the colonial period. As a result of the British practices, the colonists came to harbor resentments toward the perceived repressiveness of the British colonial administration and its agents. From this developed a general distrust of public officials and a desire carefully to circumscribe their authority,
11Friedrich, Carl Joachim, The Rise and Decline of the Spoils Tradition, The Annals, v. 189, January, 1937, p. 10,
12Rosenbloom, David H~. Federal Service and the Constitution, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press [1971) pp. 19, 20.
In short, there was
a prev~iling suspicion against public officials which had
evolved during the colonial perod. The predisposition of Americans
to regulate the behavior and Aut~hority of public officers strictly
was indicated by tbei~r COMPigint in the Declaration of Independence
that King George III had 'erected a multitude of new offices, and
sent hither swarms of officers to harass out people, and eat out of
their substance. '13
The Framers of the Constitution were familiar with these factors and undoubtedly influenced by the somewhat contradictory legacies. Carl Fish began his classic work on The Civil Service and the Patronage by observing, "The makers of the Constitution [in 1787] fully realized that the adjustment of the power of appointment to office required careful consideration. ,l4 Under the Articles of Confederation, the first constituttonal framework for the American States, the national civil service was very small and reflected the extreme decentralization and general ineffectiveness characteristic of the Articles as a whole; Article IX provided in part, "The united states in congress assembled shall have authority to appoint . civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the united states under their direction . 2 The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were virtually all in agreement on the desirability of changing this provision in the Articles of Confederation. According to Leonard White, one reason for the disenchantment with sole appointing power placed in the Congress was the following: "The practice of intriguing with Members of Congress for appointments had already begun, and corresponding intrigues
13 Ibid., p. 19,
Fish,Carl Russell. The Civil Service and the Patronage. New York, Russell and Russell [1963; originally published 1904] p. 1.
in the states were the subject of adverse coII~ent.",15
During the deliberations at the Constitutional Convention, "the question of the civil service was part and parcel of the more general problem of the extent of the executive power, and was itself scarcely draw into the debater"16 Insofar as the debates were specifically concerned with the recruitment of non-elective officials, the focus was entirely on major officers and how they might be appointed, "it being assumed that minor officials would be appointed bv other executive officers. "17 The debates over provisions for major appointments followed the general contours of the controversy over desirability of weak versus strong executive institution; the opposing points of view have been suamrized as follows: "One group of men feared the abuse of the appointing power by the executive and favored appointments by the legislative body; another group of more resolute men, eager to establish a strong national government with a vigorous administration, favored the granting of the power of appointment to the Presidenrt."18 Ultimately, a compromise was worked out, as reflected in the language -presently contained in Article II, section 2 of the Constitution:
The President. .shall nominate, and by and with the Advice
and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public
Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court,and all other
1 %hite, Leonard D. The Federalists. New York, Macmillan and Company, 948] p. 254.
16 Fish, p, 2.
Harris, Joseph P. The Advice and Consent of the Senate, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1953 p. 34; for a comprehensive analysis of the debates at the Constitutional Convention regarding the appointing power, see pp, 17-35. For the debates themselves, see Farrand, Max (ed,). Records of the Federal Convention. 4 vols. New Haven, Yale University Press. 1911
18Harris, p. 33.
officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein
otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law; but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such other
inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone,
in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have the Power to fill up all Vacancies
that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting
Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
The final provisions as contained in the new Constitution thus represented a considerable change from the situation under the Articles of Confederation where the appointing power had been totally vested in the Congress. In addition to the most obvious shifting of major responsibilities over the appointment process to the Executive Branch, other implications of the provisions contained in Article II, section 2, have been highlighted as follows: "This provision is extensive in its scope. It limits the appointment power, provides that offices must be created by law rather than by executive fiat, and allows Congress to regulate the appointment of lesser civil servants."19 It is significant to note that the final language of the compromise over the appointment provisions was agreed upon only at the last minute, so to speakof the Convention proceedings. A previous version had provided that the President was to "appoint to all offices which may hereafter be created by law." But the decision to adopt the ultimate wording has been of continuing consequence for American public administration, "because it gives Congress an important share of authority in regulating the civil service. 20
19 Rosenbloom, 24.
From the outset of government under the new Constitution the Senate
participated in the"advice and consent" function for the confirmation of major officers -- including those in the foreign service, the military forces, and the Federal judiciary, as well as the more important civil service appointments -- thereby retaining a veto power over the President's choices. Moreover, in line with the last minute change Congress was also authorized to determine the method of appointment (whether in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments), for lesser officials, the so-called "inferior officers" -- "the somewhat unfortunate term used by the document's drafters to designate the vitally important corps of employees responsible for the operating work of the Government -- namely the Government work force."21 However, for several decades Congress made relatively little use of this latter grant of authority.
The division of powers outlined in the Constitution between the Executive and Legislative Branches with respect to determining recruitment techniques for and/or selecting of nonelective government officials thus provides an example of the "checks and balances" motif in the American political system, or as has been more accurately labeled in recent years, an example of shared powers. Actually, while the Constitution represented a general centralization of power as contrasted with the Articles of Confederation, the new system was grounded on "a dual division of powers embodying both federalism and separation of powers." 22 Federalism -- the division and sharing of powers between the national and State governments -affected the development of the public service in the early years mainly
21 Biography of an Ideal, p. 6.
22 Van Riper, p. 12.
through a "reduced pressure upon the central government for the performance of additional functions. This helped to keep the federal service smaller in size than would have otherwise been the case."23 As is further discussed in subsequent chapters, both the vertical cleavages between the Federal and State governments and the horizontal cleavages brought about by the sharing of powers among the various branches at the national level have exerted continuing albeit indirect influences on the evolution of the American public service and its recruitment methods.
While detailing these various features with respect to appointments,
the Constitution was virtually silent on two other important personnel questions: tenure and removals. Aside from the special case of impeachment, the document made no mention of length of tenure or of location of the removal powerfor officials and employees of the Executive Branch; this omission led to an extended congressional debate in 1789.24 A variety of other provisions in the Constitution related at least indirectly to the public service.25 However, of particular relevance to the history of recruitment methods are two provisions in the Constitution, subsequently modified by the formal amendment process. First, Article I, section 3 of the original Constitution provided for the indirect election of Senators, who were to be chosen by the
respective State legislatures rather than directly by the electorate. This remained the practice for over a hundred years, until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913; since 1913 Senators have of course been
24 See discussion below, pp.
25 For a survey of some of these other provisions, see Rosenbloom, pp. 22-24.
elected at large by the voters of their States. But while it lasted the indirect election of Senators as contrasted with the direct election of Members of the House had definite ramifications, and the pre-1913 arrangements are useful to recall when examining the unfolding of the civil service reform movement and specific legislative actions.
One also needs to keep in mind the situation with respect to the transition dates of terms for Federal elected officials prior to the effective date of the Twentieth Amezidment of Febtuary 6, 1933. Until the ratification of this amendment, there was "absolutely nothing in the Constitution to specify when the term of a Presient, a Senator, or a Member of the House of Representatives was to begin or terminate."26 Via statutes, resolutions and tradition, the expiration of the old terms and the beginning of the new terms came to be fixed in early March. 27 Hence there was a considerable amount of time from the November elections until the Inauguration in March, during which time the defeated officials still remained in office; such defeated officials were known as "lame ducks." The Twentieth Amendment changed this situation by stipulating as follows:
Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice-President
shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January,
of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors
shall then begin.
Section 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in
every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day
of January, unless they shall be law appoint a different day.
26 U.S. Congress. Senate. Office of the Secretary. The Term of a Senator: When does it begin and end? Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
. p. 1.
27See ibid., pp. 2-5, for a discussion of the specifics involved in this evolution Of practice with respect to transition in terms, prior to 1933.
These circumstances prior to 1933 are of special relevance to the civil service history, because many crucial events took place during the "lame duck sessions."28 In short, it is useful, when examining the evolution of merit principles, to remain cognizant of the relationships between dates, events, and pcditical configurations, all against the background of these Constitutional provisions.
A final aspect of the original 1787 framework and subsequent institutional development should be noted: the formation and growing importance of political parties and interest groups. While political parties are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, they of course soon came to assume a central role in the American political process.29 In the early days of colonial America the factions of Loyalists and Patriots emerged. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and during the ensuing ratification debate, there were the loose groupings designated as the Federalists and the Antifederalists. However, formal party organization did not really emerge until the 1790's. By the election of 1800 the Republicans, 30 led by Thomas Jefferson, had become the
majority party and took over the Presidency from the Federalists. As we shall see, the emergence of modern political parties and their structural evolution over the years are integrally tied in with the history of recruitment practices for the civil service. In addition to political parties, other organizational
28 For example, there were the "midnight appointments" of President John Adams and the actual passage of the Pendleton Act itself. Subsequent to ,1883, further extensions of merit system coverage often were accomplished via the "blanketing-in" process, during the "lame duck" period. Such matters are discussed in detail below.
29 For the early history of political parties in the United States, see
Chambers, William Nisbet. Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience 1776-1809. New York, Oxford University Press (1963].
vehicles for participation not referred to in the Constitution but subsequently assuming a position of considerable importance are the so-called interest groups;31 certain groups of this sort made significant contributions to the civil service reform movement.
In addition to the Constitutional framework, one needs to consider briefly as a background factor affecting the development of recruitment practices the nature of the civil service structure and its changing responsibilities over the course of different eras. Two factors in this respect stand out during this early period: the relatively small size of the service and the generally nonspecialized occupational requirements. Although the growth of the Federal civil service in its earliest years was relatively large -over a threefold increase by 1801, when there were some 3,000 Executive Branch employees -- Congress exercised its authority to create new positions only sparingly and in response to need. 32 Van Riper has observed that the substantial administrative challenges posed in 1789 were mitigated by this factor of small scale:
The total problem of recruitment and management of the federal
public service was immensely simplified by the small size of the
service of Washington's day, as well as by the fact that there were
few holdover officials from the administrative regime of the Articles
30 There is some confusion created by the party labels. The Jeffersonian Party was later called the Democratic-Republican Party, and today's Democrats claim Jeffe-son as their founder. The contemporary Republican Party dates back to the 1850's.
31 For a classic study of American interest groups see: Truman, David B. The Governmental Process. New York, A.A. Knopf [1971;2nd ed.l.
32White. The Federalists, p. 255.
of Confederation. Washington and his cabinet together made only a few hundred appointments . . To keep perspective, however,
one must remember that there were then few other organizations
even approaching 3 his size, the state services being the principal competitors.
Moreover, the years from 1789-1829 fell in a nonspecialized age.34 This was reflected in the civil service, with the majority of workers performing rather routine, clerical tasks. Hence there was little need for personal proficiency in particular subjects on the part of a department's rank and file. For example, with respect to the Department of State throughout the 1790's, despite its considerable responsibilities for American foreign policy, "Nowhere in the Department was there a single person other than the Secretary who had experience or training in foreign affairs."35 A few professionals sufficed to provide the necessary technical expertise-. As late as the 1820's, there "were probably not more than fifty men with law degrees in the executive branch, about sixty navy surgeons and a lesser number of army surgeons, and about sixty civil and topographical engineers."36 Leonard White in The Federalists, the first of his series of books on American administrative history, has provided this overview of the civil service in these early days, which deserves full quotation:
33Van Riper, p. 19.
3Teentire Nineteenth Century might be characterized as a "nonspecialized age," in comparison with the contempo-rary scene, of course. No implication of significance regarding the break between 1829 and 1830 regarding this characteristic is intended; increasing specialization was a gradual process.
3 White. The Federalists, p. 128.
36White, Leonard D. The Jeffersonians. New York, Macmillan Company  p. 383.
The eighteenth century civil service differed in many respects
from that of a later period. Its temper and outlook were influenced
by the class distinctions of the mother country; its working habits
were those of a relatively leisurely era; its tools were of the
Most civil servants were engaged in finance, record keeping, and
the ordinary type of clerical operations, chiefly plain copying. The
professional side of the service was modest indeed, comprising the
judges, district attorneys and an occasional legal counsel elsewhere and a small number of physicians and surgeons in the army, navy, and
marine hospitals. Add a few surveyors in the western wilderness, a
few engineers in the army and a naval contractor, and the roll of
professionally trained officials is complete. Science -- other than
the professions -- was absent. Statisticians were unknown and professional economists could not be found on the North American continent, much less in the department of state. It was not an age of
Over the years, the growing specialization of governmental functions, reflected in the increasingly diverse and technical nature of the tasks delegated
to the civil service, had consequences for the continuing appropriateness of
particular recruitment policies *38
Finally, although any detailed consideration of management practices
in the personnel field is beyond the scope of this study, it should be
stressed that throughout this period (and for many years thereafter as well)
37White. The Federalists, p. 303.
38So long as civil service jobs for the most part remained simple, there
was less need for formal criteria of competence and a smaller loss of efficiency associated with frequent turnover of personnel, common in the period following
tha surveyed in this chapter. "Rotation-in-of fice" theories, cited in def ense of the spoils system tended to stress this fact. But as the civil service jobs became more technical, the need for experienced,professional workers increased. The growing support for the merit system was probably not unrelated to these developments. See discussion of such points in following chapters.
personnel administration -- both public and private -- was definitely primitive by modern standards. Leonard White has described the situation during the specific years under discussion in this chapter, up to 1829, as follows:
No machinery for making appointments had ever been set up, or
indeed even been thought of. Not only was there no central appointment office; only the Post Office Department had an agent to advise its head on the replacement of subordinates. A clerk was usually in charge of letters of application, which were filed for consideration
against the day when a vacancy might occur. Department heads continued to make their own selections of clerks and subordinates without reference to the President.39
Moreover, to keep things in perspective one must also recall that there was no centralized Federal agency overseeing recru:Ltment on a permanent basis for almost a hundred years, prior to the creation of the Civil Service Commission in 1883. It was not until well into the Twentieth Century that separate Personnel Offices were established in all the various Executive Departments.
39 White. The Jeffersonians, pp. 354-55.
II. Recruitment Policies
Under the new constitutional framework there were only two elected executive officers of the Federal government -- the President and Vice President. Hence, after the new government was initiated in 1789, "almost the first task with which it had to deal was that of filling the offices, in order that the constitution, and the laws as they were passed, might be executed.,,40 In this process the early Presidents, especially Washington, played critical roles.
There were definite continuities in recruitment principles pursued throughout the period from 1789-1829. For one thing, "the role of the President in single command of all branches of government business was un-questioned." 41 Moreover, both the Federalist and Republican Presidents
reflected the predispositions of their social class; and, since
both came from the same social class, with varying rural-urban
emphases, their views on officeholding were much alike. Standards of appointment from 1789 to 1829 conformed to a single pattern.42
However, variations in practices did exist and are of some significance in tracing the evolution of merit principles. Particularly noteworthy are the differences between Washington, who assumed the Presidency at the outset of the new government prior to the emergence of organized political parties, and Jefferson, whose election represented the first instance of transfer of power from one political party to another.
Despite the exaggerations of perfection already alluded to, there is
virtual unanimity among historical observers that Washington's personnel policies
40 Fish, p. 7.
4lWhite. The Jeffersonians, p. 547.
421bid., p. 368.'
were indeed outstanding. As described by Leonard White, "Washington's standards for appointment were extraordinarily high, far above the levels which had been developed in Great Britain or France, and far above what his contemporaries and successors were able to maintain in the United States." 43 In his correspondence Washington revealed an awareness of the challenge posed by the special recruitment responsibilities falling upon him as first President. Only a few days after his inauguration, the President mentioned in a letter to a
friend, "/anticipate that one of the most difficult and delicate parts of the duty of my Office will be that which related to nominations for appointments."44 In November of 1789 he stated, "in every nomination to office I have endeavored, as far as my own knowledge extended, or information could be obtained, to make fitness of character my primary object.",45
However, Washington's "fitness" criteria as a major principle to pursue in personnel decisions has been the subject of continuing discussion. While Washington was concerned with personal competence, the emphasis was not generally upon technical expertise. Rather of primary importance were a person's integrity and his reputation and standing in the community.46 Such principles were 'especially well adapted to the unspecialized and largely clerical bureaucracy of that day.,4 A survey of Washington's letters in43White. The Federalists, p. 257.
44May 5, 1789, Washington, Writings, p. 309.
45 Ibid., p. 469.
46 White. The Federalists, p. 259.
47 Kaufman, p. 13.
dictated three circumstances tending to disqualify an applicant in his eyes: family relationship, laziness, and intemperance. 48
Other factors as well apparently influenced Washington and tended
to vitiate sole reliance on the principle of fitness and competence (with respect to integrity; reputation, and the like). One such additional criterion was geography; in order to solidify the bonds of the new nation it was thought prudent to consider such matters carefully. There were various ramifications stemming from considerations of geography. For one thing, there was a desire to achieve an equitable distribution of positions among the respective States, and hence an applicant's place of residence was important. In addition to attaining some rough degree of equity among the regions (if not for individual States) with respect to a "fair share" of Federal positions, from the outset the "residency rule" for positions in the field service was observed, whereby employees were if regularly drawn from the state and locality in which the officials were to serve*, (according to Leonard White] local jealousy would have tolerated nothing less."49
Still another aspect relating to geography was the development of the tradition of consulting with the appropriate Members of the House and Senate with respect to positions in their Districts and States. As Fish noted in this regard, "In addition to this attempt to prevent jealousies between the several sections by selecting officials from the various States was the desire to make each choice acceptable to the section especially
concerned Members of Congress were important sources of information, and from the earliest days under the new Constitution, they wrote to
48 White. The Federalists, p. 262.
Ibid., p. 260.
Fish, p. 8.
the President and the heads of the departments 51 on behalf of their friends or constituents. The evolution of this practice of consultation led to the rule of "senatorial courtesy; It although still in formation during this period, "the special concern of members with appointments in their own states was recognized to the usual exclusion of members from other states." 52 Evidence also suggests that Washington gave a certain preference to Officers of the Revolutionary Army, all other things being equal, in making appointments; veteran status alone was not sufficient. He likewise looked favorably upon those with previous experience in a State public service or in the government under the Articles of Confederation. And while never a determining factor, Washington also considered the financial status of applicants, taking note of special need. 53
As mentioned already, organized political parties were not yet on the scene in 1789. But support for the Constitution was by no means universal, and so loyalty to the new system was a matter of great concern to Washington in filling government positions.54 As Fish commented, It political orthodoxy was considered as one of the elements of fitness for office."55 By the time loyalty to the new Constitution could be more
51 As was noted previously, clerks were usually appointed by the Department heads; see above, p. 27.
White. The Federalists, p. 87.
Ibid-, pp. 260-62.
54 The Congress quickly passed a law implementing the constitutional provision that required civil servants to swear their alle iance to the Constitution. U.S. Statutes at Large, 1, 23 (June 1, 1789V
55 Fish, p. 9.
80-355 0 77 3
or less taken for granted, political parties were becoming increasingly important, which in turn led to greater partisanship in appointments. As Fish wryly noted, "When political strife grew hotter and the Republican and Federalists parties began to emerge, and when, too, the irascibility of old age came upon him, Washington became more of a party man."56 White has concluded that the evidence "clearly indicates that party opinion had become an important test for officeholding under Washington so far as high positions were concerned and under Adams for lesser ones as well."57
The personnel policies of John Adams were similar in principle to
those of Washington, although from the outset Adams was more politically oriented. Reflecting upon his policies, he once said, "Washington appointed a multitude of democrats and jacobins of the deepest die. I have been more cautious in this respect."58 The changing political configurations in the country undoubtedly contributed to the outlook of Adams-, the election of 1796 had been extremely close, and the campaign had been bitter.
But while Adams preferred to select Federalists, he did not totally
exclude others from consideration. In the words of one writer, "John Adams' New England conscience and his personal ideas of honesty and probity in public affairs were sufficiently strong to prevent his pressing the use of patronage to its logical end.,,59 In a letter of October 4, 1800, Adams
Ibid., p. 13.
White. The Federalists, p. 276.
58 Ibid., p. 273.
Van Riper, p. 21.
emphasized that he had never stipulated that a person's political creed might be an "insuperable bar to promotion. No such rule has ever been adopted." However, he continued in the same letter, "Political principles and discretion will always be considered, with all other qualifications, and well we*Jaed in all appointments. ,60
In addition to a greater concern with partisanship in making appointments, Adams also fell somewhat short of adherence to the high standards of Washington in other respects. On two occasions Adams took actions that resulted in charges of nepotisml whether just or not, the circus tantial evidence placed the President in a questionable position. 61 Fish has provided this useful summary of Adams' policies:
On the whole Adams seems to have developed no such sfstenntic
policy of appointments as Washington, but to have yielded more to influence, time, and circumstance; he was more moderate than some
of his advisers, but more prescriptive than the first president;
the line of division that he drew was not exactly between Federalist
and Republican parties, but rather between those with whom he agreed . .
and those with whom he differed . 62
As already noted, the Constitution provided no guidelines with respect to tenure or removal of officials aside from the cumbersome impeachment procedure. Tenure was set bf statute in a few cases, 63 but in general was simply "understood to be at the pleasure of the appointing agency."64
60 Adam Works, IX, p. 87.
6'White. The Federalists, pp. 278-80.
62 Fish, p. 21.
For example, the Judiciary Act of 1789 set the tenure of U.S. Marshals at four years.
White. The Federalists, p. 257.
While there was the familiarity from the British colonial experience with the notion of a property right in office, this principle was never "established or seriously advocated, but permanent and continued employment during good behavior was taken for granted.",65 Aside from the brief transition period following the Inauguration of Jefferson (as discussed shortly), throughout the period from 1789-1829 "the expectation of life service was high,'" especially among lower officers such as clerks.66 In at least one instance this expectation of indefinite service was written into law; the Act of 1799 establishing the U.S. Post Office provided "that the Postmaster General, deputy postmasters, contractors f or carrying out the mail, and others employed under the aforesaid acts, shall continue to hold their several offices, appointments, and trusts, until they are otherwise removed."'67
But in the majority of cases during this period, lengthy tenure was due "tnot to law but to practice." 68
There has been recurring debate over the years regarding the location
of the removal power. However, the "decision of 1789" (discussed below) provided congressional recognition at least for a time that the removal power was to be placed solely with the President, or by delegation to his Department heads. With specific reference to the Administrations of Washington
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 369.
Ibid., p. 555.
1 Stat 733, sec 31 (March 2, 1799). Italics added.
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 369.
and Adams, Leonard White has observed that the need for removals seldom arose, "but there were enough cases to establish precedents. For the most part removals were occasioned for serious delinquency or for failure to account for public funds. ."69 Records with respect to removals of inferior officials (those not requiring confirmation by the Senate) have not been collected, but the number of instances during this period where removals necessitated Senate confirmation of a successor numbered seventeen for Washington and twenty-one for John Adams. 70
During the years while Washington was President removals for political reasons were unknown (although in the latter years of his Administration partisan considerations came to influence appointments, as mentioned above). However, after Adams became President, "he was urged at times to replace officials for party reasons and a few changes were made in which party differences played a part." 71 For example, in 1797 Tench Coxe,72 Commissioner of Revenue and an acknowledged Republican partisan, was dismissed by Secretary of the Treasury Wolcott on the grounds of "deliberate misconduct in office." According to Fish, aiding the opposition constituted the misconduct, and while Coxe may have used his official authority to advance the Republican cause, "that does not alter the fact that the removal was
69White. The Federalists, p. 284.
70Fish, Carl Russell. Removal of Officials by the Presidents of the
United States. American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1899, 1, 65-86.
White. The Federalists, p. 287.
Subsequently, Coxe was appointed as supervisor for Pennsylvania by Jefferson.
made for party purposes, and that a precedent was set which might prove to be dangerous."73 But to keep this in perspective, one should note that, according to White, none of the leading Federalists, including Adams and his lieutenants, ever "sought to make room for party adherents by removing officials and employees whose political reliability had become uncertain." 74
In 1801, with the Inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, the Presidency passed from the Federalists to the Republicans, and everyone "waited to see what would happen upon the first transfer of the power to govern from one party to another."75 The situation with respect to the civil service created an especially touchy issue. Jefferson found almost all the major offices and the majority of inferior positions as well filled with Federalists; he was later to remark, "Out of about six hundred officers named by the President there were six Republicans only when I came into office, and these were chiefly half-breeds."76 Since there were at that time expectations of permanent civil service employment, however, not many vacancies could be anticipated as a result of natural turnover. A few months after assuming the Presidency, Jefferson indicated his apprehensions regarding this task:
73 Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 19.
White. The Federalists, p. 278.
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 347.
The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Federal ed., Paul Leicester Ford, ed. New fork, G.P. Putnam's Sons 11904-5), X, pp. 393-94 (May 19, 1807).
I had foresmn3, years ago, that the first republican President who should come into office after all the places in the government had become exclusively occupied by federalists, would have a dreadful operation to perform. That the republicans would consent
to a continuation of everything in federal hands, was not to be
expected, because neither just nor politic. On him, then, was to
devolve the office of an executioner.77
The Federalists of course wanted to protect their incumbents in office. While they acknowledged Jefferson's prerogative to appoint new Department heads, they contended that lower echelon civil servants "were beyond party bounds, servants of the nation, neutral in partisan debate, and deserving to be continued without interruption in their respective offices."78 The editor of the New fork Evening Post, William Coleman, perhaps with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton, provided eloquent defenses for the Federalists' position; in one passage Coleman reasoned, "Every man who accepts an office, takes it under an implicit contract from the Government, that he shall be continued in it, as long as he exercises it with fidelity and capacity. On this reliance he relinquishes his regular business. . and devotes his time and talents to his public employment."79 However, the credibility of the Federalists was tarnished considerably by the increasing partisanship in appointments by Jefferson's predecessors, and especially by Adams' infamous "midnight appointments." In the aftermath
Ibid., IX, p. 289 (August 26, 1801).
White. The Jefferson, p. 347.
Cited in Fish, The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 36.
of the election results in 1800, during the lame duck session preceding Jefferson's inauguration, Adam acquiesced to pressure from partisan colleagues and agreed to appoint loyal Federalists to a number of recently created judgeships and magistrate positions. The Commissions for some of these appointments were still in progress on the eve of the inauguration; from the perspective of the Federalists, in this way they could at least maintain control over one branch of the Federal government -- the judiciary. At the least the Federalists were hopeful that massive partisan removals by Jefferson would result in a public outcry, but in fact the opposite occurred. As described by Van Riper, "Jefferson's mild operating maneuvers were hailed as only right and proper by most of his adherents, and the general public, then as now, found little of interest in the plight of a displaced civil servant, especially if he had been active in partisan politics." 80
So Jefferson proceeded cautiously. Shortly after entering the White House, he noted in a letter to James Monroe that "deprivations of office, if made on the ground of political principles alone, would revolt our new converts, and give a body to leaders who now stand alone." 81 Eventually, Jefferson articulated his doctrine of equal division of government offices between parties82 and of the need, given the virtual monopolization of
80 Van Riper, p. 22.
81 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, eds. Washington, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association . IX, p. 204 (March 7, 1801).
According to Van Riper, this doctrine was Jefferson's "principal contribution towards a theory of public office-holding" (p. 22).
Federalists in 1801, to "redress the balance." A dispute over the post of
customs collector at New Haven in the sumner of 1801 furnished the occasion
for Jefferson to spell out this policy:
* If a due participation of office is a matter of right,
how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few, by
resignation, none. Can any other mode than that of removal be proposed? This is a painful office, but it is made my duty, and
I meet it as such. I proceed in the operation with deliberation & inquiry, that it may injure the best men least, and effectthe purposes of justice & public utility with the least private distress; that it may be thrown, as much as possible, on delinquency,
on oppression, on intolerance, on incompetence, on anti-revolutionarf
adherence to our enemies.
. It would have been to me a circumstance of great relief
had I found a moderate participation of office in the hands of the
majority. I would gladly have left to time and accident to raise
them to their just share. But their total exclusion calls for prompter correctives. I shall correct the procedure; but that
done, disdain to follow it, shall return with joy to that state of
things, when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be.,is
he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?"
In implementing this policy of selected removals, Jefferson began with
officers whose appointments might be questioned on legal grounds. This
netted only, a small group, mainly the "midnight appointments." 84 Next
Jefferson turned to all other officers appointed by Adams during the lame
duck period following the election of 1800, and attempted to justify replacements. 85 The third group of officials singled out for removal were the
Federal attorneys and marshals. With respect to this action Jefferson
83 Jefferson, Writings, IX, pp. 273-74 (July 12, 1801). For a detailed discussion of the New Haven controversy, See Fish, Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 33-37.
84 The famous Supreme Court decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison (I Cranch, 137) held that Jefferson had acted wrongly in making these removals, but due to other considerations the Court declined to issue a writ, and so Jefferson's appointees remained in office.
85 Jefferson reasoned that Adams should not have made appointments to positions, when he knew they would primarily be serving another President. It is interesting to note that Jefferson followed this policy himself, and insofar as possible delayed filling any vacancies from December 1808 until March of 1809, so that Madii;on might make the selections. See Fish, The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 32.
argued, "The courts being so decidedly federal & irremovable, it is believed that republican attorneys & marshals, being the doors of entrance into the courts, are indispensably necessary as a shield to the republican part of our fellow citizens. ."86 By summer of 1803 Jefferson's transitional phase, and the considerable removals accompanying it, had been completed. According to Fish's tabulation, during the whole of Jefferson's Administration, he removed 109 out of the total of 433 presidential officers, but such figures underestimate the extent of the personnel turnover. As Fish further pointed out, with respect to total removals by Jefferson;
In estimating the severity of this first prescription, as of
all later epochs of removal, it must always be remembered that if the
lists of removals were made out on the basis of salary, or of the
influence which the various offices carried with them, the proportion of changes would be very much greater. Among the removals are
always found the collectors of the great cities, the postmasters, the
great territorial and foreign officers, and, under Jefferson, the supervisors of the revenue. These officers had subordinates under
them and carried on minor proscriptions. It is difficult to secure
information with regard to local and departmental removals at this
period, there are no figures, and the policy was vacillating.87
Partisanship continued to be a consideration in Jefferson's appointment
policy. Despite his ideal, to adopt a nonpartisan standard once an equilibrium was established, 88 he consistently selected Republicans to fill vacancies. 89
86 Jefferson, Writings (Memorial Ed.), IX, p. 231 (March 24, 1801).
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 43.
See excerpt from New Haven letter, as cited in note 83 above.
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 44.
Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams followed the same practice. But, as Leonard White has observed, "within the party circle. . Republican standards were high."9 Attributes of character and reputation similar to those endorsed previously by Washington were sought; the tradition of "respectability and standing in community" were emphasized by Jefferson and adhered to as well by Madison, Monroe, and Adams. Just as the social backgrounds of the first six Presidents were rather comparable, throughout the period from 1789 -1829 civil servants tended to come from the class of "gentlemen." The Federalist notion of a gentlemen placed the emphasis on wealth and family status, whereas Jefferson stressed the concept of a "natural aristocracy." derived from innate talents and education. 91
In addition to the considerations of partisanship and competence,
Republican personnel policies followed patterns previously established. 92 Geographical principles remained important. The local residency rule for positions in the field was observed, and the equal distribution of offices among the States evolved into more specific apportionment criteria. While the Federalists were initially concerned with "balancing" the areas represented by Department heads, the apportionment rule came to be applied informally but carefully to subordinate offices as well. As a result of this
9White. The Jeffersonians, p. 356.
"The concept of a gentleman was drawn from Elizabethan England. Its
principal elements were virtue, 1earnin4 and wealth. The central theme was virtue, which was understood to connote justice, prudence, temnp erance, fortitude, courtesy, and liberality. The English gentlemen accepted an obligation to govern his country: the great aristocrats were occupied in the foreign service and the high offices of state the lesser gentrywere engaged in the conduct of local aft airs as justices ot the peace. The Vrginia gentleman, of whom Washington and Jefferson were prototypes, recognized the same moral obligation." Ibid., p. 548.
For a survey of Republican personnel policies, 1801-1829, see ibid., pp. 354-64.
situation, Jefferson had to write apologetically to a fellow Virginian:
Virginia is greatly over her due proportion of appointments in
the general government, and tho' this has not been done by me, it
would be imputed as blamed to me to add to her proportion. So that for all general offices persons to fill them must for some time be
sought from other states, and only offices which are to be exercise 13
within the state (i.e., Virginia) can be given to its own citizens.
Jefferson carefully avoided any appearances of nepotism, as did his
three successors, but was criticized for favoritism in a case or two, with respect to showing partiality to his personal friends. 94 Veterans received no firmer statutory preferences under the Jeffersonians than they had before, but military service "counted favorably in the selection of officials and subordinate employees, especially in the customs service." 95 Members of Congress continued to be consulted, and increasingly the successful candidate for a position carried the endorsement of his State's congressional delegation. 96
During this period recruitment examinations appeared, but only for a
very few positions. Probably the first example of an examining board in the United States was that provided for by An Act to Regulate the Medical Establishment, (1 Stat. 721) signed March 2, 1799; section 9 stipulated:
And be it further enacted,
That the physician-general, or in his absence, the senior medical officer,
with the approbation of the commander in chief, ar commanding officer of a
separate army, be and hereby is authorized and empowered, as often as say be
judged necessary, to call a medical board, which shall consist of the three senior medical officers then present, whose duty it shall be to examine all
93Jefferson, Works (Federal ed.), IX, pp. 350-53 (Feb. 20, 1802).
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 50, 51.
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 359.
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 47.
candidates f or employment or promotion in the hospital department,
,and certify to the Secretary at War the qualifications of each.
According to White, the "army medical corps was the first to develop a test system."9 Army regulations of 1814 for the medical department provided that "~no candidate will hereafter be appointed in the medical department of the army, who shall not have received a diploma from a respectable medical school or college, without first passing the examination of an armyr medical board."98 By 1824 the Navy had established a comparable system, establishing a board of "old and skillful surgeons, for the examination of those who should apply for the appointment of surgeon's mate, or for promotion as surgeon, and to recommend to the President no one who had not submitted to an examination, and been declared, by that board, to be qualified.- by his talents, acquirements, and character."99 Meanwhile, an examination system for cadets at West Point was instituted in 1818, and for midshipmen at Annapolis in 1819.100 These initial efforts at recruitment by examination were entirely confined to the military sector. With respect to Federal civilian employment, "no one thought of a system of examinations. Individual applications, with letters of recommendation, and appointment on the basis of personal knowledge or confidence in testimonials were the order of the day." 101
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 362.
98 Brown, Harvey E. (compiler). The Medical Department of the United States Army from 1775 to 1873. Washington, Surgeon General's Of f.  p. 97.
Cited by White. The Jeffersonians, p. 363.
Ibid., p. 364.
r 7 zm-
Though parties seemed dead, politics were not; and three opposing
political leaders, three rival candidates for the succession, were
members of the cabinet. Under such conditions it is natural that the
heads of departments should have played a more prominent part in the
distribution of the patronage than ever before or since. The president attempted to avoid friction by giving to each head complete control of
his own department.107
During the Administration of John Quincy Adams the state of the civil
service became a major political issue (see discussion in following section).
Although of the same party as his predecessors, he had a different political
outlook, but refused to exploit the powers of removal and appointment for
partisan purposes. As characterized by Van Riper, "a unbending integrity
and cons&ence did not permit the President to adopt the political maneuvers 108
of a spoils politician."
Madison and Monroe removed twenty-seven presidential officers each.
Madison's removals were almost entirely from among the ranks of revenue
officers; about a third of Monroe's fell in this category, with removals of 10g
consuls in the foreign service comprising almost another third. The second
Fish. Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 62.
Van Riper, p. 28.
Fish. Removal of Officials by the Presidents of the United States, PP. 71-72.
Adams made only twelve removals, despite the admonitions from his political advisers, contending that removals derived solely from Presidential whim were "inconsistent with the principle upon which I have commenced the Administration, 110
of removing no person from office but for cause."
Of the six Presidents included in this period, then, Jefferson during the "transition period" made by far the most removals. As a result, Fish observed:
Technically one must assign to Jefferson the introduction of the
spoils system into the national service, for party service was recognized
as a reason for appointment to office, and party dissent as a cause for removal. It was not, however, the sole reason required; and . the
character of the civil service was really not changed much.111
The Civil Service Commission's history, under a section titled "Pendulum Begins to Swing" notes that the "midnight appointments" of Adams and the "retaliation" by Jefferson set in motion partisan patterns which culminated in the spoils system; "once this pendulum started swinging, it became increasingly difficult to
stop." But as Leonard White concluded, Jefferson was no spollsman; "he raised
a standard that in retrospect commands honor, and by his prudence delayed for a generation the practice of rotation in federal office, already breaking into
state circles." Moreover, Jefferson formally expressed concern about safeguarding the neutrality of the Federal service. In what is apparently the first
Memoirs of John Quincy Adams. Charles Frances Adams, ed. Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott (1874-771 VI, PP. 546-47,
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, P. 51.
Biography of an Ideal, pp. 9-10.
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 354.
80-355 0 77 4
Presidential order attempting to regulate political activity by Federal employees, Jefferson stated in an 1801 circular distributed to all government
The President of the United States has seen with dissatisfaction
officers of the general government taking on various occasions active
carts in the elections of public functionaries, whether of the general
or state governments The right of any officer to give his vote at
elections as a qualified citizen is not meant to be restrained, nor, however, given shall it have any effect to his prejudice; but it is
expected that he will not attempt to influence the votes of others, nor
take any part in the business of electioneering, that being deemed
inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution and his duties to it.ll4
But as various commentators have noted, "The circular was ineffective, and Jefferson removed primarily those officers engaging in political activity 115
against his administration."
As noted previously, despite the instances of removals (particularly during the period from 1801-03), tenure in the Federal service throughout this era was generally for life. This relative stability and continuity had various ramifications. On the one hand, employees were usually experienced, and agencies developed an esprit de corps with workers who had served together for years. .n the other hand, important middle management positions tended to be held by increasingly older men, thereby impeding any influx of fresh ideas, and superannuation became an increasingly serious problem. Since public retirement systems
As cited in Rimensnyder, Nelson F. Regulation of Political Activities of Federal ployees Prior to Enactment of the Hatch Political Activities Act (1939192> A History of Policy. U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service T=ultilith 73-57, December 29, 19721 p. 2.
Hosenbloom, p. 4O.
were still far in the future and since removal tended to carry negative connot8.tions of fault or delinquency on the part of the employee, Federal workers frequently were carried on the payroll even after their productivity was greatly
reduced by senility, creating in effect an informal pension arrangement.
III. Congressional Actio,"
The Constitution gave the Senate a specified role in the appointment
process for major Federal officers via the advice and consent" requirement for confirmation of the Presidential nominees. As already noted, the practice quickly developed that Presidents consulted informally with Members off Congress concerning appointments, and especially with a State's delegation in regard to the filling of a local position. As White stated, "Senators and to a 'lesser extent Representatives promptly began to interest themselves in appointments. By the end of [John] Adams' administration the convention had become well established that Congressmen were normally consulted concern-irg nominations to federal officee"
In an insightful discussion focusing on the Federal service and Cong3ressionalPresidential relations, Herbert Kaufman has noted that aside -from the Coznstitutional provision for Senate confirmation and the usefulness of Congressmen as sources of information, practical political considerations mandated a role for the Congress in the formulation of recruitment policy. For example, given the Constitutional framework of shared powers, the President needs Congressional support -- especially appropriations -to function as Chief Executive, and thus can "never afford to
White. The Jeffersonians, pp. 375-78.
White. The Federalists, p. 83.
arouse the hostile opposition of the members of Congress by arbitrarily ignoring their preferences." Equally significant is the decentralized nature of the American party system with organizational power centered in the State and local units, so that "members of the national legislature owe their election to the State and local political organizations rather than to the national party headqua.rters." Distribution of available government jobs to the party faithful became an accepted practice, and was disregarded at the risk of jeopardizing an incumbent's reelection. Particularly prior to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment and direct election of Senators, "without federal patronage, the ability of a candidate for the Senate to influence the action of the state legislators 118
would have been seriously curtailed."
Given the necessity for cooperation between the branches coupled with an inherent institutional and sometimes political rivalry with respect to prerogatives for shaping recruitment policy for Federal officials, "The public service very early became a battleground in the relations of the President and Congress, with Congress seeking to lay its hands on the patronage and the President acceding to its wishes in return for a consideration -- support of his programs and
policies." While Leonard White has concluded that "no President before 1829
Kaufman, pp. 23-24.
Ibid, p. 19 ,
undertook to buy leadership or legislation with patronage," previous discussion here has served to illustrate that partisan considerations began to play a role from Washington's second term onward. Several Congressional initiatives to protect and/or extend its role in Federal personnel matters occurred in the period from 1T89-1829.
Ofte sometimes finds references to the "decision of 1T89" in discussions on
recruitment policy. This first major controversy under the new framework involved the location of the removal power, not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. At issue was a proposal to create the Department of Foreign Affairs as the first Executive Department; among other things the bill provided that the President was to have sole removal power over the future Department head (and by implication, 121
over other Executive Branch officials as well). A lengthy debate ensued in the House during which the following basic positions were advocated:
1. The pow-er to remove was part of the executive power granted to the
president by the Constitution and therefore he could exercise it without
the advice and consent of the Senate.
2. The power to remove was connected to the power to appoint and
therefore the Constitution required the Senate's concurrence.
3. The only constitutional means of removal was impeachment.
4. The Constitution gave Congress the authority to decide where
the removal power should be vested.
A. Congress should vest it in the president alone.
B. Congress should vest it in the president and the Senate.122
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 43.
For a description of the debate leading up to the "decision of 1789" see
White, The Federalists, pp. 20-25.
Rosenbloom, p. 26.
The final decision to pass the proposal resulted from an alliance between those holding positions 1 and 4A; the vote in the House was 31-19, but a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Adams was required for the measure to clear the Senate on July 18, 1789. The ultimate approval "implied congressional endorsement 123
of an almost unrestricted power of removal as a prerogative of the President." But the "decision of 1789" did not provide a final resolution of the issue; instead, "The difficulty of determining the precise division of authority over appointments and removals as between the President and Congress was to provide 124
a continuing basis of contention."
During the First Congress the issue of political neutrality of the Federal service also arose. While the House was debating a bill to levy an excise tax on distilled spirits, an amendment was proposed "to prevent inspectors, or any officers under them, from interfering, either directly or indirectly, in elections, 125
further than giving their own votes, on penalty of forfeiting their offices." After a short debate, the House rejected the amendment by a vote of 37 to 21.
Van Riper, p. 15.
Annals of Congress. lst Congress, 2nd sess., p. 1924. See Rimensnyder, p. 1, for further discussion of this debate.
However, this 1791 debate presaged several contentions raised repeatedly in
recent efforts to lift restrictions subsequently imposed on political activities 126
of Federal employees.
Racial discrimination in the Federal service likewise emerged during this
era. In 1802 the Postmaster General had warned of the threat to internal
security, were Negroes allowed to carry the mail, because they might thereby
acquire subversive ideas and coordinate an uprising. In 1810 Congress enacted
a law (2 Stat. 594) providing that "no other than a free white person shall be
employed in conveying the mail." The law was reenacted in 1825, and was not 127
finally repealed until 1865 (13 Stat. 515).
Perhaps the label of "first civil service reform effort" belongs with the
activity of the House in 1811 relating to a proposed Constitutional amendment.
Although the movement as a reform measure now appears "aimless and ineffective,"
its significance "lies in the fact the the object was not to secure a more effi128
cient civil service, but to guard against a political danger." The proposed
The immediate source of current restrictions on the political activities of Federal employees is the Hatch Act, as amended, originally passed by the Congress in 1939 (53 Stat. 1147). In the 94th Congress H.R. 8617, which would lift many of these restrictions, passed both Houses but not by the sufficient twothirds majorities needed to override the President's veto. See discussion in following chapters.
Rosenbloom, p. 124. He further notes, "Although the statute applied only to postal employees, it is believed that there were no Negroes in the bureaucracy until 1869 when Ebenezer Basset became minister to Haiti."
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, P. 57.
amendment provided that a Member of' Congress might accept no "employment, under the authority of' the United States, until the expiration of the Presidential term in which such persons shall have served as senator or representative." Article I, section 6 of' the Constitution already prohibited Members of' Congress from assuming a government position newly created or increased in stipend while they were in office; appointments of' Congressmen for existing positions or after departure from Congress were not mentioned,however,
Particularly during this era when the Congressional Caucus was "the single
most important presidential notiinating body," there was concern over the practice of "appointing congressmen and senators to executive office" following their 129
support for the.--successful presidential candidate. In the broader perspective
this patronage threatened the separation of powers and tended to reduce the position of' Congress viz-a-viz the Executive. As Kaufman notes regarding this amendment attempt:
The purpose was to prevent the President from subordinating Congress
by rewarding submissive members with government jobs; members of Congress
apparently prized such appointments, for Jefferson placed 20, Madison
employed 29, and Adams complained that half of the legislators were seeking
office for their relatives, the other half for themselves.130
Van Riper, p. 24. For a brief discussion of the origins of the caucuses and their role in the nominating process, see: David, Paul T., Goldman, Ralph M., and Bain, Richard C. The Politics of National Party Conventions. Washington, Brookings Institution [19601 pp. 10-17.
Kaufman, p. 18. The relatively greater salary of the higher Executive
Branch positions at this time as compared with very low congressional compensation
apparently provided the major lure.
The vote on the amendment was 71 to 40, a clear majority, but short of the 131
two-thirds needed. Several unsuccessful attempts to pass similarly worded
Another landmark congressional action in this early period was the passage
of the Tenure of Office Act (3 Stat. 582) in 1820. As described by White:
The act itself was brief. It provided that the principal officers
concerned with the collection or disbursement of money should be henceforth appointed for fixed terms of four years, and that the commissions of present
incumbents should expife at stated intervals, not later than September 30, 1821. The classes of agents affected were district attorneys, collectors
of customs, naval officers and surveyors of the customs, navy agents,
receivers of public money for lands, registers of the land offices, paymasters in the army, the apothecary general, the assistant apothecaries
general, and the commissary general of purchases. Not affected were pursers,
Indian agents, postmasters, or any of the accounting and clerical officers
and employees stationed in Washington.133
The law further authorized the President to adjust the bond required for various
officials and stipulated the procedure for processing of commissions for all
For a summary of this 1811 debate see: Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 56-59. For the full discussion, see: Annals of Congress, 2nd Cong., 3rd sess. 454, 840-854, 897-900, 90h-905.
See The Jeffersonians, pp. 90-91, for citations of these attempts to tighten the constitutional provision regarding employment of former Members of Congress in the Executive Branch. Some of these efforts are discussed below.
White. The Jeffersonians, P. 387.
Most sources agree that the Secretary of the Treasury, William Crawford,
was the instrumental force behind this legislation. However, interpretation of Crawford's motives vary. "Whether this act was passed to tighten up fiscal controls on a wide range of public offices by requiring more regular presentation of accounts or whether it represented a deliberate attempt by Crawford to improve his patronage position with a view to his presidential candidacy in the forth134
coming election is not too clear." Or more succinctly stated, "Whether he [Crawford] was animated by a desire to make accountable officers more accountable 135
or nonpartisan more partisan is a subject of dispute." At this time there was a real need for greater accountability by fiscal officials; and as has been noted above, during this period tenure of office tended to be for life for lower level civil servants, with dismissal implying some character deficiency. So the advocates of the legislation advanced an attractive rationale:
Ostensibly, the purpose of the act was to compel a regular submission
of accounts, at the end of each term of office, from officials handling
public funds. Supporters of the law claimed that most officials would be
reappointed, but that a convenient means would also be provided for removing,
by failure to reappoint, unsatisfactory officials without damaging their
Van Riper, p. 25.
White. The jeffersonians, P. 387.
Biography of an Ideal, p. 12. For a more detailed discussion of the circumstances surrounding the passage of this act, see: Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 65-70.
However, the major effect of the law was to facilitate turnover of personnel and thereby to create expanded opportunity for patronage. Instead of holding office indefinitely during good behavior, Federal workers in the categories specified subsequently were to have four year terms, although reappointment was permissible. Rosenbloom has stressed the importance of the 1820 law because "it confirmed the absence of a legal right to office and encouraged the adoption 137
of the spoils system."
The dangerous political consequences of the Tenure of Office Act were quickly recognized. In his Memoirs, John Quincy Adams replaced that Monroe apparently signed the bill hastily: "Mr. Monroe unwarily signed the bill without advertising to its real character. He told me that Mr. Madison considered it as in principle unconstitutional . . Mr. Monroe himself inclined to the same opinion, but the question had not occurred to him when he signed
the bill." Jefferson, in a letter to Madison, likewise voiced his concern
over the new law:
* It will keep in constant excitement all the hungry cormorants
for office, render them, as well as those in place, sycophants to their Senators, engage these in eternal intrigue to turn out one and put in
another, in cabals to swap work; and make c-f them what all executive
directories become, mere sinks of corruption and faction. This must have
been one of the midnight signatures of the President, when he had not
time to consider, or even read the law . . 139
Rosenbloom, p. 42.
Adams. Memoirs, VII, pp. 424-25 (Feb. "T, 1828).
Jefferson. Works (Federal ed.), XII, pp. 174-75 (Nov. 29, 1820).
Monroe and Adams refused to utilize the opportunity presented, and instead reappointed virtually all incumbents, unless there was cause for dismissal. Particularly for Adams, this position was a matter of principle; he said, "I determined to renominate every person against whom there was no complaint 14o
which would have warranted his removal The implications of the
Tenure of Office Act for Congressional-Executive Branch relations should also be mentioned; according to White this legislation "was a powerful engine in the 141
development of congressional influence in appointments."
A final attempt at civil service reform by the Congress during this period occurred in 1826. Nathaniel Macon, previously the leader of the 1811 amendment effort, again raised the matter of recruitment to the Federal service, and a Senate Select Committee to "inquire into the expediency of reducing the Patronage of the Executive Government of the United States" was created. However, due to Macon's failing health, Senator Thomas Benton was appointed Chairman.
The 1826 Report of the Benton Committee contained a compilation of
Federal positions, including the salary for each and the locale of appointing authority, along with a number of recommendations. According to White, the
Adams. Memoirs, VI, P. 521 (March 5, 1825).
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 129.
U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Executive Patronage. Inquiry into the expediency of reducing the Patronage of the Executive Government of the United States. l9th Cong., lst sess., Senate Report 88, may 4, 1826. Washington, Duff Green [18261.
Committee was composed of partisan friends of Andrew Jackson, and the Report's attack on executive power and implicit doctrine of legislative supremacy over recruitment ought not to be taken too seriously; "the authors were not fighting 143
a battle of a constitutional order, but one of factional advantage." After surveying the steady growth of Federal expenditures and of patronage, the Report called not for an end to this expansion, but rather for a reduction of presidential power. As characterized by Fish:
It is significant that the committee did not show itself eager to
reduce the amount of patronage, but only to shift the control.. . It is evident that the ultimate object of the reformers was still not so
much to improve the service as to reduce the power of the president, which
they rightly judged was liable to great extension. ..(T)he design was
to divide the patronage between the executive and legislative departments.
This was the first distinctly aggressive act on the part of the Senate in
the great struggle between that body and the president for the control
of the patronage.14
In order to assure greater power for the Congress, six bills were reported by the Committee, providing for:
(1) selection of local newspapers for public printing by the Congressional delegations from the respective States;
(2) repeal of the Tenure of Office Act and substitution of a requirement
that any delinquent collector or disburser be dismissed if an accounting report were not submitted on schedule every four years; also, that the President state cause for removal of each officer when submitting nomination for the successor;
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 391.
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 74-75.
(3) Senate confirmation of many postmasters;
(4) and (5) apportionment by State (and Congressional District) for appointments of cadets and midshipmen to the military academies; and
(6) stipulation that military and naval commissions henceforth be "during good behavior" rather than "at pleasure" thus decreasing the scope of removals at discretion of the President.
The bills eventually were all tabled by Macon himself, because of his
poor health and resulting inability to assume the necessary leadership to guide them through the legislative process. But perhaps the greatest significance of the BentonReport in the long run related more to elections than to appointments. "The influence of a well-organized phalanx of federal officials on elections, state as well as federal, was the underlying theme of this prophetic
As was noted at the outset of this chapter, there has been in the past a tendency to idealize the early period in the development of the American public service. Consequently, the attempt here was to emphasize the point, noted in recent historical works, that our early politicians were realists and the 146
relevance of office to action and to political power was well understood."
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 393.
Van Riper, p. 27.
But while it is necessary to deflate the exaggerations, it is likewise apropos to acknowledge the positive features of the record from 1789-1829.
On the whole, the Federal civil servants during this period were honest
and capable. Washington's "fitness" test was adopted with minor variations by the next five Presidents as well, as was reflected in the caliber of the persons recruited. As characterized by Van Riper, "During the formative years of the American national government, its public service was one of the most competent 147
in the vorld. Certainly it was one of the freest from corruption." By the
early Nineteenth Century entrance examinations, on a very limited scale to be sure, were becoming a part of the recruitment process. As White has observed with regard to these initial exams for the medical services in the military, and for entrance to the military academies: "The examinations were taken seriously, and represented the first effort to establish formal standards of 148
competence and character in government circles." Moreover, there was great stability in the public service during this period. Aside from Jefferson's brief "transition" period (1801-03) and in spite of the Tenure of Office Act in 1820, most Federal workers in practice enjoyed tenure during good behavior. In fact, the absence of arbitrary removals was frequently carried to the extreme of absence of any involuntary removals, which led to problems of stagnation and superannuation. Still, with respect to relative competence and stability, the service of this era would measure up fairly well in comparison with merit system standards.
Ibid., p. 11.
White. The Jeffersonians, p. 555.
However, other merit principles were evident to only a limited extent, if at all. Equality of opportunity was far from realization. Aside from overt racial-discrimination, there were scattered instances of nepotism and personal favoritism. And from the broad perspective, recruitment tended to be limited to the upper sociooreconomic strata, from the "gentleman" class, as already described. The merit principle of political neutrality, while an overt aspiration, was only imperfectly attained. As the preceding survey of recruitment practices illustrated, partisanship, at least to the extent of having the correct party sympathies, became a virtual prerequisite for appointment to major offices and of increasing importance fcr minor offices as well. "The closing years of the Republican [Jeffersonian] period showed tension between the established tradition of nonpartisanship in the middle and lesser offices and the increasing 149
insistence of new political leaders for partisan use of public patronage." And once appointed, civil servants were not entirely nonpartisan, as was indicated in the failure of Jefferson's directive for employees to refrain from partisan political activities.
In conclusion, fundamental trends which became accentuated in subsequent years were already emerging in this early period of civil service history. Kaufman has suggested that basic trends were already visible by the end of Washington's Administration:
Civil service reformers of a later generation, looking back on Washington's term of office, tended to depict him as a man untouched by the forces of politics in his management of the public service. It is beyond question
Ibid., P. 558.
that his unreserved dedication to the welfare of the recently created
nation and his exceptional integrity combined to make his administrations
worthy of the greatest admiration. But the tendencies that were to become
sources of great controversy many years later were already in evidence.
The partisan considerations, the preferments for veterans, the maintenance
of territorial representativeness (overriding questions of merit), the
battles between the legislative and executive branches of the government -all these made their appearance at the very beginning. They were not
abused as some of them one day would be, but they were not absent by any
Another history of the period has emphasized that from the time of the "decision
of 1789" public officials recognized the "possible uses to which the executive
control over public office could be put, should a strong-minded president be
so inclined." And in his study of the National Civil Service League Stewart
observed that the potential for the spoils system was present, however, in the
development of political parties, the hunger of partisans for power, and the
possibility that sooner or later a party President would use the power of 152
appointment and removal in a partisan manner." In the following chapters
we trace the continuations of these initial tendencies -- both nascent merit
principles and traditional patronage practices -- in the evolution of recruitment policy for the Federal civil service.
Kaufman, p. 14.
Van Riper, pp. 15-16.
Stewart, Frank Mann. The National Civil Service Reform League. Austin, Texas, University of Texas Press [19291 p. 4.
VM: db; gn; do; ga.
80-355 0 77 5
PRIME OF THE SPOILS SYSTEM, 1829-1865
The historical period surveyed in this chapter encompasses the Administrations of ten Presidents -- from Andrew Jackson through Abraham Lincoln. The general characterization of this era is usually a-long the lines of "period of unmitigated spoils."1 Quotations on the degradation of the public service during this time are legion; for example, Fish has observed that during this era, when the "apogee of the spoils system in the United States" was reached, "the old traditions of respectability had passed away and the later spirit of reform had not arisen; the victors divided the spoils and were unashamed .... The presidential election became a quadrennial 'event,' with the civil service as the prize.",2
But while the maturation of the spoils system constitutes a major theme, one must consider as well instances of continuity and even some improvements with respect to recruitment practices during these years. Leonard White, in his administrative history covering this period, has suggested that there were actually two personnel systems in operation for the Federal civil service: "1one sector partisan, rotating in personnel; the other based in part on examinations and in part on custom, neutral and permanent."3 The dual nature of the system will be examined at greater length subsequently. But it is useful
tahl, 0. Glenn. Public Personnel Administration. New York, Harper and Brothers [1956; 4th ed.] p. 17.
2Fish, Carl Russell. The Civil Service and the Patronage. New York, Russel and Russell [1963; originally published 190h] p. 158.
3White, Leonard D). The Jacksonians. New York, Macmillan Company [1954.] p. 315.
to recognize at the outset that the degree of deterioration of the Federal service during the era (and by implication the virtual absence of merit principles), have tended to be exaggerated, even as the virtues of the prior period to 1829 have been overly idealized.
Before turning to a consideration of the spoils system in operation during this period, as reflected in the practices pursued by the respective Administrations, we again commence with a consideration of background factors. The third section then contains a survey of oversight activities with respect to the Federal employees by the Congress and nascent efforts at reform during this period, followed by a brief concluding passage.
I. The Setting and Other Background Factors
Although Andrew Jackson has become popularly associated with the founding of the spoils system, various commentaries emphasize that in fact President Jackson "did not originate either of the two major aspects of the spoils system: the application of the 'rotation theory' to appointive officers or the use of patronage for practical political advantage." 4 Rather, as Kaufman has observed:
It is not for originating the [spoils] system nor for egregiously immoderate use of it that Jackson is condemned to eternal shame by some well-intentioned reformers. It is for introducing it to the national government on a wider scale thax any of his predecessors, and
for carrying it out openly -- indeed, proudly -- rather than apologetically and quietly as had been the fashion earlier. By this behavior,
he set loose forces that for more than half a century dominated the
American national political scene.5
4 U. S. Civil Service Commission. Biography of an Ideal. Washington, U. S. Govt. Print. Off. [19731 p. 16.
5Kaufman, Herbert. The Growth of the Federal Personnel System. American Assembly. The Federal Government Service. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.,-PrenticeHall [19651 p. 20.
As noted in the introductory chapter above, when discussing the merit system concept, the practice of patronage dates from time immemorial. And specifically in terms of the American experience, the spoils system had already emerged at the State level. Fish noted that in the period from 1775-1829, the tendencies that "burst suddenly and violently into national politics" had gradually appeared at the State level, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania: "first, the custom of using the public offices openly and continuously as ammunition in party warfare; second, the evolution of the idea of rotation in office." 6
Here it is necessary to digress briefly for a consideration of the so-called firotation-in-office" theory, so integral to the underpinnings of the spoils system. Originally the theory related only to elected officials. The rationale was that fixed, relatively short terms would lead to rotation of officeholders, thereby providing for widespread education in.local politics; each citizen would have the opportunity and the responsibility to serve as a government official. 7 However, as rotation theory was increasingly adapted to more partisan concerns, it was broadened to include appointive as well as elective positions, and came to be advocated at the national level in this revised form. While the educational motif was retained, the emphasis shifted from widespread citizenship education to education of government officials, by requiring them to retire periodically and thus to allow fresh personnel, assumedly more in touch with the common folk, to serve. 8
6 Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, P. 79. For a survey of the situation in the respective states, see ibid., pp. 86-104.
70ther virtues besides the educational benefits were attributed to rotation practice as well. See ibid., pp. 80-84.
8 An unpublished Civil Service Commission study, History of the Federal Civil Service, 1789-1939, described the transformation of rotation theory as follows:
Meanwhile, there were developments facilitating the adoption of the spoils
system at the national level, aside from its growing acceptance in the States.
Particularly significant were the expansion of the suffrage and the increasing
importance of political parties to organize the voters. As White explained:
The most important influence upon the administrative system
during the years from Jackson to Lincoln was the wide enfranehisement of adult male citizens and their organization into a national
party system, accompanied by a surge of democratic sentiment that
fanned an already active desire for office. . .
By the 1840's the movement for universal manhood suffrage had
run its course. A new political force was thus introduced and a novel practical party obligation -- the task of organizing a mass
electorate and directing it toward the polls with correct ideas at
the recurring crises of state and national election. This proved to
be a task of great magnitude and difficulty, characteristics which fostered the rapid growth of party machines, unparalleled party activity, and a type of practical party politician that, although not
hitherto unknDwn,,seemed now ubiquitous. It also proved to be a task
requiring large resources for the payment of party workers, and for
the first time raised the problem of the proper sources of party
Similarly, Fish observed, "The true cause for the introduction of the spoils system was the triumph of democracy." The enlargement of the electorate brought
about a need for an extensive organization to direct popular preferences, which
"The advocates of the rotation theory believed that all citizens
should, by holding office for a period, become educated in the principles of government. This was the practice in ancient Athens, and, to a very great extent, in the early New England townships, in the Dutch government of New York, and in Pennsylvania urder William Penn's charter. The advocates of the theory disregarded the fact that there are, in proportion to population, many fewer offices in the Federal service
thar. in the government of a small town or city. No matter how frequently positions are vacated, it never is possible for everyone to have his
turn. This became so apparent that the theory was changed to accord more nearly with the facts. It was declared that being out of office
gave the politicians a chance to learn the problems of the people. Most used their enforced leisure not to discover what the people wanted, but
to search for what they wanted -- another job." [p. 101
9White. The Jacksonians, pp. 11, 12.
in turn created a need for the reimbursement of party workers contributing to
- is organizational effort. In this context the function of the spoils system "becomes evident; the civil service becomes the pay-roll of the party leader;
offices are a:-portioned according to the rank and merits of his subordinates, and, if duties are too heavy or new positions are needed, new offices may be created." In short, "the spoils system paid for the party organization . . filo Another related feature of the era, contributing to the acceptance of the spoils system was the fierce and relatively equal competition between the political parties at the national level; it appears not coincidental that "the spoils system was of greatest importance during the period of T"Inited States history in which the partisanship of the presidency changed most frequently."
The structure of the Federal civil service and the nature of its activities during this period also facilitated the growing acceptance of spoils practices. One writer, noting that the development of the spoils system was dependent "upon the nature of civil service tasks," provided this overview:
During the period in which the spoils system reached the peak,
of its importance, government was predominantly laissez-faire, -public policy was distributional, and as Jackson indicated, for the
most part the tasks of the civil service were relatively plain and
simple. By 1860 technological advances had done little to alter the office skills of 1800. However, in those parts of the civil service in which technical knowle f e and skills were required the spoils system was less significant.
loFish, The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 156-57.
11 Rosenbloom, David H. Federal Service and the Constitution. Ithaca New York, Cornell University Press  P. 54. The factor of alternation in party control of the Presidency during this era is considered in greater detail below.
12 Ibid., PP. 54-55.
But another characterization, seeking to contrast the state of the Vivil service in 1830 with the situation in 1789, noted some new features, reflecting the growing diversity of tasks performed by the Federal Government:
By Jackson's time, although the Government service had many
fewer duties of a technica.1 and scientific nature than today, it
was nevertheless much more complex than 40 years before. Population had grown and wealth increased. Administration of new territories, sale of public lands, handling the Indian problem; the custody and expenditure of revenues; expert appraisal for customs duties of the great variety of goods imported from Europe; granting of patents, requiring thorough knowledge of both the law and
numerous sciences involved; designing and minting of coins; the
beginning of scientific research in agriculture; all these and a
multitude of others were functions of the Federal Government in Jackson's Administrations which required employees both trained
During this period there was considerable expansion in the number of Federal civilian employees, both in relative and absolute numbers (see Table I, p. The increasing size of the Federal service, combined with the effects of rotationin-office and patronage practices (dual components of the spoils system) served to alter the dividing line between "politics" and "administration" within the Executive Branch. As White has correctly noted, democratic government requires a blending of these factors and cooperation between the respective personnel. In the early years this presented little problem for the functioning of the Federal service; since both political and administrative officials tended to be drawn from the same social group of gentlemen, cooperation came naturally. White offered this discussionofl-the initial practice and of changes after 1829:
Where to draw the line between the two sectors of the public
service had never been precisely defined, and fluctuated from time
to time. From 1789 1939 the political sector comprised hardly
more than the four department heads: State, Treasury, War, and
Navy. The Post Office was politically neutral, the chief accounting
13U. S. Civil Service Commission. History of the Federal Civil Service, 178901939. Typed report [19391 p. 22.
officers were career men, and the heads of such agencies as the General Land Office, the Patent Office, the Indian Office, the Pension Office, and the mint were concerned with executive duties, not with
After 1829 the line was drawn differently, although the change
was not abrupt. Heads of departments became more obviously political personalities, in the sense of participating actively in elections. The commissioners in charge of a number of important offices
were more frequently chosen on the basis of political considerations.'
One attempt at differentiating between the two sectors via formal definition at this time was provided in the 1842 Report of the Gilmer Committee. The Report drew a distinction between policy-level or political Executive Branch officials and "mere ministerial" officers. White observed regarding therlevant passage in this Report:
The former [policy-level officers] were described as those who
stood in the confidential relation of advisers to the President, who
'under the laws, have a discretion which may be employed to aid or to defeat the political policy of an administration.' 16The ministerial level remained undefined and indeed undescribed.
In any event, the political sector came to encompass more officials. The growing politization of higher administrative posts after 1829 was not entirely a matter of partisanship, however. As the function performed by the Federal Government increased, a growing number of officials exercised authority of direct relevance to policy. The principle of desiring political loyalty from such policy-makers was articulated by President Polk in 1848, upon removing a U. S. Attorney of the opposing party: "I did so upon the general principle that the important subordinate public offices should be filled by persons who agreed
l4White. The Jacksonians, p. 347.
15House Report 741, 27th Cong., 2nd sess. [May 23, 1842> The Gilimer Report is discussed in section III below.
l6White. The Jacksonians, p. 395.
in opinion with the President as to the policy to be pursued by the Government.1T This dilemma of where to draw the line between administrative and policy-making positions has remained a topic of continuing debate through the years.1
During this period personnel management in the Federal Government remained
rudimentary. For example, the situation with respect to tenure versus turnover of employees continued to be a formally unregulated matter. However, with the growing adherence to spoils principles, the number of removals increased greatly (as is surveyed in the next section). The general circumstances regarding the status of removals at this time has been characterized as follows:
Authority to remove subordinate personnel was unregulated either
by law or by presidential order. No officer or employee had protection against the arbitrary exercise of the removal power, and the influence of rotation and partisanship made the act of removal a common
When, however, removal was for cause reflecting upon the character of the employees, heads of departments were mindful of the rules
of fair play that had hitherto prevailed.19
And although heads of departments usually had the formal authority to appoint clerks and other inferior officers under their jurisdiction and while there was some delegation to the field agents for the appointment of employees to serve under them, the President tended to function as chief personnel officer. White described this situation as follows:
In substance the President was the chief personnel officer of
the government during the Jacksonian period. There was, in fact, no alternative. All the different matters involving the approximately fifty thousand officers and employees [both military and
lTThe Dairy of James K. Polk During His Presidency, 18J45-1849. Milton
Quaife, ed. Chicago, A. C. McClurg and Co , IV, p. 114* (Sept. 1, 184*8).
l8With respect to the evolution of the merit system, this issue has been of relevance in attempts to justify the exclusion of certain positions from the competitive requirements.
19White. The Jacksonians, p. 405.
civilian] tended to come to the President's desk, especially 'when
the problem involved political considerations. The Chief Executive was consequently busily engaged in appointments and less frequently
in removals, in cases of discipline, and by law in the review of the
decisions of military and naval court-martials. No other officer of the government had a responsibility for personnel matters of a service-wide nature, and indeed the public service had hardly acquired
a sense of corporate unity. It remained still a body of departmental clerks and agents, responsible to the individual Cabinet members.
The President was the single official having some responsibility for
the whole service.20 [Italics added.]
From the statements of the various Presidents as well as other contemporary commentaries, the conclusion emerges that inordinate amounts of a President's time in the mid-nineteenth century were devoted to personnel matters. But while this endeavor proved "time-consuming and often disagreeable," it was simply
"too important to be ignored. "21
The election of Andrew Jackson in 1826 ushered in a new era. According to one writer, Jackson "achieved a bloodless revolution, opening the way to democraticization of the political process by making that process accessible to great segments of the population previously excluded.I?22 These events of course had important ramifications on recruitment practices in the civil service. It seems significant to note that a broad spectrum of the public supported rotation theory. White has observed that "rotation was imposed because it was demanded from below, not merely because it was advocated from above." 23 In his classic
2lIbid., P. 74.
22Kaufman, p. 21.
23White. The Jacksonians, P. 301.
study, Fish surveyed editorials, following Jackson's election, and found many in support of widespread removals; on this basis Fish observed that if these had not provided sufficient evidence of the popular expectations, the masses of hopeful office-seekers crowding into Washington for Jackson's inauguration should have proved convincing. 24
Jackson's formal statement of policy regarding recruitment occurred during his first annual message, in December of 1829. In this classic defense of rotaton theory, he suggested that the duties of public officers were relatively
sinceand required little preparation, and thus he concluded: I can not but be_'oeve that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally gained by their experience,"~ 25 No mention was made of the implications of rotation for rarty fortunes or presidential power; White has speculated that
~'Fsh.Toe Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 106-110. Fish wrote, in
"If Jackson had really hesitated as to the advisability of adopting
=roscr ti policy, the demonstration at Washington on the occasion
-f-is inuuainmust have been a convincing argument in favor of it ....
"'What h.prerdc at the executive mansion was so dramatic that it has
been described at length by all the writers of the period. The wild stanmect- the White Hiouse; the crowding round and crushing of the president, indcatveof a new familiarity between the people and the government, to
the mmedatedetriment of both; the mad scramble for the good things -the cak-es and ices and orange punch served out in lavish style, but wasted through careless distribution: all1 these scenes are not picturesque only,
but are also emlematic." (pp. 109-10)
25Richardson, James 17 A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, _09-l. liew York, Bureau of National Literature [19111 11,
-;D. 44-9(lec. 8, 1S29). See Appendix for entire excerpt of this message
as related to recruitment matters.
Jackson would have denounced the abuses which followed, had he foreseen them, because he was 11a man of rigid integrity.1t26 According to another writer, Jackson thought that a system of rotation-in-office could serve three functions:
First, it could destroy the concept of property in office and
reduce the importance of the upper social classes in American politics. Second, it could provide a rationalization for the many civil service removals Jackson, who was the first president since Jefferson
to be elected in opposition to an incumbent administration, would
find it politically desirable to make. Finally, it could solve the
problems of disability and superannuation in the civil service, which
were caused by the reluctance of presidents and appointing officers
prior to 1829 to make removals.27
In terms of actual number of removals resulting, evidence indicates La although the scope was unprecedented, in percentage terms it represented a rather small segment of the Federal service of that day:
An early reckoning of gains and losses, which is generally accepted as the most reliable indication of the number of removals
during the months when they were in full swing was published in the
Washington Telegraph on September 27, 1830. -. These figures
showed a total of 919 removals out of 10,093 officeholders or somewhat less than 10 per cent.28
Fish has described the initial difficulties in implementing the rotation policy; it took time to perfect the distributional machinery necessary for the scope of the personnel turnover within a brief timespan. Jackson's independence, even from other leaders of his party, and the frequent opposition of the Senate strained "such crude machinery as did exist for distribution of offices" and thus "made it impossible for the leaders of the party to use the patronage with
26Whte.The Jacksonians, p. 319.
27Rosenbloom, p. 48.
28White. The Jacksonmans, pp. 307-08.
the best possible effects." But two principles apprently controlled appointments "when Jackson was tractable and the Senate tired of oppositionn" First, a new generation came in with Jackson, "bringing fresh blood and strange manners into the civil service." Second, the criteria of competence was not discarded, but it was defined rather differently. According to a quotation which Fish attributes to Martin Van Buren, the Jacksonians sought practical and intelligent .men "whose capacities are adapted to the discharge of the public business, whether they might, or might niot, shine in the composition of essays on abstract and abstruse subjects."29
In 1836 Van Buren assumed the Presidency, after serving as Vice President
during Jackson's second term. Previously Van Buren had headed the New York State patronage apparatus, the so-called Albany Regency, and during Jackson's administration he had exercised considerable indirect influence over appointments.30 Initially, Van Buren made relatively few removals, since so many of the incumbents were favorable, some of them actually picked by him for Jackson. However, by 1839-4o, when Van Buren was looking toward a second term, his actions suggested "that a new rule of personal allegiance, as well as party membership, was to be required of officeholders."31
The election of 18)40 proved crucial to the evolution of the civil service. "Reform".had been espoused as a campaign issue by the Whigs, who had opposed the spoils system during the administrations of Jackson and Van Buren (see discussion in following section). Initially Harrison announced that he did not want employees removed solely for the sake of opinions held, but the matter shortly became
29Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, pp. 307-08.
301bid., p. 3)4.
31White. The Jacksonians, p. 309.
the topic of significant discussion within the Cabinet. Meanwhile, by 1841 some 2,800 miles of railroad track was in service, which facilitated travel to Washington; an "estimated 30,000-40,000 office seekers swarmed into Washington" looking for positions, following the Whig victory.32 Even though important Whig leaders were probably reluctant, during March of 1841 the Cabinet apparently decided to proceed with large-scale removals. As has been observed, "Prior to Harrison's election, the Whigs had opposed the spoils system, but during the Harrison-Tyler administration the largest numbers of removals up to that time were made." 33
President Harrison's attitude toward the spoils system was actually rather ambivalent. He apparently favored rewarding his political friends with government jobs, but at the same time opposed political activities by public employees. The constant pressure of the job-seekers exhausted Harrison (who was almost seventy), and he fell ill in the third week of his term and died during the
fourth. "The official certificate gave pneumonia and general weakness -as causes of death, but the opinion of many historians is that the real cause was the spoils system. . 1134
During his short tenure Harrison did circulate an order to his Cabinet Members, calling for a prohibition on certain political activities and assessments by the rank-and-file employees, which stated in part that Federal employees "are not expected to take an active or officious part in attempts to influence the minds or votes of others, such conduct being deemed inconsistent with the spirit
32 History of the Federal Civil Service, p. 28.
33Rosenbloom, P. 55.
34 Biography of an Ideal, p. 22.
of the Constitution. ,35 This effort proved as ineffective as Jefferson's directive on the same topic some decades earlier. On ascending to the Presidency, Tyler felt an obligation to carry out Harrison's plan and in his first annual message recommended that Congress "legislate to restrict political removals." However, his falling out with the Whig leadership apparently ended his attempt in the direction of reform.36
In commenting upon the reversal of policy between the Whigs in opposition and the IWhigs in control of the Presidency, Fish lamented, "It was a fundamental weakness of the civil service as established in the United States at that time, that when one party had begun to turn out its opponents, its successors were almost forced to do the same."37 Fish also noted that in 1841, for the first tine, many officers resigned to escape formal removal. Moreover, the proscription "extended, as was customary, beyond the presidential offices into the denartmental and local offices." However, this commentary further suggested that while the Whigs used similar methods of selection as had the Democrats, the caliber of employees improved somewhat; this he attributed to the fact that the Whigs drew "from the wealthier portion of the population, and so commanded a greater share of business ability." So, Fish continued,
The fact that the offices were better executed [under the Whigs]
r~d the public served than previously proves, not that the spoils systen was non-existent, but that it is not absolutely synonomous with
ad service; that efficiency depends more on the characteristics of
the me- appointing and appointed to office than on the method of selection.35Cited by White. The Jacksonians, p. 338.
Hi:S-to2y of the Federal Civil Service, p. 30.
Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 14L4.
38Ibid-, P. 150-51.
The subsequent alternation in party control of the Presidency during the next two decades fostered a continuation of the pattern. As White has cogently observed with respect to the duration of the spoils system:
The years immediately succeeding the departure of Andrew Jackson
from Washington were, therefore,crucial. A long period of political
stability might have reproduced the Jeffersonian tradition. This happy circumstance was not to occur. The Whigs carried the 1840 election; the Democrats returned in 1844 only to be thrown out again in the election of 1848. The Whigs lost in 1852 and it was not until then that
the Democrats were able to remain in office for two consecutive terms.
They were defeated in 1860 by a new national party that had never held
the presidency. NO sequence of events co'uZd have been more conducive
to coerce party Zeaders to appZy the doctrine of rotation.39 [Italics
Spoils practices continued, then, under Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Lincoln. Polk had expressed his approval of the system prior to his election and during his Administration "the most extensive conscription yet seen took place, in spite of the fact that Polk succeeded a President favorable to him who had already filled many positions with their mutual adherents." 40 During Taylor's one year in office, almost a third of all Federal employees either resigned or were removed. According to Fish, during 1549-50 there were 2802 resignations and 3406 removals, out of a total civil service of 17,78C0.l Comenting upon the situation in 1849, Seward, later to serve as Secretary of State under Lincoln, observed in a letter: "The world seems almost divided into two classes: those who are going to California in search of gold, and those going to Washingon in quest of office.H42
When Buchanan succeeded fellow Democrat Pierce in 1857, the epitomy of the spoils system was reached. Pierce, having overseen numerous removals, "thus practically exorcising all non-Democratic elements from the civil service," had
39White. The Jacksonians, p. 315.
40 History of the Federal Civil Service, p. 30.
4Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 163.
L2Cited in Biography of an Ideal, p. 24.
vied with Buchanan for the party nomination in 1856. Following his inauguration, Buchanan decided that the the civil service thus should be remanned, and "announced that no one should, unless under exceptional circumstances, receive a reappointment after his commission expired.t,43 So now rotation applied even to factions within the same political party. Buchanan's action was subjected to criticism, well illustrated by a New York Herald editorial of 23 March 1857:
It is said that that sarcastic old statesman W. L. Marcy, on
hearing that the policy of rotation in office had been resolved
upon by the new [Buchanan] Administration, dryly remarked, 'Well,
they have it that I am the &, .4hp of the of fice seeker'Is doctrine,
that "to the victors belong the spoils ," but I certainty should
never recommend the policy of pillaging my own camp.'
Abraham Lincoln's policies presented a mixture of idealism and realism with respect to the civil service. Although Lincoln personally disliked the spoils system, he was an experienced politician of his time and adroitly manipulated
patronage in an effort to solidify the new Republican Party and to obtain cooperation from the Congress. Lincoln removedl,457 of the 1,639 presidential officers directly appointed by him (with the advice and consent of the Senate), almost twice the number removed by Pierce who held the previous "record."k45 In short, Lincoln "accepted conditions as they were, and turned the spoils system into an instrument to gain and keep the political support he needed in the emergency he faced." h6 As Van Riper has observed, "The only thread of consistency in the executive appointing policy during the years from 1861 to 1865 seems to have been the practical one of preservation of the Union via preservation of the
43Pish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 166.
44 Cited in 'White. The Jacksonians, p. 3114.
45Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 170.
46Biography of an Ideal, p. 27.
Republican party."47 Various commentators have suggested that the pressure of the hopeful throngs in Washington was so incessant as to impede the conduct of the Civil War; the following passage is typical:
During the Lincoln Administration, pressure by jobseekers constituted a serious interference with the prosecution of the Civil War.
So brazen were their importunities that they actually invaded the executive mansion itself. Histories of the era make frequent reference to the problem (and Lincoln's vexation); they paint a ludicrous picture of the President's having to elbow his way through crowds of
jobseekers clamoring for his attention in the White House corridors when he was en route from his office to dinner. Once, when Lincoln was suffering from an attack of smallpox, he asked an assistant to
invite the jobs ekers in, for at last he had something he could give
to all of them. 8
Following Lincoln's reelection, there were suggestions that the rationale of rotation ultimately dictated a turnover of personnel every four years, even if a President succeeded himself. But Lincoln announced that the personnel in his Second Administration would remain unchanged, thereby quelling the speculation. As Fish noted, "From that time the popularity of rotation declined. The tide had turned. ,49
During this period (1829-1865) the rule of apportionment among the various States of the clerkship positions located in Washington become more formalized. As was described in the preceding chapter, from the outset geographic considerations were taken into account in making appointments. Positions in the field service were traditionally filled by local residents, and some attention was focused on achieving a rough equality among the States in terms of positions in
47Van Riper, Paul P. History of the United States Civil Service. Evanston, Illinois, Row, Peterson, and Company 119581 p. 43.
48Harvey, Donald R. The Civil Service Commission. New York, Praeger [19701 PP. 5-6. It should be noted that the military forces as well as the civilian service was subject to patronage considerations, as reflected in the notorious "political generals."
49Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 172.
the District of Columbia. As an illustration of this perspective, Polk noted, in private correspondence, that the "locality of the applicants and geographic considerations are constantly urged.",50
In 1852 the rule of apportionment was formally proposed in the Congress.
An amendment to an appropriations bill offered by Representative Samuel Brenton
provided, in part, "And in the selection of said clerks [in the Departments at Washington], they shall, as far as practicable, be taken from the several States and Territories, in proportion to the number of Senators, Representatives, and Delegates from each in the Thirty-third Congress."51 The amendment failed, but the apportionment idea was generally received with favor in the Congress, since Members stood to gain more positions for constituents, while the "losers" would be primarily the clerks already resident in the District.52
.In May of 1853 the Secretary of the Interior, Robert McClelland, announced that clerkships in his Department "would be distributed among the States in proportion to their representation in Congress." In August he wrote to his colleagues in various other Departments, requesting a break-down of their clerks by State (and also salary), with the explanation that this information was necessary to determine the appropriate distribution in the Interior Department. But the practice became widely followed elsewhere as well. White provided a citation of a timely editorial appearing in 1853:
The Baltimore Sun gave away the inside situation. 'All officers,'
it declared, 'are, in fact, at the disposition of members of Congress,
and they cannot retain control of them as well by a general scramble as by a fair distribution. They have insisted upon the establishment
50Cited in White. The Jacksonians, p. 397.
51 Congresional Globe, 32nd Cong., 1st sess., p. 2189 (August 11, 1852).
52White. The Jacksonians, pp. 397-98.
of the rule that the clerkships shall be distributed among the States
in proportion to their federal numbers.' The rule of apportionment
settled into a permanent feature of the personnel system.53
Having sketched in brief the development of the spoils system in the Federal civil service, we now turn to the consequences of the system -- the negative as well as positive ramifications along with manifestations of underlying continuity. The "evils" of the spoils system are sufficiently familiar as to require minimal elaboration. White has highlighted three particularly detrimental features of the system: loss of efficiency, loss of prestige, and political obligations for Federal workers. Clearly the frequent turnover of personnel and the constant influx of inexperienced replacements led to inefficiency in administration, as did the selection of officials primarily on the basis of political loyalties rather than individual competence. The resulting instability in various operations, as well as insecurity for the individual worker, likewise contributed to the decline in prestige of the public service.54
Particularly unfortunate consequences of the spoils system were the various forms of political obligations imposed on the Federal worker. Prior to 1829 such practices had been a relatively rare occurrence, although they were becoming more common in cities such as New York and Philadelphia. But, as White explained, after 1829 civil servants "were progressively brought under the dominion of the local party machine and subjected to various party requirements as a condition of continuing their employment.,,55
531bid., p. 398.
541bid., pp. 327-332.
551bid,, p. 332.
An increasingly pervasive obligation was that of the party assessment. As the national convention system (with the accompanying tiers of delegate elections -- city, State, and national) came to replace the congressional caucus as the mechanism for selecting the party's candidates for President and Vice President, along with the expansion of the suffrage and the necessity for the party to organize the newly enfranchised, fund raising for the party became an overriding concern. An early technique was to "invite" subscriptions to a party newspaper, but by the !830's the "taxing" of an officeholder's salary for party expenditures was becoming common. A congressional investigation of a scandal involving the collectorship of the port of New York revealed details of the system as it operated in that customhouse. The assessment was prorated, according to salary, up to a proportion of six percent, and the Democratic Central Committee in the State kept detailed records of an individual's assessment and payments. The Committee's Report denounced these assessments and pointed to
its direct tendency to reduce public office to the degraded character
of merchandise, to be bought and sold to subordinates by a regulated annual stipend, and to demoralize and prepare the mind of incumbents
of office for acts of peculation and plunder upon the public revenues,
there-is no doubt remaining in the Judgment of the committee.56
But despite such declarations, Congress took no action and exclusive directives (such as Harrison's order prohibiting political assessment and activity on the part of civil servants) were ineffective. In short,
The party had fastened upon a lucrative and dependable source of
income and did not intend to forego its advantage. So far as the law was concerned, party assessments were perfectly legal until reform began its course after the Civil War.57
56House Report 313, 25th Cong., 3rd sess., p. 249 [18391. Cited by White. The Jacksonians, p. 334.
571bid., p. 337.
And there were other political obligations aside from the financial assessments. Active participation by Federal employees in political campaigning became increasingly expected. Rank-and-file workers were often involved in election day work, while higher officials such as customs collectors, postmasters, and district attorneys often were active in State parties. In fact, persons frequently held dual offices -- in the public service and in the party organization; the party thus could establish "a sort of personal union with the government, a union which at once raised difficult questions about primary loyalty and obligations.",58 To be sure, the problem of reconciling the individual rights of public employees to political participation with the need for an impartial public service was raised during this era, but far from resolved.59 Finally, the political obligation of an employee could ultimately result in the loss of an independent vote.60 The penalty for refusing to follow instructions from a superior might result in "immediate discharge for political insubordination."~6l
While the negative consequences of the spoils system probably far outweighed any positive contributions, these latter features should nonetheless be noted. First, the system led to greater democratization in the public service. That rotation practice sought to destroy any lingering notions of a property right to office was noted above. Moreover, the system brought into the Federal service persons who came from a broader social and economic base than had been the case
581bid., p. 340.
591bid., PP. 337-42.
60The Australian secret ballot was not adopted in the various States until the period from 1887 to 1900. See: Harris, Joseph H. Election Administration in the United States. Washington, Brookings Institution  pp. 150-54.
6lWhite. The Jacksonians, P. 342.
previously. By the 1820'- among the common people there was growing resentment over the increasingly upper class, aristocratic complexion of the civil servie62 The democraticization thus furthered the merit principle of equality. As one writer-has noted, the spoils system thereby increased "equaLlity of access to civil service positions by seeking characteristics in appointees which were not confined largely to members of the upper social classes"; but at the same time it promoted "inequality of access based on partisan affiliation and standing."63
A second contribution of the spoils system, in the context of the times, was its function as a recruitment mechanism. As has been noted already there was considerable expansion of the Federal service during this period while the framework for personnel administration was almost nonexistent. Van Riper has pointed out, against this background, that the spoils system "provided a much needed channel for the recruitment of personnel for the rapidly expanding national government," an "important managerial function for which it has seldom been given due credit.",64
Finally, there is the connection between the patronage aspect of the spoils
system and the evolving political party organizations as well as with institutional relationships. Clearly the emergence of the spoils system was related to the development of mass-based political parties, following the expansion of the suffrage in the early nineteenth century, as was described above under consideration of background factors. To the extent that the "resources" thus provided were
62Kauma, pp. 19-20. Recall that the fitness criteria, with the frequent emphasis on advanced education then available mainly to the wealthyr, contributed to this situation; see discussion in chapter 2 above.
63Rosenbloom, P. 56.
64Van Riper, p. 44; see also PP. 50-51.
essential at the time for the development of political party organizations needed to channel the "new democracy" of Jackson and his successors, one might suggest positive benefits of the spoils system. In other words, if one accepts the desirability of nurturing political competition within the framework of a twopart system as a component of American government, then the spoils system appears to have contributed in a positive way toward this objective, despite certain negative consequences (as outline above) following in its wake as well. One writer has listed six general functions performed by patronage: (1) maintaining an active party organization, (2) promoting intra-party cohesion, (3), attracting voters and supporters, (4) financing the party and its candidates, (5) procuring favorable government action, and (6) creating party discipline in policy making. 65 The spoils system during the period from 1829 to 1865 seemed to perform several of these functions, thereby strengthening the party system.66 The sixth function -- creating party discipline in policymaking -- was of particular importance to the nineteenth century President with respect to his relations with the Congress:
In a political system rent by federalism and the separation of
powers, some means had to be found to bridge at least some of the gaps in this dual division of authority. Otherwise nothing might
be accomplished. It is not too much to say that one of the few major forces which lay at the command of a nineteenth century president who wished to think and act in terms of national rather than local interests was the power of the patronage. From 1829 on, public offices became recognized pawns in this as well as other political bargaining
65Sorauf, Frank J. The Silent Revolution in Patronage. Public Administration Review, v. XX (Winter 1960), pp. 28-29.
66 Some contend that patronage is no longer necessary, while others argue that some patronage is essential to the operation of the American party system; we return to these considerations in the final chapter. See Sorauf and also: Mansfield, Harvey C. Political Parties, Patronage, and the Federal Government Service. American Assembly. The Federal Government Service, pp. 114-162.
67Van Riper, p. 49.
But the analysis of the operation of the spoils system and its consequences does not tell the whole story regarding recruitment policies from 1829-1865. As noted at the outset of this chapter, the old system was not totally destroyed, but rather a dual structure prevailed:
Two personnel systems were thus in operation in the public service. The patronage system held the public attention, but it was
primarily the career system that enabled the government to maintain
its armed forces, to collect its revenue, to operate its land system,
to keep its accounts and audit its expenditures.68
To be sure, there were removals at various levels in the public service during this period; loss of tenure was not limited to high officials. "Humble clerks, customhouse weighers and measurers, Indian agents, messengers suffered the same fate. . ."69 Still, important segments of the old system were retained. For example, auditors tended to be drawn from the permanent service, as did the chief clerks, "the pivot on which daily business turned.,,70 Scientific and technical offices, such as the Coast Survey, the Naval Observatory, and the Smithsonian Institution "were recognized as tenure offices" throughout the period.71 As Vnite has observed with regard to the remnants of the permanent service which
survived the rotation period:
It [permanent service] was saved, however, by the hard necessities
of administration, by the sheer need to get things done. Department heads did not have the grasp on daily business, on routine and procedures, and above all on precedent that would enable them to handle departmental business without the aid of men who knew the precedents, who were familiar with the flow of work, and who could be counted on to avoid the errors and misjudgments of novices. Amidst the clamor
68White. The Jacksonians, p. 362.
691bid., p. 348-49.
701bid., p. 352.
7lIbid., p. 357.
for removals and partisan appointments to resulting vacancies, a
hard core of experienced men consequently remained steadily at
work. The evidence concerning their existence has been overlooked and as a result the evils of the rotation system, bad as they were,
have been overemphasized. 72
Also, it should be noted with respect to the limits of deterioration in the public service during this period that considerations of competence were not entirely absent, albeit usually tempered by the prerequisite of partisanship. As White observed, neither the Democrats nor the Whigs "welcomed scoundrels or irresponsible in public office;" rather, both parties preferred "men of integrity and skill and steadily sought for them among the ranks of their party friends.,, 73
III. Activity in Congress
The Congress as well as the President were very much concerned with
matters relating to the Federal service during this period. We turn now to an examination of the various Congressional roles -- in promoting the patronage, in oversight and investigations, and in nascent efforts at reform.
As discussed previously, the control of appointments had provided an
early arena of struggle between the Executive and Legislative Branches. From the time of Washington, Presidents found it informative and politically prudent to consult with Members of Congress regarding appointments, particularly in the field offices; however, prior to the Jacksonian era such recommendations carried weight but were not decisive.,, 74 After 1829 various factors already
721bid., p. 349.
731bid., P. 344.
741bid., p. 105.
surveyed -- the practice of rotation, increasing number of Federal offices, and the development of political party organizations -- resulted in heightened Congressional interest in and influence over Federal appointments at all levels. With regard to the so-called presidential officers (those requiring confirmation), there were noteworthy battles with the Senate, especially under Jackson. In such instances debate sometimes branched out from the specific nominee at hand to a broad consideration of appointment and removal powers and general issues of personnel policy; here Executive prerogatives tended to be retained (this issue is considered in the following discussion on oversight and investigations below). During this period, with respect to the inferior officials, Congressional power vis-a-vis the Executive Branch was augmented. As Fish noted, "Members of Congress had from the beginning been influential in suggesting names; but as appointments came to have greater political significance, they came to speak with greater authority -- that is, if they belonged to the party in power.,, 75
Congressional involvement was integral to the functioning of the spoils system. One writer goes so far as to list "Congressional dictation" of most civil service appointments as a major principle of the spoils system (on par with rotation of officeholders and appointments primarily for partisan reasons).76 At the least most Members of Congress were tolerant, if not actually favorable, to the system, despite periodic investigations of its excesses and pious calls for reform.77 Van Riper has observed that Congress provided a major contingent
75Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 173.
76Hoogenboom, Ari. Outlawing the Spoils. Urbana, Illinois, University of Illinois Press [19611 p. 4.
77History of the Federal Civil Service, pp. 30, 31.
of the "political middlemen who served as patronage brokers." While the President and other Executive Branch officials might delegate segments of the patronage to a variety of State and local officials and party bosses in return for partisan support, "for constitutional as well as practical reasons, the bulk of the most attractive patronage posts gravitated into the hands of the legislative members of the party in power.",78
Evidence of the increasing participation by and influence of Congress
with respect to appointments of inferior officers is contained in letters of Levi Woodbury, Secret~ury of the Treasury under both Jackson and Van Buren, which have been analyzed by Leonard White.79 Woodbury, following previous practice, apparently requested advice regarding prospective employees from Members of Congress and sometimes asked for nominations for specific positions. Moreover, unsolicitated recommendations from Congress greatly increased. According to White, the letters "demonstrated a tendency for Congressmen to take greater initiative in making recommendations for appointments." A form letter was devised by the Treasury Department for routine acknowledgement of such applications forwarded by Congressmen. When there was spcial interest in a particular protege, sometimes the "whole state delegation acted as a unit" and "protracted negotiations" concerning the possible placement followed. In other ways the Treasury Department demonstrated a certain deference to the Congress with respect to appointments during this period. For example, Members were allowed access to the files relating to applications for a particular position located in their State or district, and were often consulted regarding any objections to the reappointment of incumbents. Overall, the contents of
78Van Riper, p. 48.
79White, The Jacksonians, pp. 115-18.
the letters suggested to White a "change in the character of relationship rather than strange and unknown events" with respect to the evolving rivalry between the Congress and the Executive Branch over the control of appointments. The evidence "demonstrates that Congressmen were demanding a greater share in the appointment of the inferior officers." White continues:
The Constitution and the law were unchanged, but custom was being
altered. The Treasury letters from 1829 to 1841 do not, however,
lead one to conclude that executive discretion in thime appointments has been surrendered. They do demonstrate that beneath the partisan battle over presidential offices thre was ample cooperation between
the executive branch and its party friends in Congress by which their
mutual interests were advanced. 80
The Diary kept by President Polk during his Administration constitutes another valuable source of information on personnel practices during this period. While Polk regularly consulted with the Members of State delegations regarding particular positions, his patience was taxed by the cons-ant stream of uninvited Representatives and Senators, coming to the White House in person to seek jobs for their friends or relatives. At the end of his first year in office such pressures had not receded, which led Polk to exclaim in his Diary, "I most sincerely wish I had no offices to bestow."81 Later in his term, in 1848, he described the visit of two disgruntled Congressmen:
It is one of the many instances which have occurred in My administration to show the importance which is attached by members of Congress to petty offices. Indeed many members of Congress assume that they have
the right to make appointments, particularly in their own states, and they often, as in this case, fly into a passion when their wishes are
not gratified. 82
8OIbid., pp. 117-18.
8lPolk, Diary, I, p. 261 [March 4, 1846].
821bid., IV, pp. 28-29 [July 26, 18481.
Another major problem recounted by Polk was the practice (mentioned in the last chapter) of Congressmen seeking positions in the Executive Branch for themselves. The frequency of such importuning apparently led Polk to write:
The passion for office among members of Congress is very great,
if not absolutely disreputable, and greatly embarrasses the operations
of the Government. They create offices by their own votes and then
seek to fill them themselves. I shall refuse to appoint them ... because
their appointment would be most corrupting in its tendency. 83
In a variety of situations, then, Members of Congress and the President (along with his Department heads), bargained over "appointments to office, high and low." According to White, the "most important new element" injected into such negotiating over appointments during this period was "the impact of the political party, the success of whose local organizations seemed to depend much more on securing office, contracts, and favors for their members than on campaigning over disputed issues of statesmanship."84
While there was thus a considerable degree of acceptance of the spoils system in the Congress, reflecting the perceived mutual benefits accruing to the President and the Members of his party in Congress through its continued operations, criticism of the spoils system as applied to inferior offices was not entirely absent. And particular controversy ensued with respect to the major nominations submitted to the Senate for confirmation. Not surprisingly, the Members of Congress opposing the party of the President tended to be among the most vocal advocates of "reform."85
831bid., I, p. 483. rJune 22, 18461.
84White. The Jacksonians, p. 123.
851bid., pp. 320-324.
Because of the number of removals initially made by Jackson, there were many vacancies to be filled. However, party division in the Senate was almost equal, and the slight margin of the Jacksonian Democrats frequently did not hold up. Thus Jackson experienced repeated confirmation battles with the Senate over his nominations.86 Although some nominees were rejected, "The opposition soon saw the futility of thus cutting off nominations in detail, and sought to devise some general bulwark to protect such of their friends as still remained in office, and to put a limit to the power of the executive."87 As an example of such efforts, there was the resolution, sponsored by Senator: Ewing in January of 1832, "alleging that the practice of removing public officers for any reason than securing the faithful execution of the laws was hostile to the spirit of the Constitution, prejudicial to the public service, and dangerous
-to the liberties of the people; and expressing the opinion that the Senate should not confirm an appointment unless the prior incumbent was removed for sufficient cause."88
Jackson's controversial removal of the Secretary of the Treasury, William
Duane,89 in the fall of 1833 further precipitated Congressional debate concerning the respective powers of removal and appointments to be exercised by the Executive and Legislative Branches, which was carried on intermittently throughout the 23rd Congress. On March 7, 1834, Clay introduced a series of resolutions, serving to articulate the Whig positions on these matters,90 and the following
861bid., pp. 106-111.
87Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 119.
88Debates in Congress, v. 8, 22nd Cong., 1st sess., Jan. 26, 1832: 181.
89For a discussion of the circumstances surrounding the Duane case, see The Jacksonians, pp. 34-38.
90Senate Doc. 155, 23rd Cong., 1st sess. (March 7, 1834). This is included in The Jacksonians, as already cited, pp. 40, 41.
session a Senate Committee on Executive Patronage, under the Chairmanship of John Calhoun, was appointed to investigate the extent of patronage and to recommend ways to control it. The Calhoun Report was filed on February 9, 1835-91 Bills stemming from the Report sought to repeal the 1820 act mandating four year tenure for various positions, to require periodic submissions
to the Senate/records of all disbursing officers, and to require "That, in all nominations made by the President to the Senate, to fill vacancies occasioned
from office, the facts of the removal
by removal/shall be stated to the Senate at the same title that the nomination is made, with a statement of the reasons for such removal.,,92 This latter bill concerning removals passed the Senate by a vote of 31 to 16,93 but Jackson's partisans in the House kept it bottled up in Committee.
This extended debate on the patronage issue during the 23rd Congress, particularly the discussion on the Calhoun Report itself, was to some extent a partisan attack on President Jackson by the Whig opposition, led by the famous trio of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster. The attention focused on Constitutional questions surrounding the appointment and removal powers served to reopen discussion on the "decision of 1789" (which was ultimately affirmed by inaction). While the debate was lengthy and at times eloquent, the content-provided a
91U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Executive Patronage. Inquiry into
the extent of Executive Patronage; the expediency and practicability of reducing the same; and the means of such reduction. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., Senate Report 108, February 9, 1835. Washington, Duff Green, 1835.
92Congressional Debates, v. 62, Senate, 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., February 13, 1835: 422.
931bid., February 14, 1835: 446-47.
80-355 0 77 7
rehashing of old arguments, already familiar, and the solutions proposed
were far from original. As Fish rather caustically observed regarding the
These speeches [by Webster, Clay, and Calhoun], and others, were
eloquent and sincere; they exhibited high ideals of the civil service
pleasing to contemplate, and are full of passages suitable for quotation by the civil service reformer. When we turn,,,however, to the measures proposed, we find a paucity of invention painful to contemplate. If these men, after ten years of discussion of the eivil service, cculd not propose measures better calculated to improve it,
their ability has been overrated. The fact is, that what had so long occupied their attention was not primarily the civil service, but the
patronage: their first object was not to secure good work, but to
reduce the power of the president; it was still critical and administrative reform which they felt was necessary. 9
Van Riper has also pointed out that the reformers were "not especially
interested in the promotion of efficiency in public business," but rather
in the limiting of the power of the Executive, and this determined the
94Fish. The Civil Service and the Patronage, p. 142. For highlights of the debate, see Congressional Debates, v. 62 (as already cited), pp. 458-70 for Webster; PP. 514-23 for Clay; PP. 553-63 for Calhoun; and pp. 440-47 for Ewing.