04.04 - Politics of the Gilded Age.pdf - Print In the late...

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Print In the late 1800s, the two major political parties were closely competitive, and issues such as tariffs and business regulations were hotly debated. Meanwhile, farmers facing falling crop prices and deflation tried to overcome their problems by forming organizations. In the 1890s, many farmers joined the Populist Party. Politics in Washington Why was civil service reform needed? After President James A. Garfield was elected in 1880, many of his supporters tried to claim the “spoils of office”—the government jobs that are handed out following an election victory. President Garfield did not believe in the spoils system. After repeated rejections, one of these job seekers reasoned that he would have a better chance for a job if Vice President Chester A. Arthur were president. This man shot President Garfield on July 2, 1881. Weeks later, Garfield died from his wounds. Civil Service Reforms For many, Garfield’s assassination highlighted the need to reform the political system. Under the spoils system, elected politicians extended patronage, rewarding their supporters by giving them government jobs. Many Americans believed the patronage system made the government inefficient and corrupt, and support was building for the reform of civil service. When Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1877, he tried to end patronage by firing officials who had been given jobs because of their support of the party and replacing them with reformers. His actions split the Republican Party between “Stalwarts” (who supported patronage), “Halfbreeds” (who backed some reform), and reformers. No reforms were passed. In 1880 the Republicans nominated James Garfield, a “Halfbreed,” for president and Chester A. Arthur, a “Stalwart,” for vice president. Despite the feud over patronage, the Republicans managed to win the election, only to have Garfield assassinated a few months later. Garfield’s assassination turned public opinion against the spoils system. In 1883 Congress passed the Pendleton Act, requiring that some jobs be filled by competitive written exams, rather than by patronage. This marked the beginning of professional civil service —a system where most government workers are given jobs based on qualifications rather than on political affiliation. Only about 10 percent of federal jobs were made civil service positions in 1883, but the percentage increased over time. The Election of 1884 In 1884 the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland, the governor of New York, for president. Cleveland was a reformer with a reputation for honesty. The Republicans nominated James G. Blaine, a former Speaker of the House rumored to have accepted bribes. Some Republicans were so unhappy with Blaine that they supported Cleveland. They became known as “Mugwumps,” from an Algonquian word meaning “great chief.” Cleveland narrowly won the election, and then he faced supporters who expected him to reward them with jobs. Mugwumps, on the other hand, expected him to increase the number of jobs under the civil service system. Cleveland chose a middle course and

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