Engraved portrait of George Hunt Pendleton (1825-1889). Pendleton was from Cincinnati and served as a United States Senator from 1879-1885. He sponsored the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
George Pendleton was a prominent nineteenth century Ohio political leader who strongly supported federal civil service reform.
George Pendleton was born on July 19, 1825, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Descended from a long line of lawyers, Pendleton graduated from Cincinnati College and became an attorney in 1847.
Pendleton began a political career during the 1850s. He first served in the Ohio Senate, and in 1856, voters elected him to the United States House of Representatives. He held his seat until March 1865. He was a committed member of the Democratic Party and strongly opposed the Union war effort during the American Civil War. He was a close associate of Clement Vallandigham, Ohio's leading Peace Democrat. The Democratic Party selected Pendleton to run as George McClellan's vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1864. Due to Northern battlefield victories and the Democratic Party's opposition to the war effort, the McClellan-Pendleton ticket lost the election.
Following the Civil War, Pendleton remained involved in politics. He sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1868, but he lost the bid to Horatio Seymour. A principal reason why Pendleton lost the nomination was his support of the "Ohio idea." Pendleton proposed forcing the federal government to pay its debts in paper money rather than in gold and silver. He contended that, if the American people could use paper money, so too could the government. This idea, if implemented, might have led to high inflation and a refusal by some nations to trade with the United States.
Pendleton’s prestige began to decline within the Democratic Party at the national level. But he still had a great deal of power among Democrats in Ohio. After William Rosecrans refused the party's nomination for governor in 1869, Pendleton became the party's candidate. He lost the election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. In January 1878, the Ohio legislature appointed Pendleton to the United States Senate. As a senator, Pendleton proposed civil service exams for government positions. Historically, officeholders had used the "spoils system" and selected friends and supporters for government positions. Often, the appointees were not qualified to hold these positions. Pendleton favored the replacement of the spoils system with a civil service. Job applicants would have to have at least the minimum qualifications for a position to be appointed to it. On January 16, 1883, President Chester Arthur signed Pendleton's bill into law.
Pendleton suffered for his support of civil service. Many members of his party favored the spoils system. When his term in the United States Senate ended, his party turned on him in 1884 and selected another man to campaign for the Senate seat.
Pendleton remained active in public life. President Grover Cleveland appointed him to be the United States ambassador to Germany. He remained in this position until 1889. As he was returning to the United States, he died on November 24, 1889.
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