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Patronage, the Pendleton Act, and the Power of the People

Sean M. Theriault
The Journal of Politics
Vol. 65, No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 50-68
DOI: 10.1111/1468-2508.t01-1-00003
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/1468-2508.t01-1-00003
Page Count: 19
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Patronage, the Pendleton Act, and the Power of the People
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Abstract

The conventional wisdom and congressional scholarship find that members of Congress use their public authority to facilitate their reelections (Aldrich 1995; Moe 1990; Parker 1992; Weingast and Marshall 1988). The adoption of the Pendleton Act of 1883 has been cited as another in a long line of examples in which members have “stacked the deck” in their own self-interests (Johnson and Libecap 1994a). I challenge these pervasive views by presenting evidence that public pressure was an important and frequently overlooked factor in explaining the adoption of civil service reform in the late nineteenth century. More generally, I argue that members of Congress will enact reforms that diminish their power or restrict their authority only when the public is attentive and united; otherwise, they will establish governing structures and rules that facilitate their own reelections. This insight sheds light, more broadly, on the relationship between the represented and their representatives.

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