January 26, 1884

Charles G. Bush


Business, Oil; Business, Trusts/Monopolies; Civil Service Reform/Patronage;

Pendleton, George;


The "Standard" of Democratic Civil Service Reform.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by C. G. Bush depicts the reelection defeat of Senator George Pendleton by the Ohio state legislature, allegedly under the direction of the Standard Oil company.

“Gentleman George” Pendleton, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1864, became identified in the post-war Congress with the “Ohio Idea,” which espoused increasing the money supply with paper currency. That position on monetary policy lost him the backing of Democrats who supported the gold-standard, and a major contributing factor in his loss of the party’s presidential nomination in 1868.

After his election to the U.S. Senate in 1878, Pendleton championed civil service reform to replace the patronage system, which he considered to be corrupt and inefficient. As chair of the Senate committee on civil service, he steered through Congress a bill for merit appointments and promotions in the federal bureaucracy. The Pendleton Act of 1883 was passed by the Republican congress and signed by President Chester Arthur. Pendleton’s stance on the issue angered many of his fellow Democrats, who supported the partisan patronage system.

In January 1884, the Democratically-controlled Ohio state legislature denied Pendleton reelection to a second term in the U.S. Senate, and elected in his place Congressman Henry Payne, an outspoken critic of civil service reform. Harper’s Weekly editorialized that “the defeat of Mr. Pendleton was a deliberate, intentional, and unmistakable expression of party hostility to the reform …” This Harper’s Weekly cartoon shows Senator Pendleton, grasping the flag of civil service reform, as he is crushed beneath the Democratic platform, which has been toppled by a beast representing the Standard Oil monopoly.

John D. Rockefeller had founded Standard Oil of Ohio in 1870 with capital of $1,000,000, making it the largest business corporation in the United States. By 1877, it controlled 90 percent of the country’s petroleum refining industry, and two years later Rockefeller, aged 40, was listed as one of the 20 wealthiest Americans. Concerns over Standard Oil’s economic and political power were widespread, and it was believed to have significant influence in state legislatures, such as Ohio and New York, and in the U.S. Senate.

Robert C. Kennedy

June 17, 2024

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