Ever wonder where the Deep State came from?
Name an assassination, and it nearly always has horrible, far-reaching, consequences.
Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered World War I. Charlotte Corday's assassination of Jean-Paul Marat intensified the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Fanny Kaplan's attempted assassination of V.I. Lenin in 1918 left him enfeebled for years, giving an opening to Stalin.
In the U.S., another such disaster with far-ranging consequences, according to Paul F. Petrick, writing for Issues & Insights this morning, was the 1881 assassination of President James Garfield, by Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled campaign worker.
Guiteau's evil act ushered in the dawn of the Deep State.
Reformers led by Sen. George H. Pendleton, D-Ohio, sought to prevent future Guiteaus by eliminating Guiteau's motive for the killing, namely the "spoils system" whereby every presidential administration saturated the federal bureaucracy with party loyalists, a presidential prerogative that critics condemned as antithetical to good government.
Disgust with the spoils system reached a critical mass in the wake of Garfield's murder, prompting Congress to pass the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. ...
While the new law introduced hiring via competitive examination and prohibited politically-motivated demotions and dismissals, it originally only applied to 10% of what was then a federal workforce of 130,000.
Nevertheless, Congress had planted the seed of civil service reform and like every seed, it contained the potential for growth. Specifically, that potential lay in a provision of the Pendleton Act that permitted the president to increase the number of federal employees subject to civil service protection.
Naturally, subsequent presidents sought to protect more and more of their appointees from being summarily replaced by their successors and now over 90% of the federal workforce, which has ballooned to 2.9 million employees, enjoys civil service protection.
From that, the Deep State emerged from the depths:
The Pendleton Act was conceived by reformers who disliked politics because they distrusted democracy. They designed structures that diluted the people's power and produced a federal bureaucracy insulated from presidential authority. This entrenched and unaccountable army of federal bureaucrats is what is colloquially known as the "Deep State."
The op-ed goes on to note that there are passages within the laws that can enable a president to reduce the Deep State just as they can enable a president to entrench it further. Joe Biden, of course, is in that latter category, while President Trump is in the former, not only making large categories of these hacks fireable during his presidency, but now vowing to make these nasty Deep State hacks fireable again as part of his 2024 campaign pitch.
It's shocking to think that the Deep State came as a consequence of a terrible 1881 assassination. And scarier still, a look at the assassins who did get away with murder in the U.S. of its presidents are such a familiar bunch — John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln in 1865, was a disgruntled Democrat who hated Republicans and sympathized with the Confederacy. Garfield's 1881 assassin was a campaign worker who expected to be handed a government job. William McKinley's assassin in 1901 was a crazed Antifa-like anarchist. John F. Kennedy's assassin in 1963 was a Soviet sympathizer with some kind of relationship with the CIA. These types remain all around us.
Garfield's assassination seemed particularly traumatic. As a little kid, I remember reading about Garfield's desperate attempt to recover following the attack, taking in sea air and other useless remedies of the pre–modern medicine era. A look at the number of the Old West counties being settled at the time, bearing the name "Garfield," attests to popular moves to memorialize him.
The reform, though, has proven worse than the crime it attempted to stomp out, and President Trump is right in being on top of this matter and in wanting to get rid of it. Once again, Trump is right and ready to strike at the head of the snake.
Petrick's essay is simply terrific history, enlightening and concise, with an important call to action. Read the whole thing here.
Image: Wikipedia, public domain.