"Gentleman George" Hunt Pendleton: A Study in Political Continuity
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Institution Granting Degree
University of Akron
Cedarville University School or Department
Keith L. Bryant, Jr.
George Hunt Pendleton, politician, biography, Ohio, Democratic Party, civil service
George Hunt Pendleton (July 19, 1825- November 24, 1889) is a significant but neglected figure in the history of nineteenth century politics. His biography provides not only a microcosm of Democratic Party operations during his lifetime but also a case study in the longevity of Jacksonian principles and their practical application during some of the most critical periods in this nation's history.
Pendleton was a Democrat from Cincinnati, Ohio who led the midwestern faction of the Democratic Party for much of the nineteenth century. He served in the Ohio Senate for one term before serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1857 until 1865. He was a leader of the Extreme Peace Democrats during the Civil War and, in 1864, ran as General George B. McClellan's running mate in the presidential campaign. Losing both the election and his seat in the House, he spent almost fifteen years out of public office. During those years he remained very active in the Democratic Party both within Ohio and across the nation. In addition, he served as president of the Kentucky Central Railroad for a decade. In 1879, after years of party service, the Democrats in the Ohio Legislature rewarded him with a seat in the United States Senate. Serving one term from 1879-1885, Pendleton fathered the first major civil service reform legislation, the Pendleton Act of 1883. Ohio Democrats did not support the measure and he lost his seat. Pendleton served as minister to Germany from 1885 until his death in 1889.
Pendleton labored his entire political career to achieve three inseparable goals. In an era of intense Democratic factionalism stretching from the 1850's to the 1880's, he sought to unite the divided party around its traditional Jacksonian principles. Such an effort, Pendleton thought, was vital because the Democratic Party, far more than Republicans, provided ordinary Americans with a mechanism to shape government operations and implement sound public policies. In that sense, preserving the Democratic Party based on Jacksonianism became an end in itself. Moreover on a personal level, Pendleton was ambitious. He recognized the rewards the party would bestow on a leader who could achieve those results.
Pendleton's consistency in principle also shed light on the nineteenth century political system in America. While most historians suggest that the Civil War destroyed the Second Political Party System and ushered in a period of political equilibrium, Pendleton's career does not demonstrate that transition. Though the Civil War was a watershed even in many ways, particularly socially and economically, it was much less so politically. The Democratic Party, as viewed from Pendleton's perspective, went through very little change after the conflict. Pendleton's biography tells his story that reveals how one person can illuminate the history of hist times.
Mach, Thomas S., ""Gentleman George" Hunt Pendleton: A Study in Political Continuity" (1996). Faculty Dissertations. 59.