The national government, as part of its own system of personnel administration, has several old-age retirement systems. The largest one, and the only one which will be dealt with here, is that applicable to the great body of civilian employees of the national government.


Prior to 1920 the national government made no provision for the retirement of its aged employees. Four reasons for the absence of a retirement system in the early years seem important: (1) the civil service for many years was relatively small; (2) public sentiment was hostile to government pensions for civilian employees; (3) private enterprises generally did not have retirement systems; and (4) for the greater part of the nineteenth century the civil employees of the government were appointed under the spoils system. Rare indeed was the employee who entered the civil service in his youth and spent the balance of his working life in it. The bulk of the employees came in and went out on a change of administration. Under the spoils system civil service jobs were at times given to the politically deserving elderly people in lieu of a pension. The merit system and permanency of tenure did not come until the passage of the Civil Service Act of 1883.1 That act did not apply at once to all civilian positions. Only slowly by presidential orders and congressional action were positions brought under the act, and there were many backslides, notably when laws were passed specifically excluding whole classes of employees from the operation of the Civil Service Act.

Soon after 1900 it became apparent that permanency of tenure and a career system meant people would grow old in the national civil service. Neither the United States Civil Service

22 Stat. 403.


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Relief and Social Security
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