Jenckes, Thomas A. (Thomas Allen), 1818-1875
Congressman Thomas Allen Jenckes (1818-1875) is regarded nationally as “the father of civil service reform.” He was born in Cumberland, was educated in the public schools of that town, and graduated from Brown University in 1838 where he distinguished himself in mathematics and the physical sciences.
Jenckes studied law under Samuel Y. Atwell and was admitted to the bar in 1840. Immediately he entered politics and became a leader in the Law and Order party that put down the Dorr Rebellion. In 1845 Jenckes became state adjutant general, a post he held for a decade, and served as a state representative from 1854 to 1857. He was also chief counsel for Rhode Island in its boundary dispute with Massachusetts and argued for Rhode Island’s claim in the U.S. Supreme Court. Jenckes’s ability and interest in science and mechanics led him to specialize in patent law, a field in which he gained prominence and from which he gained business opportunities.
Jenckes served in the U.S. House of Representative from 1863 to 1871 as a Radical Republican and wrote an article of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, the federal Bankruptcy Act of 1867, and several laws relating to patents. He is remembered best, however, as a leader in the movement to reform the federal civil service from a system based on patronage to one founded on “merit.” He patterned his reform bill on the British system of open, competitive examinations for government jobs. In its general outline, the original Jenckes Bill (which did not pass) furnished a model for the famous Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, a measure that was enacted by Congress seven years after Jenckes died in his native town of Cumberland.