Battle of the Riders

“To say that a majority of either or both of the Houses of Congress may insist upon the approval of a bill under the penalty of stopping all of the operations of the Government for want of the necessary supplies is to deny to the Executive that share of the legislative power which is plainly conferred by the [Constitution].”

Rutherford B. Hayes, Apr. 29, 1879 (vetoing an appropriations bill)

There have been three major attempts at a government shutdown in our history. The one most people know about is the 1995 fight between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.  In my first book, I talked about the one that occurred in 1842, as congressional Whigs sought to force President John Tyler to enact their program.  In both cases, the President prevailed.

The other one happened in 1879 between congressional Democrats and President Hayes.  This so-called “Battle of the Riders” involved civil rights, as Congress sought to use the shutdown threat to repeal various Reconstruction statutes concerning voting African-American suffrage.  Hayes rejected these efforts and both sides engaged in a robust discussion of how separation-of-powers should work when it came to appropriations and omnibus bills.  Like Clinton and Tyler, Hayes ended up on top.

Since there is a possibility that Congress and White House may reach a budget impasse next year, I’m going to blog about this 1879 episode some more over the coming weeks.  Much to my surprise (and, OK, delight), I see that nobody has really written about this before.

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1 Response

  1. “to deny to the Executive that share of the legislative power which is plainly conferred by the [Constitution].”

    As far as I can see, the only legislative powers conferred by the constitution on the Executive are the veto, and the vice-President being entitled to preside over the Senate and break tie votes. Which, I’m glad to see, proved sufficient, but Congress had not, obviously, threatened to deprive Hayes of his constitutional authority merely by exercising their own authority to send to him only legislation THEY liked.

    Perhaps I’m over-analyzing political rhetoric, which isn’t meant to make actual sense if examined too closely…