Battle of the Riders — Part II

Last week I posted about the government shutdown fight between Congress and Rutherford B. Hayes.  I thought I would add some more detail about that debate.

In 1879, Congress passed the annual appropriation for the Army.  The Democratic majority in both chambers included provisions in that bill that repealed federal military or civil authority to protect the integrity of federal elections.  This was an obvious attempt to roll back African-American suffrage in the South in a way that would be hard to veto.

President Hayes did veto the bill, though, on procedural and substantive grounds. With respect to the procedure of tacking unrelated substantive legislation onto a revenue bill, he argued that this practice “did not prevail until more than forty years after the adoption of the Constitution.”  (I have no idea if this is true.)  He added that many States had rejected this tactic by providing in their constitutions that no law shall contain more than one subject.  (Is this still true?)  He also said that “[i]t is clearly the constitutional duty of the President to exercise his discretion and judgment upon all bills presented to him without constraint or duress from any other branch of the Government.”  (Definitely no longer true.)

Congress tested the President’s resolve by putting the same election law reforms into more appropriation bills, and Hayes continued to issue vetoes. Eventually, the Democrats backed down.  (The repeal of the voting provisions in question did not occur until the 1890s.)  Tacking, though, is still alive and well.

On an unrelated note (we might call that “post tacking”), I will probably be offline for the rest of the month, as I have two symposium papers to complete before the holidays.  We’ll see how long I can actually refrain from posting.

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1 Response

  1. Yes, it’s still true that some states mandate that bills have single subjects. Though this is more commonly a requirement imposed on ballot initiatives, than the output of the legislature.