The Journal of Politics


Presidential Vetoes in the Early Republic: Changing Constitutional Norms or Electoral Reform?

Nolan McCartya1

a1 Princeton University


Historians, political scientists, and legal scholars have long debated the origins and development of the executive veto in the early United States. Some scholars argue that the power was originally conceived as quite limited. These scholars argue that until Andrew Jackson used the veto against the recharter of the Bank of the United States, the veto was limited to unconstitutional or administratively unworkable legislation. Others argue that no such norms existed and that the veto was always understood as an important legislative power of the president and that early presidents used it as such. I argue that neither account provides an adequate explanation of the development and usage of the veto in the early republic. I claim that early veto usage was quite different, not because of constraining constitutional norms, but because the electoral conditions that generate equilibrium vetoes had yet to emerge.

(Received July 19 2007)

(Accepted August 16 2008)


Nolan McCarty is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.