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The history of U.S. presidential reforms

I wanted to aggregate data about what United States presidents and Congress did to the country.

XVIII - XIX centuries

George Washington

  1. Imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits.
  2. Suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, marking the first time under the new constitution that the federal government used military force to exert authority over both citizens and states.
  3. The only sitting US president to personally command troops in the field.

John Adams

  1. Rebuilt the navy.
  2. To pay for the army and navy, Congress imposed new taxes on property: the Direct Tax of 1798.

Thomas Jefferson

  1. His administration eliminated the whiskey excise
  2. First Barbary War occurred during his term, marked the first war the US engaged in on foreign soil and seas.
  3. Arranged for the Louisiana Purchase.
  4. Persuaded Congress to fund an expedition to explore and map the newly acquired territory.
  5. Authorized the funding and construction of the United States Military Academy.
  6. Advocated forcible removal of the native peoples.
  7. Signed the Embargo Act of 1807.
  8. Attempted to annex Florida.

James Madison

  1. Signed the act creating the Second Bank of the United States, which was needed to finance the war with Britain.
  2. Ordered the US Army to protect Native lands

James Monroe

  1. Signed the Missouri Compromise, involving the regulation of slavery.

John Quincy Adams

  1. Reduced the national debt from $16M to $5M.
  2. Signed into law the Tariff of 1828

Andrew Jackson

  1. Signed into law the Indian Removal Act.
  2. Called for the abolition of the Electoral College.
  3. Enforced the tenure of Office Act.
  4. Asked Congress to pass a “Force Bill”, authorizing the use of military force to enforce the tariffs.
  5. Issues the Specie Circular, an order that required buyers of government lands to pay in gold or silver coins, which eventually caused the Panic of 1837.
  6. Supported slavery and was hostile to abolitionism.
  7. Suppressed pro-abolitionist activities in Congress.
  8. Formally recognized the Republic of Texas.

Martin Van Buren

  1. Advocated lower tariffs and free trade.
  2. Set up a system of bonds for the national debt.
  3. Gave the Treasury control of all federal funds.
  4. Denied Texas’ formal request to join the United States.
  5. Continued the Second Seminole War to help secure Florida.
  6. Voted against admission of Missouri as a slave state.
  7. Considered slavery morally wrong but sanctioned by the Constitution. Was against the abolition.

William Henry Harrison

  1. Delivered the longest, 2 hour long, inaugural address in American history.
  2. Promised to reestablish the Bank of the United States.
  3. Been a president only for a month, marking its the shortest presidency in the US.

John Tyler

  1. Repealed the Independent Treas ury.
  2. Vetoed legislation for a national banking act.
  3. Increased tariffs, passing the Distribution Act of 1841 to create a distribution program, with a ceiling on tariffs at 20%.
  4. Advocated expansionism toward the Pacific; increase in military strength.
  5. Began a process that led to the eventual annexation of Hawaii.
  6. Admitted Florida into the Union.
  7. Attempted to annex Texas

James K. Polk

  1. Reduced tariffs.
  2. Restored the Independent Treasury System.
  3. Was a slaveholder for his entire life; bought even more slaves when became the president.
  4. Finished annexation of Texas.
  5. Attempted to purchase California.
  6. Declared war on Mexico, then ended it, acquiring California, New Mexico, and Utah.

Zachary Taylor

  1. Admitted California, New Mexico into the Union.

Millard Fillmore

  1. Favored the Compromise of 1850, which, among other things, banned slave trade (but not slavery) in DC.
  2. Signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act, which penalized officials who didn’t arrest runaway slaves, as well as criminalized aiding runaway slaves. Suspected slaves were not eligible for a trial, which resulted in kidnapping and conscription of free blacks into slavery.
  3. Ordered the Perry Expedition, which resulted in the opening of Japan to American and international trade.

Franklin Pierce

  1. Implemented an early system of civil service examinations.
  2. Expanded the role of US attorney general in appointing federal judges and attorneys.
  3. Tried to reform the Treasury, which was inefficiently managed.
  4. Favored expansion and reorganization of the military.
  5. Passed the Kansas–Nebraska Act, creating the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise by allowing settlers to determine whether they would allow slavery.

James Buchanan

  1. Preferred to see the territorial question (whether Congress has power to exclude slavery in the territories) resolved by the Supreme Court. Didn’t object when the Court said “Congress doesn’t”.
  2. Pushed for Congressional approval of Kansas statehood under the Lecompton Constitution, despite it being boycotted by the majority of residents. Buchanan offered favors and even cash for Congressional votes. It was later rejected in the Senate.
  3. Condemned both free trade and prohibitive tariffs.
  4. In his third annual message Buchanan claimed that the slaves were “treated with kindness and humanity…. Both the philanthropy and the self-interest of the master have combined to produce this humane result”.
  5. Vetoed a bill to grant land for colleges.

Abraham Lincoln

  1. Rejected the Crittenden Compromise.
  2. Supported the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which would have protected slavery in states where it already existed and which would have prevented Congress from interfering with slavery without the Southern consent.
  3. Vowed not to shoot the confederates, while at the same time vowing not to surrender the forts. Which resulted in the confederates firing first and starting the war.
  4. Ordered arrest of all the Maryland politicians, held the imprisoned without warrants, charges, or trials; because anti-war mobs in Baltimore attacked the Union troops and burned the bridges.
  5. Expanded his war powers.
  6. Signed the Confiscation Act that authorized confiscation and freeing of slaves who were used to support the Confederate war effort.
  7. Endorsed an act banning slavery on all federal territory.
  8. Declared free the Confederate slaves, but only because he though it would save the Union.
  9. Authorized Grant to target the Confederate infrastructure.
  10. Pressured the Congress to outlaw slavery nationwide. Eventually, it became the 13th amendment.

Andrew Johnson

  1. Recognized the Virginia government.
  2. Amnestied all ex-rebels who had less than $20,000 in property.
  3. Opposed granting citizenship to the freedmen.
  4. Vetoed the Civil Rights Act, though the Congress managed to override the veto and pass it.
  5. Opposed the Fourteens Amendment.
  6. Vetoed the First Reconstruction Act, which would ratify the 14th amendment in the former Confederate states, though the Congress still managed to pass it.
  7. Got Senate to accept the Alaska purchase.

Ulysses S. Grant

  1. Barred the general public from entering the White House grounds.
  2. Lobbies Congress to pass the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race.
  3. Created the Department of Justice.
  4. Restored political rights to former Confederates.
  5. Attempted to live peacefully with Native Americans, which is a radical reversal of the government’s policy of Indian removal. The law now treated them as wards of the federal government, rather than as the tribes of sovereign entities.
  6. Tried to pass the Treaty of Annexation [of the Dominican Republic].
  7. Returned the gold standard, which was previously abandoned to fund the Civil War.
  8. Discontinued the silver dollar.
  9. Signed the Specie Payment Resumption Act, which restored the gold standard through redemption of previously unbacked US notes and reversed inflationary policies.

Rutherford B. Hayes

  1. Vetoed an army appropriation bill, which would have allowed preventing blacks from voting.
  2. Tried to outlaw the spoils system and to forbid requiring federal office holders to make campaign contributions.
  3. Carried out a supportive Indian policy.

James A. Garfield

  1. Got many ‘questionable’ members allegedly involved in post office corruption to resign or be fired.
  2. Initiated investigation into a naval reform program.
  3. Believed polygamy was criminal behavior and pressured the LDS Church to stop practicing it.

Chester A. Arthur

  1. Signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, effectively outlawing spoils system.
  2. Levied a 50-cent tax on immigrants, and excluded from entry the mentally ill and criminals.
  3. Signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which denied Chinese immigrants US citizenship and banned their entry for a ten year period.
  4. Made polygamy a federal crime and barred polygamists from public office.
  5. Urged Congress to increase funding for Indian education.

Grover Cleveland

  1. Created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads and ensure fair rates; as well as to regulate interstate bus lines and telephone companies.
  2. Forfeited some railroads’ lands because they failed to extend their lines according to agreements.
  3. Lobbied the Congress to pass the Scott Act, which prevented the return of Chinese immigrants who left the US.
  4. Marked the beginning of the end of silver as a basis for American currency.

Benjamin Harrison

  1. Signed into law the Sharman Antitrust Act, the first federal act to prohibit certain business activities deemed “anti-competitive”.
  2. Signed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.
  3. Urged the Congress to secure all civil rights to all people, independent of their race.
  4. Attempted to annex Hawaii, though the Senate failed to act.

Groover Cleveland

  1. Passed the first peacetime income tax, with the rate of 2% on income over $4000.
  2. Campaigned against strengthening the voting rights protections.
  3. Sent troops to deal with workers strikes.

William McKinley

  1. Congress declared war with Spain over Cuba.
  2. Ordered an invasion of Puerto Rico.
  3. Acquired Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and got Spain to give up its claims to Cuba, in exchange for $20M.
  4. Annexed Hawaii.
  5. Increased tariffs on wool, sugar, and luxury goods. (And allowed some limited reciprocity.)
  6. Signed the Gold Standard Act, establishing gold as the only standard for redeeming paper money and stopping bimetallism.

XX century

Theodore Roosevelt

  1. Issued anti-trust laws, attacked big businesses, supported unions.
  2. Expanded the system of national parks and forests.

William Howard Taft

  1. Passed the corporate income tax (of 1%) and proposed an amendment to allow the federal government to tax incomes, which quickly became the Sixteenth Amendment.
  2. Vetoed a law that would have restricted unskilled laborers by imposing a literacy test.

Woodrow Wilson

  1. Created the Federal Reserve.
  2. Created the Federal Trade Commission.
  3. Limited migration

Warren G. Harding

  1. Reduced income tax.
  2. Reduced regulation of monopolies.
  3. Reduced excess profits tax.

Calvin Coolidge

  1. Increased various fees.
  2. Limited migration, introduced state control of radio.

Herbert Hoover

  1. Prohibited alcohol.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  1. Introduced New Deal.
  2. Introduced Social Security.

Harry S. Truman

  1. Increased Social Security, increased minimum wage, started public housing program.
  2. Followed non-intervention policy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

  1. Allowed over 10 million more people to benefit from Social Security system.
  2. Increased public housing program.

John F. Kennedy

  1. Started allowing companies to move production offshore.

Lyndon B. Johnson

  1. Wanted to create welfare state, introduced Medicare.
  2. Social — helped blacks.

Richard Nixon

  1. Suspended dollar convertibility into gold.

Gerald Ford

Jimmy Carter

  1. Increased Social Security system.

Ronald Reagan

  1. Reduced upper tax limit from 70% to 28%, decreased medicaid
  2. Increased military spending, started war on drugs, limited migration more

George H. W. Bush

  1. introduced some new taxes, supported the unions
  2. Social — started many military operations

Bill Clinton

  1. increased social security and medical insurance users (+35M people)

George W. Bush

  1. Started War on Terror (Wars in Afghanistan / Iraq).
  2. Issued several tax cuts.
  3. Started PATRIOT act. Most important aspects of which are: a) The President’s can wiretap Americans’ phone calls without a warrant, on the suspicion they might be a terrorist. b) The President’s ability to issue National Security letters to a financial institution (very inclusive term) or even a library, requesting records or documents regarding an individual. A warrant is not needed and if served with an NSL, you are not able to tell anyone or you’ll go to jail. c) Allowed NSA to start massive domestic surveillance program PRISM.
  4. Established Gitmo.
  5. Signed into law the Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA), which removed the warrant requirement for govt surveillance of foreign targets.
  6. Signed into law the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants immunity to telecoms for cooperation with authorities and allowed the government to conduct surveillance of a US person located outside of the USA up for one week without a warrant.
  7. Signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The bill banned discrimination based on genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment.
  8. Partially lifted ban on Stem Cell research
  9. Lifted a ban on offshore drilling
  10. Signed Medicare Modernization Act, a major overhaul of Medicare. It provided tax breaks for prescription drugs.

Barack Obama

  1. Signed into US law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA for FY2012). This edition of NDAA explicitly authorizes the President of the United States to indefinitely detain any person (US citizens included), who they think is a terrorist, without trial.
  2. Introduced Obamacare, the most significant government expansion in U.S. healthcare since 1965.
  3. Repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” for LGBT