16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History

Trista - January 26, 2019

For almost a month, some of the most prominent news reports focus on the longest government shutdown in history. Government shutdowns generally occur because Congress fails to agree on federal funding. Closings can also happen when the President of the United States vetoes or fails to sign federal funding spending bills. While most of the government shutdowns throughout history were unnoticed or forgotten, there have been a few over the past 30 years which have made their mark for various reasons. This list will take a look at several government shutdowns throughout history.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
A clipart of an “Out of Order” Government. The Daily Texan/ Lauren Ibanez.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
A portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States and 29th and 32nd Governor of Ohio. Mathew Brady/ UpstateNYer/ United States Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

16. The First Unofficial Government Shutdown In History Occurred In 1879 And Lasted 3 Months

The first unofficial government shutdown happened in 1879 with 19th President Rutherford B. Hayes. This government shutdown, formerly called a rider fight, was part of the aftermath of the Civil War. The standoff occurred between Republican and Democrats. During this time, African American men could vote. However, because they usually voted Republicans, as it was Republicans who fought to end slavery, the Democrats didn’t want African American males voting. From the start of the Civil War in 1861 to 1879, Democrats didn’t have the majority of seats in Congress as they all left to fight for the Confederate Army.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Democrats slowly started to gain seats back in Congress. Fourteen years later, they had the majority of seats and came up with the idea to end protection of African American votes. For reasons, they sighted fighting at the voting polls because most people didn’t agree with African Americans gaining their right to vote. The Democrats stated if the government stopped protecting African American voters, they would fund the army and the courts. Months later, the shutdown ended when the Democrats and Republicans agreed, and President Hayes signed the bill.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
A section of the border wall in Mexicali, Baja California state, Mexico on March 10, 2018. Guillermo Arias/ AFP/ Getty Images.

15. President Trump’s Border Wall Shutdown Beats A Record

On December 22, 2018, the Border Wall Shutdown started when Congress could not reach a deal on funding for the border wall the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, wants to build. This dispute started when the president asked Congress to pass a bill to fund the $5.7 million for the border wall. While both political parties want better border security, the Democrats do not want to support a wall whereas the Republican agree with the president. When Congress couldn’t decide on the bill on the due date, the Federal Government shut down.

While Congress continued to debate the border wall bill, the Democrats came up with their own idea on providing more security at the border but not the wall. President Trump then stated he refused to sign a bill that did not fund the wall. On Saturday, January 12, 2019, the board wall shutdown broke the previous record of the longest government shutdown in history at 22 days. At this time, no one could see an end to the shutdown, which lasted until all parties reached a temporary decision on January 25, 2019, allowing the government to re-open until February 15th.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a Democratic political rally at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas on, October 6, 2014. Danny Johnston/ AP/ MSNBC.

14. Bill Clinton’s Administration Held Onto The Longest Shutdown In History For Over 20 Years

On December 16, 1995, the United States Government shutdown due to a disagreement about funding for Medicare and Medicaid. The Republicans wanted to cut funding for these programs, along with asking the Democrats and Clinton to agree to another financing. However, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and his Democratic political party didn’t want to conform to the Republican’s terms, therefore, going into a government shutdown. For the Clinton administration, this was the second government shutdown as their first one occurred a month prior.

With Congress and President Clinton disagreeing on the budget, the government shutdown broke the record of the most extended federal government shutdown in history after 17 days. Fortunately, by this time, Congress started to make a bit of movement on ending the government shutdown. At this time, President Clinton and his team were working on creating a balanced budget plan for the following seven years. On January 5, 1996, Congress met and went over the new budget plan, which both political parties agreed to. This result ended the Clinton administration’s second government shutdown.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
The official portrait of President Jimmy Carter from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Hall of Presidents in Washington D.C. Robert Templeton/ Wikimedia.

13. A Veto Shuts Down The Government For Eighteen Days

During 1978, President Jimmy Carter and his Democratic party held the reigns in the government. The Democrats held the majority of votes in both the House and the Senate. However, this could keep the government from going into a shut down on September 30, 1978. This government shutdown, which lasted eighteen days, happened when Jimmy Carter vetoed a bill because he thought Congress was not putting the government’s money to good use. Carter vetoed the bill because he saw it as wasteful spending.

The bill that President Carter vetoed focused on a large amount of funding for public works legislation, several water projects, and a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. While Carter didn’t entirely mind the public works and water projects, he wasn’t happy that so much money was going towards a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Carter felt there were dozens of more important areas that could use that funding, such as the departments of health, education, and welfare. From the veto until October 17, 1978, the parties debated. The end resulted in a win for President Jimmy Carter.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Barack Obama waving at the end of his news conference on December. 16, 2016. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP/ US News.

12. The Shut Down Of The Barack Obama Administration

Since the late 1970s, there have been a total of 21 government shutdowns with the 18th shutdown on the list coming from the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama’s administration. This shutdown occurred because of the controversial Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Some of the Republicans, who were already displeased that they could not repeal health care law wanted to keep the government running but hold off on the Affordable Care Act. Of course, several other members of the Congress didn’t approve of this plan.

Because of this, the government went into a shutdown, which started on October 1st of 2013. At this point, over 800,000 government employees went home and waited for their phones to ring while nearly 1.3 million continued to report to work without pay. None of the government employees had any idea when they would see their next paycheck. This government shutdown ended on October 16th, sixteen days later with a victory for President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Former President Jimmy Carter enjoying a baseball game. Icon Sportswire/ Getty Images/ CNBC.

11. President Jimmy Carter Holds Another Government Shutdown Record

During the late 1970s, funding for abortion in Congress became a hot topic. At the time, Jimmy Carter was president and the Democrats controlled the majority of the House and Senate. The government officially shut down when an agreement couldn’t be reached on the funding for abortion through Medicaid on September 30, 1977. For the next twelve days as Congress not only debated the abortion topic but also how to handle the government shutdown as, once again, there were millions of people who had no idea when their next paycheck was coming.

For months before the shutdown, Congress debated whether or not funding for abortions should include rape and incest victims. While it did not at the time, the Democrats of the Senate felt it should but the House thought that it was not necessary. However, the biggest problem that caused the shutdown was the funding eventually made its way into the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare along with the Department of Labor. On October 13, 1977, the shutdown ended when they put a temporary bill in place that allowed funding to continue.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Jimmy Carter in Atlanta after announcing his candidacy for governor of Georgia in 1970. In the background, his wife, Rosalynn, holds their 2-year-old daughter Amy. Politico/ AP.

10. The Last Government Shutdown Under The Jimmy Carter Administration

One of the reasons the Carter administration dealt with so many government shutdowns was because no one could agree on funding for abortion. Just like several of the government shutdowns during Carter’s time in office, this shutdown happened because of disagreements when it came to abortion. This shutdown started around October 1, 1979, and went on until about October 12th, which came to eleven days in total. During this time, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but this didn’t mean they wanted the same things.

The House wanted higher senior civil servant and congressional pay by 5.5%, however the Senate didn’t like this idea. They tried to keep funding for rape and incest victims while the House didn’t care for that idea. Because the two sides couldn’t agree before the deadline, the government went into a partial shutdown. They then spent the next eleven days coming to an agreement. The House decided they would approve the funding for cases of rape and the Senate agreed to the higher pay.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Portrait of President Gerald R. Ford. David Hume Kennerly/ U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

9. Gerald Ford’s Shutdown Of 1976

Referred to as the HEWdown government shutdown, which started on September 30th of 1976. The President of the United States was General Ford, and the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Similar to one of Jimmy Carter’s government shutdowns, the HEWdown happened because President Ford vetoed a bill that he felt did not spend the government’s money adequately. The proposal focused on funding for the Department of Labor and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Resolving the government shutdown of 1976 started the day after the closure went into effect. On October 1st, Congress overrode the veto President Ford placed on the bill. This meant that the spending on the bill would take effect. However, this would not happen immediately. In fact, it would take a total of ten days for the government shutdown to officially end as it wasn’t until October 11th that a resolution resolved the funding gaps within the bill.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Jimmy Carter signs the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Jack E. Kightlinger/ National Archives and Records Administration/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

8. The November 1st Government Shutdown Of 1977

This government shutdown is considered to be a continuation from the previous government shutdown, which occurred from October 1-12th of 1977. Just a couple weeks later, the government would return to a shutdown with the issue of abortion funding. Today, this shutdown is known as The Abortion Shutdown II: Abortion Boogaloo. The Abortion Shutdown II started on October 31, 1977, after time had run out from the temporary bill that allowed the abortion funding to continue while Congress tried to agree.

By the time the temporary abortion funding bill was ending, Congress had still not come to an official agreement. Therefore, the government shut down, which meant millions of people were once again working without pay or waiting for a phone call to inform them they could return to work. The biggest problem was that Congress was not any closer to agreeing than they were earlier that month with the first abortion government shutdown. Therefore, President Jimmy Carter once again signed a temporary bill which would allow funding to continue and the government to reopen on November 9th.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Jimmy Carter in October 1988. Rob C. Croes / Anefo/ Wikimedia.

7. Jimmy Carter’s Second Eight Day Government Shutdown Of 1977

By this point, government shutdowns, because Congress could not agree on the terms for the abortion funding, started to look like a theme for the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Just a few weeks after President Carter signed a second temporary funding bill for abortion so the government could resume its services, the end date came up and, for the third time within a couple of months, the government shut down over the issue of abortion funding. Following the theme, this shutdown became known as the Abortion Shutdown III: Dark of the Moon.

The trouble between the House and Senate was that the House did not believe victims of statutory rape should be allowed funding for abortion. They further felt that the Senate was too relaxed about the spending. The Senate, on the other hand, thought that the House was too strict on the expenditure. In the end, the Senate won with only a few revisions. The main changed was the bill officially included funding for victims of rape and incest, providing the mother’s life was in danger. With this negotiation, the government shutdown formally ended on December 9th.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on the South Lawn of the White House on August 10, 1993. Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

6. Bill Clinton Administration’s First Government Shutdown Of 1995

The reasons for the Clinton administration’s shutdown which became the longest shutdown in history until Trump’s administration beat that record, happened because of this shutdown. Known as the Clinton v. Gingrich, the First, this shutdown started on November 14, 1995, and ended on November 19th. At the time, Republicans controlled the majority of the votes for both the House and the Senate, but as we have seen before, this could not stop a government shutdown as the Clinton was a Democrat.

The basic of this shutdown was the Republicans wanted to raise the premiums for Medicare. They reasoned that this would allow the president to balance the budget within seven years. The budget also touched on other areas that President Clinton did not want to bend on, such as environmental services. Therefore, he vetoed the bill and the government shutdown. Over the next five days, Clinton, Gingrich, and Dole came to an agreement, and the government resumed, for a short period.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Ronald Reagan meets with William Flynn Martin and his Cabinet in the Situation Room for a National Security Council meeting. RepubFan12/ Wikimedia Commons.

5. President Reagan Had Two Three-Day Shutdowns Within A Year

Some presidents have had very few to no government shutdowns during their terms, and then some presidents have had several. One of these presidents is Ronald Reagan, who could claim to have two different three-day government shutdown within a year. The first three-day shutdown under Reagan’s administration started on December 17, 1982, and ended on December 21st. During this time, the Senate was mainly Republican, and the House was mostly Democrat. However, Congress came to an agreement.

The problem started when President Ronald Reagan saw the agreed upon bill and didn’t like it. Therefore, Reagan vetoed the bill and left the House and Senate to come up with terms that he would agree to. Congress then went back to the drawing board and made a few changes, such as lower funding for the Legal Services Corp and abandoning their job plans. While Reagan was not completely happy with the changes, he just grumbled about them and signed the bill due to the pressure of needing the end the shutdown.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Chief Justice William Rehnquist administers the Presidential Oath of Office to George H. W. Bush during his inauguration ceremony at the United States Capitol on January 20, 1989. Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain.

4. The First President Bush And His 1990 Government Shutdown

Sometimes, the biggest problem that causes government shutdowns is the President of the United States is on one side, and Congress is on the other side of the political world. When it comes to the government shutdown of 1990, this is exactly what happened. President G.W. Bush was a Republican, and the Democrats held the majority of votes for both the House and the Senate. As we have seen several times before this and since the Republican and the Democrats do not often agree on government spending.

The bottom line was that the president refused to sign any continuing resolution bill that was not paired with a deficit reduction plan because the government was not financially stable and he wanted to work to change that. On top of that, Bush wanted to see a pledge so he could make sure it would get done in the future. However, Congress failed on this mission and then was unable to override the president’s veto, so America went into a government shutdown for three days. To end it, Congress gave the president what he wanted.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares “You’re fired!” at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire on June 17, 2015. Dominick Reuter/ Reuters/ The Atlantic.

3. Trump’s First Government Shutdown Of 2018 Lasted Three Days

This shutdown is the start of a government shutdown which comes a bit later in this list. In January of 2018, Congress and President Donald Trump could not agree on immigration. However, at the same time, they were coming up with a plan to expand funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program over six years. When the deadline approached on January 20th, the government shut down. Fortunately, for the government employees, this came on a Saturday and the matter resolved over the weekend, temporarily at least.

With pressure to open the government on Monday, Congress came up with a proposal, which President Donald Trump agreed to sign. In the plan, the funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program passed, however, Congress also gave a pledge that they would come up with an agreement for the immigration issue if a temporary bill were signed which would re-open the government. The statement made it to the president’s desk that following Monday morning, to which he agreed and signed the bill.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
President Ronald Reagan makes an announcement from his desk at the White House, circa 1985. Hulton Archive/ Getty Images/ Thoughtco.

2. Actor Turned President Has A Couple Two-Day Government Shutdowns

During his time in office, actor turned President of the United States, Ronald Reagan held a couple more government shutdowns. Fortunately, for employees of the government, these shutdowns only lasted two days. The first two-day government shutdown started on November 20, 1981, and ended on November 22, 1981. The reasons for this shutdown was the House and Senate passed a different budget for domestic. While both agreed to budget cuts, Congress wanted more significant budget cuts so they could get pay raises. Reagan vetoed this bill and signed a bill to allow more time so the government could re-open.

The second two-day shutdown happened later in Ronald Reagan’s career. This shutdown started around October 1, 1984, and went until October 3rd. During this time, Republicans held the majority for the Senate, and the Democrats held the majority for the House. This funding bill included the one thing Reagan wanted, a crime-fighting package. However, it also had two things he didn’t like: the water projects package and lesser funding for African American universities. In the end, Reagan signed a bill which continued the funding and allowed more time to reach an agreement.

16 Government Shutdowns Throughout American History
Donald Trump meeting Ronald Reagan. Newsmax.

1. Two Presidents Hold One-Day Government Shutdowns In Two Different Millenniums

Throughout the last few decades, several one-day government shutdowns have occurred, with most going unnoticed to even government employees. Ronald Reagan had four in his career. The first happened on October 1, 1982, and it was for no reason other than they ran out of time so everyone just pushed it through and Reagan signed it. Another one-day shutdown happened because they ran out of time to agree with a previous shutdown. The two other one-day closures ended when Congress decided to agree to Reagan’s terms so he would sign the bill.

The fifth one-day government shutdown happened on February 9, 2018. This shutdown might be the shortest in history as it didn’t even last a total of six hours. To keep the government doors open, Congress worked all night so they could make a deal that President Donald Trump could sign in the morning. Congress voted on the measure around 5:30 in the morning and then sent it to the president to sign. President Trump not only signed the bill at 8:40 am but also tweeted that he had signed the bill.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Looking Back On The First Government Shutdown In U.S. History.” Sarah Gonzalez, NPR. January 2019.

“All 21 Government Shutdowns in U.S. History.” Tom Murse, Thoughco.com. January 2019.

“How long did the longest government shutdown stretch? 21 days.” Doug Criss, CNN.com. January 2019.

“Trump relents on border wall, ending shutdown with vow to use emergency powers without funding by Feb. 15.” Todd J. Gillman, Dallas News. January 2019.

“Record-breaking federal shutdown ends.” CNN. January 1996.

“The Ghost of Shutdowns Past haunts latest talks to keep the federal government open.” Michael Collins, USA Today. January 2018.

“Shutdown ends after Trump signs budget deal.” John Bresnahan, Jennifer Scholtes and Heather Caygle, Politico. February 2018.

“Government Shutdown Ends After 3 Days of Recriminations.” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan, New York Times. January 2018.