Top 10 Government Showdowns

In honor of the debt-ceiling drama playing out here in Washington, Time Magazine has put together a list of Top 10 Government Showdowns in American history.  I was initially delighted that the subjects of all three of my books made the list (indicated below).  Then I started wondering about the quality of the list, and now find myself second-guessing our friends at Time.

Let’s go to the list:

1.  Obama v. Boehner, RIGHT NOW!

2.  Alexander Hamilton v. Aaron Burr, 1804  (See American Emperor:  Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, to be published on October 25).

3.  Ronald Reagan v. Air Traffic Controllers, 1981.

4.  Bill Clinton v. Newt Gingrich, 1995 (the budget showdown, NOT the impeachment!).

5.  FDR v. The Supreme Court, 1935.

6.  Preston Brooks v. Charles Sumner, 1856.

7.  Governor George Wallace v. U.S. Government, 1963.

8.   Truman v. Steel Industry, 1952.

9.  Big States v. Small States, 1787, in the Constitutional Convention (see The Summer of 1787:  The Men Who Invented the Constitution (2007).

10.  Andrew Johnson v. Congress, 1868 (see Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (2009).

Some of these entries seem a bit doubtful to me.  Reagan and the Air Traffic Controller?  It was a sweet bit of drama for a new president, but hardly earth-shaking.  Let’s compare it to, for example, SOUTH CAROLINA SECEDING FROM THE UNION IN 1861!  Judged by long-term consequences, as well short-term consequence, I lean towards the 1861 event.

And although I risk seeming partial to Aaron Burr, how about his showdown with Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election of 1800, which involved a tie vote in the electoral college and 35 consecutive deadlocked ballots in the House of Representatives?  That was big stuff, and led to a constitutional amendment (# 12).

Or even the Supreme Court versus the voters in Bush v. Gore (2000)?

Then there was the Supreme Court v. the southern states over desegragation of the schools, both Brown v. Board of Education and Cooper v. Aaron, involving the Little Rock schools?

Or President Lyndon Johnson’s face-off with Southern senators in the two-month filibuster over the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

What other important showdowns am I missing?



  1. Solveig on July 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Congratulations of this kind of dovetailing. Amazing, though, that Time would choose Aaron Burr’s challenge to Jefferson’s America, a subtle sub-topic of history that you’ve given the light of day. Reagan vs. Air Controllers–I believe it was considered a milestone in the area of de-regulation and therefore important–both for critics and supporters.

  2. Rebecca Staton-Reinstein on July 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I’m with David Stewart rather than Time on this one. Adding to the fun, a recent NYTimes book review brought Jefferson vs. Constitution, Congress, his own party and ideals into timely focus. and was titled “Jefferson’s Tea Party Moment.” And let’s not forget the battle over Assumption of the Revolutionary War debt that had the first Congress in turmoil until Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton made a deal, saved face individually, and created the modern financial system…on debt.

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