This Day in History

March 3, 1807: Thomas Jefferson Signs Insurrection Act Into Law

Time Periods: Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849
Themes: Labor, Laws & Citizen Rights, Slavery and Resistance, Social Class

On March 3, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson put his signature on the law known as the Insurrection Act.

Here is the original language of the Act signed by Jefferson:

An Act authorizing the employment of the land and naval forces of the United States, in cases of insurrections

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in that respect.

APPROVED, March 3, 1807.

In the 19th century, it was called upon when the United States wanted to suppress American Indian sovereignty. The law was also the legal basis for the Civil War, as it gave Abraham Lincoln powers to send federal troops into Southern states.

With a few exceptions, the law has historically been used to make a federal military response to labor disputes or anti-racism protests.

Andrew Jackson used the law to put down Nat Turner’s Rebellion and to put down a revolt by C&O Canal laborers in Maryland.

Ulysses S. Grant used the law at least three times during Reconstruction to respond to violent racist rioting by the Klan and other white supremacists. Grover Cleveland cited it to respond to the Pullman Strike in 1894 and Woodrow Wilson used the power to send troops to the 1914 Colorado Coalfield War.

Eisenhower and Kennedy called on the Act to enforce desegregation and defend against white aggression. Johnson used the act to quell uprisings in April 1968, in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. George H. W. Bush used the Act to send troops to Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King protests.