Presidential Vetoes: Because I Said So

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law. You wouldn’t believe how tough it is to find a photo of a president vetoing a bill. (Image by Pete Souza/Official White House photo)

On this date in 1792, George Washington used his presidential veto power for the first time.

Here are a few things you may not have known about the veto.

The history of the veto, which means “I forbid” in Latin, can be traced to the Roman Empire. Roman consuls had to act unanimously, so one essentially held veto power over the other, while tribunes held veto power over the Roman Senate.

In the British-based Westminster system of government, the power of the veto is held by the monarch. All legislation passed by parliament must receive Royal Assent to become law. If the monarch doesn’t approve, the bill doesn’t become law. However, the last time Royal Assent was withheld in Great Britain was when Queen Anne vetoed the Scottish Militia Bill of 1708. The governors general of Commonwealth counties hold veto power in their realms as the representative of the monarch. The power has never been used in Australia or in Canada.

Other counties, obviously, have different systems. In countries like Iceland and Latvia, if the president refuses to sign a bill, it is put to a national referendum. Many other countries, such as France and Italy, allow the executive to ask the legislature to reconsider the bill, after which it becomes law regardless of whether it is signed. Other countries, like Poland, allow the president to refer a bill to the judiciary to determine its constitutionality.

In the United States, all federal legislation must pass the House of Representatives and the Senate and be presented to the president for his or her signature. The president can sign the bill — making it law — or veto the bill. If the bill is vetoed, the House and Senate may override the veto with a two-thirds majority in each house. A bill can also become law if the president fails to sign it within 10 days. However, if the 10-day period expires with Congress adjourned, the bill fails to become law. This is known as a pocket veto.

There has been a total of 2,571 vetoes since Washington’s first in 1792. Seven presidents — John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and James A. Garfield — didn’t veto any legislation during their time in office. Franklin Pierce had the largest percentage of vetoes overridden with 56 percent of his nine vetoes overturned. The largest number of presidential vetoes overridden by Congress were the 15 of Andrew Johnson. Harry Truman and Gerald Ford had 12 vetoes overridden.

The president who issued the most vetoes was Franklin Roosevelt, who vetoed 635 pieces of legislation. Only nine of those vetoes were overturned. Since Roosevelt’s time in office, the number of vetoes has fallen dramatically. Richard Nixon vetoed 43 bills, Jimmy Carter vetoed 31, while George W. Bush and Barack Obama vetoed 12 each. Donald Trump has yet to veto any legislation.


It’s unofficially National Deep Dish Pizza Day and National Carmel Day, after eating all of that, you’ll be happy to know it’s also National Walking Day.

It’s the birthday of educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington, who was born in 1856; actress Bette Davis, who was born in 1908; and actor Gregory Peck, who was born in 1916.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1981, the top song in the U.S. was “Kiss on My List” by Hall and Oates.

The No. 1 movie was “Nighthawks,” while the novel “The Covenant” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question: Now for our weekly question: What is the second fastest land mammal?

Submit your answer at and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.


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