Looking Back on Government Shutdowns

Written by Rachel Smith, Project Archivist

As our country faces the current federal government shutdown, I wondered how the nation has handled this type of event in the past. The last government shutdown occurred in 1995 over disagreements about the budget, especially about appropriations. Since this happened while Bart Gordon was serving as Representative for Tennessee, I looked through his papers that I am continually processing. I found a few interesting items from that time period I want to share with you. While some people think archives only have very old things, I hope these documents show that our collections can also relate to current events.

You can click the images so they will enlarge for easier reading.

Shutdown001This first item shows how the Congressional Research Service kept members of Congress knowledgeable about the shutdown. The report provides background information about furloughs, essential workers, associated costs, and responses.

shutdown007Bart Gordon and his staff sent out this press release advocating for an end to the shutdown because citizens of Rutherford County were suffering. The article points out limited services for the elderly and the loss of revenue from tourists not visiting Stones River National Battlefield. I like knowing how national events played out on the local level, so I get excited finding documents like this that tell that story.

Shutdown002While the press release spoke to a general audience, this message was sent directly to the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center. Gordon shares that his father served as a groundskeeper at this hospital for 27 years, so he knows the importance of federal workers and their benefits. He offers his opinions about solutions to the political disagreements while committing to support the workers’ rights.

Shutdown004Finally, this form letter indicates how Gordon responded to individual constituents affected by the shutdown. After describing the steps Congress was  taking to reach an agreement, he gives information about not accepting his paycheck and his efforts to get federal employees retroactive payment and proper funding.

Our files do not have any documents that discuss how things were finally resolved, but hopefully these shed some light on steps our Congressmen can take today.

If you want more information about the current shutdown, Kent Syler, who served as Gordon’s chief of staff, has been making some media appearances discussing  this topic. The links to those stories can be found here.

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