Maysville Kentucky Invented Earmarks
The most famous of these earmarks is the "Bridge to Nowhere". Tucked away in a federal bill was a $225 million funding authorization to connect an Alaska town of 14,000 to an island of 50 people. Critics call it a waste of federal resources on what should be a state matter.
Diverting federal funds to pet projects isn't anything new, however. Mary Todd Lincoln (Lincoln's wife who happened to be from Lexington) once convinced a congressman to hide appropriations to pay for her huge White House redecorating debts in a complex list of military appropriations.
What you may not know is that Maysville Kentucky invented earmarks, or at least is at the heart of what can be argued as the first earmark controversy. In 1830, the Maysville Road bill provided for the federal government to buy $150,000 in stock in a private company to fund a 60-mile long road connecting the towns of Maysville and Lexington. The U.S. Congress passed the bill, with a 103 to 87 vote in the House of Representatives. It was subsequently vetoed by President Andrew Jackson who claimed the bill was unconstitutional since it only dealt with Kentucky.
Historians have speculated, however, that Jackson rejected the bill because it was pitched by his arch-rival Henry Clay. It has also been speculated (at least by me), that Jackson actually vetoed the bill because he once got stuck in the mud while traveling here from Lexington. As a prank, someone turned the road sign outside Paris that pointed to Maysville, causing Jackson's horses and carriages to become mired in mud several miles east of Paris.
Whatever the reason for the veto, this was a landmark decision in the history of how the federal government deals with state and local governments. In addition to the Maysville Road veto, there were seven other vetoes of public works projects that came soon after, including roads and canals. Obviously with the recent debates over earmarks, we are still dealing with the same political issues today.