March 31, 1840 – President Van Buren Establishes the Ten-Hour Workday

On this day in history, U.S. President Martin Van Buren issued an executive order establishing a ten-hour day for laborers on all federal public works:

The President of the United States, finding that different rules prevail at different places as well in respect to the hours of labor by persons employed on the public works under the immediate authority of himself and the Departments as also in relation to the different classes of workmen, and believing that much inconvenience and dissatisfaction would be removed by adopting a uniform course, hereby directs that all such persons, whether laborers or mechanics, be required to work only the number of hours prescribed by the ten-hour system.
M. VAN BUREN.”

This was, believe it or not, a liberal move and a reduction in expected work hours in many cases. Some historians believe that Van Buren, in general a Jacksonian who opposed federal government intervention, was acting to avert the threat of political action by organized labor.

President Martin Van Buren

President Martin Van Buren

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