A couple of weeks ago someone posted a question about whether POTUS can prevent Congress from overriding a veto by simply ignoring it. It didn't look to have much to do with history, but I happened to know the answer, so I answered it anyway.

I was asked whether this had ever actually happened in practice in a comment on my answer. I thought this was a good question, and updated the original question, and my answer, to reflect it.

One comment suggested that my "surgical edit" meant that the question met the "threshold" for History:SE, but that it would be a better fit for Politics:SE. I'm not sure exactly what this "threshold" is, or where it's documented.

Either way, the question was migrated to Politics:SE.

Then we had a question about whether the 1864 US presidential election could have been postponed without a constitutional amendment. Now, this looks to be a pretty clear. It's a question about history, right?

Apparently not. The consensus view again seems to be that this should be on Politics:SE. This was even backed up with a view that the question is "counterfactual", and so a better fit on Politics:SE.

Well, let's break it down:

  1. It begins with an assertion that there were proposals to delay the election, that these met little support, and that Lincoln rejected them. All factually correct, although the OP failed to cite their sources in the question.
  2. Then there is a question: would a delay have been possible without a constitutional amendment? Now, that is a matter of fact, and can be answered with historical evidence.
  3. Then the OP quotes the results of a recent poll (and subsequently added a link to their source).
  4. Finally, the OP asked a follow-up question: "Would the legal feasibility of such a postponement be any different from the 1864 case?" - again, a matter of fact and, as it happens, actually answered with the same historical sources as the first question.

So, nothing counterfactual there.

[Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I'm not a registered user on Politics:SE for (what I consider to be) two very good reasons.

The first is that - as far as I can see - too much of their content is opinion, rather than evidence, based.

The second reason I've avoided Politics:SE is that there is a lot of counterfactual argument/discussion there. Frankly, I wasted far too much of my life on discussions about counterfactual history when I was an undergrad/postgrad student of history/archaeology.]

The question is currently closed as "off-topic".

Then, a couple of days ago, we had a question about whether an American political party had a legal personality anywhere at any time.

Again, the almost knee-jerk reaction in the comments seemed to be "This should be on Politics:SE". One comment even suggesting that it had already been asked and answered there (it hadn't).

This time, there's been a bit more debate in the comments about whether the question is on topic here. As I write, the question remains open ...

However, the fact remains that three questions have attracted close votes in the last couple of weeks on the basis that they are about politics - even though two of them (arguably all of them, if the comment about the "threshold" is taken at face value) are clearly about the history of politics). So that prompts my question:

Are questions about the history of politics on-topic here?

[Perhaps the issue is only when the questions are about US politics, as that is also the case with all three of these questions].

As for the question of "fit", presumably the very fact that the questions are posted here means that the OP (in most cases) is interested in the history underpinning the question. Personally, I'm not convinced that migrating questions in that circumstance helps either the OP or this site.

Now, I know that, in theory, and at time-of-writing, History:SE has 378 users who have earned sufficient privilege (500) to cast close votes. In reality, I've noticed that close votes always seem to show the same dozen-or-so names. I'm hoping that most users who cast close-votes also use the meta site and will contribute to the discussion.


3 Answers 3


It should go without saying that the history of politics is on-topic. One could argue there's precious little else to history. The earliest recorded history we have is inscriptions in places like Sumer and Egypt bragging about who was now ruling who.

My opinion on these as a user (please ignore any diamond you may see):

Can POTUS prevent Congress from overriding a veto by ignoring a bill?

Good rule of thumb: If the question is posed in the present tense, with some exceptions, its off-topic. If there's another SE site it might also be valid on, that's probably one you need.

Oftentimes such questions can be rephrased with tense change to be on topic. That exercise will probably also require one to transform it in other ways that will make it more historical and less about current practice.

Could the 1864 US presidential election have been postponed?

Somewhat "counter-factual", but that could have been fixed with minimal editing. (eg: "In the mid 19th century when this was happening, was there any realistic legal mechanism for ...")

Did any American political party have a legal personality anywhere at any time? Did it ever lapse?

I still don't understand this question. It seems likely its on-topic, but if I had normal-sized thumbs today I'd have VTC as "unclear what you are asking". But perhaps its a clear question, and I'm just too dumb to understand.

  • I'm still having a problem with that "counterfactual" argument on the second question. The actual question (rather than just the title) is "could the election have been postponed without a constitutional amendment". I really can't read that as anything other than a question of fact, and - more importantly - one that can be answered with historical evidence. (Did I mention how annoying I found the topic of counterfactual history when I was a student?). Aug 16, 2017 at 19:23
  • @sempaiscuba - I think what the questioner wanted to know was if such a thing was mechanically allowed for by the political structure in place at the time, and that could be answered. Of course the answer is probably "No", and the questioner most likely wouldn't like that answer, and then start to argue, so effectively your position would probably save us all a lot of effort. :-)
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Aug 16, 2017 at 19:31
  • TBH, I was a little surprised the question didn't attract downvotes for not citing sources, but VtC for being "counterfactual" just didn't (and doesn't) make sense to me. I tend to agree with Prof Richard J. Evans's attitude to counterfactual history. As a rule-of-thumb, if I've attempted to answer a question, it probably isn't counterfactual! ;-) Aug 16, 2017 at 19:38
  • @sempaiscuba - Ahhh. I see. I'd misunderstood you. Reworded that part.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Aug 16, 2017 at 20:33
  • @sempaiscuba: I'll grant you that the "Constitution" is a fact. But that doesn't make it history. A history question might be, Did U.S. liquor use rise, fall, or remain about the same after the passage of the 18th Amendment. On the other hand, "what does/did the Constitution mean by "separation of powers" a law or politics question to me, even though it took place in the past. As about "tending to agree with Professor Richard J Evans's attitude to counterfactual history, most people on History SE probably would not.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 16, 2017 at 20:38
  • @T.E.D.: The "legal personality" question had a "history." In its original form, its gist was, "Did the Democrat-Republican (D-R)party disappear because it lost its charter or for other reasons? I VTC as a duplicate. After back-and-forth with the OP, the gist of the revised question was "did the D-R party or (any other party) have a charter to lose in the early 19th century?" (Apparent) answer: not until 1971 with the FEA. Hope this helps.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 16, 2017 at 20:46
  • @TomAu The evolution of the Constitution through its various amendments is history. "The Constitution" in 1864 was not the same "Constitution" that came into force in 1789, and neither is the same as the "Constitution" today. A question about the implications of the Constitution on a particular date in history is, pretty much by definition, a history question. Aug 16, 2017 at 21:17
  • @TomAu As for counterfactual history, are you really saying you think that most people on History:SE think it is a good thing? Aug 16, 2017 at 21:21
  • @sempaiscuba: No, I meant that I (and many others on History SE) would not go as far as Evans in exploring counterfactuals, even though he goes "less far" than some others. Here's an example of how I dealt with counterfactuals in a "constricted" way history.stackexchange.com/questions/26157/… 1) How strong were British land forces 2) How large a beachhead could the Germans establish, and 3) how large a total force needed to overcome the defending forces. Refrained from asking "Could Germany conquer Britain?"
    – Tom Au
    Aug 16, 2017 at 21:34
  • @TomAu I'd recommend his book. His conclusions are worth reading. Without giving too many spoilers, he seems to agree that the time we spent on the subject as students was wasted. Aug 16, 2017 at 21:40

There are three questions that are actually very good examples of what I feel to be degrees of "on topicness" on History SE. My position is that those questions are a blend of history and politics, and the greater the proportion of history, relative to politics (or other social sciences) the more "on topic" it is.

One question was about the legal form of U.S. Political parties beginning in the 1790s. That is clearly history. The fact that the Federal Election Act (FEA) of 1971 addresses this point doesn't make it (predominantly) politics, because the question was about what happened before the FEA.

The second question was about whether "the 1864 Presidential election could have been postponed..." The "could have been" makes the question hypothetical or counterfactual, because it was not postponed. The question then goes on to ask what lessons can be drawn for the 2020 election (futuristic and political,not historical.) I might have accepted a question about 1864, worded as "what rules in place governed the 1864 proposal for postponement without a constitutional amendment" (the proposal is historical, the postponement is not). But adding "current events" to a supposedly historical question was too much for me.

One last thing, as you rightly pointed out. The "standards" of Politics SE are different from here, which helps make some questions better for that site than this one. FWIW, I'm on both sites, with > 1000 reputation on each. So If I honestly believe that the tone and content of a question is a better fit for Politics (or any other site) than this one, I will flag for migration.

The question about the veto was primarily political and the reference was to Donald Trump, i.e. the current President. That makes it "non-historical," IMHO. It would probably be different if someone asked about the time a 19th or early 20th century President exercised a pocket veto, and why did the historical "fall out" take place. When I said that your edit made it technically acceptable for the site, I was complimenting your editing, not the question (even in its current form). That is to say, I would (barely) accept it on a "standalone" basis (e.g. if history were the only SE site), but move to migrate it to Politics, where it is a better fit.

  • I think you've misread the second question. The question is could it have been postponed without a constitutional amendment.. That makes it a question of fact - not hypothetical or counterfactual - and, given the wording of the constitution (as amended) in 1864, the answer is a simple "no". Aug 16, 2017 at 18:05
  • 1
    @sempaiscuba: The rest of my answer stands. If limited to 1864, the question would probably have been historical, and hence on topic. What put "over the edge" (for me) was the reference to 2020, which is necessarily opinion-based, and therefore a better fit for Politics SE.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 16, 2017 at 18:10
  • Again, I'd disagree. You could re-phase the second part as "have any constitutional amendments since 1864 changed the legal feasibility of such a postponement" without changing its meaning. Still not counterfactual or hypothetical, and not opinion-based. Still a matter of historical fact. Aug 16, 2017 at 18:15

Excellent question, splendid answers. They force me to think and examine my assumptions. I'm going to align with the majority here; yes, the history of politics is on topic. These three questions are not the best exemplars on which to make a decision (I believe there is a legal maxim that 'bad case makes worse law')

  • the best tool to answer the POTUS/Veto question is probably law, not politics or history. Even if the question is rephrased in the past tense, the fundamental question is more appropriate to legal skills than historical skills. (History might be able to tell us if it was ever considered, but history can't tell us if it is legal/constitutional. ) The edits to put it in past tense are destructive to OP's intent, and disingenuous to boot. (On the other hand, I used to work for one of the political parties reviewing implementation policy to ensure that it did not contain rulemaking - which is what OP actually wants to ask about; once again, history is the wrong tool to bring to bear on the subject).

  • The election delay question should be closed as unclear what you are asking. There seems to be an unexpressed assumption that someone felt there was a reason to delay the election. I don't know what the question is trying to ask, but there is too much irrelevant material and not enough relevant material.

  • Legal person is salvageable. The legal terminology is distracting, but I think if we could agree on what is being asked, it could be answered. I think Mr. Au is close - "What is the legal status of (US) political parties through history?" - I think that might actually be too broad on the basis that you could write a book about it. (I might read that book if it were written), but it should be possible to trace the major touch points (Jefferson/Adams, Jackson/VanBuren/ Lincoln's Republicans and 1968. )

Yes, political history is on topic. The examples you cite are the examples we have, not the examples we want.

  • 1
    I totally agree with your last point. But we have to work with what we have. In the case of the 2nd question, the links to the "unexpressed assumption" were included in the comments rather than the body of the question (to be fair, the OP is a relatively inexperience low-rep user on History:SE). I've moved them into the question. Oct 18, 2017 at 1:24

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