The Origins of the Posse Comitatus

The original Posse Comitatus was a rider to an appropriations bill, Chapter 263, Section 15, approved on June 18, 1878.

Chapter 263, Section 15, Army as Posse Comitatus:

From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; and no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section, and any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The impetus for this bill came from two sources. The first was the end of the Civil War Reconstruction. From the beginning of the Republic until the enactment of Posse Comitatus it had been regular practice to station federal troops at polling places to prevent inebriates from voting, and to be certain that those entering the polls were entitled to do so in an era of limited suffrage. After the Civil War, the federal troops were stationed at polls to be sure that universal manhood suffrage was permitted, and that no former Confederate officers voted. All former Confederate officers had been stripped of the right to vote or hold office above the state level. The end of the Reconstruction period meant that enforcement of those strictures was no longer necessary.