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An Objective History of Presidential Executive Orders

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November 28, 2012 in Politics

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Recently, there have been emails and memes flying around the internet that suggest that our current president Barack H. Obama has signed more presidential executive orders than any other president in history. This is patently false. In an attempt to sift fact from fiction, I have assembled this list in the interest of showing that it is not the quantity of Executive Orders that are issued that is dangerous; it is their content.

The first President to issue an Executive Order was Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and he issued three. The most was Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a whopping 3,728 executive orders signed. The second most was Woodrow Wilson with a moderate 1,803 compared to Roosevelt.

President – (Number of Executive Orders Signed) – Source
Obama (153) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/obama.html
George W Bush (291) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/wbush.html
Clinton (364) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/clinton.html
George H.W Bush (166) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/bush.html
Reagan (381) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/reagan.html
Carter (320) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/carter.html
Ford (169) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/ford.html
Nixon (346) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/nixon.html
Johnson (324) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/johnson.html
Kennedy (214) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/kennedy.html
Eisenhower (486) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/eisenhower.html
Truman (896) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/truman.html
Roosevelt (3,728) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/roosevelt.html
Hoover (1,011) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Herbert_Hoover/Executive_orders
Coolidge (1,253) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Calvin_Coolidge/Executive_orders
Harding (484) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Warren_G._Harding/Executive_orders
Wilson (1,803) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Woodrow_Wilson/Executive_orders
Taft (698) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:William_Howard_Taft/Executive_orders
Roosevelt (1,006) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Theodore_Roosevelt/Executive_orders
McKinley (51) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:William_McKinley/Executive_orders
Cleveland (77) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Grover_Cleveland/Executive_orders
Harrison (4) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Benjamin_Harrison/Executive_orders
Arthur (3) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Chester_Alan_Arthur/Executive_orders
Garfield (1) http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69145
Hayes (1) http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=68518
Grant (15) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Ulysses_S._Grant/Executive_orders
Johnson (5) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Andrew_Johnson/Executive_orders
Lincoln (3) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Abraham_Lincoln/Executive_orders

In the U.S., an executive order is a presidential policy directive that implements or interprets a federal statute, a constitutional provision, or a treaty without the requirement of congressional approval. As described by TheFreeDictionary:

The president can use [executive orders] to set policy while avoiding public debate and opposition. Presidents have used executive orders to direct a range of activities, including establishing migratory bird refuges; putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II;discharging civilian government employees who had been disloyal, following World War II;enlarging national forests; prohibiting racial discrimination in housing; pardoning Vietnam War draft evaders; giving federal workers the right to bargain collectively; keeping the federal workplace drug free; and sending U.S. troops to Bosnia.

Historically, executive orders [are] related to routine administrative matters and to the internal operations of federal agencies, such as amending Civil Service Rules and overseeing the administration of public lands. More recently, presidents have used executive orders to carry out legislative policies and programs. As a result, the executive order has become a critical tool in presidential policy making. For example, President John F. Kennedy used an executive order to eliminate racial discrimination in federally funded housing, President Lyndon B. Johnson acted through an executive order to prohibit discrimination in government contractors’ hiring practices, and President Richard M. Nixon used an executive order to set a ninety-day freeze on all prices, rents, wages, and salaries in reaction to rising inflation and unemployment.

Executive Orders are arguably unconstitutional although their use has been upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Mississippi v. Johnson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_v._Johnson). This case only proved however that President Andrew Johnson by enforcing Reconstruction, was acting in an “executive and political” capacity—a discretionary rather than a ministerial one—and so he could not be sued by the state of Mississippi for that act.

The real danger is when Presidents use Executive Orders to do unconstitutional things like circumvent the will of the people. For instance, when the Cyber Security bill failed in the congress, President Obama then issued an executive order enforcing Cyber security. Although this was not technically an “executive order”, it still clearly bypassed Congress and the will of the people.

I would urge caution when forwarding emails and memes before fact checking them. We in the info war need to use hard facts to prove our case. Spreading false history only harms the cause of truth and liberty.


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Comment on this article:

2 responses to An Objective History of Presidential Executive Orders

  1. These people may be confusing signing statements, how’s Obama relative numbers there?

    Notice the examples given in the free dictionary are positive, no mention of executive war orders which are inherently unconstitutional, in fact executive orders and signing statements fly in the face of our founding father’s intent.

  2. Way to expose one of the many political chain e-mails that contain wrong information. Kudos to you for doing your own research.

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