The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is also the chief executive of the federal government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Because of the superpower status of the United States, the American President is often dubbed "the most powerful person on Earth" and the occupant is often one of the world's best-known figures. During the Cold War, the President was sometimes referred to as "the leader of the free world," a phrase that is still invoked today.
The United States was the first nation to create the office of President the head of government in a republic. Today the office is widely emulated all over the world in nations with a presidential system of government.
The current President of the United States is George W. Bush.
Requirements to hold office
Section One of Article II of the U.S. Constitution establishes the requirements one must meet in order to become President. The president must be a natural-born citizen of the United States (or a citizen of the United States at the time the U.S. Constitution was adopted), be at least 35 years of age, and have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.
The natural-born citizenship requirement has been the subject of some controversy in recent years. Some commentators argue that the clause should be repealed because it excludes qualified people based on technicalities, and fails to appreciate the contributions made by immigrants to American society. Prominent public officials that are barred from the presidency because they were not born U.S. citizens include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in Austria; Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, both born in Cuba; Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, born in Taiwan; Director of National Intelligence-nominee John Negroponte, born in the United Kingdom; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, born in Czechoslovakia; and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, born in British Columbia, Canada. Occasionally, constitutional amendments are proposed to remove or amend this requirement, but have not been successful.
Under the Constitution, the President serves a four-year term. Amendment XXII (which took effect in 1951 and was first applied to Dwight D. Eisenhower starting in 1953) limits the president to either two four-year terms or a maximum of ten years in office should he have succeeded to the Presidency previously and served less than two years completing his predecessor's term. Since then, four presidents have served two full terms: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (assuming President Bush serves all four years of his second term). The only president that was eligible to have served more than 8 years was Lyndon Johnson.
U.S. presidential elections are held every four years. Presidents are elected indirectly, through the Electoral College. The President and the Vice President are the only two nationally elected officials in the United States. (Legislators are elected on a state-by-state basis; other executive officers and judges are appointed.) Originally, each elector voted for two people for President. The votes were tallied and the person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) became President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President.
The ratification of Amendment XII in 1804 changed the electoral process by directing the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, or if no candidate receives a majority, the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, as necessary. Since 1937, with the ratification of Amendment XX, a newly-elected President, or a re-elected incumbent, is sworn into office on January 20 of the year following the election, an event called Inauguration Day. Although the Chief Justice of the United States usually administers the presidential oath of office, any federal judge can administer the oath — and even judges of federal district courts have fulfilled this duty in emergencies. See Sarah T. Hughes.
On Inauguration Day, following the oath of office, the President customarily delivers an inaugural address which sets the tone for his administration.
The modern Presidential election process begins with the primary elections, during which the major parties (currently the Democrats and the Republicans) each select a nominee to unite behind; the nominee in turn selects a running mate to join him on the ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate. The two major candidates then face off in the general election, usually participating in nationally televised debates before Election Day and campaigning across the country to explain their views and plans to the voters. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states, through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.
In accordance with Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 8 of the Constitution, upon entering office, the President must take the following oath or affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Only presidents Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover have chosen to affirm rather than swear. The oath is traditionally ended with, "So help me God," although for religious reasons some Presidents have said, "So help me."
The office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this responsibility, the president presides over the executive branch of the federal government — a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has important legislative and judicial powers.
Within the executive branch itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government. The president can issue rules, regulations, and instructions called executive orders, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States, the president may also call into federal service the state units of the National Guard. In times of war or national emergency, the U.S. Congress may grant the president even broader powers to manage the national economy and protect the security of the United States.
The president nominates — and the Senate confirms — the heads of all executive departments and agencies, together with hundreds of other high-ranking federal officials. (See United States Cabinet, Executive Office of the President.) In 2003, more than 3000 executive agency positions were subject to presidential appointment, with more than 1200 requiring Senate approval. The large majority of federal workers, however, are selected through the Civil Service system, in which appointment and promotion are based on ability and experience.
The President is also responsible for preparing the budget of the United States, although the Congress must approve it. (See Office of Management and Budget)
Despite the constitutional provision that "all legislative powers" granted to the federal government are vested in the U.S. Congress, the president, as the chief formulator of public policy, has a major legislative role. The president can veto any Act of Congress, and, unless two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill does not become law.
Much of the legislation dealt with by Congress is drafted at the initiative of the executive branch. In annual and special messages to Congress, the president may propose legislation he believes is necessary. The most important of these is the annual State of the Union Address traditionally given in January. Before a joint session of Congress, the President outlines the status of the country and his legislative proposals for the upcoming year. If Congress should adjourn without acting on those proposals, the president has the power to call it into special session. But beyond this official role, the president, as head of a political party and as principal executive officer of the U.S. government, is primarily in a position to influence public opinion and thereby to influence the course of legislation in Congress.
To improve their working relationships with Congress, presidents in recent years have set up a Congressional Liaison Office in the White House. Presidential aides keep abreast of all important legislative activities and try to persuade senators and representatives of both parties to support administration policies.
Among the president's constitutional powers is that of appointing important public officials. Presidential nomination of federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court, is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Another significant power is that of granting a full or conditional pardon to anyone convicted of breaking a federal law — except in a case of impeachment. The pardoning power has come to embrace the power to shorten prison terms and reduce sentences.
Under the Constitution, the president is the federal official primarily responsible for the relations of the United States with foreign nations. The president appoints ambassadors, ministers, and consuls — subject to confirmation by the Senate — and receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials. With the secretary of state, the president manages all official contacts with foreign governments. On occasion, the president may personally participate in summit conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson headed the American delegation to the Paris conference at the end of World War I; President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Allied leaders during World War II; and every president since then has sat down with world leaders to discuss economic and political issues and to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements.
Through the Department of State and the Department of Defense, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiate treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also negotiate "executive agreements" with foreign powers that are not subject to Senate confirmation.
Constraints on Presidential power
Because of the vast array of presidential roles and responsibilities, coupled with a conspicuous presence on the national and international scene, political analysts have tended to place great emphasis on the president's powers. Some have even spoken of "the imperial presidency," referring to the expanded role of the office that Franklin D. Roosevelt maintained during his term.
One of the first sobering realities a new president discovers is an inherited bureaucratic structure that can be difficult to manage and slow to change direction. The president's power to appoint extends only to some 3,000 people out of a civilian government work force of about 3 million.
The president finds that the machinery of government (the civil service) often operates independently of presidential interventions, has done so through earlier administrations, and will continue to do so in the future. New presidents are immediately confronted with a backlog of decisions from the outgoing administration. They inherit a budget formulated and enacted into law long before they came to office, as well as major spending programs (such as veterans' benefits, Social Security payments, and Medicare health insurance for the elderly), which are mandated by law. In foreign affairs, presidents must conform with treaties and informal agreements negotiated by their predecessors in office.
As the happy euphoria of the post-election "honeymoon" dissipates (today often referred to as "the first 100 days"), the new president discovers that Congress has become less cooperative and the media more critical. The president is forced to build at least temporary alliances among diverse, often antagonistic interests — economic, geographic, ethnic, and ideological. Compromises with Congress must be struck if any legislation is to be adopted. "It is very easy to defeat a bill in Congress," lamented President John F. Kennedy. "It is much more difficult to pass one."
Despite these constraints, every president achieves at least some of his legislative goals and prevents by veto the enactment of other laws he believes not to be in the nation's best interests. The president's authority in the conduct of war and peace, including the negotiation of treaties, is substantial. Moreover, the president can use his unique position to articulate ideas and advocate policies, which then have a better chance of entering the public consciousness than those held by other politicians or thinkers.
President Theodore Roosevelt famously called the presidency a "bully pulpit" from which to raise issues nationally, for when a president raises an issue, it inevitably becomes subject to public debate. (Although in the argot of his day "bully" was simply a slang adjective meaning "nifty" or "effective", today this phrase is frequently taken at face value with the more common sense of the word "bully".) A president's power and influence may be limited, but politically the president is certainly the most important power in Washington and, furthermore, is often one of the most famous and influential Americans even outside that city.
Though constrained by various other laws passed by Congress, the President's executive branch conducts most foreign policy, and his power to order and direct troops as commander-in-chief is quite significant. (The exact limits of what a President can do with the military without Congressional authorization are open to debate.)
The United States presidential line of succession is a well-detailed list of government officials to serve or act as President upon a vacancy in the office due to death, resignation, or removal from office (by impeachment and conviction). The line of 17 begins with the Vice President and ends with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The 25th amendment establishes the Vice President as first in the order as well as spells out a process for him to serve as Acting President should the President become disabled. A provision of the United States Code () establishes the rest of the succession line. To date no officer ranked lower than the Vice President on the list has been called upon to act as President.
List of Presidents of the United States
The list below is of those men who served as the President of the United States following the ratification of the US Constitution. For leaders prior to this ratification, see President of the Continental Congress
 Died while Vice President.
 Resigned as Vice President.
 Died of natural causes.
 Democrat on Whig ticket.
 Died while Vice President, not replaced.
 Democrat who ran on Union ticket with Republican Lincoln.
 Sworn in later than expected (see last fact in the Presidential Facts: Transition Events section below for more information.)
- Martin Van Buren, born December 5, 1782, was the first president born after the Declaration of Independence and was thus arguably the first president who was not born a British subject. Interestingly, he is also the first president not of British descent.
- John Tyler, born March 29, 1790, was the first president born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, all presidents born before him were eligible to be president because they were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted, not because they were natural born citizens. (Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, before the Constitution was adopted).
- Franklin Pierce, born November 23, 1804, was the first president born in the 19th century. Millard Fillmore was born January 7 1800, but remember, 1801 was the first year of the 19th century, not 1800
- Warren Harding, born November 2 1865, was the first president born after the American Civil War. Lee surrendered 9 April 1865
- John F. Kennedy, born May 29, 1917, was the first president born in the 20th century.
- Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, was born on August 27 1908. Three other Presidents who followed Johnson in office were also born before Kennedy (in order of birth, Reagan, Nixon, and Ford).
- Jimmy Carter, born October 1 1924, was the first president born after World War I.
- George H. W. Bush, who served after Carter, was born on June 12, 1924.
- Bill Clinton, born August 19 1946, was the first president born after World War II.
- Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, was born July 6 1946.
After a president of the U.S. leaves office, the title "President" continues to be applied to that person the rest of his life. Former presidents continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-presidential careers. Notable examples have included William Howard Taft's tenure as Chief Justice of the United States and Jimmy Carter's current career as a global human rights campaigner and best-selling writer. Andrew Johnson was elected to the same Senate that tried his impeachment after his term was over.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and their wives at the funeral of President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.
As of April 2005, there are four living former presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The most recently deceased President is Ronald Reagan, who died in June 2004.
There have never been more than five former presidents alive at any given time in American history. There have been three periods during which five former presidents were alive:
- From March 4, 1861, to January 18, 1862, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan were living (during the Lincoln Administration, until the death of Tyler).
- From January 20, 1993, to April 22, 1994, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush were living (during the Clinton Administration, until the death of Nixon).
- From January 20, 2001, to June 5, 2004, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were living (during the George W. Bush Administration, until the death of Reagan).
There have been six periods in American history during which no former presidents were alive:
April 30, 1789 - March 4, 1797: George Washington was the first president, so no former presidents existed until Washington left office.
December 14, 1799 - March 4, 1801: from the death of former President George Washington until incumbent President John Adams left office (no former president would die until Adams and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, both did so on July 4 1826).
July 31, 1875 - March 4, 1877: from the death of former President Andrew Johnson until incumbent President Ulysses Grant left office (no former president would die until Grant did so in 1885 although incumbent President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881).
June 24, 1908 - March 4, 1909: from the death of former President Grover Cleveland until incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt left office (no former president would die until Roosevelt did so in 1919).
January 5, 1933 - March 4, 1933: from the death of former President Calvin Coolidge until incumbent President Herbert Hoover left office (no former president would die until Hoover did so in 1964 although incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt died in office in 1945 and incumbent President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963).
January 22, 1973 - August 9, 1974: from the death of former President Lyndon Johnson until incumbent President Richard Nixon resigned (no former president would die until Nixon did so in 1994).
Herbert Hoover had the longest post-presidency, 31 years. He left office in 1933 and died in 1964. James K. Polk had the shortest post-presidency. He died on June 15, 1849, a mere three months after the expiration of his term.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only President to serve more than 8 years in the office (1933-1945)
Between the birth of George Washington in 1732 and the birth of Bill Clinton in 1946, future presidents have been born in every decade except two: the 1810s and the 1930s. Between the death of George Washington in 1799 and the present, presidents or ex-presidents have died in every decade except four: the 1800s, 1810s, 1950s, and 1980s.
Presidential salary and perks
Presidential Pay History
September 24, 1789
March 3, 1873
March 4, 1909
January 19, 1949
January 20, 1969
January 20, 2001
The First U.S. Congress voted to pay George Washington a salary of $25,000 a year — a significant sum in 1789. Washington, already a successful man, didn't take the money. Since 2001, the President has earned a salary of $400,000 a year.
Traditionally, the President, as the most important official in the U.S. government, is the highest-paid government employee. Consequently, the President's salary serves as a cap of sorts for all other federal officials, such as the Chief Justice. The raise for 2001 was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 because other officials who receive annual cost-of-living increases had salaries approaching the President's. Consequently, in order to raise the salaries of the other federal employees, the President's salary had to be raised as well.
Modern Presidents enjoy many non-salary perks such as living and working in the spacious White House mansion in Washington, DC. While travelling, the President is able to conduct all the functions of the office aboard several specially-built Boeing 747s, which take the call sign Air Force One when the President is aboard. The President travels around Washington in an armored Cadillac limousine, equipped with bullet-proof windows and tires and a self-contained ventilation system in the event of a biological or chemical attack. When traveling longer distances around the Washington area or on presidential trips, the President travels aboard the presidential helicopter, which takes the call sign Marine One when the president is aboard. Additionally, the President has full use of Camp David in Maryland, a sprawling retreat occasionally used as a casual setting for hosting foreign dignitaries.
The President and his family are protected at all times by an extensive Secret Service detail. Until 1997, all former Presidents and their families were protected by the Secret Service until the President's death. The last President to have lifetime Secret Service protection is Bill Clinton; George W. Bush and all subsequent Presidents will be protected by the Secret Service for a maximum of 10 years after leaving office.
Presidents continue to enjoy other benefits after leaving office such as free mailing privileges, free office space, the right to hold a diplomatic passport and budgets for office help and staff assistance. However, it was not until after Harry S. Truman (1958) that Presidents received a pension after they left office. Additionally, since the presidency of Herbert Hoover, Presidents receive funding from the National Archives and Records Administration upon leaving office to establish their own presidential library. These are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials for each U.S. President since Herbert Hoover.
The President can use:
North side of the White House
The President's principal workplace and official residence is the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. His official vacation or weekend residence is Camp David in Maryland. Many Presidents have also had their own homes.
- Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated while in office:
- Four others died in office of natural causes:
- One President resigned from office:
- Two Presidents have been impeached, though neither was subsequently convicted:
- Four Presidents have been elected without a plurality of popular votes:
- Eleven Presidents have been elected fourteen times without a majority of popular votes (but with a plurality of popular votes):
- Two Presidents have been elected without a majority of electoral votes, and were chosen by the House of Representatives:
- Eight Presidents took office without being elected to the Presidency, having been elected as Vice Presidents and then promoted from that position:
- Four of them did not run to succeed themselves, and were never elected president.
- The other four later ran for president, and were elected to succeed themselves as president:
- One President, Gerald Ford, was never elected but was appointed Vice President by Richard Nixon (with approval from Congress) upon the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, succeeded to the Presidency after Nixon's resignation, and was defeated in the 1976 election by Jimmy Carter. He remains the only President neither elected as President nor as Vice President.
- Four Presidents had never held any prior elected office:
- An urban legend claims that David Rice Atchison was the 11 1/2 president of the United States for one day on March 4, 1849 in between the terms of James K. Polk (whose term expired at noon on March 4) and Zachary Taylor (who chose not to be sworn in until March 5). However, the logic of this is contradictory. If one does not consider Taylor to have officially become President until the administration of his Oath of Office, then the same logic precludes any person from having automatically succeeded before likewise having taken the same Oath. In fact, Taylor, as President-elect, automatically acceeded to the Office of President upon the expiration of Polk's term, even if he did not yet enter into the execution of that Office until the Oath was administered. This fact was confirmed by Congress when it certified his election, as it defined the beginning of the administration as the instant Polk left Office. Even if supposing, for the sake of argument, the rather odd interpretation that only Presidents-elect are required to take the Oath before officially occupying the Office, whilst officials in the Presidential Line of Succession occupy the Presidency ipso facto, then there would be a long list of dozens of additional "Presidents" who only held the office for a matter of hours or minutes.
- Stephen Grover Cleveland had two non-consecutive terms as President, and is counted both as the 22nd and the 24th President, as can be confirmed from the list above. Consequently, all subsequent Presidents who are referred to as "the <n>th President of the United States" are actually the <n-1>th person to hold the office. E.g., George W. Bush, 43rd President, is actually the 42nd person to be President.
While most presidents have been of substantially English descent, there have been a few who came from a different background:
- Predominantly Dutch: Martin Van Buren
- Although Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had Dutch names, neither was predominantly Dutch; each had only one Dutch grandfather. Theodore's other three grandparents were all North British; Franklin's other three grandparents were of Puritan stock.
- Predominantly German: Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower
- Predominantly Irish: William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton
- No women nor non-white males have yet served as President of the United States.
- A 1999 survey of academic historians by CSPAN found that historians consider Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt the three best presidents by a wide margin and William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan the worst . A 2000 survey by The Washington Post deemed George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt to be the only "great" Presidents while Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, and James Buchanan were regarded the only "failures" .
- The Secret Service and some agencies in the government use acronyms as jargon. Since the Truman Administration the President of the United States has been called POTUS, pronounced "poh-tuss". The wife of the President, traditionally referred to as the First Lady is called FLOTUS, pronounced "flo-tuss". The Vice President of the United States is often abbreviated to VPOTUS, pronounced "vee-poh-tuss".
- The President is known to be able to affect trends in popular culture. A endorsement of a book or a movie by a president can easily launch the career of a author or a filmmaker. For example, Ronald Reagan's admiration of The Hunt For Red October caused Tom Clancy to become a nationally acclaimed bestselling author, something that may never have happened had it not been for Reagan's endorsement.
Presidential trivia lists
- Leonard Leo, James Taranto, and William J. Bennett. Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House. Simon and Schuster, June, 2004, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0743254333
- Waldman, Michael, and George Stephanopoulos, My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush. Sourcebooks Trade. September 2003. ISBN 1402200277
- Couch, Ernie, Presidential Trivia. Rutledge Hill Press. March 1, 1996. ISBN 1558534121
- Lang, J. Stephen, The Complete Book of Presidential Trivia. Pelican Publishing. September 2001. ISBN 1565548779
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Last updated: 10-14-2005 19:02:27