[The White House]

[Presidential Seal]

 Link to the White House


According to the Constitution, the President must be:

A "natural born citizen." A naturalized citizen may become a member of Congress, a federal judge, or a cabinet member, but is not eligible to serve as president or vice president.

The Constitution also allowed someone who was a citizen at the time the Constitution was adopted to become President, and it was not until Martin Van Buren became President in 1837 that we had a President who had been born a citizen of the United States. However, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson were all born on territory that is now part of the United States.

Thirty five years of age or older.

Resident of the United States for fourteen years or longer.

According to the Twenty-Second Amendment, the president may serve only two terms.

    The Twenty-Second Amendment was the result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) being elected to four terms, although he died early in his fourth term.

    George Washington started the so-called two term tradition. In fact, Washington had to be persuaded to run for a second term, and at the end of his second term he announced that two terms were enough for any person. While some presidents had hungered for a third term, no sitting president had openly sought a third term while still in office. This was called "the two term tradition," as there was nothing in the Constitution to limit a president to two terms. FDR changed all of this.

    Under the Twenty-Second Amendment, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan could not be elected president again. However, former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush technically are eligible for another term because they only served one term.


    The salary of the president is $400,000 per year. Prior to January 20, 2001, it was $200,000 and had remained at that figure since 1969, when it was worth in today's dollars approximately $900,000.  In addition, the president gets an annual non-taxable expense account of $50,000. The vice president's salary is $181,400 compared to the $171,500 per year prior to 2001.

    The first 17 presidents received $25,000 per year, which was increased to $50,000 in 1873. Congress raised it to $75,000 in 1909, and to $100,000 in 1949.

    Upon retirement, a president receives a pension equal to the salaries paid to Cabinet Secretaries. Currently that figure is $161,200 a year. In addition, a retired president has an allowance for office space, staff help, travel, and is provided secret service protection.

    No President until Harry S. Truman received a pension. Many presidents faced financial hardship upon leaving the presidency. For example, the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, was forced to move in with his daughter in New York after his presidency. When he died in 1831, he was buried in New York rather than in his native Virginia because his family couldnít afford to ship his body back home.  In 1885, President Ulysses S. Grant faced poverty, having been ruined by a swindle in which he had lost almost all his money, and wrote his memoirs while dying of cancer to support his family. President Truman and his wife, Bess, were forced to move into his mother-in-lawís house in Independence, Missouri, after leaving the White House.

    In response, Congress passed a law in 1958 called the Former Presidents Act, which provided a $25,000 annual pension to those who had served as the nationís chief executive.  Herbert Hoover, the only other ex-president who was alive at that point, had a made a fortune as a mining engineer and had never taken a salary for his service as president. But Hoover agreed that he would accept the $25,000 pension because he didnít want to embarrass Harry Truman.

    In 2000, George Bush, for example, received a $157,000 pension, $96,000 for staff salaries, $35,000 for staff benefits, $57,000 for travel, $147,000 for office space in Houston, Texas, $28,000 for postage and telephone, and $50,00 for other expenses, for a total expenditure of $570,000.

      The president lives in the White House, where the residence staff is over 80 persons, and he has tennis courts, bowling lanes, a movie theater, and a swimming pool. He works in the West Wing or in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

       Shortly after becoming President, Theodore Roosevelt made the term White House the official name. Previously it had been referred to as the President's House or the Executive Mansion.

    Theodore Roosevelt added a "temporary office building" that eventually came to be called the West Wing. President Taft had the West Wing enlarged and made permanent, adding an oval office in 1909. The West Wing was rebuilt and remodeled by President Hoover after a fire in 1929. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the West Wing completely rebuilt, doubling its size by adding a second story, excavating a larger basement for staff and support services, and moving the oval office from the south to its present location in the southeast corner, adjacent to the Rose Garden.

    When President Truman moved to the White House he found many large cracks in the plaster, and when a leg of his daughter's piano fell through the floor he had a structural survey made which revealed major problems. Given these great structural problems, some advisors recommended tearing the White House down and completely rebuilding it. Truman, however, decided to retain the exterior walls but have the interiors removed and then place a skeleton of steel beams on a new foundation.

    After the job was done very little of the 19th-century or early 20th-century interiors were retained. Truman added two levels of subbasements and service areas under the North Portico. He also made large changes in the Grand Staircase and added a porch off the second floor living quarters, halfway up the South Portico.

    The president can fly anywhere in Air Force One, which is any Air Force airplane on which he rides. The most commonly used Air Force One is a specially modified Boeing 747.

    The term Air Force One began in the early 1950s, when an air traffic controller got confused between the tail number on President Eisenhower's air force airplane and an Eastern Airlines airplane with the same tail number. To prevent future confusion, the "One" designation was used. Thus, when the president flies on the special Marine Corps helicopter set aside for his use, it is called "Marine One."

    The average age for presidents upon taking office has been 56, with the youngest being Theodore Roosevelt (42) and the oldest being Ronald Reagan (69). The youngest president to be elected in his own right was John Kennedy, who was 43 when he took office. (Theodore Roosevelt was vice president and became president after President McKinley's assassination.)

    Thirty one of the 43 presidents were college graduates, with one (Wilson) earning a Ph.D. in political science and serving as a college professor and university president.

    Harvard graduated the most presidents (seven), followed by Yale, Princeton, West Point, and William and Mary (each with two). Both Yale (undergraduate degree) and Harvard (MBA) can claim George W. Bush. In the 20th Century, only Harry S. Truman was not a college graduate.

    Two presidents have been awarded Nobel Peace Prizes, Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for helping end the Russo-Japanese War with the Treaty of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Woodrow Wilson in 1920 for his work in founding the League of Nations and seeking a fair peace agreement to end World War I.

    More than half of presidents have been lawyers, with Clinton, Ford, and Nixon being the most recent examples.  Four presidents had been high ranking soldiers (Eisenhower, Grant, Harrison, and Washington). One president -- William Howard Taft -- served as President for one term and later served as Chief Justice of the United States from 1921-1930.

    Eight presidents died in office. Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated, while William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt died of natural causes.

    Fourteen of the 47 vice presidents went on to serve as president.

    All 43 presidents have been Christians, but only one was not a protestant (Kennedy was a Roman Catholic). Three presidents (Jefferson, Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson) claimed no religious affiliation.

    A common term for the president is POTUS, or President of the United States.

    For more information about our presidents, use the following link:

 POTUS: Presidents of the United States.

    Another source of valuable information is:

 Federal Government Resources: Presidents of the United States.


Commander in Chief of the Military.

    The President is not a member of the military, but he is the head of the military. Having a civilian commander in chief, along with the authority over the military given to Congress by the Constitution, ensures civilian supremacy over the military.

    The President shares military powers with Congress, which has the power "to declare war," to make the rules for the military, and to appropriate money for the military.

    Congress has declared war only in five conflicts: (1) against Great Britain in 1812; (2) against Mexico in 1846; (3) against Spain in 1898; (4) against Germany in 1917; and (5) against the Axis powers of Japan and Germany in 1941.

    The number of undeclared wars is much larger, numbering over a dozen. These undeclared wars have been wars fought by presidents, for the most part, under resolutions or congressional approval of military spending that fall short of a formal declaration of war. As examples, the Korean War was fought under the authority of a United Nations Resolution, the Vietnam War under the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and the Gulf War under a congressional resolution.

    The most recent congressional authorization that falls short of a formal declaration of war is the war is the congressional resolution of September 14, 2001, that reads: "The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons."

    Because American involvement in Vietnam was initiated and conducted by several presidents with little congressional participation, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over President Nixon's veto in 1973. Congress said it wanted to be in on the take offs and not merely the crash landings.

    The War Powers Resolution requires the President to consult with Congress before putting American troops into danger of hostilities, report to Congress within 48 hours of putting troops into danger of hostilities, and remove those troops within sixty days unless the Congress allows a longer period of time. The President may gain an addition thirty days by declaring that a hasty removal would endanger the troops.

    If the president reports to Congress under the Resolution, he is put on a 60 to 90 day clock to wrap up military action or get further authorization from Congress. Most military actions can not be done within this time frame, and going to Congress for approval might set off a long and difficult debate that would diminish the president's power and prestige at a time he needs it the most.

    Thus, it is no surprise that presidents have tended to avoid reporting under the Resolution. Because of this time clock, Presidents have simply ignored the law in almost every case, and Congress has done nothing in response. When it comes to actions such as President Clinton sending troops into Haiti or bombing Serbia, the initiative remains with the president.

    For major and potentially long lasting military actions such as the Gulf War and the September 11 War on Terrorism, presidents have sought and obtained congressional approval.

Faithfully Execute Federal Laws.
    Article II charges the president with faithfully executing the laws. Under the system of separation of powers, the president and not the Congress administers the laws. In this sense, the president is the chief law enforcement officer.

Chief Executive.

    The Constitution also grants the president the entire "executive power" of the federal government, which several presidents have interpreted to mean the power to act without the specific authorization of the law to meet emergencies.
Make Appointments.
    The president nominates top federal officials, including judges, and appoints them to office once the Senate approves by a majority vote. But the Senate may reject presidential nominations.

    Nine nominations to the Cabinet have been rejected by the Senate, the most recent being the rejection of former Senator John Tower as Secretary of Defense in 1989. A much larger number of nominations have been withdrawn when the confirmation process revealed ethical or political problems. For example, Bush's nomination of Linda Chavez as Secretary of Labor was withdraw after it was learned that she had an illegal immigrant living with her gave her opponents ammunition. Former Senator John Ashcroft was confirmed as Attorney General only after a long and bitter Senate fight.

    Of the 144 nominees to the Supreme Court since 1789, the Senate has voted down 17 and refused to act on 11 others. George Washington was the first president to have a Supreme Court nomination rejected by the Senate, and Ronald Reagan was the most recent. John Jay was rejected for Chief Justice because of his role in negotiating the Jay Treaty of 1794, and Robert Bork was rejected in 1987 because of his conservative legal views.

    Bypassing the Senate through recess appointments: The Constitution allows the president to bypass the confirmation process when the Senate is formally recessed. Democratic and Republican presidents have made "recess appointments." Recess appointees may serve until Congress goes into recess again.

    For example, in January of 2002, the Congress was in holiday recess and President Bush made two recess appointments. Otto J. Reich became the new assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Eugene Scalia became the new Labor Department solicitor.

    Despite the opposition of organized labor and many Democratic Senators, Scalia had received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. However, the Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Thomas Daschle, refused to schedule a vote on his nomination.

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Democrat from Delaware) refused to even hold a hearing on Otto Reich's nomination. Reich is a Cuban American who played a key role in the Reagan administration's contra war in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and he takes a hard line against the Castro regime in Cuba. Because of these factors, he is seen as a divisive figure by many Senate Democrats.

    These recess appointments angered some Senate Democrats, who felt that Bush had unfairly bypassed the legislative process. However, the Bush administration felt that Senator Daschle had made it clear that he would block both nominations, and went ahead with the appointments.

    During the Clinton administration, Senate Republicans blocked the nominations of Bill Lann Lee to head the Justice Department's civil rights division and Roger L. Gregory as the first black judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia. President Clinton then used recess appointments to bypass the Senate, much to the dismay of Senate Republicans. Shortly after taking office, President Bush renominated Judge Gregory in something of a peace offering to Senate Democrats, and Judge Gregory was confirmed by the Senate.

Chief Diplomat.
    The president may negotiate treaties and executive agreements and receive foreign ambassadors (i.e., recognize foreign governments).

    The president has the sole ability to recognize foreign governments, but he needs a two thirds vote of Senate to ratify treaties. (See the story of two treaty rejections by the Senate below.) He also needs the Senate to confirm his nominees to be ambassadors.

    Executive agreements usually require approval by a simple majority in the House and Senate; however, those that do not require a change in existing laws may be done by the President acting alone.

    An example of an executive agreement is the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Negotiated first by President Bush, and then after some changes negotiated with Mexico and Canada by President Clinton, Congress passed NAFTA by a majority vote in both houses.

    Because Executive Agreements do not require a 2/3 vote in the Senate, they are more common than treaties.

The Power to Pardon.
    The president is given the sole power to pardon persons of federal crimes, unchecked by the courts or Congress.

    The President may pardon any person of any federal crime, even if the person has not been indicted by a grand jury. He may not pardon someone of a state crime. Pardons may be full and unconditional or the president may reduce penalities (grant clemency) or impose certain conditions on the person being pardoned.

    Some selected examples of how the pardon power has been used for policy reasons:

    In 1794 George Washington pardoned two leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion, a Pennsylvania uprising against the federal excise tax.

    In 1865, Andrew Johnson issued amnesty for ex-Confederates who would take an oath of loyalty to the United States, excluding those who owned property in excess of $20,000, and allowed wealthy ex-Confederates to apply individually for pardons.

    In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt issued amnesty for followers of Filipino nationalist leader Emilio Aguinaldo who had fought a guerrilla war to overthrow U.S. control of the Philippines.

    In 1974, Gerald Ford proposed conditional amnesty for Vietnam War draft evaders and deserters with each case to be weighed individually. In the same year he also pardoned ex-President Richard Nixon for crimes he may have committed during his presidency.

    In 1977, Jimmy Carter issued blanket pardon to Vietnam War draft evaders, but not for military deserters.

    In 1992, George Bush issued pardon to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other officials accused of or convicted of lying to Congress about weapons sales to Iran and aid for the Nicaraguan contra rebels.

    At the end of 2000, President Clinton issued a number of pardons that became the subject of harsh criticism. While Clinton was not required to use the normal Justice Department procedures for pardons, his bypassing of many of these procedures and the questionable merits of some of his pardons produced a flood of criticism, and marred the end of his presidency.

Legislative Powers.
State of the Union Address and the authority to call special sessions:

    The Constitution says that the president may address Congress on the State of the Union and recommend legislation. The president also may call Congress back into session once it has adjourned.

    From Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson, presidents sent a written State of the Union message to Congress. Jefferson wrote exceptionally well, but he was a poor public speaker, and thus preferred to send a written message.

    On April 18, 1913, President Wilson, facing major opposition in Congress to his proposal to lower tariff rates, broke with this historic practice, and gave a short address in person to a joint session of Congress. This dramatic action produced public support for his proposal, and it passed Congress. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, upon learning of Wilson's plans, wished he had thought of it himself. Since 1913, Presidents have given the message in person.

    At the beginning of his term in 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. Technically this was billed as an address and not "the" State of the Union Address. This was because he was new to the office, and should report on the state of the union under his administration after about a year in office.

Veto or sign bills.

    Once Congress passes a bill, the president has ten days (Sundays excluded) to sign or veto the bill. If he does nothing, the bill becomes law without his signature. If Congress has adjourned and thus cannot receive his veto message, the President's inaction creates a "pocket veto" that cannot be overridden.

    It takes a 2/3 vote in both the House and the Senate to override a veto by the President. As a result, the Congress overrides few vetoes. The President may use the threat of the veto to influence legislation.

    Because of the veto, the super majority required to override it, and the power of a veto threat to deprive members of Congress of legislation provisions they want, the President has a major role in forming laws. Compromise must take place as few vetoes are overridden.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt had the most vetoes at 635, but he approximately 13 years in which to reach that record, far longer than any other president. Among recent presidents, Bill Clinton had 38, George H. W. Bush had 44, and Ronald Reagan had 78. However, George W. Bush vetoed no bills during his first 18 months in office. This was largely because the Senate, barely controlled by Democrats, could not get the House, narrowly controlled by Republicans, to pass anything that Bush opposed. It also resulted from Bush backing down for a few veto threats, as with campaign finance reform legislation. Clinton issued no vetoes during his first two years in office, largely because Democrats controlled the House and the Senate. When the Republicans came into power, Clinton began to veto legislation.


    Congress gave the President an item veto starting January 1, 1997. This was designed to allow him to remove "pork barrel" and "special interest" items from appropriation and tax bills, and aid the President in producing a balanced federal budget.

    However, on July 25, 1998, in Clinton v. City of New York, the Supreme Court held that the line item veto was unconstitutional. Thus it will take a constitutional amendment in order to give the president an item veto, an unlikely prospect.


    It requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate, or 67 votes, to ratify a treaty. The requirement of a super majority makes it possible for an important treaty to be defeated if the White House and its allies in the Senate are not careful, as the stories of the rejection of two major treaties makes clear.


    Partisan politics played a major role in the demise of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 and 1920. President Woodrow Wilson kept Senate Republicans out of the treaty negotiations which were designed to keep the peace after World War I. When Wilson returned from France, he discovered that he could not obtain Senate ratification of the Treaty without getting some changes in the Treaty. Wilson returned to Paris and persuaded the conference delegates to accept several modifications. However, once he sent the treaty to the Senate, he refused to accept any other Republican revisions.

    One group of isolationist Senators were completely opposed to the League of Nations. They believed that the United States should stay out of "European affairs." They were going to vote against the Treaty no matter how many amendments were made in the Treaty.

    A much larger group of Senators, led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Republican of Massachusetts), were willing to ratify the Treaty as long as changes were made that would reduce or eliminate America's obligations to the League of Nations. These Republicans were especially angered over language that gave the League of Nations rather than Congress the power to decide where and when American troops would be used. These Republicans saw this as a violation of U.S. sovereignty and insisted on changes in the treaty.

    President Wilson was in no mood to agree and broke off negotiations with Senators to tour the country, making the treaty a partisan issue. Wilson went before voters in the midterm elections of 1918 and campaigned strongly for Democrats. The voters, however, shared the Republicans' reservations about the treaty, and gave the Republicans control of the Senate and increased the Republican majority in the House.

    As Wilson's health failed from a series of strokes, he grew even more unwilling to compromise, alienating even some of his fellow pro treaty Democrats. When the Republican Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty in November 1919 and again in March of 1920, Wilson insisted on making it an issue in the 1920 presidential election. The Democrats split over the treaty and their presidential nominee, James Cox, who supported the Treaty, was buried in a landslide. Republicans elected Warren Harding president and gained 11 more seats in the Senate. The United States never joined the League of Nations which President Wilson had helped to create, and for which he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

    Wilson's stubborn refusal to compromise had serious consequences for the effectiveness of the League. American's failure to join resulted in the League becoming progressively weaker year by year and unable to prevent the coming of World War Two. At the end of the Second World War, the United States had learned a lesson and led the allies in forming the United Nations.

    (For a recent account of how Edith Wilson orchestrated a massive deception that kept the true nature of President Wilson's almost total disability after his stroke from the American people, you may read Phyllis Lee Levin's Edith and Woodrow [A Lisa Drew Book, Scribner, 2001]).


    In October of 1999, the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

    Democrats and Republicans accused the other side of playing politics, and both sides were correct.

    Democrats demanded that Majority Leader Trent Lott hold hearings on the treaty, which President Clinton signed more than three years before. If Lott refused, Senate Democrats threatened to tie up Senate business. They thought this would embarrass Lott into taking some action. They also hoped to make Republican inaction an election issue in 2000.

    However, because the only way to get the 67 votes needed to pass a treaty is through bipartisanship, the Democrats doomed cooperation practically from the start by handling it this way.

    Lott called the Democrat's bluff and announced an abbreviated hearing process, to be followed by a vote.

    The White House, realizing it had been out maneuvered, asked Lott to pull the treaty from the calendar, hoping that would lead to negotiations. But conservative Republicans were in no mood to negotiate and wanted to see the treaty defeated.

    Senator Lott, fearing that the Democrats would bring the treaty up again to make it an issue in the 2000 election, demanded that the White House and Senate Democrats agree not to bring it up until after the 2000 election. The White House and the Senate Democrats would not agree to this demand, and so Lott let the treaty come to a vote, and it was defeated.

    Ignoring the lesson from Woodrow Wilson's political use of the Versailles Treaty, Vice President Gore devoted his presidential campaign's first TV commercial to the issue. The treaty's defeat fit nicely with the Democrats' drive to picture the Republican majority in Congress as controlled by far right conservatives and out of step with the political mainstream.

    The Republicans insisted the treaty was flawed because there was no adequate way to verify whether other nations were cheating and because we needed to do some limited testing to assure the safety of our aging nuclear arsenal. The Republicans felt that the treaty would not be an important issue in the 2000 election, and the Democrats clearly hoped that it would help them regain control of Congress. The Republicans were correct.


The Constitutional Theory of Presidential Power.

      President William Howard Taft put forward what some call the constitutional theory of presidential power.  According to Taft, Article II of the Constitution enumerates the powers of the president, and the president must justify his actions on the basis of those enumerated powers or some power reasonably implied from the enumerated powers. His view of presidential power was much more limited that his immediate predecessor as president, Theodore Roosevelt.

The Stewardship Theory of Presidential Power.

    In contrast to the constitutional theory of Taft, stands President Theodore Roosevelt's stewardship theory of presidential power.

    Roosevelt said that "Occasionally great national crises arise which call for immediate and vigorous executive action, and in such cases it is the duty of the President to act upon the theory that he is the steward of the people," who "has the legal right to do whatever the needs of the people demand unless the Constitution or the laws explicitly forbid him to do it."

    During a coal strike in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to seize the mines and run them under his authority if so requested by the governor of a state. The coal shortage threatened the well being of millions of Americans during the winter.

    A member of Congress protested to President Roosevelt "What about the Constitution of the United States?" That is, under the Constitution only Congress had the power to seize private property for a public purpose, and Congress had not acted.

    In response, the President said that "The Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution!" However, TR's threat to seize the mines worked, the owners agreed to an arbitration commission, and the President did not seize the mines.

    President Truman and the Steel Seizure Case.

    In a similar situation during the Korea War, President Harry Truman ordered Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer to seize the steel industry to prevent a strike, and based his order on his power as commander in chief of the military and his powers as chief executive.

    The strike would harm the war effort, and this grave damage damage to the national security justified his action, Truman said.

    The steel companies challenged Truman's order in court. In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the president could seize the steel mills to settle a strike only if Congress had given him this power, which Congress had refused to do.

    The Supreme Court ordered Truman to withdraw his order to seize the steel mills. President Truman obeyed the order of the Supreme Court.

    The Court ruled that Truman's powers under Article II did not include seizing private property, even during wartime. Truman was commander in chief of the troops in Korea, but that power did not extend to seizing private property in the United States.

    The President and the Iranian Hostages Crisis.

    Still later, President Jimmy Carter used an existing law to seize Iranian assets in the United States after Iranians seized the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979. President Carter protected these assets against legal judgments by United States Courts. In 1981, the crisis ended with President Carter making an executive agreement with Iran that required all claims against Iranian assets to be submitted to a special Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.

    When a company protested that the president lacked the power to transfer its claim against Iran from the federal courts to the joint Tribunal, the United States Supreme Court upheld the president's actions.

    The Supreme Court said that Carter's seizure of assets was justified under existing law, and that the Congress had approved the use of executive agreements to settle claims with respect to resolving major foreign policy disputes in the past. The case was settled during the Reagan administration in an action brought against Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan in  Dames & Moore v. Regan (1981).

The Prerogative Theory of Presidential Power.

    The English political philosopher John Locke wrote of the executive prerogative. In governments in which executive and legislative powers are in different hands, "the good of the society requires that several things should be left to the discretion of him that has the executive power." Those in the legislature could not foresee and legislate for future contingencies. The executive must have the prerogative to act "for the public good, without the prescription of the law and sometimes even against it...." That is, the president may, for the public good, act without legal authority or, in some extreme circumstances, violate the letter of the law to save the nation.

    Thomas Jefferson purchased military supplies without Congressional authorization after the British fired on the American ship the Chesapeake. He reported his actions to Congress, stating that "To lose our county by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means."

    At the start of the Civil War the Congress was in recess. President Lincoln delayed called them into session, and on his own authority called up state militias, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, placed a blockade on the South, and spent money that had not been appropriated. Later he told Congress that his actions, "whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be  a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily ratify them." Congress obliged the president, and a divided Supreme Court approved his blockade. A lower federal court declared his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus unconstitutional, but Lincoln ignored it. And only after the war did the Supreme Court strike down the military trials of civilians in states where the civilian courts were operating, bringing back to life the writ of habeas corpus.

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt's view of his office went beyond the stewardship theory of his cousin. FDR essentially adopted John Locke's prerogative theory in such actions as ordering more than 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, into "relocation centers" because of fears of spying and sabotage. The Supreme Court approved this action, but during the administration of President Reagan, the United States apologized for this action and provided compensation for those still living.

    However, the Supreme Court's refusal to approve Truman's seizure of the steel mills as a war measure during the Korean War suggests that presidents should be very careful when asserting great claims to act without benefit of law or even against the law.

    Emergencies may be the occasions for presidents to exercise power, but emergencies do not necessarily create new presidential powers, at least not without the consent of Congress and the Courts.


    The American national system is one of separate institutions sharing powers. Thus the president's power to command is limited. One political scientist concluded that the most important power a president has is the power to persuade people to do what he wants.

    The president does have considerable resources that may be used to persuade other political actors to follow his lead, however.  President Truman once remarked that much of his job was to persuade others to do what they should have done in the first place.

    Truman also suggested that Dwight David Eisenhower, being used to the military system, would find the job of President very frustrating as many of his orders would not be obeyed.

    There are several sources of the President's influence, including:

    High approval ratings in the polls.

       Political friends are more friendly and political enemies are more careful with a president riding high in the polls.

    A strong economy helps the president's popularity as the public tends to credit or blame the president more than the Congress for the economy.

    The public also tends to "rally around" the president in a crisis, at least for a brief time, especially a foreign policy crisis.

    For example, the approval rating of President George Bush reached 89% after the Gulf War, the highest of any president since polls up to that time. But, unfortunately for Bush, it fell to about 30 percent only eighteen months later.

   After the Gulf war, almost no leading Democrat was willing to seek the Democratic nomination to run against President Bush. This opened the door for a relatively unknown Governor from Arkansas to win the nomination. Fading memories of the Gulf war, an economic recession, and President Bush's seeming remoteness from the nation's economic problems eroded his popularity, and Clinton was able to seize the presidency from him.

    Immediately after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, President Clinton's popularity increased, as he appeared to provide leadership in the crisis. Ironically, Clinton's approval rating also increased after each revelation in the Monica Lewinski affair, and reached its all time high after he was impeached by the House.

    After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and President George W. Bush's strong leadership in the war against terrorism, his popularity hit the 90% mark and remained well over 80% for months. The crisis and his popularity helped him win strong legislation to fight terrorism. It also helped him win several legislative battles not directly connect to terrorism.

    Amazingly, his approval rating among blacks reached as high as 80% in some polls. This is remarkable given the fact that only 8% of blacks voted for him in the 2000 election. The New York Times carried the following quote: "'I think he's done a tremendous job in managing the war on terrorism,' said Donna Brazile, a leading black Democratic strategist and the manager of Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000. 'He's rallied the country, kept us focused on goals and kept us informed. I don't have any beef with him.'"

    However, "Ms. Brazile and other political analysts predicted that the warm feelings of African-Americans toward Mr. Bush would not last, and that he was unlikely to win many black votes in the 2004 election." Kevin Sack, Blacks Who Voted Against Bush Offer Him Support in Wartime, New York Times, December 25, 2001.

Bargaining advantages of the office.

    The president has the ability to influence the careers and goals of all other major political figures. The power to persuade others usually involves making bargains.

Prestige and visibility of the office.

    The president's ability to capture public attention on an issue is enhanced by the president's personal prestige and media skills.

    President Theodore Roosevelt called the office "a bully pulpit," a great spot from which to influence and even preach to the public about what needs to be done.

    Many commentators and historians of the presidency believe that President Clinton forfeited his "bully pulpit" with the Monica Lewinski affair.

    George W. Bush used his bully pulpit to remind people that the war against terrorism would not be short, that we were not engaged in a war against Islam or Muslims, that we should be alert to dangers but try to live a normal life during the crisis, and we should continue to give to community charities (so much money had gone toward the victims of 911 that ongoing charities were hurting).

Professional reputation for competence.

Personal loyalty in the administration, Congress, and among political elites.

Partisan support in Congress.

    This and good approval ratings in the polls saved President Clinton from being removed from office by the Senate, where all Democrats voted against removal.

Ideological or policy support, especially in Congress.

    In addition, having his party with a majority in Congress generally is very helpful to the president. Having to face a hostile Congress greatly reduces the ability of the president to get his way, as President Clinton discovered after the 1994 mid term election.

    In 2001, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an Independent voting with the Democrats, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats. (The Democrats gave him the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as part of the deal.) This loss of control made President Bush's task of getting legislation through the Congress very difficult, although he still managed to get his tax cut passed despite the opposition of most Senate Democrats and Senator Jeffords.

Presidential Power in Foreign Affairs Compared to Domestic Affairs.

    Presidents share with Congress the authority for foreign policy, but in practice the president has the upper hand in making and implementing foreign policy. A common observation by political scientists is that the president typically will have far more influence over foreign policy than over domestic policy. There are far more opportunities to act in foreign policy without the permission of Congress than in domestic affairs. The president's roles as commander in chief and chief diplomat give him the upper hand in foreign policy.

    Throughout our history presidents have acted boldly in foreign affairs.

    Acting on his own, President Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with Napoleon for the Louisiana Purchase.

    President John Tyler promised the Texans that when they signed a treaty of annexation with the United States he would guarantee their protection as commander in chief.

    President James Polk, acting on his own authority, sent the army into an area long claimed by Mexico, in effect starting a war on his own.

    Even the weakest presidents, such as Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, exercised leadership in foreign policy. On his own authority President Fillmore sent Commodore Matthew Perry to open up Japan, and gave Perry orders to use force if Japan did not respect the United States. President Pierce sent a warship to Nicaragua to punish the residents of Greytown who, he believed, had attacked the American minister to Central America. When the residents of Greytown refused to apologize, the navy bombarded the city, and the President defended that action.

    President William McKinley had taken an "open door" policy for China where the United States had no economic concessions, a policy that maintained that China ought to be open to all outside powers rather than grant concessions to various European powers. When the Boxer Rebellion happened and the Chinese government took the side of the rebels, McKinley sent in a large military force to "restore order" without asking the permission of Congress.

    President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to build the Panama Canal. Roosevelt told the representative of a French company that had failed in its attempt to build the canal and which now wanted to sell its interest to the United States, that he was sending a naval force to the area. This act was, in effect, a signal that allowed the French company to help Panamanian rebels free themselves from Columbia. One hour after learning that a new regime had taken over in Panama, Roosevelt recognized the new government. With the United States naval force nearby, there was little that the Colombian government could do.

    During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed American neutrality. But he refused to take actions that would keep American out of the war such as banning Americans from traveling on the ships of the belligerents. He stuck to that policy even after the Luisitania was sunk in 1915, killing many American citizens. Wilson's Secretary of State, who advocated the passage of a law forbidding United States citizens from traveling on the ships of belligerents, eventually resigned over Wilson's policy. The German decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare in January of 1917 and the intercept of a German telegram suggesting that Germany wanted Mexico as an ally in case of war with the United States, pushed the United States into World War I. Congress declared war and gave Wilson great powers to fight it.

    When World War II began, President Franklin Roosevelt favored the Allied side, but the nation wanted to stay out of the war. When England was left fighting alone in Europe, Roosevelt figured out a way to give England the fifty destroyers Winston Churchill had requested. On his own authority, Roosevelt made an executive agreement with Churchill that exchanged the destroyers for American access to British bases in Newfoundland, Trinidad, Bermuda, and other places. By the time anyone in Congress learned of the deal, the destroyers had been delivered to the British. This is called the "destroyers-for-bases" deal.

    Roosevelt also got Congress to pass his lend-lease policy to save England, saying that the United States would loan needed war equipment, just as a good neighbor would lend a hose when a neighbor was fighting a fire. After the emergency, the equipment would be given back. Roosevelt's critics said that lending war equipment was like lending chewing gum in that "You don't want it back." (In fact, we got only about 20% back.)

    On his own authority, to protect these lend-lease shipments President Roosevelt ordered American destroyers to accompany British convoys across the Atlantic, claiming that these destroyers were not engaged in hostile military action. Under Roosevelt's policy, the USS Greer followed a German U-boat for nine hours but took no action against it. However, when the British attacked the submarine from the air, the submarine commander, thinking that the attack had come from the Greer, fired a torpedo at the Greer (it missed). Roosevelt used a fireside chat to stir up resentment against the Germans for their "unprovoked" attack.

    German submarines sunk American cargo ships such as the Pink Star. Later German attacks on our destroyers killed eleven sailors on the Kearny and over a hundred on the Reuben James. After these attacks, Roosevelt finally went to Congress and narrowly got permission to arm our merchant ships. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Germans declared war on the United States and Roosevelt was given great war powers by Congress.

    At the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into two parts, with the North supervised by the Soviet Union and the South by the United States. When the Communist North Koreans attacked the South, President Truman decided to fight without asking Congress for a declaration of war.

    Truman went to the Security Council of the United Nations (which the Soviet Union was foolishly boycotting at the time) and got resolutions passed which made the fighting in Korea a United Nations' "police action." The only involvement of Congress was to pass appropriations bills to support the war effort. In that sense, Korea was a "presidential war."

Presidential Character Influences Presidential Behavior and Performance.

    But what is presidential character? How do we assess it? Has it changed over time?

    Character in the 18th century meant the public reputation for public virtue. At the time it was assumed that men were ambitious for power and money, and that this fact created a danger for good government. A public figure with great character would put the public interest above his desire for personal power and wealth. By that standard our first President, George Washington, had great character. After the Revolutionary War, when he had many opportunities to seize power, he walked away from these temptations, and he did not use his public trust to gain personal wealth. So, in addition to being a proven leader, he was a man of great public honesty and integrity.

    Other students of the presidency define character not in terms of public virtue but in terms of the patterns of behavior that a person exhibits over time when faced with conflict, victory, defeat, deadlock, and boredom. From an understanding of those patterns of behavior, we may make predictions as to how a person will act in future situations.

        Related to the public virtue school of character, is the view of character in terms of certain qualities, most commonly an even or equitable temperament, maturity, and good morals. During the debate over the impeachment of President Clinton, many critics of Clinton pointed to his "bad" character in terms of his low morals, his lack of honesty and integrity.

    However, many who condemned Clinton's private behavior but opposed impeachment stressed that, in assessing presidential character, leadership and competence are key qualities. These people drew a distinction between public character and private character.

    That is, there are politicians who have a very good temperament, fine morals, and great maturity, but who fail the hard tests of leadership, who have difficulty attracting followers.

    Other politicians are highly competent at their jobs, show great ability to lead people, and set a good moral tone in public, but who exhibit questionable morals and bad judgment in some of their private affairs.

    If we find that a past president judged to be "great" by historians had a mistress or cheated on a tax matter, does that mean his character flaws rendered him unfit for office, or that we should lower our estimation of his accomplishments in office?  A person may have a good public character but a less desirable private character, and still serve the public well. Or, so the people who subscribe to this school of thought argue.

    A somewhat different view of character can be found with the work of Professor James David Barber, a political scientist at Duke University. Barber started his study of presidential character with the assumption that the modern presidency needed the president to be highly involved in his job, dedicated to leading the nation to great accomplishments. That is, America needs an activist president.

    Barber also believed that, because of the great power of the presidency, the office needed a person who was psychologically healthy or fit.

    Barber decided to look at presidential character in terms of two variables, the degree to which a president was actively involved in his job, and the degree to which a president exhibited a positive attitude or a negative attitude toward his job.

    That is, when studying character one should ask whether a person is active or passive, and positive or negative. Barber's analysis produced four types:

    (A) Active Positive is the "best" combination because these presidents set out to accomplish a great deal, and they are the least likely  to become involved in dreadfully bad decisions such as the escalating the war in Vietnam because they are psychologically healthy. Active positive presidents include Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Active Positive presidents are motivated to obtain results far more than they are to get power or love. They seek power because it is the way to accomplish great results for the nation.

    (B) Active Negative is the most dangerous combination, because these people set out to accomplish much but have many psychological problems that may lead them to make terrible decisions. Active negative presidents include Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Active negative presidents seek power primarily for the sake of power. These presidents tend to be psychologically unbalanced to some degree, and all the power their careers have brought them does not bring them satisfaction or happiness. They are very busy, seek power, and are bedeviled by inner demons. For example, read Stephen E. Ambrose's characterization of President Richard Nixon:

    "He remained what he had always been, a loner.
    And he remained, as he had always been, angry. Angry with the press, with the Democrats, with most Republicans, with the professors and their students, with the blacks, with so many others....
    And what pleased him, aside from praise for himself? One searches [his written comments on] the News Summaries in vain for an answer.
    His comments often showed his cynicism, his suspicious nature, his penchant for paranoia. They never showed a sense of humor." (Quoted from page 411 of Stephen E. Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.)
   President Lyndon Johnson, after doing an amazing job in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law, did not seem to be happy. He complained that he had just insured that the South would vote Republican for the next twenty years. Johnson knew the enormous importance of the Act, but the nature of his personality did not allow him to fully enjoy his victory.

    (C.) Passive Positive presidents seek love and approval more than power or results. Because they are passive with respect to their jobs, they are less likely than active presidents to accomplish great things in office. But because they are, on the whole, psychologically healthy they are unlikely to make terrible mistakes. According to Barber, this category includes Ronald Reagan.

    (D.) Passive Negative presidents do not enjoy their jobs and, on the whole, do not set out to accomplish great things. Rather than power or great accomplishments, these presidents stress civic virtue, stability, and proper procedure. If they enjoy office so little, why do they seek it? The answer seems to be a belief in their own abilities, and a sense of duty to the nation. That is, even though the duties of the office are a great burden, they have better qualifications and abilities than the other likely candidates for the office. This category includes Dwight Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge.

    More recently, Fred Greenstein, professor of politics at Princeton, has written of the six characteristics that largely determine if a person will be a successful president.

    These are (1) mastery of the bully pulpit, (2) organizational capacity, (3) political skill, (4) policy vision, (5) cognitive qualities, and (6) emotional intelligence.

    Mastery of the bully pulpit: FDR, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan used the bully pulpit of the presidency to great success.

    Organizational capacity: Dwight Eisenhower was a master of organization in sharp contrast the the minimal organizations skills of presidents such as FDR, JFK, and Clinton.

    Political skill: FDR and LBJ had political skills of the highest order.

     Policy vision: Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan had clear programs that served them well in setting the terms of the political debate, while presidents such as Carter and Bush (the father, president number 41) lacked a fundamental guiding vision (Bush even downplayed "that vision thing.")

    Cognitive qualities: Jimmy Carter approached problems as an engineer might, getting every possible fact and operating by the use of logic. Despite these impressive logical qualities, Carter lacked the "feel," insight, and strategic vision that often brought success to less orderly and logical decision makers such as Richard Nixon. Most observers considered FDR and Reagan to be intellectual lightweights, but despite their second class minds they had first class temperaments that led to success in office.

    Emotional intelligence: Presidents who can constructively manage and control their emotional insecurities and everyday feelings are more likely to be successful. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and George Bush had very strong feelings and often displayed strong emotional undercurrents, but they did not let these strong emotions harm their performance in any important way.

    In contrast LBJ, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton showed marked weaknesses in emotional intelligence. The physical dominance and intimidation of LBJ inhibited free debate among his advisors. Carter had a personal rigidity that far too often prevented him from making key compromises with political leaders at home and abroad. Clinton has show a lack of self-discipline in his personal affairs, and Greenstein finds evidence that this lack of self control also has affected his presidency in other ways.

    For more information, you may read Fred Greenstein's The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from Roosevelt to Clinton (2000, Free Press). You may read about Professor Greenstein's life and scholarly work at:


    C-SPAN conducted a poll of historians to rate the presidents from Washington to Clinton. They rated each president on the following categories: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting agenda, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within context of the times.

    The overall results placed Lincoln first, Franklin Roosevelt second, Washington third, and Theodore Roosevelt fourth. Bill Clinton was ranked 21st, just below Bush and just above Carter.


    The Twenty Fifth Amendment was proposed and ratified in response to the assassination of President Kennedy. Its major provisions concern how to fill a vacancy in the office of vice president and the problem of presidential disability.

    When the vice presidency is vacant, the amendment provides that the president may nominate a vice president, who will take office after being confirmed by majority votes in the House and the Senate.

    The vice presidency has been vacant 18 times. Fortunately there was no need to continue down the line of presidential succession that Congress provided by law -- currently the Speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and members of the cabinet in order of the creation of their departments.

    When Vice President Agnew resigned, President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford. Congress held hearings on Ford's fitness and integrity, and voted to confirm Ford.

    After Nixon resigned, the same procedure under the 25th Amendment was used to put Nelson Rockefeller in the vice presidency, and we had an unelected president and vice president for the first time in American history.


        The Succession Act of 1947, as amended, establishes the line of presidential succession. If the presidency becomes vacant and there is no vice president, then the Speaker of the House becomes president.

Under the Constitution and the Succession Act, the line of succession is as follows:

    Vice President
    Speaker of the House of Representatives
    President Pro Tempore of the Senate
    Secretary of State
    Secretary of the Treasury
    Secretary of Defense
    Attorney General
    Secretary of the Interior
    Secretary of Agriculture
    Secretary of Commerce
    Secretary of Labor
    Secretary of Health and Human Services
    Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
    Secretary of Transportation
    Secretary of Energy
    Secretary of Education
    Secretary of Veterans Affairs

    There is a different line of National Command Authority (and not succession to office) in situations of wartime emergency.

    The National Security Act of 1947 requires each president to issue secret orders at the outset of his term, and these orders authorize the Secretary of Defense to act as commander in chief in certain specific, limited situations in which the president and the vice president are not available to make decisions.

    The secret orders of the president also authorize a line of authority if the Secretary of Defense is not available. This line of authority was established to deal with a surprise nuclear attack, and these orders are a product of the Cold War.


    If the President thinks himself unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, he transmits a written declaration of his disability to the president pro tempore and the Speaker. As soon as the letter is "transmitted," the Vice President becomes Acting President.

    To end his disability, the President transits a written declaration to the president pro tempore and Speaker. As soon as the letter is sent, he regains all of his powers and duties.

    If the President is unable -- or unwilling -- to declare himself unable to discharge his powers and duties, the Vice President may convene a meeting of "the principal officers of the executive departments" to vote on his disability. If a majority agree, the Vice President transmits a written declaration the President is disabled, and immediately the Vice President becomes Acting President. The President may regain his powers and duties by transmitting a written declaration that no inability exists.

    However, if the Vice President and a majority of the principal officers of the executive branch decide that the president is not able to discharge the duties and powers of the presidency, then the Congress must resolve the dispute within 21 days. It takes a 2/3 vote in both houses to retain the Vice President as Acting President.


    The idea behind executive privilege is that the president must be able to protect himself from the other branches of government by withholding certain sensitive or "privileged" information. That is, to obtain honest and candid advice, the president must be sure that he cannot be forced to share it with the other branches. In addition, with respect to diplomatic relations and national security, the president may require greater secrecy than could be maintained if the courts or Congress were to get the information.

    As history has unfolded, executive privilege must yield when the federal courts demand information, but whether the president will release information to Congress remains a political calculation. If the political pressure is strong enough, the president will release all or part of the information to Congress. Otherwise, the Congress will be denied the information.


  When the president attempts to withhold sensitive materials needed by for a trial such as statements by witnesses for the government, an informer's identity, etc., the courts may tell the government to either produce the information or drop the charges.

    In 1957, Congress passed legislation that empowered federal judges to inspect sensitive materials in camera (in the privacy of their chambers). The judge would release only those documents necessary for the trial.

    The major case testing this law involved President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

    Certain White House staff members and political supporters of President Richard Nixon were indicted.

    The Special Prosecutor filed a motion for a subpoena duces tecum for the production before trial of certain tape recordings and documents of specifically identified conversations in the White House.

    President Nixon claimed that he did not have to produce these materials because of Executive Privilege.

    The District Court rejected the President's contentions and issued an order for an in camera examination of the subpoenaed material.

    The President appealed the order and ultimately the Supreme Court decided the issue by an 8-0 vote: Nixon must produce the requested tapes. United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974).

    Both the prosecution and the defense had a right to relevant evidence.

    What about President Clinton's claims against Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr? The lower federal courts have ruled against Clinton in each case, and the Supreme Court has refused to hear Clinton's appeals. Most observers have concluded that Clinton's use of various versions of executive privilege weakened the ability of future presidents to withhold information.


    When the President withholds information from Congress, the only legal remedy is to have the Congress ask the Attorney General to go to a grand jury and obtain an indictment for contempt of Congress. The Attorney General, however, serves at the pleasure of the president, and what remedy does Congress have besides impeachment if the Attorney General refuses to act? The result often is a political struggle between the legislative and executive branches. History suggests that if Congress remains resolute in demanding information, that the President will supply most or all of it.

The Executive Office of the President.

    The organizations in the Executive Office of the President are set up to help the president manage the executive branch and fulfill his other duties.

    The White House Staff of about 400 people has the duty of serving the president, and presidents expect great personal loyalty from these staff members. Here, for example, you find the chief of staff and the press office.

    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares the president's annual budget proposal to Congress and works to improve the management and planning of the executive branch. Each executive branch department has to clear legislative proposals with the OMB before going to Congress.

    The National Security Council (NSC) is used by the President to consider national security and foreign policy matters. The NSC is chaired by the President. The other members are the Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the military advisor to the Council, and the Director of Central Intelligence is the intelligence advisor. The Secretary of the Treasury, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic policy, and the Chief of Staff to the President are invited to all meetings of the Council. The Attorney General and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy attend meetings pertaining to their jurisdiction. The NSC staff, headed by the Executive Secretary, serves as the President's national security and foreign policy staff within the White House.

The other offices in the Executive Office of the President include:
    the Office of the Vice President;
    the Council of Economic Advisers;
    the Office of the United States Trade Representative;
    the Office of National Drug Control Policy;
    the Council of Environmental Quality; and
    the Office of Science and Technology Policy.


Link to Executive Branch

    The cabinet consists of the heads of departments who are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate. The term "cabinet" dates to 1793 when President George Washington held the first meeting of his department heads for advice on the issues of the day.

    Cabinet members make some of the most important decisions in an administration. Often they drive issues to the forefront of the policy agenda; often they make things happen. The most sought after positions in the cabinet are, not listed in order of importance, Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and Secretary of the Treasury.

    Although they serve at the pleasure of the President (that is, legally he can fire them at any time), their loyalties are not always with the President. Often they have constituencies of their own, and take the perspective of the departments they head rather than the perspective of the White House.

    Although there was some debate in the first Congress as to whether the president could fire cabinet officers without the approval of the Senate, there was little doubt that from the beginning that, as a legal matter, the members of the cabinet served at the pleasure of the president. For example, when President Andrew Jackson's cabinet members began snubbing the new wife of the secretary of war and creating great discord in the cabinet, he requested that all members of his cabinet resign, producing the first purge of the cabinet in American history.

    In its bitter opposition to President Andrew Johnson, the Congress passed the Tenure in Office Act of 1867, which prevented President Johnson from removing a member of the cabinet unless the Senate approved of his decision. Johnson thought the Act unconstitutional, and his two attempts to fire Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War led to one of the articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives. The Tenure in Office Act was repealed in 1887.

    An example of a President firing a cabinet member is Reagan's handling of Secretary of State Alexander Haig. First, Reagan interviewed George Shultz to see if he would make a satisfactory replacement. Then he called Haig into the office, handed him a note that said "Dear Al. It is with the most profound regret that I accept your letter of resignation." Of course, Haig had not written a letter of resignation, and much later he joked that he had to rush to the State Department to write it.

    Then Reagan asked Haig to continue to serve until his successor could be confirmed by the Senate. Because he did not want to resign, Haig was so slow writing the letter that before he finished it he heard of the White House official announcement of Shultz's nomination.

    All heads of departments are called Secretary, except the head of the Justice Department, who is called the Attorney General.


    USDA oversees farm and agricultural policy, including international trade & food safety.


    Chiefly responsible for business and trade, its agencies include the Census Bureau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Minority Business Development Agency.


    A central player in setting military and foreign policy, the Pentagon oversees the U.S. military, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other defense agencies. The DOD includes the Departments of the Air Force, Navy, and Army, the National Guard, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Investigation Service.


    The Department administers over 200 federal education programs, and provides leadership in education issues for the nation. The Department includes the Office of Special Education, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of Postsecondary Education, and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.


    The Energy Department focuses on technology to improve energy sources, education and efficiency. It also is concerned with environmental quality and nuclear waste disposal. The Department includes the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Energy Information Administration, and the Office of Conservation and Renewable Energy.


    HHS handles public health, welfare and safety issues. It administers Medicare and Medicaid, aid to low income families, immunization, Head Start, child support enforcement, and the prevention of domestic violence. The Department includes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Public Health Service, the Administration for Children and Families, and the Health Care Financing Administration.


    HUD takes care of America's cities and is responsible for public housing. The Department includes the Office of Block Grant Assistance, the Emergency Shelter Grants Program, the Office of Urban Development Action Grants, and the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.


    The Interior Department protects and provides access to national parks and public lands. Here is where you find the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Mines, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Parks Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.


    The Justice Department is headed by the Attorney General and its duties include enforcing the law, investigating and preventing crime, prosecuting offenders, and offering legal advice to the president. It also represents the administration and the federal government in lawsuits. Agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Prisons, and the United States Marshals Service.


    The Labor Department administers federal labor laws, sets policy for workers, mediates contract disputes and oversees statutes on wages, workplace health and safety, pensions, equal opportunity, worker's compensation, and job training. Agencies include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Employment Standards Administration, and the Office of Labor-Management Standards.


    The State Department is the key United States foreign affairs agency. It is in charge of diplomacy, negotiation and relations with other nations, and protecting United States Citizens abroad. Agencies include the Passport Agency, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Foreign Service, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.


    This is the agency charged with overseeing our nation's transportation systems and problems.  The Department of Transportation finances improvements in mass transit systems, administers programs for highways, railroads, and aviation. Here is where you find agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Coast Guard, the Federal Highway Administration, the Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration.


    This department helps maintain the nation's economy and set monetary policy. It pays the government's bills, collects taxes, borrows money, prints paper money and mints coins, and supervises the nation's banks. Its agencies include the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the United States Mint, and the Customs Service.


    The VA promotes the welfare of the veterans of the armed forces. It operates services such as medical care, cemeteries, etc., for the more than 26 million American veterans. Agencies include the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery System.

    In addition to these cabinet officers, each president may designate other officals as having cabinet level rank.