President of the United States

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The President of the United States (unofficially abbreviated “POTUS”) 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. The full title is President of the United States of America.

Because of the superpower status of the United States, the American President is widely considered to be the world's most powerful person, and is usually one of the world's best-known public figures. During the Cold War, the President was sometimes referred to as “the leader of the free world”.

The United States was the first nation to create the office of President as the head of state in a modern republic. Today the office is widely emulated all over the world in nations with a presidential system of government. Many countries with a parliamentary system also have an office named “president”, but the roles of this office vary widely, and the President in such systems usually has far more limited powers than the Prime Minister.

The 43rd and current President of the United States is George W. Bush. He is currently serving his second term.


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 old, and have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.

The natural-born citizenship requirement has been the subject of controversy. Critics argue that this requirement arbitrarily excludes some highly qualified candidates for the Presidency. They also charge that supporters fail to appreciate the contributions made by immigrants to American society. Proponents of the requirement argue that the requirement helps to ensure that the President fully understands and is a part of the American people and their outlook. Proponents also argue that the clause helps protect the country from foreign interference—another country could send an emigrant to the United States and through subterfuge get them elected. Many prominent public officials, such as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA; born in Austria) and Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI; born in Canada), are barred from the presidency because they were not natural-born citizens. Constitutional amendments are occasionally proposed to remove or modify this requirement, but none have been successful.


Main article: U.S. presidential election

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 adoption of the Twelfth Amendment 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.

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.


Inauguration and oath of office

File:Abraham lincoln inauguration 1861.jpg
Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address

Since 1933, 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, the Constitution does not specify any requirements[1]; thus, anyone with the legal authority to administer oaths can perform the duty.

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”, or “and thus I swear.”

On Inauguration Day, following the oath of office, the President customarily delivers an inaugural address which sets the tone for his administration. These addresses can reach the level of high oratory, from such stand-alone lines as Kennedy's “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” to entire speeches, such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

Term(s) of office

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 two years at most completing his predecessor's term. Since then, three presidents have served two full terms: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Incumbent President George W. Bush would become the fourth if he completes his current (and second) term in 2009. (Richard Nixon was elected to a second term but resigned before completing it.)


The United States presidential line of succession is a 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).

Vice President Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as President aboard Air Force One, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy

The line of 17 begins with the Vice President and ends with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Legislation to add the Secretary of Homeland Security to the line of succession is pending in Congress.

The Constitution provided that, if a President were to die, resign, or be removed from office, the “powers and duties” of the office would devolve upon the Vice President, Article II, Section 1 (which seems to imply the position of acting president), and that he [Vice President] shall “exercise the office of President of the United States,” Article I, Section 2 (which seems to imply actual assumption of the presidency itself).

People did not agree as to the exact meaning and intention of the text, and whether the Vice President would succeed to the office of President or merely act as President. After the death of William Henry Harrison, however, Vice President John Tyler asserted that he had become the President, not merely Acting President, and this precedent was followed in all subsequent cases.

The 25th amendment eliminated this ambiguity by confirming that the Vice President fully becomes President, not Acting President, if the presidency becomes vacant. It sets the Vice President first in the line of succession and spells out a process for him to serve as Acting President should the President become temporarily disabled. A provision of the United States Code (Template:UnitedStatesCode) establishes the rest of the succession line.

To date, no officer other than the Vice President has been called upon to act as President.


Main article: Powers of the President of the United States

The President, according to the Constitution, 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 of about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. A President-elect will make as many as 6,000 appointments to government positions, including appointments to the federal judiciary. The Senate must consent to all judicial appointments as well as the appointments of all principal officers. The President may veto laws made by the United States Congress but cannot personally initiate laws. Congress can overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President may make treaties, but the Senate must ratify them by a two-thirds supermajority. The political scientist Richard Neustadt said, “Presidential power is the power to persuade and the power to persuade is the ability to bargain”. He was commenting on the fact that the President's domestically constitutional power is limited, despite the modern expectation of Presidents to have a legislative program, and successful bargaining with Congress is usually essential to Presidential success.

Presidential salary and benefits


Presidential Pay History
Date established Salary Salary in real
dollars (2001)
September 24, 1789 $25,000 $249,952.22 (1800)
March 3, 1873 $50,000 $710,401.18 (1873)
March 4, 1909 $75,000 $1,419,792.55 (1909)
January 19, 1949 $100,000 $707,627.96 (1949)
January 20, 1969 $200,000 $979,236.86 (1969)
January 20, 2001 $400,000 $400,000 (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, refused to accept his salary.)

Traditionally, the President is the highest-paid government employee. Consequently, the President's salary serves as a traditional cap for all other federal officials, such as the Chief Justice. A 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, to raise the salaries of the other federal employees, the President's salary had to be raised as well.

While far higher than the median wage in the United States, in modern times the President's salary is paltry compared to the Chief Executive Officers of many publicly-listed companies, and indeed modern Presidents have typically earned far more in the corporate world after the end of their term than they did as President.


North side of the White House

Among the many non-salary benefits are living and working in the White House mansion in Washington, DC

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.


While travelling, the President is able to conduct all the functions of the office aboard several specially built Boeing 747s, known as Air Force One. The President travels around Washington in an armored Cadillac limousine, often referred to informally as “Cadillac One,” 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, Marine One. The President also has the use of: Army One, Coast Guard One, Executive One, and Navy One. Additionally, the President has full use of Camp David in Maryland, a retreat which is occasionally used as a casual setting for hosting foreign dignitaries.

Secret Service

The President and his family are always protected by a 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.

Benefits after Presidency

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 President since Herbert Hoover.


See: List of Presidents of the United States.


Template:Timeline US Presidents 2

Life after the Presidency

Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and their wives at the funeral of President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.

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:

As of 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:

There have been six periods in American history during which no former presidents were alive:

Herbert Hoover had the longest post-presidency, 31 years. He left office in 1933 and died in 1964. Still alive today is Gerald Ford, who has been an ex-president for 28 years, as of 2005. James K. Polk had the shortest post-presidency. He died on June 15, 1849, a mere three months after the expiration of his term.

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 facts

Transition events

Other facts

File:Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore.jpg
Presidential authority, past and present: Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore
  • Grover Cleveland had two non-consecutive terms as President, and is counted twice, both as the 22nd and the 24th President. Consequently, the “25th President” is actually the 24th person to be President, the “26th President” is actually the 25th person to be President, and so on—e.g., George W. Bush, 43rd President, is actually the 42nd person to be President.
  • Since the federal government started operations under the Constitution on March 4, 1789, there has been only one period of time in which the office was vacant. The First Congress did not meet to count the electoral vote until April 6, 1789 and thus George Washington did not accede to the office until then.
  • A presidential term is normally 1461 days. There have been three presidential terms which were shorter:
  • Five Presidents had never held any prior elected office:
  • All presidents have been white males and nominally Christian (mostly Protestant). Most presidents have been of substantially British descent, but there have been a few who came from a different background:
    • Predominantly Dutch: Martin Van Buren
      • Although Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt had Dutch names, neither was predominantly Dutch; each had only one Dutch grandfather. Theodore's other three grandparents were all 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
  • Only one president, James Buchanan, remained a bachelor. Bachelor Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom while in office, while both John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson became widowers and remarried while in office.
  • Historical rankings of U.S. Presidents by academic historians usually regard three Presidents — in chronological order, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — to be the three most successful presidents by a wide margin.
  • Woodrow Wilson is the only President to hold a (non-honorary) Ph.D. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University after completing and publishing his dissertation, “Congressional Government”, in 1886.
  • The Secret Service and some agencies in the government use acronyms as jargon. The President of the United States is 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”.
    • “POTUS” has been used by the Secret Service since the Truman administration. This acronym goes back even farther in civilian use: the AP has used “POTUS” as a telegraphic code word as far back as 1918.[6]
  • The President is known to be able to affect trends in popular culture. An 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 may have helped to cause Tom Clancy to become a nationally acclaimed bestselling author, something that may never have happened had it not been for Reagan's endorsement.



See also

Further reading

  • 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. 1 March 1996. ISBN 1558534121
  • Lang, J. Stephen, The Complete Book of Presidential Trivia. Pelican Publishing. September 2001. ISBN 1565548779


  1. ^  Kamen, Al. “If You're Available Jan. 20 . . .Washington Post, 17 November 2004.
  2. ^  Library of Congress. “Presidential Inaugrations: Presidential Oaths of Office.
  3. ^  Excerpt from Coolidge's autobiography.

External links



Presidential histories



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