President of the United States
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.
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
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; 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).
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
|Date established||Salary|| Salary in real|
|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.
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.
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.
- Martin Van Buren, born December 5, 1782, was the first president born after the Declaration of Independence and was thus arguably the first president who was not born a British subject. Interestingly, he is also the first president not of Anglo-Celtic origin.
- John Tyler, born March 29, 1790, was the first president born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. All presidents born before him were eligible to be president because they were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted. (Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, before the Constitution was adopted).
- Franklin Pierce, born November 23, 1804, was the first president born in the 19th century. (Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800, the last year of the 18th century.)
- Warren Harding, born November 2, 1865, was the first president born after the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9, 1865.
- John F. Kennedy, born May 29, 1917, was the first person born in the 20th century to become president (1961).
- Jimmy Carter, born October 1, 1924, was the first person born after World War I to become president.
- Bill Clinton, born August 19, 1946, was the first person born after World War II to become president.
Life after the Presidency
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:
- John Quincy Adams enjoyed a prosperous career in the House of Representatives after his term in the White House.
- Andrew Johnson was elected to the same Senate that tried his impeachment, serving for five months in 1875 before dying from a stroke in Tennessee.
- Theodore Roosevelt wrote many books, went on safari, toured Europe, ran again for President in 1912, went on an expedition into the Brazilian jungle where he discovered the Rio Roosevelt, and was widely believed to be the front-runner for the 1920 presidential election when he died in 1919.
- William Howard Taft became Chief Justice of the United States.
- Jimmy Carter has been a global human rights campaigner and best-selling writer.
- George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton teamed together to appeal for donations from Americans after the Asian tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There have never been more than five former presidents alive at any given time in American history. There have been three periods during which five former presidents were alive:
- From March 4, 1861 to January 18, 1862, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan were living (during the Lincoln Administration, until the death of Tyler).
- From January 20, 1993 to April 22, 1994, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush were living (during the Clinton Administration, until the death of Nixon).
- From January 20, 2001 to June 5, 2004, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were living (during the G.W. Bush Administration, until the death of Reagan).
There have been six periods in American history during which no former presidents were alive:
- April 30, 1789 – March 3, 1797: until the first President left office, there could be no former presidents, alive or otherwise.
- December 14, 1799 – March 3, 1801: from the death of former President George Washington until incumbent President John Adams left office (no former president would die until Adams and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, both did so on July 4 1826).
- July 31, 1875 – March 3, 1877: from the death of former President Andrew Johnson until incumbent President Ulysses Grant left office (no former president would die until Grant did so in 1885 although incumbent President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881).
- June 24, 1908 – March 3, 1909: from the death of former President Grover Cleveland until incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt left office (no former president would die until Roosevelt did so in 1919).
- January 5, 1933 – March 3, 1933: from the death of former President Calvin Coolidge until incumbent President Herbert Hoover left office (no former president would die until Hoover did so in 1964 although incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt died in office in 1945 and incumbent President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963).
- January 22, 1973 – August 9, 1974: from the death of former President Lyndon Johnson until incumbent President Richard Nixon resigned (no former president would die until Nixon did so in 1994).
Herbert Hoover had the longest post-presidency, 31 years. He left office in 1933 and died in 1964. 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.
- Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated while in office:
- Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth
- James Garfield in 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau (Guiteau shot him but Garfield arguably died due to subsequent incorrect medical care)
- William McKinley in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz
- John F. Kennedy in 1963, officially by Lee Harvey Oswald alone although many theories suggest additional gunmen or a different person altogether. 
- Four others died in office of natural causes:
- William Henry Harrison, died of pneumonia in 1841
- Zachary Taylor, died of “acute indigestion” in 1850. Taylor's body was exhumed in 1991 to test if he had died of arsenic poisoning. It was determined he did not.
- Warren G. Harding, died of heart attack in 1923. There has been speculation that Harding was poisoned—in particular, Gaston Means had a book ghost-written that spread that notion—but that theory appears to be baseless.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1945
- One President resigned from office:
- Richard Nixon in 1974
- Two Presidents have been impeached, though neither was subsequently convicted:
- Four Presidents have been elected without a plurality of popular votes:
- John Quincy Adams - trailed Andrew Jackson by 44,804 votes in the 1824 election
- However, in six of the then twenty-four states in 1824, the electors were chosen by the state legislature, with no popular vote.
- Rutherford B. Hayes - trailed Samuel J. Tilden by 264,292 votes in the 1876 election
- Benjamin Harrison - trailed Grover Cleveland 95,713 votes in the 1888 election
- George W. Bush - trailed Al Gore by 543,895 votes in the 2000 election (http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/2000presgeresults.htm)
- A possible addition to this list is John F. Kennedy, who may have trailed Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. The precise gap in votes is difficult to determine because voters in Alabama were not given Kennedy as an option on their ballot - they could only vote “Democratic”, without choosing a candidate. So, when the Democrats won Alabama, half of the state's electoral votes were pledged to Kennedy, and the other half were not pledged at all, and those votes all went to Harry F. Byrd. So it is impossible to know how many of those voters meant to vote for Kennedy, or for Byrd. The margin between Kennedy and Nixon was smaller than the number of Democratic votes in Alabama. The official figure from the U.S. government states includes the Alabama votes in Kennedy's total, giving Kennedy the popular plurality.
- John Quincy Adams - trailed Andrew Jackson by 44,804 votes in the 1824 election
- Eleven Presidents have been elected fourteen times without a majority of popular votes (but with a plurality of popular votes):
- James K. Polk - 49.3% of the popular vote in the 1844 election
- Zachary Taylor - 47.3% of the popular vote in the 1848 election
- James Buchanan - 45.3% of the popular vote in the 1856 election
- Abraham Lincoln - 39.9% of the popular vote in the 1860 election
- James A. Garfield - 48.3% of the popular vote in the 1880 election
- Grover Cleveland - 48.8% of the popular vote in the 1884 election
- Grover Cleveland - 46.0% of the popular vote in the 1892 election
- Woodrow Wilson - 41.8% of the popular vote in the 1912 election
- Woodrow Wilson - 49.3% of the popular vote in the 1916 election
- Harry S. Truman - 49.7% of the popular vote in the 1948 election
- John F. Kennedy - 49.7% of the popular vote in the 1960 election
- Richard Nixon - 43.2% of the popular vote in the 1968 election
- Bill Clinton - 42.9% of the popular vote in the 1992 election
- Bill Clinton - 49.2% of the popular vote in the 1996 election
- Two Presidents have been elected without a majority of electoral votes, and were chosen by the House of Representatives:
- Eight Presidents took office without being elected to the Presidency, having been elected as Vice President and then promoted from that position. In all eight cases, they succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of the incumbent:
- Four of them were never elected in their own right:
- John Tyler - Succeeded William Henry Harrison
- Millard Fillmore - Succeeded Zachary Taylor
- Andrew Johnson - Succeeded Abraham Lincoln
- Chester A. Arthur - Succeeded James Garfield
- The other four were all elected in their own right for the immediately succeeding presidential term:
- Theodore Roosevelt - Succeeded William McKinley, elected as president in the 1904 election
- Calvin Coolidge - Succeeded Warren G. Harding, elected as president in the 1924 election
- Harry S. Truman - Succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected as president in the 1948 election
- Lyndon B. Johnson - Succeeded John F. Kennedy, elected as president in the 1964 election
- Four of them were never elected in their own right:
- One President, Gerald Ford, was appointed Vice President by Richard Nixon (with approval from Congress) upon the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, succeeded to the Presidency after Nixon's resignation, and was defeated in the 1976 election by Jimmy Carter. He remains the only President who was not elected as either President or Vice President.
- An urban legend claims that David Rice Atchison was the 11½th president of the United States for one day on March 4, 1849 in between the terms of James K. Polk (whose term expired at noon on March 4) and Zachary Taylor (who chose not to be sworn in until March 5). However, the logic of this is contradictory. If one does not consider Taylor to have officially become President until the administration of his Oath of Office, then the same logic precludes any person from having automatically succeeded before likewise having taken the same Oath. In fact, Taylor, as President-elect, automatically acceded to the Office of President upon the expiration of Polk's term, even if he did not yet enter into the execution of that Office until the Oath was administered. This fact was confirmed by Congress when it certified his election, as it defined the beginning of the administration as the instant Polk left office. Even if supposing, for the sake of argument, the rather odd interpretation that only Presidents-elect are required to take the Oath before officially occupying the Office, whilst officials in the Presidential Line of Succession occupy the Presidency ipso facto, then there would be a long list of dozens of additional “Presidents” who only held the office for a matter of hours or minutes.
- There were seven presidents whose oaths of office were administered by someone other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court :
- Robert Livingston, as Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office to George Washington at his first inauguration; William Cushing, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, administered the second
- Calvin Coolidge's father, a notary public, administered the oath to his son after the death of Warren Harding
- United States District Court Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath to Lyndon Johnson after the assassination of John F. Kennedy
- John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt's initial oaths reflected the unexpected nature of their taking office.
- 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:
- Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term began March 4, 1933, but the twentieth amendment changed the start of the next term to noon on January 20, 1937, giving Roosevelt a first term of 1418.5 days.
- Due to the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, so John Adams' term and William McKinley's first term were shortened to 1460 days.
- 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
- Kennedy was also America's only Roman Catholic president.
- Predominantly Dutch: Martin Van Buren
- 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”.
- 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.
- President of the Continental Congress
- Presidential reputation
- Presidential Service Badge
- Executive branch
- Executive privilege
- Air Force One
- Tecumseh's curse
- Fiction regarding United States presidential succession
- List of actors who played President of the United States
- Alternative pop music band The Presidents of the United States of America (band)
- Imperial Presidency
- 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
- ^ Kamen, Al. “If You're Available Jan. 20 . . .” Washington Post, 17 November 2004.
- ^ Library of Congress. “Presidential Inaugrations: Presidential Oaths of Office.”
- ^ Excerpt from Coolidge's autobiography.
- Template:Web reference - A collection of over 52,000 Presidential documents
- Template:Web reference - Brief biographies, election results, cabinet members, notable events, and some points of interest on each of the presidents.
- Template:Web reference - A companion website for the C-SPAN television series: American Presidents: Life Portraits
- Template:Web reference
- Template:Web reference - Brief histories of the Masonic careers of Presidents who were members of the Freemasons.
- Template:Web reference - A resource for educators teaching the American Presidency
- Template:Web reference - The author of this blog posts links to sites relating to the American Presidency or specific American Presidents
- Collection of Quotes by American Presidents
- Template:Web reference - Listing of the cabinet members for each Presidential Administration
- Template:Web reference - Opinion poll of how great each President is believed to be.
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