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President of the United States
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President of the United States

For the rock band, see Presidents of the United States of America

The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is also the chief executive of the federal government and commander in chief of the armed forces.

Because of the superpower status of the United States, the American President is often dubbed "the most powerful person on earth" and the current occupant is often one of the world's best-known figures. During the Cold War, the President was sometimes referred to as "the leader of the free world," a phrase that is still occasionally invoked today.

Table of contents
1 Requirements to hold office
2 Presidential elections
3 Presidential powers
4 Succession
5 List of Presidents of the United States
6 Timeline
7 Graphical Timeline
8 Former Presidents
9 Presidential salary and perks
10 Presidential residences
11 Presidential facts
12 Related topics
13 Further reading
14 External links

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, be at least 35 years of age, and have been a resident of the United States for 14 years. But the natural-born requirement was waived for persons who were U.S. citizens at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

The natural-born citizenship requirement has been the subject of some controversy in recent years. Some commentators argue that the clause should be repealed because it excludes qualified people based on technicalities, and fails to appreciate the contributions made by immigrants to American society. Prominent public officials that are barred from the presidency because they were not born US citizens include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

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 in 1952) limits the President to either two four-year terms or a maximum of ten years in office should he have succeeded to the Presidency previously and served less than two years completing his predecessor's term.

Presidential elections

U.S. presidential elections are held every four years. Presidents are elected indirectly, through the U.S. Electoral College. The President and the Vice President are the only two nationally elected officials in the United States. (Legislators are elected on a state-by-state basis; other executive officers and judges are appointed.) Originally, each elector voted for two people for President. The votes were tallied and the person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) became President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President.

The ratification of Amendment XII in 1804 clarified the electoral process by directing the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, or if no candidate receives a majority, the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, as necessary. Since 1937, with the ratification of Amendment XX, a newly-elected President, or a re-elected incumbent, is sworn in (usually by the Chief Justice) on January 20 of the year following the election, an event called Inauguration Day.

The modern Presidential election process begins with the primary electionss, during which the major parties (currently the Democratss and the Republicanss) 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 at least twice 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.

George Washington
1st President

In accordance with Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 8 of the Constitution, upon entering office, the President must repeat 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."

Presidential powers

The office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this responsibility, the president presides over the executive branch of the federal government — a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has important legislative and judicial powers.

Executive powers

Within the executive branch itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government. The president can issue rules, regulations, and instructions called executive orders, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States, the president may also call into federal service the state units of the National Guard. In times of war or national emergency, the Congress may grant the president even broader powers to manage the national economy and protect the security of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln
16th President

The president nominates — and the Senate confirms — the heads of all executive departments and agencies, together with hundreds of other high-ranking federal officials. (See United States Cabinet, Executive Office of the President.) In 2003, more than 3000 executive agency positions were subject to presidential appointment, with more than 1200 requiring Senate approval. The large majority of federal workers, however, are selected through the Civil Service system, in which appointment and promotion are based on ability and experience.

The President is also responsible for preparing the budget of the United States, although the Congress must approve it. (See Office of Management and Budget)

Legislative powers

Despite the constitutional provision that "all legislative powers" shall be vested in the Congress, the president, as the chief formulator of public policy, has a major legislative role. The president can veto any bill passed by Congress and, unless two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill does not become law.

Much of the legislation dealt with by Congress is drafted at the initiative of the executive branch. In annual and special messages to Congress, the president may propose legislation he believes is necessary. The most important of these is the annual State of the Union Address traditionally given in January. Before a joint session of Congress, the President outlines the status of the country and his legislative proposals for the upcoming year. If Congress should adjourn without acting on those proposals, the president has the power to call it into special session. But beyond this official role, the president, as head of a political party and as principal executive officer of the U.S. government, is primarily in a position to influence public opinion and thereby to influence the course of legislation in Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt
26th President

To improve their working relationships with Congress, presidents in recent years have set up a Congressional Liaison Office in the White House. Presidential aides keep abreast of all important legislative activities and try to persuade senators and representatives of both parties to support administration policies.

Judicial powers

Among the president's constitutional powers is that of appointing important public officials. Presidential nomination of federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court, is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Another significant power is that of granting a full or conditional pardon to anyone convicted of breaking a federal law — except in a case of impeachment. The pardoning power has come to embrace the power to shorten prison terms and reduce fines.

Foreign Affairs

Under the Constitution, the president is the federal official primarily responsible for the relations of the United States with foreign nations. The president appoints ambassadors, ministers, and consuls — subject to confirmation by the Senate — and receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials. With the secretary of state, the president manages all official contacts with foreign governments. On occasion, the president may personally participate in summit conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson headed the American delegation to the Paris conference at the end of World War I; President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Allied leaders during World War II; and every president since then has sat down with world leaders to discuss economic and political issues and to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
32nd President

Through the Department of State, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiate treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also negotiate "executive agreements" with foreign powers that are not subject to Senate confirmation.

Constraints on Presidential power

Because of the vast array of presidential roles and responsibilities, coupled with a conspicuous presence on the national and international scene, political analysts have tended to place great emphasis on the president's powers. Some have even spoken of "the imperial presidency," referring to the expanded role of the office that Franklin D. Roosevelt maintained during his term.

One of the first sobering realities a new president discovers is an inherited bureaucratic structure that can be difficult to manage and slow to change direction. The president's power to appoint extends only to some 3,000 people out of a civilian government work force of about 3 million.

John F. Kennedy
35th President

The president finds that the machinery of government (the civil service) often operates independently of presidential interventions, has done so through earlier administrations, and will continue to do so in the future. New presidents are immediately confronted with a backlog of decisions from the outgoing administration. They inherit a budget formulated and enacted into law long before they came to office, as well as major spending programs (such as veterans' benefits, Social Security payments, and Medicare health insurance for the elderly), which are mandated by law. In foreign affairs, presidents must conform with treaties and informal agreements negotiated by their predecessors in office.

As the happy euphoria of the post-election "honeymoon" dissipates, the new president discovers that Congress has become less cooperative and the media more critical. The president is forced to build at least temporary alliances among diverse, often antagonistic interests — economic, geographic, ethnic, and ideological. Compromises with Congress must be struck if any legislation is to be adopted. "It is very easy to defeat a bill in Congress," lamented President John F. Kennedy. "It is much more difficult to pass one."

Despite these constraints, every president achieves at least some of his legislative goals and prevents by veto the enactment of other laws he believes not to be in the nation's best interests. The president's authority in the conduct of war and peace, including the negotiation of treaties, is substantial. Moreover, the president can use his unique position to articulate ideas and advocate policies, which then have a better chance of entering the public consciousness than those held by his political rivals. President Theodore Roosevelt called this aspect of the presidency "the bully pulpit," for when a president raises an issue, it inevitably becomes subject to public debate. A president's power and influence may be limited, but they are also greater than those of any other American, in or out of office.

Though constrained by various other laws passed by Congress, the President's executive branch conducts most foreign policy, and his power to order and direct troops as commander-in-chief is quite significant. (The exact limits of what a President can do with the military without Congressional authorization are open to debate.)


The United States presidential line of succession is a well-defined sequence of who is to fill the Presidential office upon the death, resignation or removal from office (by impeachment and conviction) of a sitting President. The first three in the long line are:

  1. Vice President of the United States
  2. Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
  3. President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was written and ratified to clarify and specifically outline the process for deeming a President incapable of discharging his powers and duties, and subsequently elevating the Vice President to the role of Acting President of the United States.

List of Presidents of the United States

# Name Took Office Left Office Party Vice President(s)
1 George Washington 1789 1797 no party John Adams
2 John Adams 1797 1801 Federalist Thomas Jefferson
3 Thomas Jefferson 1801 1809 Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr and George Clinton****
4 James Madison 1809 1817 Democratic-Republican Elbridge Gerry****
5 James Monroe 1817 1825 Democratic-Republican Daniel D. Tompkins
6 John Quincy Adams 1825 1829 Democratic-Republican John C. Calhoun
7 Andrew Jackson 1829 1837 Democrat John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren
8 Martin Van Buren 1837 1841 Democrat Richard Mentor Johnson
9 William Henry Harrison 1841 1841 Whig John Tyler
10 John Tyler 1841 1845 Whig* none
11 James Knox Polk 1845 1849 Democrat George M. Dallas
12 Zachary Taylor 1849 1850 Whig Millard Fillmore
13 Millard Fillmore 1850 1853 Whig none
14 Franklin Pierce 1853 1857 Democrat William R. King*** then none
15 James Buchanan 1857 1861 Democrat John C. Breckinridge
16 Abraham Lincoln 1861 1865 Republican Hannibal Hamlin and Andrew Johnson
17 Andrew Johnson 1865 1869 Democrat** none
18 Ulysses Simpson Grant 1869 1877 Republican Schuyler Colfax and Henry Wilson**** then none
19 Rutherford Birchard Hayes 1877 1881 Republican William A. Wheeler
20 James Abram Garfield 1881 1881 Republican Chester A. Arthur
21 Chester Alan Arthur 1881 1885 Republican none
22 Stephen Grover Cleveland 1885 1889 Democrat Thomas A. Hendricks**** then none
23 Benjamin Harrison 1889 1893 Republican Levi P. Morton
24 Stephen Grover Cleveland 1893 1897 Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson
25 William McKinley 1897 1901 Republican Garret A. Hobart**** then none then Theodore Roosevelt
26 Theodore Roosevelt, Jr 1901 1909 Republican Charles W. Fairbanks
27 William Howard Taft 1909 1913 Republican James S. Sherman**** then none
28 Thomas Woodrow Wilson 1913 1921 Democrat Thomas R. Marshall
29 Warren Gamaliel Harding 1921 1923 Republican Calvin Coolidge
30 John Calvin Coolidge, Jr 1923 1929 Republican none then Charles G. Dawes
31 Herbert Clark Hoover 1929 1933 Republican Charles Curtis
32 Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1933 1945 Democrat John Nance Garner and Henry A. Wallace and Harry S. Truman
33 Harry S. Truman 1945 1953 Democrat none then Alben W. Barkley
34 Dwight David Eisenhower 1953 1961 Republican Richard Nixon
35 John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1961 1963 Democrat Lyndon Johnson
36 Lyndon Baines Johnson 1963 1969 Democrat none then Hubert H. Humphrey
37 Richard Milhous Nixon 1969 1974 Republican Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford
38 Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr 1974 1977 Republican Nelson Rockefeller
39 James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr 1977 1981 Democrat Walter F. Mondale
40 Ronald Wilson Reagan 1981 1989 Republican George H. W. Bush
41 George Herbert Walker Bush 1989 1993 Republican James Danforth Quayle
42 William Jefferson Clinton 1993 2001 Democrat Al Gore
43 George Walker Bush 2001 - Republican Dick Cheney
* Democrat on Whig ticket
** Democrat who ran on Union ticket with Republican Lincoln
*** Died before assuming office
**** Died while in office


Graphical Timeline

ImageSize = width:440 height:720 PlotArea = left:0 right:0 bottom:60 top:10 Legend = columns:3 left:60 top:40 columnwidth:145 AlignBars = justify DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1789 till:2004 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical Colors= id:canvas value:gray(0.5) id:Dem value:blue legend:Democrat id:Rep value:red legend:Republican id:Fed value:rgb(0.9,0.9,0.6) legend:Federalist id:DR value:green legend:Democrat-Republican id:Wh value:yellow legend:Whig id:np value:gray(0.8) legend:independent id:War value:gray(0.6) Define $left = align:right shift:(-25,-5) Define $right = align:left shift:(25,-5) PlotData= mark:(line,white) fontsize:S shift:(25,-5) width:33 shift:(-25,-5) align:right color:War fontsize:S textcolor:war from:1861 till:1865 text:"US Civil War" from:1914 till:1918 text:"WW I" from:1939 till:1945 text:"WW II" width:29 color:black textcolor:black from:1799 till:1801 from:1899 till:1901 from:1999 till:2001 width:25 fontsize:S textcolor:black from:start till:1797 color:np $left text:"George Washington_1789-1797" from:1797 till:1801 color:Fed $right text:"1797-1801_
John Adams" from:1801 till:1809 color:DR $left text:"Thomas Jefferson_1801-1809" from:1809 till:1817 color:DR $right text:"1809-1817_James Madison" from:1817 till:1825 color:DR $left text:"James Monroe_1817-1825" from:1825 till:1829 color:DR $right text:"1825-1829_John Quincy Adams" from:1829 till:1837 color:Dem $left text:"Andrew Jackson_1829-1837" from:1837 till:1841 color:Dem $right text:"1837-1841_Martin Van Buren" from:1841 till:1841 color:Wh $left text:"William H. Harrison_1841-1841" from:1841 till:1845 color:Wh $right text:"1841-1845_John Tyler" from:1845 till:1849 color:Dem $left text:"James K. Polk_1845-1849" from:1849 till:1850 color:Wh $right text:"1849-1850_Zachary Taylor" from:1850 till:1853 color:Wh $left text:"Millard Fillmore_1850-1853" from:1853 till:1857 color:Dem $right text:"1853-1857_Franklin Pierce" from:1857 till:1861 color:Dem $left text:"James Buchanan_1857-1861" from:1861 till:1865 color:Rep $right text:"1861-1865_Abraham Lincoln" from:1865 till:1869 color:Rep $left text:"Andrew Johnson_1865-1869" from:1869 till:1877 color:Rep $right text:"1869-1877_Ulysses S. Grant" from:1877 till:1881 color:Rep $left text:"Rutherford B. Hayes_1877-1881" from:1881 till:1881 color:Rep $right text:"1881-1881_James A. Garfield" from:1881 till:1885 color:Rep $left text:"Chester A. Arthur_1881-1885" from:1885 till:1889 color:Dem $right text:"1885-1889_Grover Cleveland" from:1889 till:1893 color:Rep $left text:"Benjamin Harrison_1889-1893" from:1893 till:1897 color:Dem $right text:"1893-1897_Grover Cleveland" from:1897 till:1901 color:Rep $left text:"William McKinley_1897-1901" from:1901 till:1909 color:Rep $right text:"1901-1909_Theodore Roosevelt" from:1909 till:1913 color:Rep $left text:"William H. Taft_1909-1913" from:1913 till:1921 color:Dem $right text:"1913-1921_Woodrow Wilson" from:1921 till:1923 color:Rep $left text:"Warren G. Harding_1921-1923" from:1923 till:1929 color:Rep $right text:"1923-1929_Calvin Coolidge" from:1929 till:1933 color:Rep $left text:"Herbert Hoover_1929-1933" from:1933 till:1945 color:Dem $right text:"1933-1945_Franklin D. Roosevelt" from:1945 till:1953 color:Dem $left text:"Harry Truman_1945-1953" from:1953 till:1961 color:Rep $right text:"1953-1961_Dwight D. Eisenhower" from:1961 till:1963 color:Dem $left text:"John F. Kennedy_1961-1963" from:1963 till:1969 color:Dem $right text:"1963-1969_Lyndon B. Johnson" from:1969 till:1974 color:Rep $left text:"Richard Nixon_1969-1974" from:1974 till:1977 color:Rep $right text:"1974-1977_Gerald Ford" from:1977 till:1981 color:Dem $left text:"Jimmy Carter_1977-1981" from:1981 till:1989 color:Rep $right text:"1981-1989_Ronald Reagan" from:1989 till:1993 color:Rep $left text:"George Bush_1989-1993" from:1993 till:2001 color:Dem $right text:"1993-2001_Bill Clinton" from:2001 till:end color:Rep $left text:"George W. Bush_2001-now"

Former Presidents

After a president of the U.S. leaves office, the title "President" continues to be applied to them the rest of their life. Former presidents continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-presidential careers. Notable examples have included William Howard Taft's tenure as Chief Justice of the United States and Jimmy Carter's current career as a global human rights campaigner.

As of July 2004, 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.

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. Excluding presidents who died in office, 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 1810's and the 1930's. Between the death of George Washington in 1799 and the present, presidents or ex-presidents have died in every decade except four: the 1800's, 1810's, 1950's, and 1980's.

Presidential salary and perks

Presidential Pay History
Date established Salary
September 24, 1789 $25,000
March 3, 1873 $50,000
March 4, 1909 $75,000
January 19, 1949 $100,000
January 20, 1969 $200,000
January 20, 2001 $400,000

The first United States Congress voted to pay George Washington a salary of $25,000 a year — a significant sum in 1789. Washington, already a successful man, didn't take the money. Since 2001, the President has earned a salary of $400,000 a year.

Traditionally, the President, as the most important official in the U.S. government, is the highest paid government employee. Consequently, the President's salary serves as a cap of sorts for all other federal officials such as the Chief Justice. The raise for 2001 was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 because other officials who receive annual cost-of-living increases had salaries approaching the President's. Consequently, in order to raise the salaries of the other federal employees, the President's salary had to be raised as well.

Modern Presidents enjoy many non-salary perks such as living and working in the spacious White House mansion in Washington, DC. While travelling, the President is able to conduct all the functions of the office aboard several specially-built Boeing 747s, which take the call sign Air Force One when the President is aboard. The President travels around Washington in an armored Cadillac limousine, equipped with bullet-proof windows and tires and a self-contained ventilation system in the event of a biological or chemical attack. When traveling longer distances around the Washington area, the President travels aboard the Presidential helicopter, Marine One. Additionally, the President has full use of Camp David in Maryland, a sprawling retreat occasionally used as a casual setting for hosting foreign dignitaries.

The President and his family are protected at all times by an extensive Secret Service detail. Until 1997, all former Presidents and their families were protected by the Secret Service until the President's death. The last President to have lifetime Secret Service protection is Bill Clinton. George W. Bush and all subsequent Presidents will be protected by the Secret Service for a maximum of 10 years after leaving office.

Presidents continue to enjoy other benefits after leaving office such as free mailing privileges, free office space, and budgets for office help and staff assistance. However, it was not until after Harry Truman (1958) that Presidents received a pension after they left office. Additionally, since the presidency of Herbert Hoover, Presidents receive funding from the National Archives and Records Administration upon leaving office to establish their own Presidential library. These are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials for each U.S. President since Herbert Hoover.

Presidential residences

The President's principal workplace and official residence is the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. His official vacation or weekend residence is Camp David in Maryland. Many Presidents have also had their own homes.

Presidential facts

Transition events

Other facts

While most presidents have been of substantially English descent, there have been a few who came from a different background:

Kennedy was also America's first and, to date, only Catholic president.

No women or non-white males have yet served as President of the United States.

The Secret Service and some agencies in the government use acronyms as jargon. Since the Truman Administration the President of the United States has been called POTUS. The wife of the President, traditionally referred to as the First Lady is called FLOTUS.

Presidential trivia lists

Related topics

Further reading

External links