Since George Washington, presidents have had the constitutionally mandated entity known as “executive power.” While there is some debate over what that is, the fact is that, since that time, presidents have been issuing executive orders. There is really no way of knowing for sure how many orders have been given executively, since records before 1826 are a bit sketchy. But, it appears that the number of executive orders before 1861 number well below 100. And the great majority of those were directing public days of mourning for the death of presidents and other national figures. In fact, because none of these orders had anything to do with standing law, but only dealt with memorials, none of them are even considered executive orders as we understand them today.
With the advent of Lincoln begins the numbering of executive orders. Beginning retroactively with 1862, executive orders were numbered. From that time until the time of Coolidge, 3900 executive orders were issue. Benjamin Harrison and Grover(s) Cleveland seemed primarily to be concerned with civil service rules and the Like. William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt split their time between issues of foreign protectorates such as the Philippines and The Panama Canal Zone. Beginning with Roosevelt, we see the rise of the progressive agenda, as the number of executive orders for him and his progressive proteges jumped from tens to thousands. Taft issue about 698, mostly dealing with “indian” treatiesand foreign treaties. Wilson issued 1791, split between the indians, foreign protectorates, his draconian anti-sedition policies, and the disposition of WWI.
Silent Cal Coolidge was not short on giving executive orders–he issued over 1000, as did Herbert Hoover. In summary reading, it appears that the bulk of these orders had to do with “indian” affairs, and management of western lands.
FDR, hands down, is the most prolific issuer of executive orders. It only makes sense, given the circumstances. First of all, he had the precedent of Lincoln. When one is in a state of national crises such that the very existence is in doubt, one has a “duty” to take over, law be damned, and become the law. So, Roosevelt could equate the Depression with the Civil War, although that is quite a stretch. Secondly, the progressive spirit was alive and well, after cousin Teddy and Woody had laid the groundwork. All that was needed was a sufficient “crises” to suck a reeling people into the trap. Roosevelt’s 3700 executive orders made all other presidents look positively constitutional by comparison.
If you wonder where Obama fits on this scale, he is small potatoes. He hasn’t even hit 200 yet. But consider that the curve has quickly trended down since FDR. And why not? Wilson’s great Progressive Society was rolled back after WWI in a backlash of Prohibition. But Roosevelt had 13 years and a distracting war to make his Progressive “New Deal” stick. In 1938, even the courts ruled that previous constitutional precedent in court rulings would no longer be applied to present rulings, thus cementing the New Deal as the new reality. Since then, every president has had an opportunity to “uphold and protect the constituion.” But, for them, this no longer has anything to do with running the government, as the constitution no longer applies. Therefore, executive orders now are only necessary for cleaning up the little details that FDR missed or that have come to light as technology increases. There is no need to do any heavy lifting. while Obama’s sheer numbers of excessive, foolish spending outpace FDR, all must bow and pay their due homage to America’s first Emperor. (Sorry, Teddy and Woody. Like Marcus Aurelius and Marc Antony of old, you came up a little short.)
# EOs Issued
|1, 1A, 2|
|Grover Cleveland (1st)||
|28, 28-1, 28A, 29|
|Grover Cleveland (2nd)||
|George W. Bush||242||13198 – 13439|
Are executive orders something we should care about? Yes, indeed. But, before you get bent out of shape that Obama can steal your internet and commandeer you, your house or your family whenever he wants, you should ask yourself what has really changed? FDR forced people to give up their gold. Roosevelt stole half a country to make Panama. Wilson ordered goon squads to menace war dissenters and closed down hundreds of news papers.
The jury will always be out on Lincoln. He was the first to suspend the constitution, and the first to make orders without congress. But, the debate is whether congress even existed at the time, since half the congressmen were not in session, but secession. However, the dangerous precedents that he was forced to use in order to restore that Union have had the effect of forever altering what the Union is. Like slavery or not, the rise of federalist power and decline of local determination have been on display ever since. Like it or not, we are now a nation under caesars. It took Rome almost 700 years to go from republic to empire. From there it took Rome another 400 years to disintegrate. It only took America 100 to 150 years to become an empire. How long will it take us to disintegrate? You do the math.
- The New Deal Illusion (counterpunch.org)
- ICYMI: An Executive Order You Should Know About (illinoisreview.typepad.com)
- My Rankings of the Presidents from Teddy till the Present (rightwingnutsandbolts.wordpress.com)
- Senator Asks Obama to Write Cybersecurity Executive Order (thenewamerican.com)
- Don’t Say We Didn’t Tell You So!! (aaolaw.org)
- Following Defeat, Obama to Reportedly Push Cybersecurity Bill With Executive Orders (dailytech.com)
- Congress Can’t Pass a Bill? No Problem! Obama Can Just Sign an Executive Order (libertyblitzkrieg.com)
- Agenda 21 And Executive Orders (personalliberty.com)
- See also: National Archives