President of the
United States of America
Seal Of The President Of The Unites States Of America
Official seal
Official portrait of Barack Obama
Barack Obama

since January 20, 2009
StyleThe Honorable
(Within the U.S.)
His Excellency
(Outside the U.S.)
ResidenceWhite House
Term lengthFour years, renewable once
Inaugural holderGeorge Washington
April 30, 1789
FormationU.S. Constitution
March 4, 1789

The President of the United States is the head of state and head of government of the United States and is the highest political official in the United States by influence and recognition. The President leads the executive branch of the federal government and is one of only two nationally elected federal officers (the other being the Vice President of the United States).[1]

Among other powers and responsibilities, Article II of the U.S. Constitution charges the President to "faithfully execute" federal law, makes the President commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, allows the President to nominate executive and judicial officers with the advice and consent of the Senate, and allows the President to grant pardons and reprieves.

The President is elected by the people indirectly through the Electoral College to a four-year term. Since 1951, Presidents have been limited to two terms by the Twenty-second Amendment.

Forty-three individuals have been elected or succeeded to the office of President, serving a total of fifty-six four-year terms.[2]

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the forty-fourth, and current, President.


United States

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the United States

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 US Government Portal
Flag of the President of the United States

The Flag of the President of the United States

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris left the United States independent and at peace, but with an unsettled governmental structure. The Second Continental Congress had drawn up the Articles of Confederation in 1777, describing a permanent confederation, but granting to the Congress—the only federal institution—little power to finance itself or to ensure that its resolutions were enforced. In part, this reflected the anti-monarchy view of the Revolutionary period and the new American system was explicitly designed to prevent the rise of an American tyrant to replace the British King.

However, during the economic depression due to the collapse of the continental dollar following the American Revolution, the viability of the American government was threatened by political unrest in several states, efforts by debtors to use popular government to erase their debts, and the apparent inability of the Continental Congress to redeem the public obligations incurred during the war. The Congress also appeared unable to become a forum for productive cooperation among the States encouraging commerce and economic development. In response a Constitutional Convention was convened, ostensibly to reform the Articles of Confederation, but that subsequently began to draft a new system of government that would include greater executive power while retaining the checks and balances thought to be essential restraints on any imperial tendency in the office of the President.

Individuals who presided over the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary period and under the Articles of Confederation had the title "President of the United States in Congress Assembled," often shortened to "President of the United States". The office had little distinct executive power. With the 1788 ratification of the Constitution, a separate executive branch was created, headed by the President of the United States.

The President's executive authority under the Constitution, tempered by the checks and balances of the judicial and legislative branches of the federal government, was designed to solve several political problems faced by the young nation and to anticipate future challenges, while still preventing the rise of an autocrat over a nation wary of royal authority.

Powers and dutiesEdit

Article I legislative roleEdit

The first power conferred upon the President by the U.S. Constitution is the legislative power of the presidential veto. The Presentment Clause requires any bill passed by Congress to be presented to the President before it can become law. Once the legislation has been presented, the President has three options:

  1. Sign the legislation; the bill then becomes law.
  2. Veto the legislation and return it to Congress with his objections; the bill does not become law, unless each House of Congress votes to override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
  3. Take no action. In this instance, the President neither signs nor vetoes the legislation. After 10 days, not counting Sundays, two possible outcomes emerge:
    • If Congress is still convened, the bill becomes law.
    • If Congress has adjourned, thus preventing the return of the legislation, the bill does not become law. This latter outcome is known as the pocket veto.

In 1996, Congress attempted to alter the President's veto power with the Line Item Veto Act. The legislation empowered the President to sign any spending bill into law while simultaneously striking certain spending items within the bill, particularly any new spending, any amount of discretionary spending, or any new limited tax benefit. Once the President had stricken the item, Congress could pass that particular item again. If the President then vetoed the new legislation, Congress could override the veto by its ordinary means, a two-thirds vote in both houses. In Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such an alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.

Article II executive powersEdit

War and foreign affairs powersEdit

Perhaps the most important of all presidential powers is command of the United States armed forces as commander-in-chief. While the power to declare war is constitutionally vested in Congress, the President commands and directs the military and is responsible for planning military strategy. The framers of the Constitution took care to limit the President's powers regarding the military; Alexander Hamilton explains this in Federalist No. 69:

The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. ... It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces ... while that [the power] of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all [of] which ... would appertain to the legislature.[3]

Congress, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, must authorize any troop deployments more than 60 days in length. Additionally, Congress provides a check to presidential military power through its control over military spending and regulation.

Along with the armed forces, foreign policy is also directed by the President. Through the Department of State and the Department of Defense, 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 negotiates 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.

Administrative powersEdit

The President is the chief executive of the United States, putting him at the head of the executive branch of the government, whose responsibility is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this duty, he is given control of the four million employees of the federal executive branch.

Various executive branch appointments are made by Presidents. Up to 6,000 appointments may be made by an incoming President before he takes office and 8,000 more may be made while in office. Ambassadors, members of the Cabinet, and other federal officers, are all appointed by the President with the "advice and consent" of a majority of the Senate. Appointments made while the Senate is in recess are temporary and expire at the end of the next session of the Senate.

The power of the President to fire executive officials has long been a contentious point of debate. Generally, the President may remove purely executive officials at his discretion.[4] However, Congress can curtail and constrain the President's authority to fire commissioners of independent regulatory agencies and certain inferior executive officers by statute.[5]

Juridical powersEdit

The President also has the power to nominate federal judges, including members of the United States courts of appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. However, these nominations do require Senate confirmation and this can provide a major stumbling block for Presidents who wish to shape their federal judiciary in a particular ideological stance. The President must appoint judges for the United States district courts, but he will often defer to Senatorial courtesy in making these choices. He may also grant pardons and reprieves, as is often done just before the end of a presidential term.

Executive privilege gives the President the ability to withhold information from the public, Congress, and the courts in matters of national security. George Washington first claimed privilege when Congress requested to see Chief Justice John Jay's notes from an unpopular treaty negotiation with Great Britain. While not enshrined in the Constitution, or any other law, Washington's action created the precedent for the privilege. When Richard Nixon tried to use executive privilege as a reason for not turning over subpoenaed evidence to Congress during the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), that executive privilege did not apply in cases where a President was attempting to avoid criminal prosecution. When President Bill Clinton attempted to use executive privilege regarding the Lewinsky scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), that the privilege also could not be used in civil suits. These cases established the legal precedent that executive privilege is valid, the exact extent of the privilege has yet to be clearly defined.

Legislative facilitatorEdit


President George W. Bush delivering the 2007 State of the Union Address, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi behind him.

While the President cannot directly introduce legislation, he can play an important role in shaping it, especially if the President's political party has a majority in one or both houses of the Congress. While members of the executive branch are prohibited from simultaneously holding seats in the Congress, they often write legislation and allow a Senator or Representative to introduce it for them. The President can further influence the legislative branch through the constitutionally mandated annual report to Congress, which may be either written or oral, but in modern times is the State of the Union address, which often outlines the President's legislative proposals for the coming year.

Pursuant to Article II, Section 3, Clause 2 of the Constitution, the President may convene either or both houses of the Congress. Conversely, if both houses fail to agree on a date of adjournment, the President may appoint a date for the Congress to adjourn.

Selection processEdit

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington

George Washington, the first President of the United States of America


Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets the principal qualifications one must meet to be eligible to the office of President. A President must:

Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no eligible person can be elected President more than twice. The Twenty-second Amendment also specifies that if any eligible person who serves as President or Acting President for more than two years of a term for which some other eligible person was elected President, then the former can only be elected President once. Scholars disagree whether anyone no longer eligible to be elected President could be elected Vice President, pursuant to the qualifications set out under the Twelfth Amendment.[7]

The Constitution also disqualifies other eligible persons from the Presidency. Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, the Senate has the option, upon conviction, of disqualifying convicted individuals from holding other federal offices, including the Presidency.[8] Also, Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any eligible person who, having sworn an oath to support the U.S. Constitution, and later rebelled against the United States, from becoming President, unless each house of the Congress has removed the disqualification by a two-thirds vote.

Campaigns and nominationEdit

Main article: United States presidential primary

The modern Presidential campaign begins before the primary elections, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates in advance of their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party's nominee for President. Typically, the party's Presidential candidate chooses a Vice Presidential nominee, and this choice is rubber-stamped by the convention.

Nominees participate in nationally televised debates, and while the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic and Republican nominees, third party candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot in the 1992 debates. Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.

Election and oathEdit

US Electoral College Map

A map of the United States showing the number of electoral votes allocated to each state; 270 electoral votes are required for a majority out of 538 overall.

Main article: Electoral College (United States)

Presidents are elected indirectly in the United States. A number of electors, collectively known as the Electoral College, officially select the President. On Election Day, voters in each of the states and the District of Columbia cast ballots for these electors. Each state is allocated a number of electors, equal to the size of its delegation in both Houses of Congress combined. Generally, the ticket that wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes and thus has its slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College.

The winning slate of electors meet at its state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, to vote. They then send a record of that vote to Congress. The vote of the electors is opened by the sitting Vice President, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the President.

Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the President's term of office begins at noon on January 20 of the year following the election. This date, known as Inauguration Day, marks the beginning of the four-year terms of both the President and Vice President. Before executing the powers of the office, the President is constitutionally required to take the presidential oath:

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.[9]

Although not required, Presidents have traditionally used a Bible to take oath of office and suffixed "So help me God!" to the end of the oath. Further, though no law requires that the oath of office be administered by any specific person, Presidents are traditionally sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States.

FDR in 1933

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms before the adoption of the Twenty-second Amendment.

Tenure and term limitsEdit

The term of office for President and Vice President is four years. George Washington, the first president, set an unofficial precedent of serving only two terms, which subsequent presidents followed until 1940. Before Franklin D. Roosevelt, attempts at a third term were encouraged by supporters of Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt; neither of these attempts succeeded, however. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt declined to seek a third term but allowed his political party to "draft" him as their presidential candidate, and was subsequently re-elected to a third term. In 1941, the U.S. became involved in World War II, which later lead voters to elect Roosevelt to a fourth term in 1944.

After the war, and in response to Roosevelt's shattering of precedent, the Twenty-second Amendment was ratified, barring anyone from being elected president more than twice, or once if that person served more than half of another president's term. Harry S. Truman, who was President at the time of the amendment's ratification, and by the amendment's provisions exempt from its limitation, also briefly sought a third term before withdrawing from the 1952 election.

Since the amendment's ratification, four presidents have served two full terms: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush sought a second term, but were defeated. Richard Nixon was elected to a second term, but resigned before completing it. Lyndon B. Johnson was the only president under the amendment to be eligible to serve more than two terms in total, having served for only fourteen months following John F. Kennedy's assassination. However, he chose not to run in the 1968 election. Gerald Ford sought a full term after serving out the last two years and five months of Nixon's second term, but was not elected.


Presidential pay history
Date established Salary Salary in 2009


September 24, 1789 $25,000 $566,000
March 3, 1873 $50,000 $865,000
March 4, 1909 $75,000 $1,714,000
January 19, 1949 $100,000 $906,000
January 20, 1969 $200,000 $1,175,000
January 20, 2001 $400,000 $487,000

The President earns $400,000 per year, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 non-taxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment.[13][14] The most recent raise in salary was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 and went into effect in 2001.

The White House in Washington, D.C. serves as the official place of residence for the President; he is entitled to use its staff and facilities, including medical care, recreation, housekeeping, and security services.

For ground travel, the president uses an armored presidential limousine, built on a heavily modified Cadillac-based chassis.[15] One of two identical Boeing VC-25 aircraft, which are extensively modified versions of Boeing 747-200B airliners, serve as long distance travel for the President, and are referred to as Air Force One while the president is on board.[16][17] The president also uses a United States Marine Corps helicopter, designated Marine One when the president is aboard.

The United States Secret Service is charged with protecting the sitting President and his family. As part of their protection, Presidents, First Ladies, their children and other immediate family members, and other prominent persons and locations are assigned Secret Service codenames.[18] The use of such names was originally for security purposes and dates to a time when sensitive electronic communications were not routinely encrypted; today, the names simply serve for purposes of brevity, clarity and tradition.[19][20]

Vacancy or disabilityEdit

Vacancies in the office of President may arise under several possible circumstances: death, resignation and removal from office.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution allows the House of Representatives to impeach high federal officials, including the President, for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 gives the Senate the power to remove impeached officials from office, given a two-thirds vote to convict. Two Presidents have thus far been impeached by the House, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither was subsequently convicted by the Senate; however, Johnson was acquitted by just one vote.

Under Section 3 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the President may transfer the presidential powers and duties to the Vice President, who then becomes Acting President, by transmitting a statement to the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate stating the reasons for the transfer. The President resumes the discharge of the presidential powers and duties when he transmits, to those two officials, a written declaration stating that resumption. This transfer of power may occur for any reason the President considers appropriate; in 2002 and again in 2007, President George W. Bush briefly transferred Presidential authority to Vice President Dick Cheney. In both cases, this was done to accommodate a medical procedure which required Bush to be sedated; Bush returned to duty later the same day.[21]

Under Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet may transfer the presidential powers and duties from the President to the Vice President once they transmit to the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate a statement declaring the President's incapacity to discharge the presidential powers and duties. If this occurs, then the Vice President will assume the presidential powers and duties as Acting President; however, the President can declare that no such inability exists and resume the discharge of the presidential powers and duties. If the Vice President and Cabinet contest this claim, it is up to Congress, which must meet within two days if not already in session, to decide the merit of the claim.

The United States Constitution mentions the resignation of the President but does not regulate the form of such a resignation or the conditions for its validity. By Act of Congress, the only valid evidence of the President's decision to resign is a written instrument declaring the resignation signed by the President and delivered to the office of the Secretary of State.[22] On August 9, 1974, facing likely impeachment in the midst of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon became the only President ever to resign from office. Just before his resignation, the House Judiciary Committee had reported favorably on articles of impeachment against him.

The Constitution states that the Vice President is to be the President's successor in the case of a vacancy. If the offices of President and Vice President both are either vacant or have a disabled holder of that office, the next officer in the Presidential line of succession, the Speaker of the House, becomes Acting President. The line extends to the President pro tempore of the Senate after the Speaker, followed by every member of the Cabinet in a set order.



Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter dedicate the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 1991.

Beginning in 1959, all living former presidents were granted a pension, an office and a staff. The pension has increased numerous times with Congressional approval. Retired presidents now receive a pension based on the salary of the current administration's cabinet secretaries, which is $191,300 as of 2008.[23] Some former Presidents have also collected congressional pensions.[24] The Former Presidents Act, as amended, also provides former presidents with travel funds and franking privileges.

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 ten years after leaving office.[25]

Some presidents have had significant careers after leaving office. Prominent examples include William Howard Taft's tenure as Chief Justice of the United States and Herbert Hoover's work on government reorganization after World War II. Grover Cleveland, whose bid for reelection failed in 1888, was elected president again four years later in 1892. Two former presidents served in Congress after leaving the White House; John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, serving there for seventeen years, and Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate in 1875. John Tyler served in the provisional Congress of the Confederate States during the Civil War and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died before it convened. More recently, Richard Nixon made multiple foreign trips to countries including China and Russia, and was lauded as an elder statesman.[26] Jimmy Carter has become a global human rights campaigner, international arbiter and election monitor, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Bill Clinton has taken on some work as an 'elder statesman', most notable for his involvement in the negotiations that led to the release of two American Journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee from North Korea. Bill Clinton has also been active politically since his presidential term ended, working with his wife, Hillary Clinton on her presidential bid.

Presidential librariesEdit

Main article: Presidential library

Each President since Herbert Hoover has created a repository known as a presidential library for preserving and making available his papers, records and other documents and materials. Completed libraries are deeded to and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); the initial funding for building and equipping each library must come from private, non-federal sources.[citation needed] There are currently thirteen presidential libraries in the NARA system. There are also a number of presidential libraries maintained by state governments and private foundations, such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by the State of Illinois.

Currently there are four living former Presidents:

See alsoEdit


  1. Our Government • The Executive Branch, The White House
  2. "The Executive Branch". Retrieved on 2009-01-27. . Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is counted as both the 22nd and the 24th President. Because of this, all presidents after the 23rd have their official listing increased by one.
  3. Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist #69 (reposting). Retrieved June 15, 2007.
  4. Shurtleff v. United States, 189 U.S. 311 (1903); Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926).
  5. Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935) and Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988), respectively.
  6. Foreign-born Americans who were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted were also eligible to become President, provided they met the age and residency requirements. However, this allowance has since become obsolete.
  7. See: Peabody, Bruce G.; Gant, Scott E. (1999). "The Twice and Future President: Constitutional Interstices and the Twenty-Second Amendment". Minnesota Law Review (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Law Review) 83 (565). ; alternatively, see: Albert, Richard (2005). "The Evolving Vice Presidency". Temple Law Review (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education) 78 (811, at 856–9). 
  8. See GPO Annotated U.S. Constitution, 2002 Ed., at 611 & nn.772–73.
  9. U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 8.
  10. Presidential and Vice Presidential Salaries. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
  11. Relative Value in US Dollars. Measuring Worth. Retrieved May 30, 2006.
  12. Dept. of Labor Inflation Calculator. Inflation Calculator. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  13. "How much does the U.S. president get paid?". Howstuffworks. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
  14. Salaries of Federal Officials: A Fact Sheet. United States Senate website. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
  15. New Presidential Limousine enters Secret Service Fleet US Secret Service Press Release (January 14, 2009) Retrieved on 2009-01-20
  16. Air Force One. White House Military Office. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
  17. Any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the president will use the call sign "Air Force One." Similarly, "Navy One", "Army One", and "Coast Guard One" are the call signs used if the president is aboard a craft belonging to these services. "Executive One" becomes the call sign of any civilian aircraft when the president boards.
  18. "Junior Secret Service Program: Assignment 7. Code Names". National Park Service. Retrieved on 2007-08-18. 
  19. "Candidate Code Names Secret Service Monikers Used On The Campaign Trail". CBS. 2008-09-16. Retrieved on 2008-11-12. 
  20. "Obama's Secret Service Code Name revealed". Eurweb. 2008-09-16. 
  21. Guardian, "Bush colonoscopy leaves Cheney in charge", July 20, 2007
  22. 3 U.S.C. § 20
  23. "Former Presidents Act (FPA)". U.S. Senate. 1958. Retrieved on 2007-01-05. 
  24. "Former presidents cost U.S. taxpayers big bucks". Toledo Blade. 2007-01-07. Retrieved on 2007-05-22. 
  25. 18 U.S.C. § 3056
  26. Biography of Richard M. Nixon, The White House

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit



Presidential historiesEdit