Everything You Need to Know About Executive Orders

I bet you’ve been seeing these two words everywhere in the news lately: Executive Orders.

Since Executive Orders are very prominent in the news today, you would think this is some kind of new practice. But it’s not; they’ve actually been around for as long as the U.S. Constitution and every president has used them. In fact, it's a very common practice for new presidents to issue executive orders within their first few months of office.

What is the definition of an executive order?

According to the U.S. National Archives, executive orders are official documents that the President of the United States issues to manage the operations of the Federal Government, and mandates specific actions to change an existing governmental practice. They are also one of the most powerful and formal documents out there.

When these documents are signed by the president, they appear in the Federal Register and can be read by anyone online via a PDF document. Executive orders are numbered consecutively in the order in which they were signed. Former President Obama’s last executive order was given the number 13738, so President Trump’s first executive order has the number 13739.

How do executive orders influence our government?

Executive orders fall under the umbrella of executive actions. These executive actions derive their power from Article II of the Constitution, which talks about the Executive Branch of our government. Executive orders are not to be confused with presidential memorandums, which are a step below executive orders and basically outline the administration's position on a policy issue.

The dangerous game of executive orders.

However, executive orders come with a lot of controversy. And as of late, there’s been a lot of controversy among all topics in the political realm whether it’s related to an executive order or not. The controversy with executive orders is usually, the opposition party accuses the president of overstepping his authority by changing the law rather than working within its boundaries.

In addition, presidents have a desire to bypass Congress to mandate orders. Since there are no legal boundaries for executive orders, Congress actually doesn’t need to approve executive orders and they can’t overturn an order -- even if Congress as a whole doesn’t agree with the order.

Fun facts about executive orders.

  • One of the most famous executive orders was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed about 3 million slaves during the Civil War
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt holds the record for most executive orders with 3,522 documents signed during his 12-year tenure as president.
  • Second only to FDR is Calvin Coolidge with 1,203 executive orders.
  • Over 13,000 executive orders have been signed.
  • The only person who can reverse an executive order is another president


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