A Brief History
On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which ordered the desegregation of the US military. At times presidents cannot or will not wait for congress to act on a subject and they take it into their own hands by issuing an “Executive Order.” President Obama is currently under attack by Republicans for using this non-legislative authority, somewhat hypocritically when in fact George W. Bush used many more executive orders than Obama (291 to 183). Franklin Roosevelt holds the record for the most executive orders with a whopping 3721. Second place is Woodrow Wilson with 1803. while Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt are the only other presidents with over a thousand executive orders each. Here we list 10 of the most interesting executive orders issued by presidents. With almost 14,000 to pick from, of course we miss many big ones. Cracked Historical fact: Only William Henry Harrison failed to issue a single executive order, understandable since he died right after inauguration.
10. Defining the Flag, 1959.
With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the union, President Eisenhower established the official format of the US flag reflecting 50 states, which has now lasted over 55 years.
9. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1961.
One of President Kennedy’s first orders, we may take the EEOC for granted today, but back in the day it was a groundbreaking step toward equalizing civil rights for all Americans.
8. Reforming the Intelligence Community, 1978.
President Carter infuriated and depressed the US intelligence community with his order reforming the spy operations of the US. He also included further reinforcement to President Ford’s ban on political assassinations.
7. Formation of FEMA, 1979.
President Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency, something President George W. Bush probably wishes never happened. FEMA is now a giant agency at the forefront of the news during every large natural disaster in the country.
6. CCC and WPA, 1933.
We combine these 2 executive orders as representative of Franklin Roosevelt’s best efforts to cope with the Great Depression (not to be confused with Lebron James leaving the Cavaliers, but hey, he is back now!). The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Projects Administration put many Americans back to work doing things of critical public importance, planting trees out west to combat the Dust Bowl and building public buildings and other works. (Note: The author’s relatives that lived during the Depression revered FDR for these 2 programs.)
5. Lawful Interrogations, 2009.
In the wake of controversy and national debate over “enhanced interrogation techniques” and flat out torture of people by the US or on behalf of the US by proxy, President Obama issued this order to regulate what our operatives could and could not do, removing ambiguity, at least to some extent. (By the way, the author of this article has been water boarded. It IS torture, and if you disagree, I recommend you get yourself water boarded and then form your opinion.)
4. Ban on Assassination, 1976.
President Ford contributed this seemingly common sense order, that the US would no longer authorize any political leaders to be assassinated by covert operators at the behest of the US. Fidel Castro sighed in relief.
3. Warren Commission, 1964.
President Johnson ordered the formation of an investigative commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. Ever since, the Warren Report produced by this commission has been picked apart and criticized as either incompetent or a cover up.
2. Desegregation of the Military, 1948.
In today’s world, with a president of African descent, top generals such as Colin Powell and African-Americans filling positions of fame and power throughout the US it is hard to believe that in a war for national survival such as World War II the US military thought blacks were not good enough to fight and die for their country (with some segregated exceptions, such as the Tuskegee Airmen). After World War II, with the major contribution of African-Americans in many aspects of the war effort, black Americans were adamant about achieving equal rights. Harry Truman agreed, and ordered an end to segregation in the military.
1. Emancipation Proclamation, 1863.
Abe Lincoln and the Republicans were adamant at the start of the Civil War that the fight was about preserving the union and not to get rid of slavery. In 1861, a congressional resolution was passed to that effect in an effort to reassure the seceding slave states that they could keep their “peculiar institution” if they came back. By 1863, the war had gone on longer and more extensively than had previously been predicted, and European countries were considering recognition of the Confederacy. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in states that had seceded (Maryland and Kentucky were exempt since they did not secede) in an effort to gain the moral upper hand and prevent European powers from supporting a slave nation against a government pledged to abolish slavery. Cracked Historical fact: Slavery did not become illegal in all states until after the Civil War.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which ones would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please read…
Mayer, Kenneth. With the Stroke of a Pen. Princeton University Press, 2002.