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Research Guides

Government Documents: Presidential Directives


Presidential Seal

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Presidential Directives

Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution establishes executive power vested in a President.

Presidential directives are the mechanism through which the president prescribes the conduct of business in the executive branch.

Originally, these directives were used primarily as administrative tools; however, they have increasingly taken on a lawmaking role and have set policy. For an explanation and review of presidential directives, see the CRS Report Presidential Directives: Background and Overview . There are several types of presidential directives. The main ones are:

  • Executive Orders (E.O.)

    Executive Orders may be administrative (establishing new offices within the executive branch) or policy-setting (President Roosevelt's executive order requiring the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II). Almost all current executive orders have the force of law. Executive orders beginning in 1862 are numbered, while orders issued between 1789 and 1862 are unnumbered.

  • Proclamations (Proc.)

    Proclamations can have significant legal force and effect (declaring emergency situations or invoking the President's constitutional powers as commander-in-chief) or be more celebratory in nature (President Washington's 1789 proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday).

  • Other types of presidential directives

    • presidential letters designating individuals to hold specified positions in the government
    • Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) - presidential decisions about homeland security policies
    • letters on tariffs and international trade
    • military orders
    • national security instruments - not required to be published, generally highly classified, only available after a number of years

Finding Executive Orders and Proclamations

A 1935 act of Congress required the publication of most presidential orders and proclamations in the Federal Register and these cumulate annually in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 3. Wellesley has presidential orders and proclamations in various locations. Use the following table to find what you need.

Document Year
Source Title
Call Number
Available Online
1789 to present (proclamations only ) Statutes at Large Clapp Docs KF 50 .U5 American Memory Collection
1789 to present; search or browse
1789 to present    

American Presidency Project

Executive Orders


March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1933 Proclamations and Executive Orders Herbert Hoover Clapp Docs J 82 D5 2 vols.  
March 13, 1936 through 1975 Code of Federal Regulations Title 3 Clapp Docs KF 70 A3  
1972-1990 United State Code Congressional and Administrative News Clapp Docs KF 63 .A2  
1977-1989 Public Papers of the Presidents Clapp Docs J 80 .A283 American Presidency Project
1990-1999 Code of Federal Regulations Title 3 AE 2.106/3:3/
GPO Access (1996 to present),
search or browse
1993 to present Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents   GPO Access, search or browse
1994 to present Federal Register   GPO Access, search or browse

Indexes of Executive Orders

How to Determine if Proclamations and Executive Orders are Still in Effect