President of the United States

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The President of the United States (often abbreviated "POTUS") is the head of state of the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is also the chief executive of the federal government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The full, but rarely used, title is President of the United States of America.

Because of the superpower status of the United States, the American President is widely considered to be the most powerful person on Earth, and is usually one of the world's best-known public figures. During the Cold War, the President was sometimes referred to as "the leader of the free world," a phrase that is still invoked today.

The United States was the first nation to create the office of President as the head of state in a modern republic. Today the office is widely emulated all over the world in nations with a presidential system of government.

The 43rd and current President of the United States is George W. Bush. His first term was 20012005; his second term began in 2005 and will end in 2009.


Requirements to hold office

Section One of Article II of the U.S. Constitution establishes the requirements one must meet in order to become President. The president must be a natural-born citizen of the United States (or a citizen of the United States at the time the U.S. Constitution was adopted), be at least 35 years old, and have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.

The natural-born citizenship requirement has been the subject of controversy recently. Some commentators argue that the clause should be repealed because it excludes qualified people based on so-called "technicalities", and fails to appreciate the contributions made by immigrants to American society. Supporters counter that the requirement "protects" the United States from foreign interference — another country could send an emigrant to the United States and through subterfuge get them elected. Many prominent public officials are barred from the presidency because they were not natural-born citizens. Constitutional amendments are occasionally proposed to remove or modify this requirement, but none have been successful.


Main article: U.S. presidential election

Presidential elections are held every four years. Presidents are elected indirectly, through the Electoral College. The President and the Vice President are the only two nationally elected officials in the United States. (Legislators are elected on a state-by-state basis; other executive officers and judges are appointed.)

Old system

Originally, each elector voted for two people for President. The votes were tallied and the person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) became President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President.

Current system

The Amendment XII in 1804 changed the electoral process by directing the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, or if no candidate receives a majority, the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, as necessary.


The modern Presidential election process begins with the primary elections, during which the major parties (currently the Democrats and the Republicans) each select a nominee to unite behind; the nominee in turn selects a running mate to join him on the ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate. The two major candidates then face off in the general election, usually participating in nationally televised debates before Election Day and campaigning across the country to explain their views and plans to the voters. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states, through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.

Term(s) of office

Under the Constitution, the President serves a four-year term. Amendment XXII (which took effect in 1951 and was first applied to Dwight D. Eisenhower starting in 1953) limits the president to either two four-year terms or a maximum of ten years in office should he have succeeded to the Presidency previously and served two years at most completing his predecessor's term. Since then, three presidents have served two full terms: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Incumbent President George W. Bush would become the fourth if he completes his current (and second) term in 2009. (Richard Nixon was elected to a second term but resigned before completing it.)


The United States presidential line of succession is a detailed list of government officials to serve or act as President upon a vacancy in the office due to death, resignation, or removal from office (by impeachment and conviction). The line of 17 begins with the Vice President and ends with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Legislation to add the Secretary of Homeland Security to the line of succession is pending in Congress.

The Constitution provided that, if a President were to die, resign, or be removed from office, the "powers and duties" of the office would devolve upon the Vice President, Article II, Section 1 (which seems to imply the position of acting president), and that he [Vice President] shall "exercise the office of President of the United States," Article I, Section 2 (which seems to imply actual assumption of the presidency itself). People did not agree as to the exact meaning and intention of the text, and whether the Vice President would succeed to the office of President or merely act as President. After the death of William Henry Harrison, however, Vice President John Tyler asserted that he had become the President, not merely Acting President, and this precedent was followed in all subsequent cases.

The 25th amendment eliminated this ambiguity by confirming the Vice President as first in the order as well as spelling out a process for him to serve as Acting President should the President become disabled. A provision of the United States Code (3 U.S.C. § 19) establishes the rest of the succession line.

To date, no officer other than the Vice President has been called upon to act as President.


Main article: Powers of the President of the United States

The President, according to the Constitution, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this responsibility, the president presides over the executive branch of the federal government; a vast organization of about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. A President-elect will make as many as 6,000 appointments to government positions, including appointments to the federal judicary. The Senate must consent to all judicial appointments as well as the appointments of all principal officers. The President may veto laws made by the United States Congress but cannot personally initiate laws. Congress can overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and may make treaties, but the Senate must confirm these. The political scientist Richard Neustadt said, "Presidential power is the power to persuade and the power to persuade is the ability to bargain". He was commenting on the fact that the President's domestically constitutional power is limited, despite the modern expectation of Presidents to have a legislative program, and successful bargaining with Congress is usually essential to Presidential success.

Presidential salary and benefits


Presidential Pay History
Date established Salary
September 24, 1789 $25,000
March 3, 1873 $50,000
March 4, 1909 $75,000
January 19, 1949 $100,000
January 20, 1969 $200,000
January 20, 2001 $400,000

The First U.S. Congress voted to pay George Washington a salary of $25,000 a year — a significant sum in 1789. Washington, already a successful man, refused to accept his salary. John F. Kennedy donated his salary to charities.

Traditionally, the President is the highest-paid government employee. Consequently, the President's salary serves as a traditional cap for all other federal officials, such as the Chief Justice. A raise for 2001 was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 because other officials who receive annual cost-of-living increases had salaries approaching the President's. Consequently, to raise the salaries of the other federal employees, the President's salary had to be raised as well.


North side of the White House
North side of the White House

Among the many non-salary benefits are living and working in the White House mansion in Washington, DC

The President's principal workplace and official residence is the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. His official vacation or weekend residence is Camp David in Maryland. Many presidents have also had their own homes.


While traveling, the President is able to conduct all the functions of the office aboard several specially built Boeing 747s, known as Air Force One. The President travels around Washington in an armored Cadillac limousine, often refered to informally as "Cadillac One," equipped with bullet-proof windows and tires and a self-contained ventilation system in the event of a biological or chemical attack. When traveling longer distances around the Washington area or on presidential trips, the President travels aboard the presidential helicopter, Marine One. The President also has the use of: Army One, Coast Guard One, Executive One, and Navy One. Additionally, the President has full use of Camp David in Maryland, a retreat which is occasionally used as a casual setting for hosting foreign dignitaries.

Secret Service

The President and his family are always protected by a Secret Service detail. 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 10 years after leaving office.

Presidents continue to enjoy other benefits after leaving office such as free mailing privileges, free office space, the right to hold a diplomatic passport and budgets for office help and staff assistance. However, it was not until after Harry S. Truman (1958) that Presidents received a pension after they left office. Additionally, since the presidency of Herbert Hoover, Presidents receive funding from the National Archives and Records Administration upon leaving office to establish their own presidential library. These are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials for each President since Herbert Hoover.


Main article: List of Presidents of the United States. See also President of the Continental Congress.
  • Note that Cleveland was elected twice nonconsecutively, throwing off the numbers of all presidents after him (starting with McKinley). Thus, George W. Bush is the 43rd president although he is the 42nd person to hold the office.


Life after the Presidency

Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and their wives at the funeral of President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and their wives at the funeral of President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.

After a president of the U.S. leaves office, the title "President" continues to be applied to that person the rest of his life. Former presidents continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-presidential careers. Notable examples have included William Howard Taft's tenure as Chief Justice of the United States, Jimmy Carter's current career as a global human rights campaigner and best-selling writer, and most recently George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton's combined effort to appeal for donations from Americans after the Asian tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Andrew Johnson was elected to the same Senate that tried his impeachment after his term was over. Furthermore, John Quincy Adams enjoyed a prosperous career in the House of Representatives after his term in the White House.

As of 2005, there are four living former presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The most recently deceased President is Ronald Reagan, who died in June 2004.

There have never been more than five former presidents alive at any given time in American history. There have been three periods during which five former presidents were alive:

There have been six periods in American history during which no former presidents were alive:

Herbert Hoover had the longest post-presidency, 31 years. He left office in 1933 and died in 1964. Still alive today is Gerald Ford, who has been an ex-president for 28 years, as of 2005. James K. Polk had the shortest post-presidency. He died on June 15, 1849, a mere three months after the expiration of his term.

Between the birth of George Washington in 1732 and the birth of Bill Clinton in 1946, future presidents have been born in every decade except two: the 1810s and the 1930s. Between the death of George Washington in 1799 and the present, presidents or ex-presidents have died in every decade except four: the 1800s, 1810s, 1950s, and 1980s.

Presidential facts

Transition events

Other facts

Presidential authority, past and present: Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore
Presidential authority, past and present: Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore
  • All presidents have been white males and nominally Christian (mostly Protestant). Most presidents have been of substantially British descent, but there have been a few who came from a different background:
    • Predominantly Dutch: Martin Van Buren
      • Although Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt had Dutch names, neither was predominantly Dutch; each had only one Dutch grandfather. Theodore's other three grandparents were all British; Franklin's other three grandparents were of Puritan stock.
    • Predominantly German: Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower
    • Predominantly Irish:William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton
  • Only one president, James Buchanan, remained a bachelor. Bachelor Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom while in office, while both John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson became widowers and remarried while in office.
  • Historical rankings of U.S. Presidents by academic historians usually regard three Presidents — in chronological order, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — to be the three most successful presidents by a wide margin.
  • The Secret Service and some agencies in the government use acronyms as jargon. Since the Truman Administration the President of the United States has been called POTUS, pronounced "poh-tuss". The wife of the President, traditionally referred to as the First Lady is called FLOTUS, pronounced "flo-tuss". The Vice President of the United States is often abbreviated to VPOTUS, pronounced "vee-poh-tuss".
  • The President is known to be able to affect trends in popular culture. An endorsement of a book or a movie by a president can easily launch the career of a author or a filmmaker. For example, Ronald Reagan's admiration of The Hunt For Red October may have helped to cause Tom Clancy to become a nationally acclaimed bestselling author, something that may never have happened had it not been for Reagan's endorsement.

Related topics

Further reading

  • Leonard Leo, James Taranto, and William J. Bennett. Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House. Simon and Schuster, June, 2004, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0743254333
  • Waldman, Michael, and George Stephanopoulos, My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush. Sourcebooks Trade. September 2003. ISBN 1402200277
  • Couch, Ernie, Presidential Trivia. Rutledge Hill Press. 1 March 1996. ISBN 1558534121
  • Lang, J. Stephen, The Complete Book of Presidential Trivia. Pelican Publishing. September 2001. ISBN 1565548779


  1. ^  Kamen, Al. "If You're Available Jan. 20 . . ." Washington Post, 17 November 2004.
  2. ^  Library of Congress. "Presidential Inaugrations: Presidential Oaths of Office."
  3. ^  Excerpt from Coolidge's autobiography.

External links

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List of Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States and Candidates

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