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Presidential Papers, Speeches, and Executive Orders

This guide provides information about, and links to, finding presidential papers.

Executive Orders

Presidential executive orders are a particular type of presidential document that has the force of law founded on his authority derived from the Constitution or a federal statute. There is no law defining "executive order"; the meaning of the term has varied over the years. Prior to 1936, a document was an "executive order" because the president himself designated it as such. On February 18, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 7298 prescribing a uniform manner of preparing executive orders.

For most of U.S. history there was no standardized way of numbering and publishing executive orders. The Department of State was the official repository of executive orders, but did not assign numbers to them until 1907. Their retrospective numbering of the orders extended back only to the Civil War, and many remained unnumbered due to a poor filing system. Thus, a given executive order might be in the numbered series or the unnumbered series. The numbered series dates from 1862 to present, while the unnumbered series dates from 1789 to 1941. (President Hoover took steps to regularize the filing of executive orders in 1929, but a few unnumbered orders persisted until the 1940s.)

The Federal Register Act of 1935 required that every executive order be filed with the Office of the Federal Register, and that, beginning in 1936, all such orders of general applicability be published in the Federal Register. Thus, beginning in 1936 the great majority of Executive Orders can be found by consulting the:

and Title 3 of the annual:

The Federal Register and the Code of Regulations may also be found on the database HeinOnline, from 1936 and 1938 to present, respectively:

For earlier orders, there are two finding guides: