Executive Orders

The form, substance and numbers of presidential orders (jump to table below)  has varied dramatically in the history of the US Presidency.  Numbering of Executive Orders began in 1907 by the Department of State, which assigned numbers to all the orders in their files, dating from 1862 (Lord 1944, viii).  Through those efforts, the frequency of unnumbered orders declined sharply.  President Hoover attempted to bring further order and regularity to the processing and documenting of Executive orders (ibid). 

But it was not until the Federal Register Act in 1936 that a more thorough contemporaneous documentation of Executive Orders began.  Before then, and occasionally afterwards, discovery of an order not previously counted has resulted in assigning a number already in use together with an associated letter (e.g., 7709, 7709-A).  This practice explains why the total number of orders issued may be greater than the result that would be obtained by subtracting a president’s first order number from his last (and adding 1). 

Today virtually all numbered Executive Orders are published.  However, the Federal Register Act specified that such orders need not be published if they had “no general applicability and legal effect.”  Thus, the text of some post-1936 orders is not available.

In addition to the numbered executive orders, there are many unnumbered orders (see Lord 1943).  The best known compilation includes “over 1500” unnumbered orders, but the editor notes that the true total is unknown.  Estimates have reportedly ranged as high as 50,000.  The editor, Lord, notes emphatically that “no distinction can be made between numbered and unnumbered Orders on the basis of subject matter, general applicability, public interest, or legal effect.”

There have always been many forms of Presidential orders in addition to the numbered Executive Orders and Executive Orders included in the published "unnumbered series".  Currently, these commonly are called “Memorandums” but can have many titles.  Decades ago, such documents were commonly titled “Letters.”

In this table we present the total number of Executive Orders issued by presidential term (not calendar year).  Thus, this table does not include other forms of written presidential orders (such as memorandums), or discretionary executive actions not accompanied by a published presidential directive. For an illustration of the many different kinds of presidential directives that are NOT called "Executive Orders" see our Analysis "Biden in Action."

The table below is modified and updated from time to time.  This table includes our own original tallies for the first FDR term based on Lord (1943, 1944).  Our numbers still differ slightly from the numbers posted in the NARA Executive Order Disposition Tables.  But we are confident that we have correctly counted the Lord entries (and the NARA figures are very close to ours). 

Our APP document collection of numbered Executive Orders is complete with respect to published Orders starting in 1945.  We are adding earlier orders to the collection as possible, and welcome (and will gladly acknowledge) contributions to this effort.  We will also be adding our independent tallies for unnumbered orders. 

Sources:

Lord, Clifford L., ed. 1944. Presidential Executive Orders, Numbered 1-8030, 1862-1938. Prepared by the Historical Records Survey, New York City.  New York:  Books Inc.

Lord, Clifford L., ed. 1943.  List and Index of Presidential Executive Orders (Unnumbered Series, 1789 – 1941).  New Jersey Historical Records Survey, Works Progress Administration, Newark, NJ

Executive Orders by President, Average Per Years in Office
President Term Total Orders Avg/Year Yrs in Office EO Number Range
George Washington (F) Total 8 1 7.85 unnumbered
John Adams (F)

Total

1 0.25 4.00 unnumbered
Thomas Jefferson (D-R) Total 4 0.50 8.00 unnumbered
James Madison (D-R)

Total

1 0.13 8.00 unnumbered
James Monroe (D-R) Total
1
0.13 8.00 unnumbered
John Quincy Adams (D-R)

Total

3 0.75 4.00 unnumbered
Andrew Jackson (D) Total
12
1.5 8.00 unnumbered
Martin van Buren (D)

Total

10 2.5 4.00 unnumbered
William Henry Harrison (W) Total
0
0 0.08 unnumbered
John Tyler (W)

Total

17 4.3 3.92 unnumbered
James K. Polk (D) Total
18
4.5 4.00 unnumbered
Zachary Taylor (W) Total 5 3.7 1.35 unnumbered
Millard Fillmore (W) Total 12 4.5 2.65 unnumbered
Franklin Pierce (D)

Total

35
9 4.00 unnumbered
James Buchanan (D) Total 16 4 4.00 unnumbered
Abraham Lincoln (R)

Total

48 12 4.12 unnumbered
Andrew Johnson (D) Total
79
20 3.89 unnumbered
Ulysses S. Grant (R)

Total

217 27 8.00 unnumbered
Rutherford B. Hayes (R) Total
92
23 4.00 unnumbered
James Garfield (R) Total 6 11 0.55 unnumbered
Chester Arthur (R) Total 96 28 3.46 unnumbered
Grover Cleveland - I (D)

Total

113 28 4.00 unnumbered
Benjamin Harrison (R) Total
143
36 4.00 unnumbered
Grover Cleveland - II (D)

Total

140 35 4.00 unnumbered
William McKinley (R) Total
185
41 4.53 unnumbered
Theodore Roosevelt (R)

Total

1,081 145 7.47  
William Howard Taft (R) Total
724
181 4.00  
Woodrow Wilson (D)

Total

1,803 225 8.00  
Warren G. Harding (R) Total
522
217 2.41  
Calvin Coolidge (R)

Total

1,203 215 5.59  
Herbert Hoover (R) Total 968 242 4.00 5075 - 6070
Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)

Total

3,721 307 12.12 6071 - 9537
Harry S. Truman (D) Total
907
117 7.78 9538 - 10431
  I 504 133 3.78 9538 - 10029
  II 403 101 4.00 10030 - 10431
Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)

Total

484 61 8.00 10432 - 10913
  I 266 67 4.00 10432 - 10695-A
  II 218 55 4.00 10696 - 10913
John F. Kennedy (D) Total 214 75 2.84 10914 - 11127
Lyndon B. Johnson (D)

Total

325
63 5.17 11128 - 11451
Richard Nixon (R) Total 346 62 5.55 11452 - 11797
  I 247 62 4.00 11452 - 11698
  II 99 64 1.55 11699 - 11797
Gerald R. Ford (R)

Total

169
69 2.45 11798 - 11966
Jimmy Carter (D) Total 320 80 4.00 11967 - 12286
Ronald Reagan (R)

Total

381
48 8.00 12287 - 12667
  I 213 53 4.00 12287 - 12499
  II 168 42 4.00 12500 - 12667
George Bush (R) Total 166 42 4.00 12668 - 12833
William J. Clinton (D)

Total

364 46 8.00 12834 - 13197
  I 200 50 4.00 12834 - 13033
  II 164 41 4.00 13034 - 13197
George W. Bush (R) Total
291
36 8.00 13198 - 13488
  I 173 43 4.00 13198 - 13370
  II 118 30 4.00 13371 - 13488
Barack Obama (D)

Total

276 35 8.00 13489 - 13764
  I 147 37 4.00 13489 - 13635
  II 129 32 4.00 13636 - 13764
Donald J. Trump (R)

Total

220

55 4.00 13765 - 13984
Joseph R. Biden (D) Total 66 94 * 0.67 13985 - 14050
* The APP provides an "average" per year, monthly after the 20th day. The "average" for Biden reflects the "pace" of EOs and is expected to significantly drop each month of his presidency. See our "Biden in Action" analysis for reflections on Biden's pace.

Note: EO averages are usually updated monthly following the 20th day of the month to recompute average per year. Orders issued between updates can be accessed here on the Executive Orders page 

KEY:  D: Democrat; R: Republican; D-R: Democratic-Republican; F: Federalist; W:  Whig


Last Updated

October 19, 2021

Notes

1 1789 to 1945 (Roosevelt) data includes "numbered" and "unnumbered" executive orders. 1945 (Truman) & 1967 (Johnson) data includes only numbered executive orders including those with letter designations (ex. Executive Order 9577-A).
 

Source(s)

• 1789 - 1945 (Roosevelt) data from Lyn Ragsdale, "Vital Statisitcs on the Presidency: Washington to Clinton." rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1998); data compiled by John Woolley, The American Presidency Project; and figures from the National Archives and Records Administration.
• 1945 (Truman) - present data compiled by Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project, from documents contained in the Federal Register.

Citations

Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, "Executive Orders." The American Presidency Project. Ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters. Santa Barbara, CA. 1999-2022. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/323876