Columnist's note: Information in today's column comes from an article written by Dave Roos, "How Executive Orders Work," posted to howstuffworks.com.
Over the years I have wondered about executive orders. One president can sign one and the next president can come along and change it. Many executive orders only are in effect for the duration of the president who signed it. An executive order isn't a law because it wasn't passed by Congress.
The first president to sign an executive order goes all the way back to our first president, George Washington. President Washington's first executive order was to give instructions to federal officers to prosecute any citizen interfering with the war between England and France. He signed the order because Congress was not in session.
The only president who did not sign an order was President William Henry Harrison as he died one month after taking office.
Many presidents have signed executive orders on their first day in office. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to serve more than two terms, signed 3,721 executive orders, many of which were key parts of his sweeping New Deal reforms.
"... Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to manage a constitutional crisis when Congress was out of session," Roos wrote. "The year was 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. Armed militias, under the banner of state control, were attacking federal troops passing through Virginia and Maryland. John Merryman was the leader of one of the most active militias, so Lincoln had him captured and locked up in Fort McHenry outside Baltimore.
"Merryman's lawyers appealed for his legal right to appear in court to determine if he was being lawfully held, a concept known as habeas corpus," Roos continued. "Through an executive order, Lincoln called for a suspension of Merryman's right to habeas corpus, something that only Congress could do in times of rebellion or invasion. Lincoln explained his actions to Congress, which later passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863, officially giving the president the power that Lincoln had assumed."
President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to break 1,000 executive orders. He believed the president should do everything that was not explicitly forbidden by the Constitution to actively direct the affairs of the country, Roos wrote.
The greatest increase of executive orders were the years between World War I and World War II, including the years of the Great Depression. Congress allowed the president much leniency due to the military and economic crises of this era. The power that was extended was unprecedented, Roos wrote, but was believed to be in the best interests of the nation at the time.
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For example, FDR used his executive authority to seize control of factories, mines and other privately owned facilities for wartime production. As WW II drew to a close, Congress began to rein in the president's powers.
During the Korean War, President Truman had to deal with the prices of critical raw materials such as steel.
"Because the price of steel was unnaturally low, steelworkers weren't receiving their normal wages and raises," Roos wrote. "The result was a major labor dispute in the steel industry that threatened to cut off the steel supply in a time of war.
"In an attempt to avoid an all-out strike, Truman brought in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to strike a bargain between the steelworkers' unions and management," Roos continued. "When that failed, he called in the Federal Wage Stabilization Board, but the steelworkers rejected its recommendations. On the eve of a nationwide steelworkers strike, Truman decided to invoke his presidential authority and issue an executive order for the federal government to seize control of the nation's steel mills. The mill owners immediately sued to block the seizure and the case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected Truman's executive order as unconstitutional."
The Supreme Court decision was critical because it established a standard for executive power, Roos wrote.
"Executive orders offer a powerful and immediate way for a president to advance his policy priorities," Roos wrote. "... President Ronald Reagan used the direct power of executive orders to peel back layers of government regulation that he and his administration believed were hampering economic growth. President George W. Bush signed executive orders that approved more aggressive surveillance after 9/11 and limited public access to presidential documents. President Barack Obama increasingly relied on executive orders to forward his agenda in the face of an intransigent Congress. And President Trump has signed dozens of executive orders to push his divisive immigration policies and remove 'burdensome' regulations."
Personally, I find executive orders intriguing because with a stroke of the pen an order can be gone and replaced, not necessarily to our liking.
Next week: Al Sturgeon
Charese Yanney of Sioux City is owner and managing partner of Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation Co. She serves on the Siouxland Initiative Executive Committee, the Orpheum Theatre Preservation Board, the Orpheum Theatre Endowment Board and the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission.