Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Law Library

Presidential Documents

Scope and Access

As Commander and Chief of the United States, the President has the authority to issue documents that have legal effect. These documents can be very useful in understanding foreign policy, national security, and domestic policy. The purpose of this research guide is to describe the types of presidential documents and to provide descriptions and locations of the sources in which they can be found.

The links on this page are to free websites, to information about publications available in the law library or the main library (Hayden), and to commercial databases. Library locations and call numbers link to library catalog records, which provide information about location, availability, and currency of each item in the Ross-Blakley Law Library.

Westlaw and LexisNexis links will take you to the specified database if you have a password. These links work better if you are already logged in. The College of Law provides Westlaw and LexisNexis passwords to its law faculty, staff, and students.HeinOnline and LexisNexis Congressional databases are available on the ASU computer network, including remote access via ASURITE.

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Types of Presidential Documents

Proclamations and Executive Orders

Although there are no concrete distinctions between presidential proclamations and executive orders, usually proclamations deal with general matters of widespread interest (e.g., proclaiming a day of celebration), while executive orders relate to the conduct of government (e.g., organization of executive departments or direction to departments for implementation of policy).


Finding Aids:

Administrative Orders

Administrative Orders consists of findings, presidential determinations, memoranda, notices and letters. They differ from proclamations and executive orders in that they are not numbered. They receive treatment similar to proclamations and executive orders. 


Reorganization Plans

The President is authorized under 5 U.S.C. §§ 901–912 to evaluate the structure and duties of executive agencies and to make revisions as appropriate for the more efficient operation of the executive government. This can include the addition, elimination, or transfer of duties from an agency. For a reorganization plan to take effect, a joint resolution must be passed by the House and Senate approving the plan. Plans are numbered by year and plan number within that year.


Presidential Directives

Presidential Directives are orders issued by the President under the advisement of the National Security Council. Directives cover aspects of national security, military and foreign policy. Due to the sensitivity of information provided in the directives, many of these documents are classified. After a period of time, directives are reviewed to determine whether the information contained is still a security issue. After the review, the directives are then 1) Released and made public; 2) Released in part, or 3) Remain classified.

Presidents since Kennedy have issued directives but under different names:

  • Kennedy & Johnson — National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs)
  • Nixon and Ford — National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDMs)
  • Carter — Presidential Directives (PDs)
  • Reagan — National Security Decision Directives (NSDDs)
  • Bush — National Security Directives (NSDs)
  • Clinton — Presidential Decision Directives (PDDs)
  • George W Bush — National Security Presidential Directives (NSPDs)


Executive Agreements

As Executive Chief of the United States, the President has the authority to create international agreements. Unlike treaties which require the approval of 2/3 of the Senate, these executive agreements can be entered into without Senate approval. Executive agreements are initiated at the Executive level of government and are negotiated by a representative. Upon agreement of terms, the Secretary of State authorizes the negotiator to sign the agreement and the agreement enters into force. Although the Senate does not approve executive agreements, under the Case-Zablocki Act (1 U.S.C. § 112b), the Executive Branch must notify the Senate of the agreement within 60 days of the signing.

To locate executive agreements, please refer to the research guide, Treaties and Other International Agreements.

Miscellaneous Documents

Additional communications by the President include addresses and remarks, interviews with the media, communications to federal agencies and Congress, and meetings with foreign leaders. They can be found in the following sources:

Sources for Presidential Documents and Their Locations

Federal Register

Starting with Proclamation 2287 and Executive Order 7906 (1938), the Federal Register has printed most proclamations and executive orders. It also includes reorganization plans and administrative decisions such as presidential determinations, memoranda, notices and letters. The Federal Register Index (cumulated monthly followed by an annual index) provides access under the heading “Presidential Documents.”

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 3

Beginning in 1938, Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) compiles the text of proclamations, executive orders, reorganization plans, and administrative orders on an annual schedule.

Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents

Beginning with the change of administration in January 2009, the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents became the official publication of Presidential documents. It is published electronically by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The annual edition of the Public Papers of the President will be based on the text of the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents.

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents

Published by the Office of the Federal Register from 1965 through January 2009, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents was one of the most comprehensive sources for Presidential documents. It contains the text of proclamations, executive orders, addresses and remarks, interviews with the media, communications to federal agencies and Congress, and meetings with foreign leaders released by the White House during the preceding week. A cumulative annual index can be found at the end of each volume. With the change of administration in January 2009, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents was replaced by the Daily Compiliation of Presidential Documents.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States publishes presidential documents from 1929 to current, including the Presidents' messages to Congress, public speeches and letters, and news conferences. From 1977 to 1988, this publication contained the text of executive orders and proclamations; since 1989 a table provides citations to executive orders and proclamations in the Federal Register. Prior to the Carter administration, only selected presidential papers were published.

United States Statutes at Large

In addition to publishing all Laws passed during a Congressional session, Statutes at Large has published the text of proclamations since 1846 and reorganization plans since 1939.

CIS Index to Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations

This set provides the most complete indexing and access to Executive Orders and Proclamations from 1789 to 1987. The CIS Index to Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations provides the following access points to locate orders and proclamations:

  • Subject
  • Organization
  • Personal Name
  • Interrelated executive orders and proclamations
  • Site and document number index
  • Chronological List

Items indexed with only a CIS accession number for the publication are only available from the microfiche collection. However, if an item has been printed in an official source (Statutes at Large or CFR), the citation will be given in the bibliographic list.

Executive Orders Disposition Tables Index

The National Archives and Records Administration's web page, Executive Orders Disposition Tables Index provides superseding and updating information on particular executive orders. Disposition Tables contain information about Executive Orders beginning with President Franklin Roosevelt. They are arranged by Administration and year of signature. The Disposition Tables includes the following information:

  • Executive Order Number
  • Date of signing by the President
  • Federal Register citation
  • Title of order
  • Amendments (if any)
  • Current Status

Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders

The Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders provides a subject approach to locating the full-text of executive orders from 1945–1989. It is divided into 50 chapters that are similar to the broad subject areas found in the CFR and United States Code. This title is out of print and only covers proclamations and executive orders issued between 1945 and 1989.

Congressional Record

In addition to the floor debates in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Congressional Record also contains the text of reorganization plans not approved by Congress.

Other Sources

Presidential Directives and Executive Orders — Federation of American Scientists
This website contains review and decision directives since the Truman Administration.

Presidential Directives and Where to Find Them — Library of Congress
This website supported by the Library of Congress provides a list of sources to consult when looking for Presidential Directives.

National Security Directives of the Reagan and Bush Administrations: The Declassified History of U.S. Political and Military Policy, 1981–1991 / Christopher Simpson.

A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789–1929
This 20-volume set contains selected messages and documents issued by the Presidents from George Washington to Herbert Hoover.

Presidential Executive Orders, Numbered 1-8030, 1862–1938, Clifford L. Lord, ed.
This 2-volume set provides a list of executive orders from 1862 to 1938. Volume 1 lists the orders by order number with a brief description of the order, the date it went into effect, and a citation to its source if known. Volume 2 is a subject arrangement of orders.

List and Index of Presidential Executive Orders, Unnumbered Series (1789–1941), / Clifford L. Lord, ed.
In the past, many orders were issued without receiving a number which makes them difficult to locate. This one-volume set contains entries for over 1,500 unnumbered Orders. Arranged by date, each entry contains a brief description of the order and provides a citation to where the order can be located. It also contains a subject index.

Presidential Libraries — National Archives
This website sponsored by the National Archives contains information about researching at Presidential Libraries as well as provides links to all presidential libraries since the Hoover Administration.

The Papers of the Presidents of the United States — Yale Avalon Project
This website provides selected Presidential documents since George Washington.

The American Presidency Project — UC at Santa Barbara
This website provides vast materials on Presidential documents from George Washington's administration to the present day. Materials on the website include:

  • Public Papers of the Presidents since Hoover
  • State of the Union Addresses since George Washington
  • Inaugural Addresses since George Washington
  • Saturday Radio Addresses since 1993
  • Roosevelt's Fireside Chats
  • Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speeches since 1960
  • Presidential Candidates Debates since 1960
  • Documents relating to the 2000 Election Dispute
  • Documents relating to the 2001 Presidential Transition
  • National Political Party Platforms since 1840

HeinOnline: U.S. Presidential Library (On-campus use. Remote access via ASURITE)
The HeinOnline U.S. Presidential Library has many publications by and about U.S. Presidents in addition to those listed above.


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