Rethinking Executive Orders

March 14, 2021 Updated: March 14, 2021

The Congress of the United States is the legislative branch of government. They are charged with lawmaking.

Article II of our Constitution vests executive powers in the president and requires that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” While an executive order can have the same effect as federal law under certain circumstances, Congress can pass a new law to override an executive order, subject to a presidential veto.

Thomas Jefferson noted that the primary function of the president is that of an administrator. Who better to ask, right?!

What did the Founders think of executive orders? Actions speak louder than words, so let’s see what they did. The first six presidents issued the following numbers of executive orders: Washington, eight in eight years; Adams, one in four years; Jefferson, four in eight years; Madison, one in eight years; Monroe, one in eight years; J.Q. Adams, three in four years (American Presidency Project, UC–Santa Barbara). They served 36 years and issued 18 executive orders. This tells us that they mostly left lawmaking to Congress, where it belongs.

Joe Biden issued 31 in his first three days in office. That’s almost double what the first six presidents took 36 years to rack up. To be fair, these numbers started spiraling out of control as the nation moved closer to the Civil War. Andrew Jackson was the first to hit double digits. Jackson hit 12, but it took him eight years. William Henry Harrison remains the only president to have never issued a single executive order. Lincoln’s number reached 48, and U.S. Grant hit triple digits with 217.

The all-time record still belongs to FDR, with an astonishing 3,721 in 12 years. That’s 1,240 per term!

In more recent times, Obama issued 276 in eight years, and Trump issued 220 in only four. If Mr. Biden were to keep his pace of 31 per three days, he would issue 10 per day, which would be 3,650 every year, or 14,600 for a four-year term. At some point, we have to ask, “When does a president become a dictator?”

A look back at our first 6 presidents will put things into some perspective. We’re not moving in a good direction with the continued reliance on executive orders that serve only those issuing them, be they Democrats or Republicans.

Take a look around you next time you go out. Almost everyone is wearing a mask. That mandate was likely issued through an executive order from the governor of your state. Now, it has become federal law via another executive order from Joe Biden.

Personally, I have a written order from my doctor saying I am NOT to wear a face covering, but that order is meaningless at most places I need to go, like the optometrist, hospitals, grocery stores, museums, and many other places. By “executive order,” the preamble to the Declaration of Independence has been nullified. I no longer have the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. If I risk my life/health by wearing a mask, I may not have a life! If I cannot make that choice on my own, I don’t have liberty, and I’m definitely not happy about having my life and liberty threatened or removed.

The point of all this is that our freedom and way of life are being dramatically altered by a few people with power. As Obama famously noted, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” I also have a pen and a phone, but I can’t connect to the same people that a president can. All I can do is use my pen in the hopes that 75 million others will find a way to get together in one place at one time and start asking questions, or perhaps make some demands of those charged with being our representatives, and those that are supposed to protect us.

I cannot issue an “executive order,” but I am willing to do whatever I can to bring sanity back to America. It is within my power to write, and that is what I will do. We must all do what we can now because whether you want to see it or not, our country is being taken from us by people who hate everything for which America stands: human dignity and morality, Constitutional guarantees, rule of law, freedom to worship, freedom to gather, freedom to make our own health choices, and our own history as a nation. As Martin Niemoller said, “… and then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak for me.”

Don’t wait for someone else to speak up—it’s up to each and every one of us, and now is the time!

Bruce J. Locke