CLOSE
Original image

Executive Orders: The Famous, The Infamous & The Ridiculous

Original image

Critics call them "legislation by other means." Supporters defend them as a necessary tool for leading the country "“ especially in the face of a Congress unwilling or unable to make tough choices. Whatever your position, the Executive Order has been used by presidents for good, for ill, and sometimes for just plain odd reasons.

Constitutional Basis

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution contains a vague reference to executive orders, giving the president the power to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed." Strict constructionists interpret this phrase to empower the president only to enact laws approved by Congress, but presidents have shown a remarkable mental flexibility to overcome this potential obstacle. Executive orders have covered every topic from school desegregation, to starting wars, to providing political supporters with cushy government positions.

These orders went largely unchecked until President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 10340, which placed all U.S. steel mills under Federal control. The Supreme Court ruled that Truman had overstepped his authority because he attempted to make law rather than clarify an existing piece of legislation. Justice Hugo Black, concerned that his majority opinion had offended the President (which it had), invited Truman over for dinner. Truman, overcome by the Justice's hospitality, remarked, "Hugo, I don't much care for your law, but, by golly, this bourbon is good."

Since then, presidents have exercised more restraint and usually cite specific laws when signing an Executive Order. Once signed, however, they carry the power of law and compel all U.S. citizens, agencies, and businesses to follow them.

Famous, Infamous & Ridiculous Executive Orders

You might have read about these executive orders in Mrs. Snodergrape's 11th grade history class. Unfortunately, Mrs. Snodergrape usually left out the most interesting tidbits.

Emancipation Proclamation: Perhaps the most famous of all executive orders, the Proclamation freed all slaves living in the Confederacy. (It did not, however, free slaves in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia "“ states that permitted slavery, but had not seceded from the Union.)

The Proclamation was actually President Lincoln's last attempt to bring the Civil War to a speedy close. His first desire was to save the Union, not to end slavery. In July 1862, Lincoln drafted a "Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation" that announced he would free the slaves in any territory still under rebellion on January 1, 1863. Theoretically, states that ceased hostilities and returned to the Union before that date could still practice slavery. Following the Confederacy's disastrous defeat at Antietam in September, Lincoln issued this preliminary Proclamation. He hoped that the defeat would convince the South they could not win the war, and as a concession to a quick surrender, they would be allowed to keep their slaves. The Confederacy did not surrender, so Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day. Although it freed few slaves at the time, it did clarify a moral cause for the war and dashed any hopes of the Confederacy receiving support from France or Great Britain.

WPA-poster.jpg
New Deal: Unemployment had reached 25%. Commodity prices had dropped by 60%, and the stock market had shed 85% of its value. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came on the scene facing the biggest crisis since the Civil War. Launched to the presidency through the promise of a "New Deal," Roosevelt grounded his recovery program in the Works Progress Administration, enacted by E.O. 7034 in 1935. The WPA built upon the hugely popular Civilian Conservation Corps, and provided work to an estimated 8.5 million people. In its eight years, it built over 600,000 miles of roads, 125,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 850 airport landing fields. The WPA also employed painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers. The result: 2,500 murals, 17,500 pieces of sculpture, 34 new orchestras, 2,000 public service posters and the American Guide series—the most complete travel guide to the United States ever published.

[WPA poster courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

Desegregation of the Armed Forces: In February 1948, a hopeful President Harry S. Truman sent Congress a 10-point proposal on extending civil rights to African-Americans. Included in that plan was a proposal to desegregate the military and phase out the all-black units dating back to the Civil War. He vastly underestimated the reaction of his fellow Democrats, who that July seceded from the Democratic Party and formed the Dixiecrat Party with Strom Thurmond as its nominee for president. Less than two weeks later, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, "[declaring it] to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." By 1953, 95% of all African-American service members had been integrated into previously all-white units.

Japanese-American Internment: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" The lead Japanese plane radioed to headquarters to indicate total surprise had been achieved at Pearl Harbor. The United States and Japan were at war; the nation was afraid and was convinced Japanese spies lurked everywhere. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans. Taken mostly from the West Coast, approximately 60% of those interned were American citizens, denied the right of habeas corpus and torn away from their homes for the simple crime of having Japanese ancestry. A commission later determined that E.O. 9066 was the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

Indian Reservations: In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act, which empowered the government to remove, by force if necessary, Native Americans from their ancestral homelands to less desirable locations further west. This policy quickly took a back seat to the Civil War, but President Ulysses S. Grant created dozens of reservations. Some tribes went peacefully, while others, like the Sioux, waged a bitter fight. Eventually, over 300 reservations were created, most in extremely inhospitable areas that nobody else wanted.

What's the point of being President if you can't do a little bit of whatever you want to do? These executive orders have historians scratching their heads and saying, "huh?"

TPS.jpgExecutive Orders Spelled Out: TPS reports got you down? In what might have been advance press for the movie Office Space, President Herbert Hoover signed E.O. 5658 on June 24, 1931. This executive order is about "“ you guessed it "“ executive orders. It lays out all the helpful details you need to know about grammar, spelling, margins, selecting a title, and even what size paper to use (8 ½ x 11). At least there wasn't anything important going on at the time like, you know, the Great Depression.

Patronage: Is that civil service exam too hard? Not a problem if you've got friends in high places. Presidents have frequently used executive orders to award jobs. Theodore Roosevelt seemed particularly fond of this hiring practice, doling out over two dozen jobs to clerks, engineers, doctors, and administrators. Of note, his Executive Order of June 23, 1904, appointed Dr. William L. Ralph as curator of the section of birds' eggs in the National Museum, and his E.O. of November 2, 1903, made Mrs. Roy L. Quackenbush a permanent clerk in the Post Office.

Torch Hunting: Back in the good ol' days, when men were men, those manly men liked to go hunting. At night. With torches. Apparently this was such a widespread epidemic in the Panama Canal Zone (then a U.S. possession) that it rose to the desk of President Woodrow Wilson. E.O. 1884 made the use of hunting with a "lantern, torch, bonfire, or other artificial light" a misdemeanor. Wilson apparently had a fascination with the day-to-day operations of the Panama Canal Zone; he signed executive orders covering hiring, anti-corruption efforts, telegraph and wireless services, and postal crimes. He also signed E.O. 2526, which forbade any persons of Chinese descent from entering the Panama Canal, punishable by a $500 fine and up to one year in prison.

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios