President Obama gets criticism for his use of executive orders in the face of an increasingly polarized Congress, but the truth is that Obama isn’t even close to being the president with the most orders under his belt. (That honor goes to Franklin D. Roosevelt.)
Executive orders often, in one fell swoop, change the course of history. They are the most direct decisions that presidents can make, and they are permitted to make them alone. But sometimes, the reasons for putting them into action are…odd. Here are some of the weirdest, creepiest, and most random executive orders in American history.
1. Lincoln takes over Maryland — 1861
Because of its strategic location near Washington D.C., Lincoln decided that it was in the Union’s best interest to go ahead and suspend the slave state of Maryland’s right to habeas corpus and put it under martial law.
2. Indian reservations — 1868
As part of his “Peace Policy” with the Native American people, Ulysses S. Grant enlisted religious white men to oversee Indian reservations and teach them the tenants of Christianity. Each reservation could only be created through executive order by the president.
3. No hunting with torches — 1884
In the Panama Canal Zone, President Woodrow Wilson made it illegal by executive order to go hunting while carrying a torch or any type of light…because who doesn’t love hunting in the dark?
4. The executive order on…well…executive orders — 1931
As if the Great Depression wasn’t going on, Herbert Hoover had the time to go meta with executive orders. In one order, he detailed a list of requirements for all orders, including grammar, tone, and even paper size.
5. The internment of Japanese Americans — 1942
On February 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced the relocation of up to 120,000 Japanese Americans to camps all around the U.S. This was, in the government’s mind, a fitting response to Pearl Harbor. Sixty-two percent of those relocated were American citizens.
6. The U.S. invades Panama for no good reason — 1989
Ten years after America signed an agreement to transfer power back to Panama, George H.W. Bush decided to depose Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega for no real reason (aside from the fact that people in the media were calling him a wimp). But because the aftermath caused 20,000 Panamanians to lose their homes and around 3,000 to lose their lives, history remembers “Operation Just Cause” as “Operation Just ‘Cuz.”
Here’s a chart detailing the number of executive orders carried out by each president.
The Emancipation Proclamation and The New Deal are two positive examples of what an executive order can do, but others have caused people great harm. Unless we do away with the executive branch’s power completely, this will remain a double-edged sword.
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