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Research Guides

Presidential Documents

Types of Presidential Documents

  • Executive Agreements: An executive agreement is an international agreement entered into by the President, pursuant to the President’s constitutional or statutory authority, without the Senate’s advice or consent. The term “executive agreement” is a term of art, and such agreements are usually not so designated specifically. (For more information on finding executive agreements, see the Library’s guide on treaty research:

  • Executive Orders: Presidents issue executive orders on a variety of subjects.  Executive orders relate to the conduct of government business or to the organization of executive agencies.  Older executive orders (pre-1862) are unnumbered, but there are sources for finding them.

  • Determinations: Presidential determinations resolve that certain provisions of law are or are not in the national interest.  These documents are identified by a document number, e.g., Presidential Determination No. 93-34.

  • Directives: Presidential directives are authoritative instruments issued by the President on matters of foreign policy and national security.  Many directives are classified and cannot be obtained.

  • Letters: Letters may be used to issue instructions to chiefs of diplomatic missions or to direct the continuation of duties on selected goods imported from other countries.

  • Memoranda: Memoranda, also called Presidential Letters, are generally issued from the President to the heads of executive departments or agencies.  Memoranda are often used to issue findings, or to provide guidance or instruction.

  • Messages: Presidential messages are typically communications from the President to Congress.  They may propose new legislation, explain vetoes, transmit documents, or convey information about national affairs or other matters of concern.

  • Notices: Notices are frequently used to extend the duration of previously issued executive orders.

  • Proclamations: These are general announcements of policy addressed to the entire nation, and are frequently associated with ceremonial occasions such as National Park Week (e.g., Proclamation 8131, National Park Week).  Some proclamations, however, deal with trade policies or tariff issues (e.g., Proclamation 8067, To Modify Rules of Origin Under the North American Free Trade Agreement).

  • Reorganization Plans: Reorganization plans consist of presidential proposals for changes in the organization of agencies, and can abolish or transfer agency functions.  A reorganization plan must be approved by both houses of Congress before it can take effect.  Reorganization plans are identified by year and plan number.

  • Signing Statements: Presidents often issue statements upon signing a piece of legislation.  Sometimes these statements shed light on the President’s understanding of the legislation or the President’s position on disputed provisions in the legislation.

  • Speeches: Presidential speeches include such public messages as news conference remarks, transcripts of press conferences, Statements of Administration Policy, and Statements to inform Congress of the president’s official position on proposed legislation.

  • State of the Union Address: The State of the Union is a special type of message to Congress.  It is an annual event in which the President reports on the status of the country to a joint session of Congress. The address also outlines the President’s legislative proposals for the upcoming year.  Before the 1930s, it was generally known as the “Message of the President of the United States as the Commencement of the Session” or the “President’s Annual Message to Congress.”

Advanced Research


Consult GW Law's Locating Presidential Documents guide for more in-depth information about finding presidential documents.


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