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U.S. Executive Branch-The President: Researching Presidential Papers

Overview of Presidential publications available at UC Berkeley

About Presidential Papers

There are four categories of papers that are considered "presidential papers" 1.They are:

  • public/published,
  • personal,
  • executively controlled,
  • official.

Public/published papers are proclamations, executive orders, presidential messages, speeches and statements. These are funnelled into established series (e.g. the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents)

Personal papers are those not created in the course of duty, such as personal diaries, journals, family momentos.

Executively Controlled documents are privileged from disclosure to congress or the courts because the incorporate national secrets, classified or legal information, or policy making records (e.g. the Nixon tapes), or National Security Directives. According to a 1992 GAO report, of the 1042 NSDs issued since 1961, only about 247 have been declassified. GAO tried to study these, but could only get a hold of 5. 2

Official documents are working documents generated in the course of daily presidential activitied. Until 1978 all official presidential records were considered private property. Now law mandates that they pass into custody of the Archivist of the United States. President Nixon caused the change in this law when he temporarily deposited his papers at the National Archives. Congress seized the Nixon papers by passing a law giving the government control over them.

1- Hirshon, Arnold, "The Scope, Accessability and History of Presidential Papers," Government Publications Review, v. 1:4, p.363-390.
2- United States. General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, Legislation and National Security Committee, Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives. National Security: The Use of Presidential Directives to Make and Implement U.S. Policy. GAO/NSIAD-92-72, January 1992.

Presidential Biographical Information

  • Justice, Keith L. Public office index. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c1985
    JK7 1985 v. 1 Doe Reference Biographies
    Includes listing with members of their Administrations, terms of office, succession of Cabinet officers. Biographical information for presidents, vice-presidents, and cabinet officers is limited to dates of birth, date of appointment, date left office, date of death etc.
  • American political leaders, 1789-2000. Washington, D.C. : CQ Press c2000.
    E176 .A513 2000 Doe Reference Biographies
  • Biographical directory of the American Congress. [1774/1996] Alexandria, Va. : CQ Staff Directories, c1997
    JK1010.B5 Doe Reference Biographies
    The initial section of this volume is a list, for each administration, of the Cabinet Officers and tenure of office. 
  • Facts about the presidents : a compilation of biographical and historical information / Joseph Nathan Kane ; Janet Podell & Steven Anzovin [editors].
    E176.1 .K3 2001 Doe Reference Biographies and Moffitt Reference