The President's First 100 Days

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The idea of the President's first 100 days in office being a measure of success dates to 1933. Taking office as President in that year was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover in a landslide in the Election of 1932.

The United States and much of the world were in the depths of the Great Depression. A great many people were out of work, out of money, and out of hope. Roosevelt sought to provide all three, with a series of legislative measures that found favor with Congress, which happened to be controlled by the Democratic Party, to which Roosevelt also belonged.

In a July 24, 1933 radio address, Roosevelt spoke of the first 100 days of the 1933 Congressional session. Roosevelt had been inaugurated on March 4, and Congress had opened for business on March 9, after the Roosevelt-induced "bank holiday" and a few other emergency measures designed to restore Americans' confidence in Government.

The 100th day of the Congressional session was June 17 that year. By that time, Congress had passed and Roosevelt had signed 76 bills. More than a dozen were major pieces of legislation, cornerstones of Roosevelt's New Deal; other laws were smaller in scope.

That total of 76 was far and away the highest number of new laws enacted by a President and a Congress in modern times. Following in Roosevelt's footsteps, literally, was President Harry Truman, who assumed the Presidency when Roosevelt died. (Truman had been Vice-president.) Truman won the Election of 1948, along with a Democratic majority, and he and that year's Congress passed 55 bills into law in their first 100 days in office.

After 76 and 55, third in the list is a much lower number, primarily because modern lawmaking involves not only committees but also subcommittees and, at times, exhaustive debate inside and outside congressional discussion on the bills before the two houses. The third-highest number of laws passed in the first 100 days of a President's term is 26, in 1961, the year that John F. Kennedy took office. He enjoyed a majority of his fellow Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representative.

Bill Clinton enjoyed similar majorities in 1993; in the first 100 days of Clinton's presidency, he signed 24 bills into law. That figure was two higher than Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953) and Jimmy Carter (1977).

For the rest of the Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt:
President1st year in officeBills passed
George Bush198918
Barack Obama200911
Lyndon Johnson196518
Richard Nixon19699
Ronald Reagan19819
George W. Bush19897

The idea of the President's first 100 days in office as a measure of success has come to be a part of the discussion of a President's relative success or failure, especially since many modern Presidents have enjoyed a "honeymoon effect" that sees them during this time enjoying a relatively greater popularity and a Congress perhaps more willing to pursue the President's agenda than at other times during his or her time in the White House.

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