Monday, January 30, 2023

In Memoriam: Public Papers of the Presidents (1957-2022)

The end of 2022 also marked the end of a long-running government publication series, when the Administrative Committee of the Federal Register published a rule announcing the discontinuation of the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States.

The Public Papers book series began in 1957, after the National Historical Publications Commission recommended the creation of an official government publication that brought together the various speeches, remarks, and writings for a particular presidential administration. Prior to the Public Papers, access to presidential materials was less consistent and less timely, with some materials published decades later at the direction of Congress (such as Richardson's 20-volume set A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789 – 1897), and other materials privately published (such as the Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt). The Public Papers has covered the administration of every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama (minus FDR, due to the private publication of his papers before the launch of the series). Effective with the rule on December 29, 2022, the Government Publishing Office noted that the final volume of the Obama series would be the publication's last.

It is somewhat fitting to cease the Public Papers with President Obama, as his administration also oversaw a shift in the Compilation of Presidential Documents publication whose contents form the corpus of the Public Papers. Formerly printed as the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, the Obama administration changed to an online-only Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents in 2009. In its final rule, the agency noted that the Daily Compilation access is timelier and enjoys wider reach than the printed Public Papers, which have been distributed for free to participating libraries (including Duke Law) through the Federal Depository Library Program for half a century.

What does this change mean for researchers? The current Bluebook prefers citation to Public Papers of the Presidents where available; going forward, it appears that the online Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents will become the preferred citation for most post-Obama presidential documents, and the Code of Federal Regulations will likely remain the preferred source for executive orders and presidential proclamations.

  • Historical editions of the Public Papers can be found in GovInfo, HeinOnline's U.S. Presidential Library, and in the Law Library's Documents collection Doc. AE 2.114.
  • Historical Compilations of Presidential Documents can be found on GovInfo (back to 1993) HeinOnline’s U.S. Presidential Library (back to 1965), and in the Law Library's Documents collection Doc. AE 2.109 (1965-2000).
  • Historical editions of the C.F.R. can be found in GovInfo (back to 1996); HeinOnline's Code of Federal Regulations Library (back to 1938), and in the Law Library's Documents collection Doc. AE 2.106/3. (Note that historical volumes of CFR Title 3, which contain the presidential materials, are shelved with the current CFR edition on Level 3, in the Stevens Federal Area.)

For more information about presidential materials and the administrative rulemaking process that ended the Public Papers, check out the library's research guide to Federal Administrative Law or Ask a Librarian.