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History and Use of the Phrase: “I Serve at the Pleasure of the President”

On 14 Feb 2017, Trump Administration White House advisor Kellyanne Conway stated on Twitter:

“I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals.” (source)

This oath of obedience was to the backdrop of another White House staff member, Stephen Miller, on the same day proclaiming (at length) similar statements of obedience and loyalty stating:

“Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” (source)

While the statement “I serve at the pleasure of the President” has been used as far back as the 1700s, the recent emphasis on unwavering loyalty and obedience to the President seems to be new. The phrase was originally intended to mean that White House staff are ‘at will’ employees and can be let go without a substantive reason.

The phrase “I serve at the pleasure of” is commonly used in reference to royal leaders, such as “I serve at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” A member of the King’s Court might use that phrase. It conveys a kind of absolute unquestioning loyalty and subservience.

Novels and movies about Medieval times sometimes offer a romanticized portrayal of loyalty to ‘The Crown.’ In the book Honor & Roses: A Medieval Romance by Elizabeth Cole, there’s a heroic moment where one of the main characters, Luc, states “We serve at the pleasure of the King.”

Early references to serving at the pleasure of the president include the use of the phrase in the 1978 text Presidential Impeachment by John R. Labovitz (10 Sep 1978), pages 69 and 70.

A 2007 article in the New York Times says the phrase dates back to 1789:

“…one phrase has been used repeatedly to defend the conduct of the White House: the attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. It seems to ascribe a royal air to the president, as though, if it contributed to his pleasure, an attorney or two might be beheaded. What is the origin of this phrase?… The origin is the Latin durante bene placito regis … which translates as “during the pleasure of the king.” This did not mean “while the king was having fun”; it meant that nobody could hold an official position against his will. … We hear at pleasure from cabinet members whenever they come under fire, with reporters demanding to know if they intend to resign. At a press conference two months ago, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, ‘The attorney general, and all political appointees, such as U.S. attorneys, serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.’ … It seems to me that the pleasure principle could use some updating in our political discourse.” [Source: “At the Pleasure” by William Safire, New York Times, 13 May 2007.]

Members of the armed services and military are ‘at will’ employees:

“Military officers are the leaders of the military, and instead of enlisting in the sense that enlisted military men and women do, they are commissioned officers who serve indefinitely at the pleasure of the President of the United States.” [Source: “Military Officer Rank Structure” by Justin Sloan, Military.com]

In April 2000, the phrase “I serve at the pleasure of the president” was used in the popular television show West Wing in season 1, episode 19, “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” During an important scene of that episode, the staff pledge allegiance to the President.

Presumably inspired by that West Wing episode, the George W. Bush White House Administration began using the phrase at about the same time. It’s not clear whether this was life imitating art, or art imitating life, but use of the phrase became more common at that time. Maybe the show helped revive the use of the phrase.

In 2005, John P. Deeben wrote on the subject for the National Archives, in the article “Serving at the Pleasure of the President.” (Prologue Magazine, Winter 2005, Vol. 37, No.4)

By 2006, the phrase was still being used, and in some cases acted upon:

On December 7, 2006, the George W. Bush administration’s Department of Justice ordered the unprecedented midterm dismissal of seven United States Attorneys. … The U.S. attorneys were replaced with interim appointees, under provisions in the 2005 USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization. … In July 2010, the Department of Justice prosecutors closed the two-year investigation without filing charges after determining that the firing was inappropriately political…” (sources)

The Bush administration was taking the position that “U.S. Attorneys hold a ‘political’ office, and therefore they are considered to ‘serve at the pleasure of the President.'” So, if they don’t serve the political interests of the President, they can be fired simply for political reasons.

After this controversy, for the next 10 year, people realized that the President of the United States isn’t a king or a dictator, but it is in fact the President who serves at the pleasure of the people, not the other way around.


During the week of 3-7 Feb 2020 there was an increased interest in this page. The maps below show recent visitors to this page on 8 Feb 2020.


On 13 Nov 2019 there was an increase in visits to this page as a result of the impeachment hearings where this topic was referred to. The maps below show recent visitors to this page.

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By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com


  1. No one should serve as pleasure to the president. What a dictorial statement. He serves the people we don’t serve him……

  2. “for the next 10 year, people realized that the President of the United States isn’t a king or a dictator”…and the fact that had the Obama administration said or done similar “at the pleasure of the president” the GOTP, RWNJs and hate screamers would have collectively lost their minds (again).

  3. All Political Appointees are just that. They are not civil service protected.
    They are picked by and fired by any President who has or does not have cause.
    For instance hundreds of commissioned military leaders were fired by Obama and the media never said a word. Hundreds if others resigned unwilling to work for a man with no intent on standing up for our military or our country’s Sovereignty.

  4. I remember hearing this poorly worded and ridiculous statement used for the first time during the Bush administration.It’s right up there with the notion that executives should have on goal in mind, to further the interests of the shareholders. No matter if they are polluting the world, making dangerous products, mistreating their employees, breaking the law, etc. And yet this basic notion has been the mantra of economists for several decades. These kinds of ideas are on the wane in a connected world where you can’t get away with everything.Getting back to Bush, It was if reality is suspended when it comes to what the President wants, good bad or indifferent , his people are supposed to fall in line with nothing but his wishes in mind. That is a completely unacceptable idea I find in direct opposition to the idea of freedom and liberty. Mr Tracey claims that Obama was basically a traitor to this country, that is basically another smear of a decent human being who tried his best to make some very hard decisions that he thought would benefit the vast majority of us. On the other hand the current dictator, who has very little incite or wisdom and is not a decent human being seems to think that everything Obama did needs to be undone. If your plan in life is to undo your foes ( or should I say your perceived foes)and that is all you think about you are not really doing anything to further your own vision. Trump has no real vision so therefore he can only destroy others . Those who serve at his pleasure are either stupid, immoral or indifferent human beings.

  5. The theme of dictatorship may change actors per generation but the message is the same “follow me” and you’ll be fine, as long as you do as I say not as I do! King-ships have risen and fallen but the only remaining fact that stays with us is the system.

    “At the pleasure of my King” is a term used to require absolute fealty to one person. It may be something for a Messiah, but not for regular citizen to be propped up by a few to supposedly unite a nation that has no knowledge of government. We have a United States of America with citizens that come from all parts of the world to come to a common cause; freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we eventually can see what is the best path for this nation.

    To use terms like “At the pleasure of my President” assumes that person was duly elected and we all accept the consequences of that persons actions and we must all bow to that purpose. Assuming that this person is of sound mind and purpose.
    Our systems has checks and balances that have been continually bypassed because this person decided “he rules”, only in his imagination!
    We have a Nation collectively.
    Like minded dictators always seem to know when they can squeeze in to a system that is trusting and will follow based on that trust.
    Authoritarian government systems perceptively assumes that the “weaker your rule” the more likely your going to need a dictator.
    Not realizing that an economic system that is manipulated to weaken the People is only out for the authoritarian few who collectively own economic system.
    Sorry, if I can’t follow a dictator.
    Collectively, a system that benevolently works with the People will rule even with little dictators; surrounding us trying to undermine that which actively trys to centralize and normalize their methods at the Peoples expense.
    When we rally around a leader we know it, when we rally around a dictator we cringe!

  6. Regarding the office of the President not any particular human who has filled it: the current responsibilities require an extensive depth and breadth of advisors. Not experts, advisors. Because it doesn’t work for a 21st-century program to say, “I can’t act on that—I don’t know about it. Farming, Federal Lands, Water Rights, current stuation in Iraq, the UN, Energy Conservation, Army Officer retirement rates, Earth Satellite Density, Digital Internet working,, stem-cell use, US Patent Laws, maintenance of route of Mississippi River, and many times more.Many, Many times more . So… advisors. Smart, ambitios, staffers who quickly research, inteview, report to provide the leader of our executive branch with the information they believe he/she needs to wisely and quickly formulate desicions…
    POTUS is a very difficult job to do well.

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