The presidential signature carries the force of the US government
Here's how the current President's signature looks compared to a few of his predecessors
Shortly after President Donald Trump took the oath of office, he went back inside the Capitol and did one of the main things presidents do: he signed a bunch of official papers while less powerful people stood around and smiled.
From laws and executive orders to memoranda and letters, each president can sign a staggering number of documents. In the opening days of his presidency, Trump already signed a number of documents that could go down in history, including a controversial order suspending the refugee program and banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
But outside of his actions, what does the mark he made on those documents say about how he will govern? Probably nothing at all.
Regardless, here’s how Trump’s signature stands relative to his most recent predecessors and a handful of examples throughout US history.
We spoke with Sheila Lowe, who works as a professional handwriting examiner, to offer her take, as well as Michael Fernandez, a third grade teacher in Georgia, to grade presidential penmanship.
Lowe examined the signatures and offered her analysis, while Fernandez graded them the same way he would his eight- to nine-year-old students.
This pool photo from Getty Images of Trump displaying an executive order on the fifth day of his presidency shows the 45th President’s signature: a lengthy and jagged autograph he deployed during his decades of celebrity and time on the campaign trail.
- Lowe said the signature has a “barbed wire fence quality,” adding “there is nothing friendly or open about this signature. The extreme height of the capitals, along with the extreme angular letter design displays one who is impressed by his own power.”
- Fernandez graded Trump’s signature overall a C with strong points for “neatness.” He did criticize the current President for letter formation, saying that in Trump’s signature “the alphabet is disregarded in favor of a seismograph.”
Here we see a copy of Obama’s signature as seen in the Federal Register’s production of one of his first executive orders. The signature emphasizes his initials “B” and “O.”
- Lowe read a lot about Obama’s desire for privacy in his signature, saying it shows “a great deal of rhythm and style in this form, and a profound need for privacy.” She also said the end of the signature crossing from the “O” to the right is “like holding out one’s arm and saying, ‘don’t come any closer.’”
- Fernandez graded Obama just slightly better, giving him a C+, but also gave him a wrap on the knuckles: “Barry is flaunting his mastery of his capital ‘BO,’ but the rest of the letters stink. Don’t try to hide your lower case letters, you’re not fooling anyone.”
George W. Bush
This is a copy of Bush’s signature from the Federal Register’s production of one of his first executive orders. Like Obama, only his initials are emphasized.
- Lowe said Bush, the son of the 41st president, had a signature “remarkably like his father’s, which suggests an unconscious desire to live up to his father’s image.” She cast the younger Bush’s signature as “highly simplified,” which like Obama, indicated a desire for privacy and showed he was “careful about who he lets see the real George.”
- Fernandez put Bush at the bottom of the class, giving him a D-. Due to the general illegibility of the copy of his signature, he said, “I’m disappointed in you.”
This is a copy of Clinton’s signature from the Federal Register’s production of one of his first executive orders. For what it’s worth, other documents showed him signing “Bill” instead of “William” as seen here.
- Lowe said, “Handwriting has three zones – upper, middle, lower. Clinton’s is concentrated in the middle zone, the area of daily life and relationships. That means he isn’t easily distracted, his focus is on what is going on in the moment.”
- Fernandez graded Clinton’s early signature a B-. Despite having the appearance of someone who “never learned his upper case letters,” Fernandez said. “Legibility reigns supreme.”
This is a copy of Nixon’s signature from an older copy of the Federal Register. The mark shows his name in the opening days of his presidency.
- Lowe noted Nixon’s signature changed over the years. As his presidency wore on, she says he became less “up-front about who he was,” but that even this early signature shows “there is something of a paranoid quality.”
- Fernandez gave Nixon a B+, which is about as well as anyone did. Calling his style a “class act,” Fernandez noted that he could make out each letter and was skilled enough not to need to copy from others.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Here is a production of the longest-serving President’s signature on an executive order from his presidential library.
- Lowe called FDR’s mark a “dynamic signature with strong movement to the right (the future), but with an interesting hook at the end that pulls back at the last minute.” She contrasted it with Clinton’s signature, saying Roosevelt’s style indicated “strong self-confidence” and “demanded respect.”
- Fernandez gave FDR a B and said he “gets some points for writing out his full name,” something, he notes, that many presidents have not done. Fernandez also praised his capital letters as “strong.”
Rutherford B. Hayes
Here is a copy of a lesser-known President’s signature, as provided by his presidential library.
- Lowe called Hayes’ signature “dynamic, energetic writing, stripped down to the simplest possible forms.” She read this as an indication “he wanted things done quickly and could be a bit hasty, certainly highly impatient.” She also added more praise, saying of his signature: “There is a strong sense of self but without a big ego … This indicates someone who might suddenly feel the need for some space and abruptly cut off the other person in a conversation.”
- Calling this “an interesting one,” Fernandez still settled on a C+ for Hayes. He said many of the letters were “lacking definition,” but overall it was readable. As Fernandez put it: “Every other letter is clear and present while those in-between seem as memorable as his presidency.”
Here is a copy of Lincoln’s signature, as seen in a National Archives copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Lowe said Lincoln’s “stylish, simple signature reflects a refusal to put on airs. The tall capitals and use of a first initial only show his pride in himself and his accomplishments, and no false modesty.”
- Fernandez gave Lincoln a B, while advising one of the country’s most highly-regarded leaders to write a bit slower. He did give him some credit, saying,”Honest Abe’s signature could teach my kids a lesson or two in connecting his letters.”
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
The National Archives possesses both the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a high resolution image of its stone engraving. Here are images from the stone engraving, showing the signatures of two founding fathers who would become fierce rivals as they inked the birth of a country they would both go on to lead.
- Lowe said, “The rightward slant, large size and loose rhythm suggest a person with strong emotions who could be quite expressive.” She also said the apparent “simplification” he used showed Jefferson was occasionally impatient.
- Fernandez gave Jefferson a B-. He scolding him slightly and offered advice: “For such an important signature, Thomas could have spent a little more time tidying up his letters. It’s okay to lift the pen up at some point!”
- Lowe said, like Jefferson, Adams has “a large, clear signature,” but “Adams’ is written slowly and deliberately, which reflects how he would think – step by step by step, adding one idea or thought to another, rather than Jefferson’s more intuitive style.”
- Fernandez graded Adams the highest of all, making him the only president who got as high as an A-. Calling it “classic cursive,” he said. “The letters are easily identified without the unnecessary decoration of modern day signatures.”
Here is the first president’s signature as seen on the production of a letter he signed as seen in a National Archives hosting of a New York Public Library document.
- Lowe praised Washington’s graceful signature and said the rhythm of it could indicate the nation’s first president was “an excellent dancer.” She read into the signature further still, saying it shows “the spirit of an adventurer.”
- Fernandez granted Washington a B+ and said he’d hang this one in the hallway. He rated the “slant” of Washington’s signature the best of all presidents in this piece and said Washington should be “proud” of his letter formation and neatness.