A presidential proclamation is a statement issued by a president on a matter of public policy. They are generally defined as, "The act of causing some state matters to be published or made generally known. A written or printed document in which are contained such matters, issued by proper authority; as the president's proclamation, the governor's, the mayor's proclamation."
In the United States, the President's proclamation does not have the force of law, unless authorized by Congress. If Congress were to pass an act, which would take effect upon the happening of a contingent event, and subsequently the President proclaimed that the event happened, then the proclamation would have the force of law. Generally, there are two types of proclamations issued by the U.S. President, “ceremonial,” which designate special observances or celebrate national holidays, and “substantive,” which usually relates to the conduct of foreign affairs and other sworn executive duties. These may be, but are not limited to, matters of international trade, the execution of set export controls, the establishment of tariffs, or the reservation of federal lands for the benefit of the public in some manner.
Presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical tool for policy making because they are considered to be largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature. However, their issuances have led to important political and historical consequences in the development of the United States. George Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 are some of America's most famous presidential proclamations in this regard.
The administrative weight of these proclamations is upheld because they are often specifically authorized by congressional statute, making them “delegated unilateral powers”. Presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical presidential tool for policy making because of the perception of proclamations as largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature. However, the legal weight of presidential proclamations suggests their importance to presidential governance.
Other more recent policy-based proclamations have also made a substantial impact on economic and domestic policy, including Bill Clinton’s declaration of federal lands for national monuments and George W. Bush’s declaration of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina as disaster areas.
Proclamations are also used, often contentiously, to grant presidential pardons. Recent notable pardon proclamations are Gerald Ford's pardon of former President Richard Nixon (1974), Jimmy Carter's pardon of Vietnam War draft evaders (1977) and George W. Bush's clemency of Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence (2007).
Although less significant in terms of public policy, proclamations are also used ceremonially by presidents to honor a group or situation or to call attention to certain issues or events. For instance, President George H.W. Bush issued a proclamation to honor veterans of World War II and Ronald Reagan called attention to the health of the nation’s eyes by proclaiming a “Save Your Vision Week.”
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- "Presidential Proclamations Project". University of Houston, Department of Political Science. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Presidential Proclamations Project, University of Houston, Political Science Dept., Retrieved 2009-12-07
- Ford, Gerald (1974-09-08). "Presidential Proclamation 4311 by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon". Pardon images. University of Maryland.
- "Proclamation 4483". By the President of the United States of America, A Proclamation Granting Pardon for Violations of the Selective Service Act, 4 August 1964 To 28 March 1973. 21 January 1977.
- Proclamation 8159 - Grant of Executive Clemency, 2007-07-02, Office of the Federal Register, Vol. 72, No. 129, 72 FR 37095
- The White House - Text of recent Presidential Proclamations
- The American Presidency Project, UCSB - Text of Presidential Proclamations since 1789
- Executive Orders and Other Presidential Documents: Sources and Explanations, LLSDC.org
- President Theodore Roosevelt - Complete List of Presidential Proclamations