Presidential Proclamations Project at the University of Houston

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About Proclamations

A presidential proclamation is “an instrument that states a condition, declares a law and requires obedience, recognizes an event or triggers the implementation of a law (by recognizing that the circumstances in law have been realized)” (Cooper 2002, 116). In short, presidents “define” situations or conditions on situations that become legal or economic truth. These orders carry the same force of law as executive orders – the difference between the two is that executive order are aimed at those inside government while proclamations are aimed at those outside government. 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.

Presidential proclamations do have important political and historical consequences in the development of the United States, including President Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 and President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Other more recent policy-based proclamations have also made a substantial impact on economic and domestic policy, including President Clinton’s declaration of federal lands for national monuments and President Bush’s proclamations issued related to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Proclamations are also used, often contentiously, to grant presidential pardons, which were particularly important for President Ford who pardoned President Richard Nixon and President Carter who pardoned draft evaders in Vietnam.Proclamations are also used by the President to restrict individuals from certain countries from getting a visa to the United States (

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 President Ronald Reagan called attention to the health of the nation’s eyes by proclaiming a “Save Your Vision Week.”


References Cooper, Phillip J. 2002. By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

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