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Is the "National Emergency" of FDR still in place?

By Charles A. Morse
web posted August 27, 2001

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The "National Emergency" legislation, passed through Congress in the first 100 days of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, 1933, under the guise of dealing with the economic depression, set in motion the continuing transfer of the sovereign rights of the American citizen and the states to the Federal government in Washington D.C. It is from this legislation that the Feds derive much of their power over such areas as education, health, welfare, civil rights, the environment, and an ever-expanding infringement into the overall freedoms and personal rights of the citizenry. Understanding this legislation opens the door to the mystery of federal expansion and why we the people feel helpless in its wake.

The "national emergency" technically ended on September 14, 1976, 43 years after it's enactment and 31 years after the end of World War II, when Congress passed H.R. 3884, the National Emergencies Act (50 USC 1601), Public Law 94-412. President Roosevelt had promised the American people that the emergency would be ended at the conclusion of World War II but he died in office before that time. President Harry S. Truman retained the extraordinary powers granted under the re-writing of the War Powers Act and, under it's guise, established much of what is known as the national security structure which includes, among other agencies, a permanent CIA.

The "national emergency" was ended by the 93rd Congress as a response to actions by President Richard M. Nixon. Less than three months after taking office, Nixon, who had promised to end US involvement in Vietnam during his campaign, escalated the war by authorizing the secret bombing of Cambodia. After the New York Times broke the story, May 9, 1969, Congress responded by repealing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which had been the vehicle by which President Lyndon B. Johnson had launched the US Vietnam offensive in 1965.

Nixon responded by claiming authority for his Vietnam policy under the Trading With the Enemy Act, which was part of Roosevelt's emergency legislation. Congress threatened, in response, to cut off all funding. Nixon backed down temporarily by stopping the bombing of Cambodia and hastily withdrawing troops which served to destabilize the Vietnam situation.

Nixon would again antagonize Congress when, on August 15, 1971, he would issue Presidential Proclamation 4074 which would impose a surcharge on imports and devalue the dollar. This would be based on Section 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemies Act declaring a "national emergency." On December 12, 1972, under the authority of the Trading With the Enemies Act, Nixon would order American B-52's to drop over 36,000 tons of bombs over Haiphong and Hanoi.

Congress, in response to what it viewed as Nixon's abuse of power and in the atmosphere of the Watergate scandal with an unraveling presidency, appointed a special committee, headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) called the "Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency" with hearings beginning July, 1973.

On September 14, 1976, Congress would formally repeal the emergency legislation. This was a classic example of sleight of hand. In fact, Congress exempted all laws, based on the emergency of 1933 that were already in place. Rather than being based on the authority of the President under a "national emergency" these federal laws would now be codified as a permanent part of the U.S. Federal Code. Included among the codified laws would be Section 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemies Act, which classifies the American citizen as an enemy of the government.

Our federal government does, at times, seem to be in a state of war with the American citizen. The American conception of citizenship, articulated by the founding fathers and codified by the Constitution of the United States, is that all sovereign powers are retained by the citizen and by the respective states with a limited, proscribed grant of power given to the federal government. Since 1933, and the New Deal of FDR, our federal government has been in a virtual state of war with these concepts, with the Constitution, and with we the people. ESR

Chuck Morse is the author of the forthcoming book "Why I'm a Right-Wing Extremist".

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