While looking for information in the Code of Federal Regulations over the last couple of years I noticed that we were getting close to the 10,000th presidential proclamation and I thought it would be fun to locate that 10,000th proclamation. But what are proclamations and where are they published?
The Law Library’s research guide, Executive Orders: A Beginner’s Guide, notes that there are three types of documents issued by presidents: executive orders, proclamations, and executive memoranda. This research guide references a 1957 House document, Executive Orders and Proclamations: a Study of the Use of Presidential Powers, which stated:
Proclamations in most instances affect primarily the activities and interests of private individuals. Since the President has no power or authority over individual citizens and their rights except where he is granted such power and authority by a provision in the Constitution or by statute, the President’s proclamations are at best hortatory so far as the general public is concerned unless they are based on statutory or Constitutional authority.
Hortatory means to urge or encourage some course of action or some activity. We see the hortatory nature in many modern proclamations which urge us to celebrate a national holiday such as Thanksgiving, bring an event (such as National Park Week)to our attention, or recognize a specific group of people, such as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. These proclamations include language urging private citizens to “learn more about” the occasion and to observe it” with appropriate programs and activities.” However, as the CIS Index to Presidential Executive Orders & Proclamations notes “[a]lthough technically, Executive Orders differ from Presidential Proclamations, this distinction has been imperfectly observed over the years. There are items in each category which seem to belong in the other.” For example, President Lincoln famously suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus in 1862 via proclamation and not an executive order.
However, the presidential proclamation 10000 was a hortatory one. It was issued by President Trump on March 30, 2020, in recognition of National Doctors Day. This proclamation praises the work of doctors: “we recognize the remarkable men and women who treat their fellow Americans, find cures for the diseases and illnesses we face, and never waver in their efforts to treat every patient with the dignity, respect, and empathy they deserve,” as well as exhorting the “people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. In contrast, the Executive Order 10000 was issued by President Truman on September 16, 1948 and concerned “Regulations Governing Additional Compensation and Credit Granted Certain Employees of the Federal Government Serving Outside the United States.”
Presidential proclamations have been published in the Federal Register since 1936. They are also published each year in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations. For presidential proclamations before 1936, many of these are available on the American Presidency Project’s website. For proclamations which are not otherwise available online, you can either visit a local Federal depository library and send an inquiry for information through the Law Library’s Ask a Librarian service.Subscribe to In Custodia Legis – it’s free! – to receive interesting posts drawn from the Law Library of Congress’s vast collections and our staff’s expertise in U.S., foreign, and international law.