The first U.S. President to issue an emergency proclamation was Woodrow Wilson. On Feb. 5th, 1917 he said:
“I have found that there exists a national emergency arising from the insufficiency of maritime tonnage to carry the products of the farms, forests, mines and manufacturing industries of the United States, to their consumers abroad and within the United States.”
Wilson claimed authority for his act under powers granted by The Shipping Act of 1916 (39 Stat. 729). By this stroke of his pen, he put the U.S. Government in the shipping business – building, operating and eventually requisitioning ships.
Subsequently, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 Bank Holiday, it was asserted that the president could declare an emergency without Congressional authority, and seven such declarations were issued, the last one President Richard Nixon’s 1971 imposition of wage and price controls.
Later, the National Emergencies Act of 1976 (90 Stat. 1255) established criteria and circumstances for future presidential declarations and repealed the four previous declarations (including the 1933 Bank Holiday) deemed still in effect.
Since 1976, there have been fifty-one National Emergencies proclaimed, almost all of which imposed sanctions on the property of or commercial, financial and/or technological transactions with, targeted foreign governments, foreign organizations and/or foreign persons. Thirty-two declarations remain in force.