On This Day

truman national emergency, truman korean war, truman signing
U.S. National Archives
President Truman signs a proclamation
declaring a national emergency,
Dec. 16, 1950.

On This Day: President Truman Declares State of Emergency During Korean War

December 16, 2011 05:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On Dec. 16, 1950, President Harry Truman proclaimed a national state of emergency in order to fight “Communist imperialism,” a reference to Chinese forces fighting against U.S.-led UN forces in the Korean War.

A State of Emergency to Fight Communism

The United States entered Korea in June 1950 following the invasion of South Korea by communist North Korea. UN forces commanded by American Gen. Douglas MacArthur drove back North Korean forces and followed them into North Korea, but their advance prompted China to enter the conflict in October. By mid-December, Chinese forces had driven the UN forces back across the border into South Korea.

As America’s position in Korea worsened, President Truman decided to declare a national emergency. On Dec. 16, he signed a proclamation stating that it was necessary “that the military, naval, air, and civilian defenses of this country be strengthened as speedily as possible to the end that we may be able to repel any and all threats against our national security.”

It called on “all citizens to make a united effort for the security and well-being of our beloved country” and on “our farmers, our workers in industry, and our businessmen to make a mighty production effort to meet the defense requirements of the Nation.”

The emergency proclamation granted the president additional executive powers and allowed him to institute a number of price and wage controls designed to strengthen U.S. defense. “Today was a day of action in the White House, in Congress and elsewhere in the Government as officials moved to implement the President's declaration to the nation and the world last night that the United States would meet the challenge of communism,” The New York Times wrote.

Resources for Studying the Korean War

Fighting in Korea would settle around the North-South Korean border and reach a stalemate. The two sides began negotiations for an armistice in July 1951, but fighting continued for another two years before an agreement was reached. The war finally ended July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice that created a demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel.

The peninsula was devastated by the three-year conflict; much of its infrastructure was destroyed and most of its people thrown into poverty. No peace treaty was ever reached, and there has been continued conflict between North and South Korea.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History offers several books, brochures and other publications detailing the Army’s actions in Korea.

The Truman Library has an archive of speeches, memos, correspondence and other documents relating to the Truman administration’s involvement in the Korean War.

The Eisenhower Library holds primary documents related to the Eisenhower administration’s actions in Korea.

Life magazine has two slideshows of photos from Korea: The Korean War You Never Knew and Life in the Korean War.

Related: Truman Seizes the Steel Industry

In 1952, President Truman issued an executive order placing control of the steel industry under government control to prevent a strike, arguing that it was necessary on the grounds of national security. President Truman cited his 1950 emergency proclamation in the executive order. The case was brought before the Supreme Court, which ruled that the president had no right to rule without consent of Congress even during an emergency.

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