Presidential Proclamation 2526: Alien Enemies—Germans Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces launched an air attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Over the next few days, the United States plunged into World War II as it (along with Britain) declared war on Japan on December 8 and Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11. Amid this turmoil, President Franklin D. Roosevelt first issued a proclamation under existing US law permitting the detainment and internment of Japanese nationals residing in the United States. Two additional orders, including Presidential Proclamation 2526, expanded these authorizations to include German and Italian citizens. Over the next several years, the US Department of Justice oversaw thousands of cases in which so-called enemy aliens were brought in for hearings to determine their loyalty to the United States. Some of these foreign nationals were interned in detention camps; others were released, but subjected to additional restrictions on their rights and movements.

Summary Overview

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces launched an air attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Over the next few days, the United States plunged into World War II as it (along with Britain) declared war on Japan on December 8 and Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11. Amid this turmoil, President Franklin D. Roosevelt first issued a proclamation under existing US law permitting the detainment and internment of Japanese nationals residing in the United States. Two additional orders, including Presidential Proclamation 2526, expanded these authorizations to include German and Italian citizens. Over the next several years, the US Department of Justice oversaw thousands of cases in which so-called enemy aliens were brought in for hearings to determine their loyalty to the United States. Some of these foreign nationals were interned in detention camps; others were released, but subjected to additional restrictions on their rights and movements.

Defining Moment

When Presidential Proclamation 2526 was issued on December 8, 1941, the United States was not yet at war with Germany, although Americans by that time fully expected that it would come. The Nazi government under German dictator Adolf Hitler had spent years building up the national military, and in 1936 formed a military alliance with Benito Mussolini's fascist government in Italy as well as an anti-Soviet pact with Japan. Hitler's persecution of Jews and political opponents in Germany led to a surge in immigration to the United States as German intellectuals, Jews, and other at-risk Europeans fled for safety.

With the devastation of World War I still fresh in the minds of the British and German people, among others, Western Europe did little to block the rise of a Germany reenergized under the Nazis. The British policy of appeasement allowed Hitler to make territorial grabs in Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938. In 1939, Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and launched an invasion of Poland that at last led Polish allies Britain and France to declare war on Germany. The next several months saw intense fighting that left Germany and its allies in control of much of mainland Western Europe.

Worried Americans watched the conflict from across the Atlantic. National sentiment opposed intervention in the war; Americans, too, recalled the immense human and economic costs of World War I. During 1940 and 1941, however, the nation's support for the Allies slowly escalated, as the US public generally agreed that Great Britain should not fall to the Nazis. The US federal government also ramped up internal measures to protect domestic security and, hopefully, prevent—or at least prepare for—the possibility of attack.

Among these was the Alien Registration Act of 1940, also known as the Smith Act. This law required anyone living in the United States and not a US citizen to register with a local agency as an alien. Some five millions immigrants across the nation registered their names, personal details, and fingerprints with the government, receiving an alien registration card in return. Upon signing the act, Roosevelt emphasized that the law was not intended to cast suspicion on foreigners but instead to provide a uniform, national way to identify the foreign population in the interests of national security. Some of these same foreigners were, perhaps ironically, those who had escaped oppression in Nazi Germany. The association between noncitizen status and security risk, however, was implied in the mere existence of such a registry.

German Americans comprised one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Many of these people were native-born US citizens with long domestic family histories. But German Americans and German culture had been subject to persecution in the United States before, during World War I; as 1941 ended, feelings over the US entry into the World War II ran high.

Author Biography

Roosevelt was first elected president in 1932 and had led the United States through many of the difficult years of the Great Depression. Beginning in the mid-1930s, however, Roosevelt had also had to carefully watch the development of fascist and militaristic governments both in Europe and in Japan. Even as the US Congress and American people had remained strongly against US intervention in the burgeoning conflict, Roosevelt had sought to secure US support for Great Britain and France in the face of German military aggression. The president had also supported policies resisting the growing power of the Japanese military government, which began its own efforts to expand into mainland Asia. By the time Proclamation 2526 and the related proclamations 2525 and 2527 were issued in late 1941, the United States had shifted from neutrality to open support for the Allies, as Roosevelt believed that the risk of German attack on the United States would grow greatly if Britain, German's last significant opponent in Western Europe, fell.

Historical Document

WHEREAS it is provided by Section 21 of Title 50 of the United States Code [11 F. C. A., tit. 50, § 21] as follows: “Whenever there is a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion is perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States by any foreign nation or government, and the President makes public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being of the age of fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed as alien enemies. The President is authorized in any such event, by his proclamation thereof, or other public act, to direct the conduct to be observed, on the part of the United States, toward the aliens who become so liable; the manner and degree of the restraint to which they shall be subject and in what cases, and upon what security their residence shall be permitted, and to provide for the removal of those who, not being permitted to reside within the United States, refuse or neglect to depart therefrom; and to establish any other regulations which are found necessary in the premises and for the public safety.”

AND WHEREAS by sections 22, 23, and 24 of title 50 of the United States Code [11 F. C. A., tit. 50, §§ 22 to 24] further provision is made relative to alien enemies:

PROCLAMATION

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, as PRESIDENT of the United States and as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do hereby make public proclamation to all whom it may concern that an invasion of predatory incursion is threatened upon the territory of the United States by Germany.

CONDUCT TO BE OBSERVED BY ALIEN ENEMIES

And, acting under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution of the United States and the said sections of the United States Code, I do hereby further proclaim and direct that the conduct to be observed on the part of the United States toward all natives, citizens, denizens or subjects of Germany being of the age of fourteen years and upwards who shall be within the United States or within any territories in any way subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and not actually naturalized, who for the purpose of this Proclamation and under such sections of the United States Code are termed alien enemies, shall be as follows:

All alien enemies are enjoined to preserve the peace toward the United States and to refrain from crime against public safety, and from violating the laws of the United States and of the States and Territories thereof; and to refrain from actual hostility or giving information, aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States or interfering by word or deed with the defense of the United States or political processes and public opinions thereof; and to comply strictly with the regulations which are hereby or which may be from time to time promulgated by the President.

All alien enemies shall be liable to restraint, or to give security, or to remove and depart from the United States in the manner prescribed by sections 23 and 24 of title 50 of the United States Code, and as prescribed in the regulations duly promulgated by the President.

DUTIES AND AUTHORITY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE SECRETARY OF WAR

And, pursuant to the authority vested in me, I hereby charge the Attorney General with the duty of executing all the regulations hereinafter prescribed regarding the conduct of alien enemies within the continental limits of the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, and the Secretary of War with the duty of executing the regulations which are hereinafter prescribed and which may be hereafter adopted regarding the conduct of alien enemies in the Canal Zone, the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippine Islands. Each of them is specifically directed to cause the apprehension of such alien enemies as in the judgment of each are subject to apprehension or deportation under such regulations. In carrying out such regulations within the continental United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, the Attorney General is authorized to utilize such agents, agencies, officers and departments of the United States and of the several states, territories, dependencies, municipalities thereof and of the District of Columbia as he may select for the purpose. Similarly the Secretary of War in carrying out such regulations in the Canal Zone, the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippine Islands is authorized to use such agents, agencies, officers and departments of the United States and of the territories, dependencies and municipalities thereof as he may select for the purpose. All such agents, agencies, officers and departments are hereby granted full authority for all acts done by the them in the execution of such regulations when acting by direction of the Attorney General or the Secretary of War, as the case may be.

REGULATIONS

The regulations contained in Proclamation No. 2525 of December 7, 1941, relative to natives, citizens, denizens or subject of Japan are hereby incorporated in and made a part of this proclamation, and shall be applicable to alien enemies defined in this proclamation.

This proclamation and the regulations herein prescribed shall extend and apply to all land and water, continental or insular, in any way within the jurisdiction of the United States.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this 8th day of December, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America one hundred and sixty-sixth.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Document Analysis

Issued just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and three days before Germany and Italy formally declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, Presidential Proclamation 2526 reflected the nation's fears of treachery from within by US residents loyal to a home country then opposed to the United States. The proclamation justifies the legal restrictions it establishes as central to US national defense, and closely resembles Proclamations 2525 and 2527, which established proceedings for the questioning and detainment of Japanese nationals and Italian nationals within US territory, respectively. Following the strictures of the proclamation, the document asserts, would allow these “alien enemies” to “preserve the peace… and to refrain from crime against public safety, and from violating the laws of the United States.”

Proclamation 2526 based its legality on the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, which authorized the president to “direct the conduct to be observed” by the US government toward citizens of a country engaged in hostilities against the United States. Part of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed during a period of tensions with France under the administration of President John Adams, the 1798 law had generated no small amount of controversy in its own day. Proclamation 2526 relies on the tenets of the 1798 law to proclaim German citizens aged fourteen and older “alien enemies” subject to the provisions of the proclamation. It further grants authority to execute the proclamation to the US attorney general within the nation's borders, and to the secretary of war in the Panama Canal Zone and US territories, effectively assigning the domestic administration of the proclamation to the Department of Justice's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Linking to the preceding Proclamation 2525, the document also formally extends the regulations placed on Japanese nationals to German Americans. These regulations included, but were not limited to, a bar on civilian entry into the Panama Canal Zone, Hawaii, or the Philippines; limits on travel to and from the US territories of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands; a bar on international travel and air travel of any kind; and restrictions on changing jobs, moving residences, or joining certain organizations. The proclamation also prohibited German aliens from owning weapons, radios, cameras, or other instruments that could be used to record or transmit confidential information. The document thus placed strict limits on personal freedoms and civil rights basic to the foundational democratic ideals of the United States.

Essential Themes

Fears over national security informed much of the nation's domestic and foreign policies during the World War II era. The attack on Pearl Harbor—a location far distant from the mainland United States but still under US protection—showed that the nation was not invulnerable. Presidential Proclamation 2526, in announcing itself a measure to protect national security and prevent attack, thus fits into the policy context of its day.

Hundreds of German Americans were arrested within a few days of the proclamation's issuance, and over the next several months, thousands of German Americans and their families, including native-born US citizens, entered internment camps in places such as Texas, North Dakota, and Montana. Nearly 11,000 German “alien enemies” were interned during the course of the war. Only a minority of those detained were ever found guilty of subversive activities, and many were interned based on weak evidence or hearsay accusations. Some German internees gained release before the end of the war, but others were detained until well into 1945. A number of German internees considered a lingering threat to national security were deported to Germany in the summer of 1945 under the authority of Roosevelt's successor, President Harry S. Truman.

US interests eventually spread the detention and internment program inaugurated by these proclamations to Latin America, as well. Numerous Latin American nations investigated their own populations of German and other foreign nationals at the behest of the United States, and about 6,600 Japanese, German, and Italian nationals were deported to the United States and interned there, again usually with little or no evidence. Latin American internees were sometimes exchanged for US or Allied prisoners of war.

Proclamation 2526 also reflected a long-standing internal struggle over immigration and immigrants. Although the United States prided itself on being a land of opportunity populated largely by immigrants seeking a better life, the country had long shown ambivalence or even hostility toward certain groups of immigrants after they reached the United States. German Americans had been subject to both formal restrictions and informal persecution during World War I as wartime propaganda inflamed US popular opinion against Germans and their culture; Proclamation 2526 marked a return to formal restrictions during World War II.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Behen, Scott M. “German and Italian Internment.” Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West. Ed. Gordon Morris Bakken and Alexandra Kindell. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006. Print.
  • “Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program.” National Archives. US Natl. Archives and Records Administration, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
  • Holian, Timothy J. The German-Americans and World War II: An Ethnic Experience. New York: Lang, 1998. Print.
  • TenBroek, Jacobus, Edward N. Barnhart, and Floyd W. Matson. Prejudice, War, and the Constitution. Berkeley: U of California P, 1954. Print.
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