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The State Council of Defense was pressed into service twice in this century, both times due to a world conflict. However, their priorities showed distinct differences. The earlier organization, legislated into existence April 8, 1918, was not as much concerned with military defense of the state as it way with maintaining the status quo in the state’s agricultural and industrial production for the duration of the war. Their duties were as follows:

– enroll any male not actively involved with the military to help keep agricultural and industrial production up to pre-war standards.
– maintain sufficient levels of production to adequately support the war effort.
– cooperate with other local or national defense councils.
– inventory resources, manpower and materials that were readily available for military use.
– determine areas of potential shortage due to the war and take steps to avoid such shortages.
All non-military males 18-55 were required to be gainfully employed, or risk charges. The agency was dissolved by law six months after the declaration of peace in November 1918.1
As part of their resources inventory, the State Council of Defense had contracted with a New York firm to do a detailed analysis of state and county government structure to make recommendations to streamline them and make them more efficient. The final report was published in March 1919. This report served as the basis for the creation of the Delaware State Survey Commission (RG 1726).
As the aggressive actions of the Axis powers in Europe served to heighten tensions in this country in the late 1930’s, the General Assembly felt it prudent to initiate measures that would prepare the State for any eventuality. Thus, in February 1941, the Legislature authorized and empowered the governor to once again create by proclamation a State Council of Defense.2 The governor was ex officio the chairman of the council, and was to appoint a maximum of fifteen other members, knowledgeable in the fields of industry, agriculture, consumer protection, labor, education, health, welfare, etc. While working in cooperation with any Federal defense agencies, the council was to conduct investigations into the following areas, as they related to the state’s defense:
– industrial materials and facilities
– health and sanitation facilities
– production and manufacturing facilities
– agriculture, food supply, and land use
– labor supply and human resources
– civil liberties (and law and order)
– housing
– transportation
– education
– welfare
– recreation
– finances
– consumerism
– civil defense

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If necessary, the council could conduct hearings to address existing weaknesses in the state’s defense system. They were accorded full use of any existing agencies and facilities in order to accomplish their goals.3 Governor Bacon quickly invoked this new authority with just such a proclamation in May of 1941.4
In 1943, with the war in both the Pacific and European theatres, the Legislature empowered the Governor to, upon the advice of the Council of Defense, suspend or modify any laws that interfered with the conduct of the war. This could be done even in the absence of the General Assembly. (Note: This power ended six months after a declaration of peace).5
The following month, the powers and duties of the Council were expanded to include:

– health and safety of inmates of public institutions and all school pupils and employees.
– decisions regarding blackouts, air raid tests, civil defense drills, illumination modifications, motor vehicle operations, etc.
– organization and administration of the civilian defense organization and all volunteer organizations, such as air raid wardens, police and firemen, demolition, and clearance crews, fire watchers, road repair crews, rescue squads, medical corps, nurses corps, emergency food and housing corps, utility repair squads, etc.
– designation of vehicles and drivers to operate them during real or test drills.
– responsibility for conduct of the civilian population during the same drills.
– sabotage and subversive activities
– evacuation of residents from endangered areas.
– utility maintenance, interconnection or disconnection.6
A proclamation by the Governor in April 1943 adopted additional regulations recommended by the Council. They concerned air raid warning signals; prohibited and permitted lighting; movement of vehicles; radio transmissions; practice blackouts and air raids; false blackouts; illegal uses of insignia; and control of lighting in coastal areas of Kent and Sussex Counties.7
As the tide of the war began to turn in late 1943, the coastal lighting regulations were suspended.8 With the war ending in 1945, the need for the Council of Defense dissipated and it ceased to exist six months after the end of hostilities.

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1 30 DL, ch. 3.

2 43 DL, ch. 285.

3 Ibid.

4 44 DL, ch. 244.

5 44 DL, ch. 62.

6 44 DL, ch. 210.

7 45 DL, ch. 353.

8 45 DL, ch. 358.
jrf/March 28, 1988; April 22, 1988; December 1, 1988

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