A situation which arrises when extreme internal strife affects a nation. Something you probably don't want happening, and a reason some paranoid people cling to the 2nd Amendment
Exerpts from Grolier's:

Martial law is the temporary substitution of military authority for civil rule, usually in time of war, rebellion, or natural disaster. Martial law is not law in the formal sense but merely the substitution of military procedures for the usual procedures of law and the courts.
The U.S. Constitution makes no specific provision for the imposition of martial law. However, Article I, Section 9, allows the suspension of the privilege of Habeas Corpus when, because of rebellion or invasion, the public safety warrants it. States have the power to declare martial law when it is deemed necessary for the public safety. The president is empowered by law to declare martial law to protect states against invasion and--when a state so requests--against domestic violence.
Martial law was proclaimed twice by Abraham Lincoln, the only instances of its use by an American president. More frequently it has been employed by state executives and by autocratic national rulers seeking to rule by decree, such as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who invoked it in 1972

The very thought of it scares the hell out of me....

Should the rule of law fall into chaos, should fighting break out in the streets, should a natural disaster occur that renders the country unlivable, the powers that be have it within their authority to declare a State of National Emergency. In that case, martial law would be called upon to restore "order". What can (will?) one expect to happen?

Let's take a look at the Federal Level starting with a few of the more recent Executive Orders...

Executive Order 10995

SEC. 3. The authority to assign radio frequencies to Government agencies, vested in the President by section 305 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (47 U.S.C. 305), including all functions heretofore vested in the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee, is hereby delegated to the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning, who may redelegate such authority to the Director of Telecommunications Management. Such authority shall include the power to amend, modify, or revoke frequency assignments.

Signed by President John F. Kennedy on February 16, 1962 this order would bring all methods of communication under control by the Federal Government. It includes everyday things that we take for granted such as television, radio, newpapers, telephones and just about any other method of communication. It was later expanded to include the internet. Basically folks, what it means is that you could kiss the First Amendement goodbye.

Executive Order 10997

SECTION 1. Scope. The Secretary of the Interior (hereinafter referred to as the Secretary) shall prepare national emergency plans and develop preparedness programs covering (1) electric power; (2) petroleum and gas; (3) solid fuels; and (4) minerals. These plans and programs shall be designed to provide a state of readiness in these resource areas with respect to all conditions of national emergency, including attack upon the United States.
(d) Claimancy. Prepare plans to claim materials, manpower, equipment, supplies and services needed in support of assigned responsibilities and other essential functions of the Department before the appropriate agency, and work with such agencies in developing programs to insure availability of such resources in an emergency.

Also signed by Kennedy on the same day, this executive order authorizes the Federal Government to take control of electricity, oil and gas, coal , other minerals and just about anything else that’s needed to live on a day to day basis. (Unless you're one of those so-called “survivalists”)

Executive Order 10998

SECTION 1. Scope. The Secretary of Agriculture (hereinafter referred to as the Secretary) shall prepare national emergency plans and develop preparedness programs covering: Food resources, farm equipment, fertilizer, and food resource facilities, as defined below; rural fire control; defense against biological warfare, chemical warfare, and radiological fallout pertaining to agricultural activities; and rural defense information and education. These plans and programs shall be designed to develop a state of readiness in these areas with respect to all conditions of national emergency, including attack upon the United States.
SEC. 5. Claimancy. The Secretary shall prepare plans to claim materials, manpower, equipment, supplies and services which would be needed to carry out assigned responsibilities and other essential functions of the Department from the appropriate agency and work with such agencies in developing programs to insure availability of such resources in an emergency.

Again, signed by Kennedy, same bat time, same bat station. As it weren't enough that the government had already seized control over the media, and the energy supply, I guess they figured people could still eat. Guess again, this Executive Order empowers the government to seize control of all the food, all the farms that grow all the food, and, all the equipment on all the farms that grow all the food. It will then be rationed out by government officials. Just in case you were thinking about hoarding a Snickers Bar or two for you and your family, be careful. Anybody caught hoarding vittles is subject to prosecution.

Executive Order 10999

SECTION 1. Scope. The Secretary of Commerce (hereinafter referred to as the Secretary) shall prepare national emergency plans and develop preparedness programs covering:
Development and coordination of over-all policies, plans, and procedures for the provision of a centralized control of all modes of transportation in an emergency for the movement of passenger and freight traffic of all types, and the determination of the proper apportionment and allocation of the total civil transportation capacity, or any portion thereof, to meet over-all essential civil and military needs.
SEC. 7. Claimancy. The Secretary shall prepare plans to claim supporting materials, manpower, equipment, supplies and services which would be needed to carry out assigned responsibilities and other essential functions of the Department from the appropriate agency and shall work with such agencies in developing programs to insure availability of such resources in an emergency.

Thanks again JFK. Just in case you were thinking that things couldn't get any worse and that you wanted the hell out, think again. This order gives the control of all modes of transportation to the government. So, you got that car finally paid off? Too bad, any vehicle can be seized.

Executive Order 11000

SECTION 1. Scope. The Secretary of Labor (hereinafter referred to as the Secretary) shall prepare national emergency plans and develop preparedness programs covering civilian manpower mobilization, more effective utilization of limited manpower resources including specialized personnel, wage and salary stabilization, worker incentives and protection, manpower resources and requirements, skill development and training, research, labor-management relations, and critical occupations. These plans and programs shall be designed to develop a state of readiness in these areas with respect to all conditions of national emergency, including attack upon the United States.
(1) Manpower management. Recruitment, selection and referral, training, employment stabilization (including appeals procedures), proper utilization, and determination of the skill categories critical to meeting the labor requirements of defense and essential civilian activities.

JFK was a busy man but I guess it was the times of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The way that I read this is, even though you are a civilian, you may be forced to go to work for the government. God knows what that might entail

Executive Order 11490

SECTION 3001 Resource Management.
In consonance with the national preparedness, security, and mobilization readiness plans, programs, and operations of the Office of Emergency Preparedness under Executive Order No. 11051 of September 27, 1962, and subject to the provisions of the preceding parts, the head of each department and agency shall:
(1) Priorities and allocations. Develop systems for the emergency application of priorities and allocations to the production, distribution, and use of resources for which he has been assigned responsibility.
(2) Requirements. Assemble, develop as appropriate, and evaluate requirements for assigned resources, taking into account estimated needs for military, atomic energy, civilian, and foreign purposes. Such evaluation shall take into consideration geographical distribution of requirements under emergency conditions.
(3) Evaluation. Assess assigned resources in order to estimate availability from all sources under an emergency situation, analyze resource availabilities in relation to estimated requirements, and develop appropriate recommendations and programs, including those necessary for the maintenance of an adequate mobilization base. Provide data and assistance before and after attack for national resource analysis purposes of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
(4) Claimancy. Prepare plans to claim from the appropriate agency supporting materials, manpower, equipment, supplies, and services which would be needed to carry out assigned responsibilities and other essential functions of his department or agency, and cooperate with other agencies in developing programs to insure availability of such resources in an emergency.
Prepare national plans for emergency operations of vocational rehabilitation and related agencies, and for measures and resources necessary to rehabilitate and make available for employment those persons among the surviving population

Considered by many to be the "mother of all Executive Orders" and given to us by one Richard M. Nixon. Basically it is a compilation of all of the existing Executive Orders that deal with matters of a national emergency and the wording itself is vague at best. Take for example the wording in paragraph two, "Assemble, and develop as appropriate". That can be interpreted by many different people many different ways. The same can be said for just about the entire first sentence in paragraph 3. In general, the Executive Order gives the government the power to:

1)Sieze any and all sources of power. Most of the commentary that I've read includes this to mean churches. If that commentary is correct, then I guess that means you'll probably have to check with the feds in case you want to utter a quick prayer or two at your local house of worship.

2)Take control of all the highways, airports, railroads, seaports and waterways. I guess that's to prevent the citizenry from freely moving around the country.

3) Shift those of the population that were lucky enough to survive whatever has befallen the country to cause a national emergency from one area of the country to another.

When you add it up, this Executive Order spells out the responsibilities for each of the major divisions of the Presidents Cabinet as well as most of the major federal agencies.

Executive Order 12656

Develop, in coordination with the Attorney General of the United States, specific procedures by which military assistance to civilian law enforcement authorities may be requested, considered, and provided.

Develop plans for encouraging capital inflow and discouraging the flight of capital from the United States and, in coordination with the Secretary of State, for the seizure and administration of assets during national security emergencies.
Develop, in coordination with the Secretary of Labor, the Directors of the Selective Service System, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, plans and systems to ensure that the Nation's human resources are available to meet essential military and civilian needs in national security emergencies;

Thanks Ron. Just in case you're wondering if your local and state authorities will step in and protect you, wonder no more. Besides granting federal control to local law enforcement, this order also gives the government the ability to put wage and price controls in place. Any assets that you might have acquired throughout your lifetime can also be seized. Uhm, travel. Forget it. Restricted by the government. One last thing, you might also be drafted.

There is some precedent for the declaration of martial law but most of those instances have occurred at the state or local level when things get out of hand. Should things ever get out of hand on a national scale, you can expect many of these Executive Orders to go into force.

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That my friends, is some scary shit...

Some personal thanks go out to Cletus_the_Foetus for the help, suggestions and patience shown in the completion of this node.

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