The Constitution gives the power of declaring war solely to Congress, while the president serves as commander in chief of the U.S. military. What does commander in chief mean? As American citizens, it is our responsibility not only to stay informed about the domestic and international uses of our military, but also to make thoughtful judgments about the wisdom and prudence of each use. Is it the responsibility of free people to spread freedom around the world? What about the responsibility to, at a minimum, refrain from sustaining tyranny? Should the military ever be used against American citizens?
Making these judgments is crucially important, especially as Americans are increasingly subject to law enforcement on the local level (local and county police), state level (state police, highway patrol, etc.), and by federal government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), National Security Agency (NSA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). Is this web of agencies and organizations—all of which have surveillance and detention powers— good or bad for liberty?
In addition to these policing bodies, U.S. military forces have been deployed against Americans several times in our history without a congressional declaration of war as in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the twenty-first century. Have these been proper uses of the military?
Military Force Against Foreign Enemies
In response to presidential requests, Congress has used its constitutional power to declare war five times in the nation’s history: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Since World War II, the United States has never actually declared war, despite our being at near-constant war since the days of the Truman administration.
In 1947, President Harry Truman announced that the United States would assist any nation in the world that was threatened by Communism. When Communist North Korea invaded free South Korea in 1950, Truman sent U.S. troops as part of a combined United Nations force defending South Korea. Truman did not ask for a declaration of war, and described the troops’ mission as a “police action.” For the next several decades and beyond, the word “war” would begin to lose its precision. Rather, declaring war came to be seen as unnecessary or inconvenient.
The power to make war continued to shift from Congress to the president during the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
In 1961, Kennedy sent supplies and advisors to South Vietnam in their fight against Communist North Vietnam. Johnson escalated the war. When he was elected president, Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War, but instead he expanded it with secret bombings in Cambodia in order to bring the enemy to the negotiating table.
The trend of increased presidential power to make war approached a breaking point. News of the My Lai massacre broke in 1969. Nixon revealed the “Cambodian Incursion" in April of 1970; The next month, National Guardsmen at Kent State fired on unarmed students protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, killing four and wounding nine others. The Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, revealing that the government had misled Congress and the public about the cause of entry into the full scope of the Vietnam War.
The War Powers Resolution
Congress responded to these events by attempting to reclaim some of the war powers it had been giving over to the president since World War II. The Democratic Congress, in response to the peace movement led by the New Left, ordered an immediate end to the bombing raids in Cambodia, and drew up the War Powers Resolution (1973).
The bill required the president to consult Congress before the start of hostilities, and report regularly on the deployment of U.S. troops. Further, the president would have to withdraw forces within sixty days if Congress had not declared war or authorized the use of force.
When it came to his desk, Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution. In his veto message, he wrote that the resolution “would attempt to take away, by a mere legislative act, authorities which the President has properly exercised under the Constitution for almost 200 years.” He also noted that Congress already had a constitutional check on the president’s power with its funding power. But Congress overrode his veto and the War Powers Resolution became law in 1973.
Although the War Powers Resolution may have been meant to return the power to declare war to Congress, that has not been the result.
The president’s war-making power has continued to increase. No president has fully complied with the War Powers Resolution, and no Congress has declared war since World War II despite near-constant conflict. The tension over the balance of powers listed in the Constitution between the legislative and executive branches’ war powers has remained. A few examples of this tension include: The Senate never ratified the 1979 SALT II treaty, negotiated by President Jimmy Carter. President Ronald Reagan sent troops into Grenada, calling the deployment a “rescue mission.” He did so without seeking congressional authorization. President George H.W. Bush, believing a “New World Order” was needed in the post-Cold War Era, sought to build an international coalition before he invaded Iraq. He had secured congressional approval of military force but no formal declaration of war. President Bill Clinton used executive orders and presidential directives to declare areas in Kosovo a “war zone” and used military troops for an “intervention.” President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 after asking for and receiving Congress’s “authorization to use military force” without a declaration of war.
From War to Fighting Terrorism
If the executive’s war powers had been growing, then they began growing still further—both at home and abroad—after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The power to wage “war” against foreign nations become the power to “fight terrorism” plotted by terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. Not long after the attack, President George W. Bush received congressional authorization to use military force in Afghanistan. Congress passed the PATRIOT Act and Bush proposed the creation of a new cabinet department: the Department of Homeland Security. Other agencies and departments experienced growth, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Cybersecurity and Communication, the Bureau of Counterterrorism, the Transportation Safety Administration, the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and many others.
Many of these organizations have scrutinized the activities of Americans in unprecedented ways.
Why has Congress stopped declaring war? Some argue that the rise of nuclear weapons and other technologies after World War II justify the increased power of the president to wage war without congressional approval. If an enemy leader across the world need only press a button to launch a nuclear attack, the president cannot call Congress into session to ask for a declaration of war before issuing a response. Critics of this view point out, however, that no military action conducted by a president without a declaration of war has been ordered because of an immediate threat to the United States. Further, the commander in chief role has always traditionally included the power to repel attacks without a declaration of war. Finally, Congress can “declare war” as a means of acknowledging that a state of war exists—as it did after Japan's December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress did not declare war.
The rise of government’s need to fight global terrorism is another justification for increased commander in chief power. According to a study published in the Washington Post, “some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. An estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances. In Washington and the surrounding area, thirty-three building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or twenty-two U.S. Capitol buildings—about 17 million square feet of space.”
War, Liberty, and the Future
The American Armed Forces have fought valiantly against foreign enemies since the Founding of the nation. As commander in chief, the president has the power to oversee the Armed Forces during their service.
Congress has the power to call military personnel into service with a declaration of war. There have been many times when these two branches of government have worked in concert to protect the rights and liberties of the American people and the territories held by the United States. Disagreements continue to occur regarding the balance of this power, and federal government powers do tend to increase during times of crisis. A study of the history of the constitutional separation of war powers raises questions. Has the separation of war powers worked? Was Madison correct to believe that the checks and balances in the Constitution would be enough to protect the people from enemies and at the same time from a too-powerful government? Has ambition counteracted ambition, as the Founders hoped it would?
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Law of Demand
As prices decrease, the quantity demanded increases or as prices increase, the quantity demanded decreases.
Rights which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Rights which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Except where authorized by people through the Constitution, government does not have the authority to limit freedom.
The power of government flows from the people.
Separation of powers
A system of distinct powers built into the constitution, to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.
Checks and balances
Powers distributed among the branches of government allowing each to limit the application of power of the other branches and to prevent expansion of power of any branch.
The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.
Fairness or reasonableness in the way people are treated or decisions are made.
The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.
Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.
(or republican government) Form of government in which the people are sovereign (ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.
(or representative government)Form of government in which the people are sovereign (ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.
Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.
The fundamental principles by which a state or nation is governed. The United States Constitution, written in 1787, lays out the roles and powers of each of the three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial), the protections of due process and rule of law in the states, a republican form of government, and the manner in which to amend the document.
Jefferson was a Virginia plantation owner who was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as a legislator and governor in Virginia, as well as an ambassador to France, Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President under John Adams, and the third President of the United States. During his political career, Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party with James Madison, and he bought the Louisiana Purchase from France. After his presidency, Jefferson started the University of Virginia near his home, Monticello.
Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, which limit government power and protect individual liberties, including the freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly, as well as protections against cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable search and seizure, and other due process rights.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens’ rights to create a militia and to bear arms. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The government must interact with all persons according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all persons.
Every individual is equal to every other person with respect to natural rights and treatment before the law.
Consent of the governed
The authority of the government must come from the people through elections and through the people’s interaction with government.
Individuals must take care of themselves and their families, and be vigilant to preserve their liberty and the liberty of others.
Rule of law
Government officials and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power.
Declaration of Independence
The document written in 1776 by the Founders to send to Britain’s King George III in which independence from Britain was declared and the reasons for the separation were explained.
Articles of Confederation
The first national government document developed in 1781 by the Founders. The Articles created a federal legislative branch, but there was no executive or judiciary. The states retained most of the governmental powers.
The group of people who wrote and influenced the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the United States Constitution, and the United States Bill of Rights. These men were instrumental in establishing the nation and its governmental documents and practices.
A series of 85 essays written to convince the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. The authors were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. These documents are considered to be the most authoritative explanation of the political theory of the Constitution.
Ratified in 1791, it protects the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Law of Supply
As the price drops, the quantity supplied also drops.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens’ rights against unreasonable searches and seizures of property and explains that warrants must be issued with probable cause. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the right indictment by a jury, against double jeopardy, self-incrimination, loss of life, liberty, or property without due process, and just compensation for private property taken for public use. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Ratified in 1791, it states that the powers not enumerated or delegated in the Constitution are reserved for the states and the people. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects against excessive bail and fines and cruel and unusual punishments. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Ratified in 1791, the listing of certain rights protected by the Constitution cannot be used to deny rights not enumerated in the document. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton served as General Washington’s chief of staff, promoted the ratification of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, and founded the nation’s financial system and first political party.
Madison was a Framer who was instrumental in writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He is known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison partnered with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers in support of the ratification of the Constitution. He also served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the United States House of Representatives, Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, and the fourth president of the United States.
First President of the United States, George Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
An English philosopher and physician, John Locke was one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers and is known today as the Father of Classical Liberalism.
The Continental Congress, comprised of delegates from 12 of the 13 American colonies, represented the colonists during and after the American Revolution. The Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence and ratified the Articles of Confederation.
King George III
King George III was the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. His actions towards the American colonies, outlined in the Declaration of Independence, spurred the American Revolution.
Spanning ten years from 1929 to 1939, the Great Depression was one of the longest-lasting economic downturns in the history of the United States affecting the U.S. and most of the world.
An introductory statement, preface, or introduction.
Cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others.
Using power over people in a way that is cruel and unfair.
Before becoming the second President of the United States, John Adams served as the country’s first Vice President under George Washington. Adams was an advocate of American independence from Britain and a Federalist.
Founding Father John Jay was one of the signers of the Treaty of Paris and served as the first Chief Justice of the United States. He was also one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens against the quartering of soldiers in private homes without their approval. “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the rights of impartial jury trials, the right to be informed of the accusations against you, the right to be confronted by witness, and the right to be assisted by counsel. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the right of jury trials in law suits dealing with more than twenty dollars and protects against reexamination of the trial in any court if decided by a jury. “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
Alexis de Tocqueville
French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution. He visited the U.S. in the 1830s and wrote admiringly about many aspects of American law and society.
Democracy in America
Written by Alexis de Tocqueville after visiting the United States, Democracy in America contains de Tocqueville’s analysis of and reflections on the United States’ democratic system and society. The first volume was published in 1835 and the second in 1840.
Written in 1215, it is the oldest document in the British and American heritage of rights. Contributed to the adoption of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the Bill of Rights, and speaks of these rights as ancient.
Two Treatises of Civil Government
Written by John Locke in 1690, the Two Treatises of Civil Government criticize absolute power for kings and outline Locke’s suggestions for a more civilized society based on natural rights and the social contract.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. “Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The group of people who actually attended the Constitutional Convention and participated in writing the Constitution.
Ratified in 1868, it states that all people born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and ensures that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Ratified in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment gave Congress the ability to collect income taxes. “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census of enumeration.”
atified in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment introduced Prohibition, the period of United States history when the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol was made illegal throughout the country. “Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.”
The Twentieth Amendment was ratified in 1933, and it establishes procedures for presidential succession and the start and end of federal officials’ terms of office.
“Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3rd day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, ending Prohibition. “Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed. Section 2. The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.”
English Bill of Rights
Passed by the British Parliament in 1689, the English Bill of Rights limited the power of the British monarch, outlined the rights of the Parliament, and guaranteed Protestants the right to bear arms.
The legislative body of the United Kingdom (known as Great Britain or England during the Founding era).
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, author, publisher, scientist, inventor and diplomat. He served in the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. In addition, Franklin helped negotiated the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War and later served as a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
The right to vote.
A government in which the power belongs to citizens through the right to vote.
Ratified in 1870, it states that the right could not be restricted based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” “Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment introduced direct election of Senators. “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”
Ratified in 1920, the amendment stated that a citizen’s right to vote must not be restricted based on gender. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Direct democracy is a political system in which the people vote directly on policies or laws, as opposed to voting for representatives who enact laws on their behalf.
Not planned or chosen for a particular reason; done without concern for what is fair or right.
The process by which courts analyze the constitutionality of an act of government.
Majority rule/minority rights
laws may be made with the consent of the majority, but only to the point where they do not infringe on the inalienable rights of the minority.
An arbitrary order or decree.
Something that is owned by a person, business, etc. This includes possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, and the fruits of one's labor.
A government in which the power is held by the people.
A body of electors chosen by each state to vote for the president and vice president of the United States.
Conduct that reflects universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to leading a worthwhile life and to effective self-government. For many leading Founders, attributes of character such as justice, responsibility, perseverance, etc., were thought to flow from an understanding of the rights and obligations of men. Virtue is compatible with, but does not require, religious belief.