Power to Wage War
words provide historical perspective
Hampshire - April 11, 2004
are certainly members of Congress right now who feel a bit stung
at having their vote for the resolution on Iraq brandished as
record. Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry is not least among
them. The senator finds himself with the need to create a complex
drama for the pacification of critics from the left. His vote, he
says, was for the letter of the resolution, that the United States
should hold Iraq to the demands of the international community. His
is a tone of surprise and dismay at the course of events that followed.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Senator Kerry went so far as
to say that President Bush had "f***ed up" the war in Iraq.
He now says that he would approach the situation differently, though
details on the matter are lacking.
am totally unqualified to write an opinion piece on how to deal with Iraq
or on whether Senator Kerry is fallible for having voted right along with
the great majority of our federal legislative body to bestow upon President
Bush the power to wage war without further approval. Nor do I much wish
to malign any Democrat aiming to dethrone our current ruler. However,
I cannot sit by an allow anyone to express surprise or shun responsibility
for their vote on Iraq. Therefore, I will fall upon a trusted, exalted
source of American political opinion in hopes of making clear that the
Congress should have known better and, in fact, that it acted treasonously
toward the spirit of the Constitution in relinquishing its power to declare
look to none other than than Abraham Lincoln for a perspective on
presidential power. Here, I will reproduce a portion of his letter
to William Herndon, Lincoln's former law partner, regarding President
to invade Mexico over dubious claims that the Texas Territory extended
to the Rio Grande.
Feb. 15, 1848
Your letter of the 29th Jany. was received last
night. Being exclusively a constitutional argument, I wish to submit some reflections
upon it in the same spirit of kindness that I know actuates you. Let me first
state what I understand to be your position. It is, that if it shall become necessary,
to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution,
cross the line and invade the territory of another country; and that
whether such necessity exists in any given case, the President is to
be the sole judge.
But to return to your position: Allow the President to invade a neighboring
nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion,
and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems
it necessary for such purpose - and allow him to make war at pleasure.
Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect,
after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should
say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from
invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no
probability of the British invading us" but he will say to you "be
silent; I see it, if you don't."
provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress,
was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always
been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally,
if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our Convention
understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they
resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should
hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys
the whole matter,
and places our President where kings have always stood. Write soon again.
Lincoln: a Documentary Portrait Through His Speeches and Writings. Don
E. Farenbacher, editor. 1996. Stanford University Press, Stanford.