War is on everyone’s mind. The images we see are far from the precision conflicts shown in recent years, for example, Desert Storm. Instead, what we see is reminiscent of scenes displayed on the nightly news during the Viet Nam war. Raw, bone-chilling horrors of war. We can’t help but wonder, what if that were us? Today’s American citizen is far removed from a working knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. Let’s look at who is responsible for getting us involved in a war.
“The Congress shall have Power To . . . provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”
—U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 1
“The Congress shall have Power . . . To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
“To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
“To provide and maintain a Navy;
“To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”
__U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clauses 11-16
So, the Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress. Why have we not seen Congressional debates about entering wars during most of our lifetime? It comes down to the word “declare.” The Framers of the Constitution initially used the word “make” but decided on “declare.” This one word gives the Commander-in-Chief (the President) the power to enter a war in emergencies. We don’t “make” war on others. We declare our entry via our elected congressmen and women. There is latitude for the Chief Executive to declare our entry into the conflict in an emergency.
Congress has not declared war since World War II. So, why have we entered wars unilaterally through the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces? The title “Commander-in-Chief” is understood to be civilian leadership. It serves as a check on the balance of power. Our Framers did not want to invest all the power in one person or entity, so they divided the power, in a sense, by implying the Executive Branch could have a say in matters of war, not the Legislative Branch exclusively.
The intent of the Framers was to give Congress the power to declare war. There would be discussion and debate. We would not go to war on a whim. The People, indirectly through their representatives, would have a say in armed conflicts. However, what if Congress wasn’t in session? What if our shores were attacked? This is why the balance of power has shifted from Congress to a type of “shared” power with the Commander-in-Chief. And this power shift has been the subject of debate for fifty years. We are more likely to see Congress give an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to the President than a Declaration of War.
What about treaties? What place do they have in U.S. war involvement? This, from Article VI:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Therefore, the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, takes precedence over treaties because it comes from We the People.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸