War isn’t an Executive Decision under the Constitution
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War isn’t an Executive Decision under the Constitution

September 26, 2019


When it comes down to it, opinions are just opinions. Constitutionally, war and peace aren’t the president’s decision. The founding generation went out of their way to ensure this kind of unilateral decision-making would never happen. Under the constitution, the power to make decisions about whether to go to war or not is delegated to Congress. The founders wanted to ensure that a body directly accountable to the people made these decisions, not a single individual subject to emotional whims. This is how James Madison described it in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. He wrote: “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.” But for many decades, Congress has completely abandoned its constitutional responsibility. It could easily render the president’s opinion about war moot. Instead, we have exactly what the founding generation went to great pains to avoid: presidents, in effect, exercising royal prerogative and single-handedly marching American soldiers off to die on foreign battlefields. That’s not the president’s decision to make. At least not if the constitution was followed as ratified.

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