Cato Handbook for Congress: Policy Recommendations for the 106th Congress

By Edward H. Crane; David Boaz | Go to book overview

7.
Reclaiming the War Power
Congress should
insist that U.S. armed forces not be deployed to areas where hostilities are likely or imminent unless and until both houses of Congress have approved such action,
defund any such deployment that lacks the prior approval of Congress,
insist that no aggressive action be taken by U.S. armed forces unless and until Congress has passed a declaration of war, and
impeach any president who orders aggressive action by U.S. armed forces without a declaration of war.

In affairs of state, no more momentous decision can be made than the decision to go to war. For that reason, in a democratic republic, it is essential that that decision be made by the most broadly representative body: the legislature. That is where our Constitution lodges the power to declare war. As James Madison put it, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”


The Original Understanding

That the power to initiate hostilities belongs to Congress and Congress alone is evident from the intent of the Constitution's Framers, the text of the Constitution, and the contemporary understanding of those who ratified the Constitution.

In the Constitution as the Framers designed it, the president lacks the authority to initiate military action. In the Framers' view, absent a congressional declaration of war, the president's war powers were purely reactive; if the territory of the United States or U.S. forces were attacked,

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