Practice and Abuse

Unilateral presidential war making, remarkable for its direct violation of the War Clause of the Constitution, is a sharp reminder of the widening gulf between constitutional principle and governmental practice. It recalls the observation of a 17th Century English judge: “The practice of government is but feeble proof of its legality.”

Since 1950, every president, with the exception of Dwight Eisenhower, has asserted authority to initiate war and lesser military hostilities on behalf of the American people, despite the fact that the Constitution vests the war power in Congress. Presidential claims to such sweeping authority, from Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, to Grenada, Iraq and Libya, shatter upon analysis, and represent a teaching moment.

Harry Truman was the first president to cl