The Founders, The President, And Iraqby Doug Mataconis
In today’s New York Times, Adam Cohen points out that the Founders had a very different idea about Presidential authority in war time from the one the Bush Administration puts forward:
The Constitution does make the president â€œcommander in chief,â€ a title President Bush often invokes. But it does not have the sweeping meaning he suggests. The framers took it from the British military, which used it to denote the highest-ranking official in a theater of battle. Alexander Hamilton emphasized in Federalist No. 69 that the president would be â€œnothing moreâ€ than â€œfirst general and admiral,â€ responsible for â€œcommand and directionâ€ of military forces.
The founders would have been astonished by President Bushâ€™s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war. They gave Congress the power of the purse so it would have leverage to force the president to execute their laws properly. Madison described Congressâ€™s control over spending as â€œthe most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.â€
The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters. The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years. Hamilton explained that the limitation prevented Congress from vesting â€œin the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.â€
Things are far different today, of course. And that isn’t just the fault of the Bush Administration. For the most part, Congress has been a willing participant in this unprecedented expansion of Executive Branch power.