Presidential Power - Three views on presidential power



"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…. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will which is to direct it…. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle…. Hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence: hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war."

—James Madison, "Helvidius" no. 4,
14 September 1793—

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose—and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect…. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object…. [The Constitution maintains] that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."

—Abraham Lincoln,
15 February 1848—

"When the push of a button may mean obliteration of countless humans, the President of the United States must be forever on guard against any inclination on his part to impetuosity; to arrogance; to headlong action; to expediency; to facile maneuvers; even to the popularity of an action as opposed to the rightness of an action. He cannot worry about headlines; how the next opinion poll will rate him; how his political future will be affected."

—Dwight D. Eisenhower,
4 November 1960—



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