War Powers of Congress

Pinckney Charles in oval from nypl
Charles Pinckney

from nypl

War Powers of Congress

"Mr. Pinckney opposed vesting this power [the power to make war] in the Legislature.Its proceedings were too slow.It would meet but once a year."

-James Madison in his Notes on the Convention

Debate on the powers to be given Congress continued. "To appoint a Treasurer by ballot" came on and was approved, although George Read (DE) wanted to let the President appoint the Treasurer.

The powers to constitute inferior courts and to make rules as to captures on land and water sailed through. That "to declare the law and punishment of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas" did not. After the clause was changed to "define and punish piracies..", it was approved.

"To subdue a rebellion in any state on the application of its legislature" also occasioned debate. Charles Pinckney (SC), Morris and Langdon (NH) wanted to drop the need to have the approval of the Legislature, and were opposed by L. Martin, Mercer and Gerry (MA).Finally, the proposal lost.

At the end of the day, the locus of war powers occasioned the most delicate debate.Madison outlined the debate in his Notes:

Mr. Madison and Mr. Gerry moved to insert "declare," striking out "make" war; leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.

Mr. Sherman thought it stood very well as is. The Executive should be able to repel and not to commence war. "Make" is better than "declare" the latter narrowing the power of the Congress too much.

Mr. Gerry never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war.

Mr. Mason was against giving the power of war to the Executive, because not (safely) to be trusted with it; or to the Senate, because not so construed as to be entitled to it. He was for clogging rather than facilitating war; but for facilitating peace. He preferred "declare" to "make."

The Motion to insert declare - in place of Make - was agreed to.

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