Monday, February 12, 2007

Preemptive War: What would Lincoln say?

When responding to his long-time friend and colleague, William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln had a few choice words abuot preemptive war and the presidency; he wrote:
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, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: 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. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood. Write soon again.
Of note, Mr. Lincoln was writing in 1848 (about the same time as the picture with this post was taken) about the Mexican War. He notes that this is purely a Constitutional question; it is not a situational question.

Shall we review? Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived, recently reiterated by historians queried by The Atlantic Monthly; meanwhile, care to guess who holds near the top of lists of the worst presidents ever?

I guess this is the difference between understanding the Constitution... and, er, something else...

A tip of the hat to Andrew Sullivan.

The photo with this post was lifted from here and is said to be from Benjamin Thomas, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, 1952, and is circa 1848.

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