“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.” – Thomas Paine

Who has the power to declare war?
Congress does, according to the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 unambiguously states that “Congress shall have power to…declare War.” The president is designated commander in chief, with the authority to direct the military. James Madison declared the War Powers Clause to be the most important in the Constitution because history had shown that “the executive is the branch of power most interested in war,” and therefore must be tempered by a deliberative Congress.

So who knows the last time congress lawfully declared war?

HOW MANY TIMES HAS CONGRESS DECLARED WAR? (pay attention now kids this is important)
Just five: Against England in 1812, Mexico in 1846, Spain in 1898, Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917, and Japan and Germany at the start of World War II. The U.S., of course, has been involved in far more than five military conflicts over the past two centuries; in fact, presidents have ordered the military into action in global trouble spots more than 100 times. From the beginning, presidents have argued that they have authority to take military action to protect vital national interests, and that congressional approval is not required if that action isn’t a full-fledged “war.” World War II represented the last time Congress formally declared war. Since then, “the War Powers Clause of the Constitution has become a nullity, if not a quaint relic,” wrote John Dean, a former counselor to Richard Nixon.

How did that happen?
During the Cold War, the definition of “war” changed. In 1947, as the Soviet threat and fear of a nuclear confrontation loomed large, the federal government created the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and the CIA. Each of these reported to the president, greatly enlarging the executive branch’s authority over national security. The tipping point came when communist-controlled North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. President Truman wanted to go to war, but was unsure that Congress would go along. So he pushed the United Nations to act, and then argued that the U.S. was bound under the U.N. treaty to join in the effort. During the ensuing debate, Truman said his power to start a war without congressional authorization had been “repeatedly recognized by Congress and the [U.S. Supreme] Court.” When asked for a specific court decision, he snapped, “I haven’t got it with me just now.”

Was Truman telling the truth?
No. Nonetheless, a new precedent was set. Since then, presidents have sent American forces into combat many times without a formal declaration of war. Rather than call such action “war,” the U.S.—and other nations—has come to favor euphemisms such as “police action,” “operation,” “use of force,” and, in the case of President Obama’s recent attack on Libya, “kinetic military action.” War, says Georgetown University professor Barry Carter, has “become a very subjective concept.”

It did. In 1973, with the undeclared Vietnam War dragging on into its eighth year, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to prevent future Vietnams. This law authorized the president to respond with military action to “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” But if the conflict lasted more than 60 days, the law required the president to get congressional approval. A livid President Nixon vetoed the resolution, denouncing its proponents for “knife-in-the-back disloyalty.” But Congress overrode the veto.

What was the effect of that law?
Very little. Virtually EVERY PRESIDENT SINCE NIXON has found a way to evade, stretch, or ignore the War Powers Resolution. President Reagan’s interventions in Lebanon and Grenada, President George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama, and President Bill Clinton’s interventions in Somalia and Bosnia all utilized very loose interpretations of the requirement of “a national emergency.” In deciding to use U.S. forces to set up “no fly” and “no drive” zones in Libya, President Obama said that if Libya fell into chaos, it “could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.” Even some Democratic congressmen called this a violation of the law’s intent, but talk of challenging Obama’s authority quickly died down.

So who really has the power to declare war?
In practice, the president does. Legal scholars continue to debate the fine points of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, but as Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith recently pointed out, “constitutional practice” carries far more legal weight than theoretical debate. Congress has never truly challenged a president’s authority to unilaterally order military action. Therefore, that authority has hardened into precedent, whatever the Founders’ original intent. President George H.W. Bush captured the attitude of every modern president when he launched the first Gulf War, obtaining congressional approval only after the decision to attack had been made. “I didn’t have to get permission from some old goat in Congress,” Bush said, “to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.”

OBAMA’S CHANGE OF HEART (wake up democrats, remember that campaign in 08? please read and educate yourself)
When he was running for president in 2007, former constitutional law professor Barack Obama said that President George W. Bush had no legal authority to launch the Iraq war. “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama said. HIS VIEWS HAVE APPARENTLY EVOLVED SINCE BEING ELECTED, given his decision last month to order an attack on Libya without congressional approval. Obama justified his about-face by claiming the assault on Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces wasn’t a war but a humanitarian mission carried out to enforce a U.N. resolution. With that, Obama joined a select group of presidents, among them Jefferson, Lincoln, and Nixon, who came in as opponents of expanded executive power, but changed their tunes once ensconced in the White House. As historian Arthur Schlesinger has noted, “Power always looks more responsible from within than from without.”

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” ― Thomas Paine

In the spirit of starting a class today on American Government

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

“Give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry

We have all heard the quote that titles this piece.  Some of us may have spoken it and in some sense, we meant it.  But what exactly does it mean and what made it a symbol of our country’s history?  In today’s world this is a group of words that form a sentence. Most of us acknowledge that it has some importance in our history, but not many of us really relate to it being a declaration from a large majority of The New World, from the 1700’s into the 1800’s. It is what has allowed us to have what we think we have today.

Today, I am focusing on how these liberties we all think we have are an illusion. What we have today is very similar to what our ancestors had in the mid 1700’s. I feel that we are actually worse off than they were, but I will get to that shortly. What we think we have are rights we ought to have. But what began as sneaking infringements in here and there has rapidly increased to an almost weekly event. Rights you think you still possess have been taken. Unless you are following the congress and senate session you have no idea, until after the votes are cast. Even after the votes most people have no idea that a new law has passed. The government doesn’t announce these loud and proud and they most certainly do not campaign on them. The mainstream media very rarely reports them, and even when they do, it is never really a major news story. It’s kind of like the brief mention of your local church’s potluck dinner, no real story is told.  I am going to tell that story and I encourage you to take time to research yourself. Until we all start being informed and caring about what is being voted on, and why they are voting on it to begin with,  we can do nothing effective to change it. I know that reading bills can be boring and mundane, but maybe that is their point. Make it so boring and long that “We the People” will not care to pay attention. That allows them to basically do what they want. If we were paying attention there is absolutely no way we would be where we are today!

In the early to mid  1700’s, America was still very much under the reign of the British Crown.  As the King and his Parliament bombarded America with laws and taxes and oppressive control, the people began to question the validity of a government with unlimited power.  The King said they were committing high treason. So are the people who gave us this nation guilty of treason in your eyes?  I want to lay out the laws that led to the turmoil. I will also lay out the way things changed and what they became. Then I will lay out what happened since those great documents that made us the United States of America were written. Then we can decide if liberty, as defined and as paid for with the blood of our founders, is still alive today.