The History of Declaring War and the Politics of it Surrounding Libya





One issue and two words comprised the debate at Philadelphia's Constitutional Convention on August 17, 1787.

The Founders struggled with whether they should grant war authority to the legislature or the executive. And the Founders also wrestled with what verb they should use when entering into war: "make" or "declare."

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina worried about vesting war power with the legislature. Pinckney argued that legislative proceedings were "too slow" to respond to something as critical as war.

Meantime, Virginia's George Mason expressed concern about depositing war powers in the lap of the executive. Mason didn't think the executive branch could be "trusted" with such a broad prerogative.

Pierce Butler of South Carolina indicated the president would never "make war" unless the nation backed him.

Butler's use of the word "make" apparently caught the attention of Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Virginia's James Madison. They moved to strike "make" and inserted "declare" instead. But Connecticut's Roger Sherman resisted Elbridge and Madison. Sherman fretted that the word "declare" narrowed "the power too much."...


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