War Powers of the President

March 14, 1966

Report Outline
Congress and the War in Viet Nam
Development of President's War Powers
Sweep of Emergency Powers and Plans

Congress and the War in Viet Nam

Congress appeared to give President Johnson a vote of confidence in his handling of the Vietnamese war when both houses on March 1 approved a bill authorizing $4.8 billion in supplementary military funds. But the margin of approval —392 to 4 in the House, 93 to 2 in the Senate —was misleading. Many members who voted for the bill did so only to express support of the more than 200,000 American fighting men now in South Viet Nam. Widespread uneasiness over the course of the war, frequently expressed in and out of Congress in recent weeks, has not abated.

The Vietnamese conflict has reminded Congress that its constitutional power to declare war counts for little in today's world. It can be argued, in fact, that Congress never has exercised that power on its own initiative and is unlikely ever to do so. Only five of this country's 11 serious and extended engagements with force against another country or countries have been accompanied by a declaration of war —and then only in response to the President's acts or recommendations. Beginning with the Spanish-American War of 1898, a declaration of war by Congress has taken the form, not of an outright declaration, but of recognition of an existing state of war.

Congress virtually abdicated the power to declare war in Viet Nam when it adopted, in August 1964, a joint resolution authorizing the President to “take all necessary measures” to stop aggression in Southeast Asia. The measures taken to date have included, among others, a tenfold increase in the number of American troops in Southeast Asia. If Congress had been able to foresee this development, it might have added a number of qualifications to the 1964 resolution. Any future resolution of this kind probably will contain language specifying the measures which Congress deems appropriate for use by the President.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Executive Powers and the Presidency
Feb. 24, 2006  Presidential Power
Nov. 15, 2002  Presidential Power
Feb. 02, 2001  The Bush Presidency
Jun. 20, 1997  Line-Item Veto
Jun. 14, 1996  First Ladies
Oct. 21, 1988  Dangers in Presidential Transitions
Jun. 10, 1988  The Quandary of Being Vice President
Jan. 06, 1984  Presidential Advisory Commissions
Jul. 28, 1978  Presidential Popularity
Feb. 13, 1976  Evaluating Presidential Performance
Dec. 12, 1975  Presidential Protection
Jul. 11, 1973  Presidential Reorganization
Mar. 07, 1973  Presidential Accountability
Sep. 24, 1971  Presidential Diplomacy
Nov. 11, 1970  Vice Presidency
Oct. 02, 1968  Presidential Power
Mar. 14, 1966  War Powers of the President
Nov. 23, 1960  Transfer of Executive Power
Apr. 04, 1956  Vice Presidency
Oct. 15, 1952  Change of Presidents
Jun. 09, 1950  President and Mid-Term Elections
Oct. 20, 1948  Federal Patronage
Mar. 24, 1948  The South and the Presidency
Dec. 05, 1947  Military Leaders and the Presidency
Apr. 16, 1947  Veto Power of the President
Sep. 20, 1945  Succession to the Presidency
Sep. 12, 1940  The War Powers of the President
Feb. 11, 1938  Emergency Powers of the President
Jan. 06, 1938  The Power to Declare War
Dec. 28, 1937  Extension of the Veto Power
Dec. 28, 1936  Limitation of the President's Tenure
Mar. 12, 1935  The President and the Congress
Dec. 16, 1932  The Veto Power of the President
May 28, 1931  Presidential Commissions
Oct. 23, 1928  Presidential Appointments and the Senate
Mar. 21, 1928  Business Conditions in Presidential Years
Jan. 20, 1927  The Monroe Doctrine
Mar. 18, 1925  The President's Power of Appointment
Sep. 10, 1923  The President's Position on Patronage
Powers and History of the Presidency
U.S. at War: Vietnam