The War Powers of the President

September 12, 1940

Report Outline
Roosevelt's Defense Moves and War Powers
Sources of Chief Executive's War Powers
President's Powers as Commander-in-Chief
Statutory Powers Delegated by Congress

Roosevelt's Defense Moves and War Powers

Attorney general Jackson's opinion supporting President Roosevelt's transfer of 50 over-age American destroyers to Great Britain, in return for the right to construct naval and air bases in British colonies in the Western Hemisphere, rested its case in part on the President's constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy. The President's parallel move to strengthen the American defense position through creation of a joint Canadian-American Defense Board may likewise be considered an exercise of the Chief Executive's powers as Commander-in-Chief as well as of his power to conduct the foreign relations of the United States. In both the destroyer deal and the Canadian move, the President's action verged on exercise of the so-called war powers.

Congress and the President's Powers in Wartime

On June 17, the day France sued for peace, Senator Pepper (D., Fla.) urged Congress to confer on the President “full wartime power to prepare and defend America.” A repetition of that proposal, August 14, evoked a lengthy Senate debate on the President's war powers. Senator Connally (D., Tex.), remarking that he had heard many Senators talking about “full wartime power,” pointed out that the Supreme Court had held repeatedly “that the Constitution means the same in time of war as it means in time of peace, and that a condition of war does not change any constitutional provision in any way.”

Many of the extraordinary powers exercised by the President in time of war are conferred upon him by statute, Congress laying down broad objectives and basic requirements but delegating to the Chief Executive wide authority to devise the detailed means of applying the legislation. In addition, the existence of a state of war brings into play certain indefinite but nevertheless extensive powers enjoyed by the President in his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy or implied from other duties imposed on the Chief Executive by the Constitution. The latter powers, derived from the Constitution, cannot be conferred by Congress, nor could justification for their exercise probably be found other than in time of war or threat of war.

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