The annual Lyceum Series Constitution Day lecture was presented on September 17 in the Ernst Center by Dr. Allan Lichtman, American University distinguished history professor. His speech was titled “Presidents, War, and the Constitution.”
Introduced by Annandale Lyceum Committee Chair John Schmitz, Lichtman began by stating that “the U.S. Constitution balances the power of the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces by vesting exclusively in Congress the power to declare war.”
“However, since President Thomas Jefferson launched the Barbary Wars without a declaration of war, presidents have routinely fought wars without a declaration,” he said.
Lichtman added that the last declared war in modern times was World War II and presidents since then have gone to war without congressional authorization.
“President Harry Truman launched the Korean War, a pivotal moment in the effort to contain communism, without gaining any kind of authorization from Congress. President John F. Kennedy and a small group of advisors decided the fate of the world in the Cuban missile crisis without consulting Congress or the American people.”
Lichtman concluded that the War Powers Act of 1973 has failed in its intent to limit the war powers of the president.
“I enjoyed Dr. Lichtman’s presentation,” said Nan Peck, associate professor of communication studies. “I was particularly intrigued by his argument that the president of the United States is the most powerful position in history.”
Litchman is the author or co-author of eight books. His most recent publication, “FDR and the Jews,” was published in 2013 and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book. Other recent works include “The Keys to the White House” and “White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction.