The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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February 15, 1848: Lincoln: Pre-Emptive War Powers Make a President a King

In a letter to his law partner, William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln disagrees with Herndon’s argument for preemptive war. “Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion… and you allow him to make war at pleasure.… The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.” (Lincoln 2/15/1848)


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