02 October 2006

Monday Quote Frenzy - Lincoln on Preventive War

Abraham Lincoln, a freshman Congressman, was quite aggressive in criticizing President Polk in 1848 for the initiation of the Mexican War. Back in Illinois, his law partner, William Herndon, wrote to express concern that he was going too far. Herndon argued that the president must be the “sole judge” of whether it is necessary to engage in a preventive attack. In a letter to Herndon dated 2/15/1848, Lincoln replied:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purposes, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us”; but he will say to you, “Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.”

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 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.

Further discussion of this may be found in Geoffrey R. Stone's Perilous Times.


Post a Comment

<< Home