War Powers: Review Background Information

By the morning of April 14, 1861, news of Fort Sumter’s surrender had reached Washington. In the face of open insurrection, an immediate response is called for, but my options may be limited. Although I am commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war and raise armies. Congress, however, is not in session. Must I wait for Congress to reconvene, or should I act now to meet the crisis?

Name of Person 1

Name of Person 1

Wait for Congress

Under a 1795 law, I do have the power to call up the militia. However, the Union may need more men and equipment to put down this rebellion. To satisfy the letter of the law and our national traditions, I should call Congress back to the capital but wait to take further actions until they authorize them.

Act Now

I may not have time to wait for Congress. Throughout the Union, citizens are demanding action. They cannot wait for a special session to come together. Moreover, without Congress, I have a freer hand to do what I think is necessary to put down the rebellion.

Those are my choices: wait for Congress to reconvene and thereby satisfy the letter of the Constitution, or do what I think is necessary to gain control of the situation. What should I do?