I do not recall hearing of them until I was invited to appear on a panel at Washburn University to discuss war-making powers in a symposium entitled, “Congress, the President and War.”
I started looking around and found that Citizenship Day, September 17th, and Constitution Week, September 17-23, were established by Congressional Joint Resolutions, the former on February 19, 1952, and the latter on August 2, 1956.
The Congress instructed the president to proclaim annually such days and weeks, and presidents have quietly done without exception on each of the 50-plus years since.
Certainly, American citizenship and our Constitution are important enough landmarks for vigorous and ubiquitous celebration, but the designated days have never caught on like presidential birthdays that got on the calendar first, and today have the advantage of providing a Monday holiday for federal employees and school children.
I am told Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia--a U.S. Senator of 49 years who has carried the Constitution with him each of these many days--thought someone should notice; and he introduced legislation that requires colleges receiving federal funds to recognize these days--hence Washburn’s celebration, its fourth.
There is much to be gained by re-reading the preamble of the Constitution, that remarkable, durable document cobbled together 220 years ago by extraordinary men who wanted their newly founded Republic to live into perpetuity. Remember?
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Our Founders put “provide for the common defense” fourth, but after 220 years, we know no presidential and congressional responsibility has loomed larger. Presidents nearly always find our nation to be endangered by enemies, formidable or less formidable, real or imagined.
Our early wars (the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II) were declared by Congress in a timely manner as provided in Article I, section 8, which gives to Congress the following war powers.
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Article II, section 2 is sparse.
It provides: "The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States"--nothing more.
Since WWII, presidential aggression and earlier or later congressional resolutions have legitimized our less successful and more contentious wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
The president’s authority for continuing the Iraq War into its fifth year is the October 2, 2002. “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq“--a blank check that preceded invasion by 166 days.
As long as Congress provides funds and does not restrict or dictate their use, the president as commander in chief may continue the war limited only by international law.
Today’s Congress cannot stop or modify the war by restricting or limiting funding because it does not have a veto-proof majority.
Congressional restrictions on use of funds were instrumental in (slowly) ending the 12-year Vietnam War. The Iraq War may end by unilateral congressional action, unless we elect a president and Congress of the same mind in 2008.
Dr. Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org