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In the World Today

Page history last edited by mberry 14 years, 2 months ago

Current Event


We've covered a lot. Now let's take a break and discuss a much more current controversy regarding the president....


Alright, so you might be wondering about all the shenanigans of the President becoming more powerful during times of war. This has become an interesting debate, especially with the many questionable acts of the Bush administration. Our purpose here is to just incite curiosity… not to give a scholarly description of all the innuendos of the issue.

We will start by looking at Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was, as most of you know, president during the Civil War. This was one of the bloodiest wars in American history, and naturally, it put the government in a peculiar situation.


First of all, Congress makes laws. We accept that fact. But, it is also composed of 535 legislators (although not that many during the Civil War) who each have differing views and personalities. This creates a scenario ripe for debate. In times of peace, such a system is effective in promoting the United States’ democratic ideals. However, at times of war, our country cannot expect the drawn out procedure of passing legislation to be effective….nor is it appropriate. That’s when we turn to the president.


Abraham Lincoln recognized the dilemmas. For him, Congress was in an even worse scenario as half the delegates from the South seceded. Although, it can be debated whether Lincoln truly sought to become a dictator, he in essence did become one (except that he never suspended elections...which is the real definition of democracy). An article written not too long ago, in May 5, 2004, deals with this issue. The author, former Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank Williams, elucidates the status of our nation during the Civil War. Lincoln ordered a state of martial law during the 1860’s. This, in effect, allowed for the use of military tribunals and other measures that hampered Americans' constitutional rights. For instance, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus….without Congressional approval.


It doesn’t end there.  Williams states that Lincoln, “called forth the militia to ‘suppress said combinations,’ which he ordered ‘to disperse and retire peacefully’ to their homes. He increased the size of the Army and Navy, expended funds for the purchase of weapons, [and] instituted a blockade--an act of war.” This was all done without Congressional approval. 


Now you might be thinking, “how did this even happen?” Williams points out that Lincoln performed all these actions as a “suppression of rebellion,” not a declaration of war. This superficially is within his command as Chief Executive. He must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” and if not, he has the authority to restrict transgressions.


Now before you lose faith in Lincoln’s goodness, keep in mind that the intentions behind all this were to restore the union. That’s good, right? But at the same time, we now discover the complexity of executive power.


In recent years, the Bush Administration has been under fire for improper rationale for going into Iraq, the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo, the breach of privacy within the United States, etc. Some of these issues are still occurring the US at this very moment; for instance, the controversy on using military tribunals for suspected terrorists has received a lot of media attention.


The debate over the constitutionality of these actions can go on for many years (and it has). Our purpose here was to just point out the controversy. Loopholes do exist in our Constitution and in defining the Executive Branch. Something as superficially simple as the writ of habeas corpus is iffy in our founding document; it can be suspended in “cases of rebellion and when the public safety” requires it. But who actually suspends it and who defines moments when public safety requires it are up for debate.


We live in a world and age where each of us values our personal liberty and privacy. Repeatedly, however, individual rights have been curbed during times of war…even if the war is unjust. You be the judge: where does the fine line have to be drawn to protect our nation and our rights?   



Article Used (Citation): http://www.heritage.org/research/nationalsecurity/hl834.cfm


Here's an article discussing the recent controversy over military tribunals and the justice of suspected terrorists: www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/nyregion/17paterson.html





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