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Book Review

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The U.S. Constitution vests the president with “executive power” and provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy,” while it endows Congress with the power “To declare War.” These provisions have given rise to two major questions about presidential war powers: first, what should be the president’s role in taking the country to war, and, second, what are the president’s powers to direct its conduct. Historian Michael Beschloss’s new book, “Presidents of War,” examines how presidents have responded to each of these questions across two hundred years of U.S. history.

The major argument of this book is that presidents have gradually assumed greater power over decisions to go to war – contrary, in his view, to the constitutional founders’ vision. Although the book does succeed in offering some new insights into how that accretion of that power occurred, its more original contribution lies in its depictions of how presidents have handled and managed the tasks of waging war. Those responsibilities for the management and supervision in the conduct of America’s wars have grown more complex as warfare has evolved – and they, too, look nothing like what the founders expected or might even have imagined. The book also puts an important focus on the continually shifting relationship between war-initiation powers and war-waging powers throughout the course of American history.


Law | Military, War, and Peace | National Security Law | President/Executive Department


Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss, Crown Books, 2018.