War should … only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits.

—James Madison. Universal Peace, Philadelphia, January 31, 1792.

The decision to go to war causes ruin that convulses through multiple generations and is therefore too important to be left to politicians. Indeed history, from ancient times to recent years, shows us that it is the vanity of politically ambitious men that causes wars. Thus, to guard against unnecessary wars the power to declare war should always rest directly and solely with the people through referendum. The people have no collective ego, they do not want their lives disrupted by high taxes and inflation or their sons killed, unless it is absolutely necessary. They are therefore the best custodians of peace.

It is natural for presidents to want to make their mark on history; after all, an immense ego is what motivated them to run for the office in the first place. It is naive to imagine that they will not yearn, like Crassus, to achieve glory in war before hanging up their mantle. To address this influence, the United States Constitution mandates that the decision to make war rests with the Congress. However, this judicious requirement has been subverted ever since the Korean War. Ostensibly to remedy this, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the main provision of which reads:

The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.

This law should never have been passed. It effectively sanctions the unconstitutional arrangement whereby the president has been making war in breach of the Constitution. Instead of Congress meekly asking to be consulted about the president’s warmongering, Congress should routinely impeach presidents who order an act of war on their own authority.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove