WAGING WAR by David J. Barron
Kirkus Star


The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS
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A 1st Circuit Court of Appeals judge chronicles the centurieslong push/pull between the executive and the legislative branches over the conduct of America’s wars.

The proposed Constitution designated the president as the commander in chief but reserved for Congress the authority to declare war and to raise an armed force. Notwithstanding assurances from the likes of Alexander Hamilton, patriots George Mason and Patrick Henry refused to support ratification. Almost 200 years later, historian Arthur Schlesinger, who spent his professional career cheerleading on behalf of an energetic executive, reversed himself, chiding a supine Congress for allowing a succession of presidential exercises of military force so consequential they threatened to remake “all aspects of the modern presidency.” Today, most everyone recognizes the folly, as William Howard Taft once observed, of permitting Congress to try, “as the people of Athens attempted, to carry out campaigns by votes in the market-place.” At the same time, few believe decisions about war belong solely to the president. Drawing on numerous episodes from our history, Barron (co-author: City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation, 2008) fleshes out the back and forth between the branches, the elaborate mix of constitutional and statutory law, politics, and popular opinion that shapes decisions about how the country wages war. In smoothly readable prose, with a sure grasp of the big picture, the author addresses such issues as the treatment of enemy prisoners under Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and George W. Bush; FDR’s adroit advocacy of Lend-Lease, which Attorney General Robert Jackson helped engineer, and Harry Truman’s wartime seizure of the steel mills, which Justice Robert Jackson censured; James Buchanan’s deference to Congress as Civil War approached versus Lincoln’s startling assumption of authority in Fort Sumter’s immediate aftermath; congressional acts, resolutions, and amendments designed to rein in presidents from Andrew Johnson to Nixon; presidents Madison and McKinley, virtually stampeded into battle by an aroused Congress; and presidents Adams and Jefferson, who strenuously avoided ruinous wars under similar pressure.

A first-rate history filled with revealing incidents and informed analysis.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4516-8197-0
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016


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