Lincoln's war powers and the courts

During my military service, should some loose talk have led to a politcal observation someone would inevitably offer the comment: "I thought we solved that problem in the officer's club last night?" End of topic. Instant cure for the political psychosis.

Not sure if they have officer's clubs anymore - they say Clinton abolished them to reduce expenses - and if they do have them, I'm not sure they would serve alcohol to today's athletic, health-conscious officer corps. Not sure, in other words, if the world's problems are being solved at happy hour.

I do think of that line when I myself try to do too much in a single blog posting. I also think of it when I see some mere newspaper columnist tackling monumental issues in a brief piece.

Now, Nat Hentoff (right) is no mere columnist, but he is suffering from the delerious overconfidence that marks his trade if he thinks he can settle the war powers controversy in a column.

We are often exposed to Lincoln's rationale for the suspension of habeas corpus and I have seen more than one Civil War historian leave the argument where it lies in the early war, i.e. the war powers of the president are undefined. Hentoff does Civil War readers the favor of reminding them that Lincoln was repudiated in 1866 when the Supreme Court said, "'The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.''

Our pop historians, ever careful of their discipline, naturally leave the events of 1866 out of their histories since they are charged only for reporting on the period 1861-1865. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of readers deeply impressed with Lincoln's interpretation of presidential rights without supplying them with arguments (and law) contra Lincoln.

Now, I have noticed, in the defense of his conduct of certain matters in this current war, our incumbent president seems to take the definition of war powers as an open question. This should resonate with ACW readers - it resonated with me. I have also noticed, sadly, that the lifestyle section of the papers hereabouts report that the president and his vice president are avid readers of pop history.

And so, I appreciate Hentoff bringing up 1866 and all that to correct the Administration's pop history tendencies but I don't think a ruling in the matter of habeas corpus settles the entire business of war powers.

When the Supreme Court decides, "'The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace..." the court has not clarified what war powers are, nor has it settled the basis of its own authority in defining war powers.

Drat, now he's got me doing it.