At the end of his inaugural speech in March 1861, Abraham Lincoln said this: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.”
At that time, a provisional constitution providing for secession had already been approved by six states and only a few days after Lincoln’s speech a permanent constitution was approved, with Jefferson Davis elected as president. Other states would follow suit in the South but, of course, neither Lincoln nor the U.S. Congress recognized the new pseudo-nation. Earlier in his speech, Lincoln had mentioned that two things could happen vis-à-vis governance – amend the Constitution or rise in revolution. The rest is history as revolution was engaged by the Confederacy.
On 12 April 1861, Jefferson Davis ordered the shelling of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., by confederate forces, beginning the four worst years in U.S. history, by the end of which the combined count of dead soldiers of both sides would be 625,000, or an average of an unbelievable 435 per day. The document ending the war was signed by southern General Lee and northern General Grant on 09 April 1865.
Lincoln’s duty – preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution – was codified in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution. As commander-in-chief (Article II, Section II), it was his job to actually raise and use a military force sufficient to put down a rebellion. Since the CSA was not an actual government, the seceding states were in a state of rebellion and the Congress had no state/nation against which to declare war, its responsibility under the Constitution. It was Lincoln’s war. He could either fight it or cave.
Presidents have gone to the Congress for declarations of war on a number of occasions. Congress declared war on Mexico in May 1846. War was declared by Congress on Germany in April 1917. Declarations of war took place by this country in 1941 against the Axis nations.
However, when significant military force is seen to be needed with no state/nation against which to declare war, presidents consult Congress and get its approval, such as against the Viet Cong (1960s) and the Taliban in 2001. Or, when a group of nations, including the U.S., agree that significant military action is necessary against a threatening entity, the president will consult the Congress, such as regarding Kuwait in 1991 (UN) and Iraq in 2002-3 (coalition). In these cases, a clear and imminent threat to the interests of the U.S. was involved but Congress participated formally in the process.
There has to be a reason for a president to act in what amounts to a police action such as President Reagan’s brief aerial assault on Libyan strongman Qaddafi in 1986, probably the first attempt against international terrorism. Intelligence had indicated that Qaddafi had at least harbored, if not ordered, terrorists to kill Americans in Berlin. There’s never a reason for this or any other nation to assault another nation or other entity without cause, i.e., a definite and imminent threat to a nation’s security.
President Obama has recently made a practice of arrogantly informing long-time heads of other governments that they should step down, in the process encouraging if not inciting their constituencies to take to the streets in rebellion. Think Egypt’s Mubarak, Yemen’s Saleh and Libya’s Qaddafi. Mubarak did step down and the resulting military government has lately killed citizens in downtown Cairo. Saleh and Qaddafi have paid Obama no mind and are doing what Lincoln did.
The actual disgrace to the office of U.S. president happened, however, when Obama, without consultation with Congress and in the face of absolutely no threat from Libya, perhaps one of the weakest nations in the world with a population of only 6.3 million, simply ordered U.S. forces to bomb and rain down missiles on that nation for days in March, even though his own Defense Department warned against it. Obama had told Qaddafi to step down. Qaddafi demurred, ergo, bomb him out…for the innocent victims, just too bad. That’s personal. Americans are still helping NATO (with the Congress not consulted) kill Libyans.
Newsweek called it “Hillary’s [State Secretary Clinton’s] War.” No…it’s Obama’s personal war. His military would have been justified in refusing the order to attack a virtually defenseless nation, at least compared to the mightiest military in the world. His action, especially without even a hearing in Congress, was reprehensible, sanguinary, and an act deserving of impeachment. Could it be a war-crime, as well?
What would Lincoln think?