During the Civil War, executive power changed under Lincoln’s hand. A question that arose during this time was whether the constitution was adequate during war time. Lincoln believed it was and used his war powers. Some of the powers he used were calling for an army, calling for a blockade of the southern states, and additions to the army and navy. It is interesting to note that Lincoln never did declare war because he refuses to identify the South as a separate nation. Congress eventually approved of the president’s actions. One key issue that arose during the Civil War was how far government could infringe upon personal liberties. There was no real precedent for military control. Confiscation acts were passed by Congress which took away slaves and land through court proceedings. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, extended the federal judiciary, and offered military courts for civilian trials.

In Ex Parte Vallandigham, the Supreme Court refused to hear Vallandigham’s appeal because his case came from a military court. Another issue was the draft. For the first time in American history, the draft was implemented for the national army. All males between the ages of 18 and 45 had to serve. Riots broke out in New York City as a result, because the Irish-Americans were angered by this forced conscription. The riots were eventually stopped, but the common feelings did not go away. The basis for Lincoln’s use of power was the restoration of the Union and the preservation of the Constitution. He freed the slaves because it became a necessity, not because it was one of his orginal goals. Lincoln was a man who did what he must, not because he could, for the safety of the Union.

In World War I, Wilson followed Lincoln’s example by reverting to war powers to accomplish his goals for the war. He organized the people for a wartime economy and encouraged the people to participate in the “wartime spirit.” Some ways to be patriotic during this time period were victory gardens, rubber collection, metal scrap drives, and prohibition. Wilson censored the main and prices rose, but the people did not complain because they did believe in the wartime spirit. During this time five agencies were born through legislation and court cases: the War Shipping Board, Food Administration, Fuel Board, Railroad Administration, and War Industries Board. A few were not as efficient as they should have been, but for the most part they advocated big government and federal control. The War Shipping Board built a fleet of merchant ships, but they were not completed until the war was over. The Food Administration organized victory gardens and determined was farmers could raise. The Fuel Board worked with soft coal operations and mechanized coal mining. The Railroad Administration was created against Wilson’s seizure of the railroads for war shipping; it established the ICC to regulate railroad rates. The War Industries Board made eastern factories produce goods for the war, but they were inefficient because of being overworked and understaffed. Another part of the WWI developed on the legislative side through various acts which were passed through Congress. The Selective Service Act drafted young men; the decision was fought in the Supreme Court under numerous cases. Other acts like the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act, and the Alien and Sedition Act were all passed as ways to protect the military and the public from enemies. Freedoms of speech and press were limited during war time in the interests of protecting America. This legislation was a direct result of Wilson’s extension of federal power.

World War II had two basic affects on the Constitution of the United States. First was the conflict between a decentralized constitutional system and wartime centralization. Congress did not know how to give more power to the states and still handle national emergencies. Second was the conflict between legislative war power and executive war power. The Constitution was suspended in some places during the war, and more conformity was required. FDR overstepped his war powers by placing the Nisei in internment camps. His rationale came from the fear of the people. He fought with Congress over how much power he could wield during the war. After his death, Truman became president and overstepped the presidential powers by dropping the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It appears to be that throughout war history, presidents have taken government into their own hands to do what they believed is important for the safety of their own country. While such feeling is not wrong, setting aside the Constitution is very wrong. Presidents should abide by the limitations placed upon them through the Constitution and Congress.

– Hannah S. Bowers

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