Document Type


Publication Date


Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



By conferring on the President the title of "commander in chief," the Constitution created an awkward and undefined area of presidential prerogative. The first President to have to confront this ambiguity was Abraham Lincoln, who developed a presidential "war powers" doctrine based on his presidential oath, the Constitution's "republican guarantee," and the necessity imposed by the novelty of a civil war. This doctrine was seriously contested in Lincoln's time by both Congress and the judiciary, and it continues to be an unresolved constitutional question in the present. But Lincoln's use of such war powers is one demonstration of how a doctrine aimed at awarding the President unilateral powers to override civil liberties safeguards need not create a lethal threat to democratic and constitutional government.

Required Publisher's Statement

Original version is available from the publisher at: