To provide an introductory overview of the unit, show the six-minute thematic documentary, Commander in Chief: War and the Constitution, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdLSZ-3AR6k.
Distribute Handout A: War and the Constitution (V2). Have students look over, but not actually read, the excerpts.
Before reading any of the Constitution, which branch appears to have greater war powers?
After reading the Constitution, was your prediction about which branch has greater war powers correct? Why or why not?
Have students discuss the questions in pairs. After a few moments, reconvene the class for large group sharing.
Constitution of the United States of America (1787)
The Constitution was written in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by delegates from 12 states, in order to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new form of government. It created a federal system with a national government composed of 3 separated powers, and included both reserved and concurrent powers of states.
Bill of Rights (1791)
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. James Madison wrote the amendments, which list specific prohibitions on governmental power, in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties.
The President as Commander in Chief
The Constitution gives the power of declaring war solely to Congress, while the president serves as commander in chief of the U.S. military. What does commander in chief mean? As American citizens, it is our responsibility not only to stay informed about the domestic and international uses of our military, but also to make thoughtful judgments about the wisdom and prudence of each use. Is it the responsibility of free people to spread freedom around the world? What about the responsibility to, at a minimum, refrain from sustaining tyranny? Should the military ever be used against American citizens?
Commanders in Chief at War
This is an introductory essay from Presidents and the Constitution.
Abraham Lincoln and Habeas Corpus
The “Great Writ” or habeas corpus has been an essential civil liberty guaranteed since Magna Carta. In listing powers denied to Congress, the Constitution notes that “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” In 1861, Abraham Lincoln invoked this power of Congress—which was not in session—to suspend habeas corpus in certain areas. The next year, as he believed the civil justice system was inadequate to deal with the rebellion, he expanded the suspension throughout the United States and established military tribunals to try citizens charged with disloyalty. In this lesson, students explore Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and constitutional issues surrounding it.