This post has been corrected to remove phrasing that was copied from Wikipedia, Prof. Boerner’s Explanations, and Senate.gov.
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Right here the Constitution says “Congress shall have the power … to declare war.”
So Obama’s decision to punt to congress on the decision for military action in Syria has a solid Constitutional basis.
So here are the few times Congress has used that power:
1. After the American revolution there were many unresolved conflicts with Great Britain.
Trade restrictions, American merchant sailors being pressed into service in the Royal Navy, and British support of American Indian tribes.
On June 17, 1812, Congress approved a resolution declaring war with Great Britain.
The Senate approved the resolution by a vote of 19-13.
The military conflict ended after decisive, surprise victories in the Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Baltimore.
2. In 1821 Mexico was trying to maintain control over a vast Spanish territory after their recent independence from Spain. When Texas declared independence, a border war broke out between Mexico and the United States.
The border dispute led to a bloody conflict where 16 American solders were killed. President Polk went to Congress and demanded a declaration of war saying “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”
On May 12, 1846, Congress agreed to declare war on Mexico.
The Senate resolution passed in the senate with a vote of 40-2.
The war lasted a a year and a half. In that time American forces occupied New Mexico and California, parts of Northern Mexico and Baja California.
A Mexican surrender was forced when the American army captured Mexico City in 1847.
And when final negotiations between the two nations were over, America got this SWAG:
3. Revolts against Spanish rule had been occurring for some years in Cuba; In 1898 President McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana after riots threatened American citizens.
On February 15, 1898, a massive explosion sank the ship and killed 288 American sailors. This swayed popular opinion for American intervention in the war, even though the cause of the explosion has never truly been determined.
On April 25, 1898, Congress approved a resolution declaring war with Spain.
The 10-week conflict ended in decisive American victories against outnumbered Spanish forces.
The 1898 Treaty of Paris allowed temporary American control of Cuba, ceded indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippine islands and precipitated the collapse of the Spanish Empire.
4. In 1914, World War I broke out between Germany and Austria-Hungary and United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire. America did not intervene in this war for the first three years.
New Zealand troops headed off to Europe to fight for the Allied powers.
But in 1917, Americans were made aware of a German plan to finance a Mexican war to help recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The secret telegram, deciphered by the British and presented to the American President soon after led to cries for American involvement.
On April 6, 1917, Congress approved a resolution declaring war with Germany.
The Senate approved the resolution by a vote of 82-6 on April 4, 1917.
Congress voted to go to war with Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917.
The vote was 74-0.
2.8 million American men were drafted to fight and by summer 1918, 10,000 American soldiers were arriving in France daily.
After the collapse of German lines in 1918 an armistice was signed. The 1919 Versailles Treaty formally ended the declaration of war between the Allies and Germany.
Treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were subsequently signed.
5. 21 years after the Treaty of Versailles, Americans were not inclined to join another European conflict.
But when this happened to American forces in Pearl Harbor, national sentiment changed.
Between December 8 and 11, 1941, Congress agreed to declare war with Japan, Germany and Italy.
The vote was 82-0.
On June 4, 1942, Congress approved war resolutions against other Axis countries of Bulgaria, Hungary and ‘Rumania’.
And the Senate unanimously voted in favor, 73-0.
After five years of fighting all Axis forces had surrendered to the Allies.
The war cost 418,500 American lives.
The American Congress has not formally declared war on any nation since.
Congress has voted 23 times to authorize limited military engagements including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these votes come after American forces have already been engaged by the executive branch.