Impact of the Prize Cases on World Wars I and II.

In brief, the powers that may be claimed for the President under the Commander-in-Chief Clause at a time of widespread insurrection were equated with his powers under the clause at a time when the United States is engaged in a formally declared foreign war.142 And, because, especially in the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln performed various acts, such as increasing the Army and Navy, that admittedly fell within Congress’s constitutional province, it seems to have been assumed during World Wars I and II that the position of Commander-in-Chief carried with it the power to exercise like powers practically at discretion, not merely in wartime but even at a time when war became a strong possibility. No attention was given the fact that Lincoln had asked Congress to ratify and confirm his acts, which Congress promptly had,143 with the exception of his suspension of habeas corpus, a power that many attributed to the President in the situation then existing, by virtue of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.144 Nor was this the only respect in which war or the approach of war was deemed to operate to enlarge the scope of power claimable by the President as Commander-in-Chief in wartime.145


See generally, E. CORWIN, TOTAL WAR AND THE CONSTITUTION (1946). [Back to text]
12 Stat. 326 (1861). [Back to text]
J. RANDALL, CONSTITUTIONAL PROBLEMS UNDER LINCOLN 118–139 (rev. ed. 1951). [Back to text]
E.g., Attorney General Biddle’s justification of seizure of a plant during World War II: “As Chief Executive and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, the President possesses an aggregate of powers that are derived from the Constitution and from various statutes enacted by the Congress for the purpose of carrying on the war. . . . In time of war when the existence of the nation is at stake, this aggregate of powers includes authority to take reasonable steps to prevent nation-wide labor disturbances that threaten to interfere seriously with the conduct of the war. The fact that the initial impact of these disturbances is on the production or distribution of essential civilian goods is not a reason for denying the Chief Executive and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy the power to take steps to protect the nation’s war effort.” 40 Ops. Atty. Gen. 312, 319–320 (1944). Prior to the actual beginning of hostilities, Attorney General Jackson asserted the same justification upon seizure of an aviation plant. E. CORWIN, TOTAL WAR AND THE CONSTITUTION 47–48 (1946). [Back to text]