The Limited View.

The purely military aspects of the Commander-in-Chiefship were those that were originally stressed. Hamilton said the office “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the Military and naval forces, as first general and admiral of the confederacy.”133 Story wrote in his Commentaries: “The propriety of admitting the president to be commander in chief, so far as to give orders, and have a general superintendency, was admitted. But it was urged, that it would be dangerous to let him command in person, without any restraint, as he might make a bad use of it. The consent of both houses of Congress ought, therefore, to be required, before he should take the actual command. The answer then given was, that though the president might, there was no necessity that he should, take the command in person; and there was no probability that he would do so, except in extraordinary emergencies, and when he was possessed of superior military talents.”134 In 1850, Chief Justice Taney, for the Court, wrote: “His duty and his power are purely military. As commander-in-chief, he is authorized to direct the movements of the naval and military forces placed by law at his command, and to employ them in the manner he may deem most effectual to harass and conquer and subdue the enemy. He may invade the hostile country, and subject it to the sovereignty and authority of the United States. But his conquests do not enlarge the boundaries of this Union, nor extend the operation of our institutions and laws beyond the limits before assigned to them by the legislative power. . . .”

“But in the distribution of political power between the great departments of government, there is such a wide difference between the power conferred on the President of the United States, and the authority and sovereignty which belong to the English crown, that it would be altogether unsafe to reason from any supposed resemblance between them, either as regards conquest in war, or any other subject where the rights and powers of the executive arm of the government are brought into question.”135 Even after the Civil War, a powerful minority of the Court described the role of President as Commander-in-Chief simply as “the command of the forces and the conduct of campaigns.”136


THE FEDERALIST, No. 69 (J. Cooke ed. 1961), 465. [Back to text]
Fleming v. Page, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 603, 615, 618 (1850). [Back to text]
Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 139 (1866). [Back to text]