ArtII.S2.C1.1.3 Wartime Powers of President in World War II

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

In his message to Congress of September 7, 1942, in which he demanded that Congress repeal certain provisions of the Emergency Price Control Act,1 President Franklin Roosevelt formulated his conception of his powers as President in wartime to act inconsistently with congressional statute:

I ask the Congress to take this action by the first of October. Inaction on your part by that date will leave me with an inescapable responsibility to the people of this country to see to it that the war effort is no longer imperiled by threat of economic chaos.

In the event that the Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility, and I will act.

At the same time that farm prices are stabilized, wages can and will be stabilized also. This I will do.

The President has the powers, under the Constitution and under Congressional acts, to take measures necessary to avert a disaster which would interfere with the winning of the war.

I have given the most thoughtful consideration to meeting this issue without further reference to the Congress. I have determined, however, on this vital matter to consult with the Congress . . . .

The American people can be sure that I will use my powers with a full sense of my responsibility to the Constitution and to my country. The American people can also be sure that I shall not hesitate to use every power vested in me to accomplish the defeat of our enemies in any part of the world where our own safety demands such defeat.

When the war is won, the powers under which I act automatically revert to the people—to whom they belong.2

While congressional compliance with the President’s demand rendered unnecessary an effort on his part to amend the Price Control Act, there were other matters as to which he repeatedly took action within the normal field of congressional powers, not only during the war, but in some instances prior to it. In exercising both the powers which he claimed as Commander in Chief and those which Congress conferred upon him to meet the emergency, President Roosevelt employed new emergency agencies, created by himself and responsible directly to him, rather than the established departments or existing independent regulatory agencies.3

Emergency Price Control Act, Pub. L. No. 77–421, 56 Stat. 23 (1942) (codified as amended at 50 U.S.C. § 901). back
88 Cong. Rec. 7044 (1942). Congress promptly complied so that the President was not required to act on his own. Stabilization Act of 1942, Pub. L. No. 77-729, 56 Stat. 765 (codified as amended at 5 50 U.S.C. § 961). But see Edward Corwin, Total War and the Constitution 65–66 (1946) (listing examples to demonstrate an implied claim to “dispense with statutes” ). back
For a listing of the agencies and an account of their creation to the close of 1942, see Arthur T. Vanderbilt, War Powers and Their Administration, 1942 Ann. Surv. Am. L. 106–113 (1942). back