Vital Signs

Lincoln, the Antiwar Congressman

The only time before his presidency when Abraham Lincoln held national office was a single term (1847-49) in the U.S. House of Representatives.  During that time, while debating the Mexican-American War, Lincoln zealously defended the constitutional prerogative of Congress to declare war and enact legislation against a perceived usurpation of these powers by the executive branch.  Between December 22, 1847, and July 27, 1848, in speeches on the House floor and in his personal letters, Lincoln argued against the right of any president to initiate a war.  There are no better arguments against President Lincoln’s unconstitutional war of 1861 than his own.

Congressman Lincoln addressed the subject of the Mexican-American War in three major speeches: on his “Spot Resolutions” (December 22, 1847), on war with Mexico (January 12, 1848), and on the “presidential question” (July 27, 1848).  But his most insightful analysis of why the Constitution assigned the power to declare war to Congress, and Congress alone, was given in his letter of February 15, 1848, to his friend and law partner William H. Herndon.

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever, he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose—and you allow him to make war at pleasure. . . . The provision of the Constitution...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here