Author Peter Irons has written an invaluable book, War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, which traces the development of what we now know as the "unitary executive" and the taking of the Constitutional power to declare war from the Congress unto the presidency, from almost the inception of the United States. The book is quite detailed, with much information not presented here, but this page attempts to present a brief overview of the move away from Congressional warmaking towards a more imperial presidency based on Irons's work. This entire page is initially based upon Irons's book, though information from other sources is also included. Anything not credited within the body of the page should be understood to be sourced from War Powers.
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To understand more completely how the presidency took it upon itself to handle declarations of war and military interventions, it must be understood that not only has one president after another, of all parties occupying the White House over the last 200+ years, usurped the power to declare and wage war upon himself, but has done so largely with the often-eager complicity of both Congress and the judiciary. With certain memorable exceptions, neither the American press nor the American people have moved to stop this unconstitutional abrogation of power from Congress and into the hands of the executive branch. The trend did not start with George W. Bush (nor Clinton, nor Ronald Reagan), and, if history is any indicator, it will not stop with Bush. In the volatile 2004 presidential race, neither Bush nor his challenger John Kerry addressed the issue; had Kerry taken the White House instead of Bush, it is certain that he would have continued the trend, though probably much less brazenly and with more "consultation" from Congress and a more intensive effort to bring other nations in with his own war-making actions. The current, seemingly open-ended "war on terrorism" gives the president a unique and disturbing opportunity to take even more power away from Congress to wield the tremendous power of the US military upon nations, organizations, and even individuals, in clear and direct violation of the Constitution.
"I think that the rest of the world, despite the differences it had with specific US policies in the past, still saw the United States as a land of opportunity and something to aspire to. I think that is over now. They see us now as they see other nations with imperialist notions who are willing to drive their own soldiers across foreign lands." Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was a victim, along with his wife Valerie Plame Wilson, of a Bush administration smear campaign, quoted in Raw Story