The Historical Presidency: “Generalissimo of the Nation”: War Making and the Presidency in the Early Republic


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank David Gray Adler, Jennifer Hopper, Nancy Kassop, and Thomas Langston for their comments.


This article explores the nature of congressional-presidential relations regarding war making in the early republic. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I argue that Congress was not primary in war making during this period. Examining small wars, particularly those against native tribes, demonstrates how little influence Congress had, with oversight generally occurring only after the fact. Rhetorical presidential support for Congress's role did not accord with their practical readiness to initiate and manage hostilities unilaterally. The willingness of modern presidents to act without congressional consent is therefore not necessarily a historical aberration.