Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1

[Volume 4, Page 7]

Document 7

Debate in North Carolina Ratifying Convention

28 July 1788Elliot 4:107--8, 114--15

Mr. Iredell. Mr. Chairman, I was in hopes that some other gentleman would have spoken to this clause. It conveys very important powers, and ought not to be passed by. I beg leave, in as few words as possible, to speak my sentiments upon it. I believe most of the governors of the different states have powers similar to those of the President. In almost every country, the executive has the command of the military forces. From the nature of the thing, the command of armies ought to be delegated to one person only. The secrecy, despatch, and decision, which are necessary in military operations, can only be expected from one person. The President, therefore, is to command the military forces of the United States, and this power I think a proper one; at the same time it will be found to be sufficiently guarded. A very material difference may be observed between this power, and the authority of the king of Great Britain under similar circumstances. The king of Great Britain is not only the commander-in-chief of the land and naval forces, but has power, in time of war, to raise fleets and armies. He has also authority to declare war. The President has not the power of declaring [Volume 4, Page 8] war by his own authority, nor that of raising fleets and armies. These powers are vested in other hands. The power of declaring war is expressly given to Congress, that is, to the two branches of the legislature--the Senate, composed of representatives of the state legislatures, the House of Representatives, deputed by the people at large. They have also expressly delegated to them the powers of raising and supporting armies, and of providing and maintaining a navy.

With regard to the militia, it must be observed, that though he has the command of them when called into the actual service of the United States, yet he has not the power of calling them out. The power of calling them out is vested in Congress, for the purpose of executing the laws of the Union. When the militia are called out for any purpose, some person must command them; and who so proper as that person who has the best evidence of his possessing the general confidence of the people? I trust, therefore, that the power of commanding the militia, when called forth into the actual service of the United States, will not be objected to.

. . . . .

Mr. Miller acknowledged that the explanation of this clause by the member from Edenton had obviated some objections which he had to it; but still he could not entirely approve of it. He could not see the necessity of vesting this power in the President. He thought that his influence would be too great in the country, and particularly over the military, by being the commander-in-chief of the army, navy, and militia. He thought he could too easily abuse such extensive powers, and was of opinion that Congress ought to have power to direct the motions of the army. He considered it as a defect in the Constitution, that it was not expressly provided that Congress should have the direction of the motions of the army.

Mr. Spaight answered, that it was true that the command of the army and navy was given to the President; but that Congress, who had the power of raising armies, could certainly prevent any abuse of that authority in the President--that they alone had the means of supporting armies, and that the President was impeachable if he in any manner abused his trust. He was surprised that any objection should be made to giving the command of the army to one man; that it was well known that the direction of an army could not be properly exercised by a numerous body of men; that Congress had, in the last war, given the exclusive command of the army to the commander-in-chief, and that if they had not done so, perhaps the independence of America would not have been established.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 7
The University of Chicago Press

Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.