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Separation of Powers and the U.S. Entrance into World War I


On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress and asked the members to declare war on Germany.  World War I had been raging since 1914 and Wilson declared American neutrality following the precedent of President George Washington’s 1793 Proclamation of Neutrality. However, by early 1917, Wilson believed that Germany’s policy of “unrestricted submarine warfare,” under which it sank all civilian and merchant ships in areas around the ports of its enemies, was a violation of the rights of Americans and threatened the rights of individuals around the world. According to separation of powers, both Congress and Wilson would play an important role in going to war and fighting.



Handout A: Constitution of the United States of America

Handout B: Excerpts from President Wilson’s War Message

Handout C: Separation of Powers and the U.S. Entrance into World War I Graphic Organizer



Have students read Article I, Section 8 and the first paragraph of Article II, Section 2 of Handout A. Students should complete Handout C as they read. Then students should read Handout B and answer the Comprehension and Analysis Questions below.


Comprehension and Analysis Questions:

  1. The Constitution does not explicitly state that the president is the one who needs to ask Congress to declare war. Given what you read in Article I and Article II, why do you think the president is the one historically to do so?
  2. Analyze your graphic organizer. Why do you think two branches of government are involved with declaring and making war? Do you think this is a good idea?
  3. Do you think Wilson’s speech and the role he declares the executive and Congress will play in the war aligns with what you read in the Constitution? Why or why not?



Have students select a conflict from U.S. history and research the roles that the president and Congress played in initiating it. Write a paragraph on the topic and share in class.


Extension II:

Think the Vote is a current events platform where students can engage with each other with the chance to win gift cards, BRI items, and a $1,000 scholarship prize. The question for the week of February 16, 2022 is: What is the President’s Role in Our Constitutional System?


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