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Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the War Powers Resolution

95 min
  • Did the War Powers Resolution take too much power away from the President, or did it take too much power away from Congress?

Students will:

  • Understand events leading up to passage of the War Powers Resolution.
  • Assess the meaning of constitutional provisions about war.
  • Evaluate the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution.

  • Handout A: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the War Powers Resolution
  • Handout B: War and the Constitutional Convention
  • Handout C: The War Powers Resolution
  • Handout D: War with Svovenia?
  • Handout E: Debate Identity SlipsTo create a context for
    this lesson, students
    complete Constitutional
    Connection: War and
    the Constitution.

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: War and the Constitution.

Have students read Handout A: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the War Powers Resolution and answer the questions.

DAY ONE ACTIVITY I [20 MINUTES]

On the board, write two phrases: “To make war” and “To declare war.”

Ask students what the difference is between these two words. Specifically, which is the broader power?

Distribute Handout B: War and the Constitutional Convention. Assign roles and read the scene aloud.

As large group, trace the arguments and read aloud the final wording of Congress’s power in Article I, Section 8.

Debrief students on the scene. As a large group, discuss the following questions.

  • How does the Constitution distribute war powers between the President and Congress?
  • Does “declare war” mean the same thing as “start war”?
  • Why do you think the Founders decided on this arrangement?

ACTIVITY II [30MINUTES]

Distribute Handout C: The War Powers Resolution. Give students time to read the excerpts from the law and write down in basic, every-day language what the law says and requires.

Using a projection of Handout C, go over responses.

Ask students what they think the delegates at the Constitutional Convention would have thought about this law.

DAY TWO ACTIVITY [30 MINUTES]

Distribute Handout D: War with Svovenia? Have students read the scenario and then give them each a slip from Handout E: Debate Identity Slips. Have students assemble into groups made up of Executive Branch, Senate, and House of Representatives. (Students can share roles in large classes.) If possible, have the two legislative chambers near each other with the Executive Branch on a third side of the room.

Have the groups discuss the scenario and present some initial opinions on their views. They should also consult Handout C: The War Powers Resolution.

Have “the President and his cabinet” address a “joint session of Congress” arguing his or her justification for acting.

Legislators will follow up with a debate and then a vote—to declare war, to “authorize the use of force,” or neither.

Encourage both the President and Congress to refer to the War Powers Resolution in their remarks.

Debrief the class on the activity and conduct a large group discussion to answer the following questions:

  • Contrast the decision-making processes by the President and by members of Congress when it comes to war. What does the President have to consider? What do members of Congress have to consider?
  • Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution because he argued it unconstitutionally limited the President’s power. What arguments might be made that the War Powers Resolution actually increased the President’s power?

Have students read Nixon’s entire veto message. They should summarize and respond to his arguments against the War Powers Resolution. The document can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdLSZ-3AR6k.

Debate over the War Powers Act continues today. Critics want the law repealed for apparently contradictory constitutional reasons—some argue it takes too much power away from the President and gives too much to Congress, while others believe the President retains too much power at the expense of Congress. Have students work in groups to research arguments on both sides and answer the following questions:

  • What are the strongest arguments on each side?
  • How do the different arguments against the War Powers Act reveal different ways of interpreting the Constitution?