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How did the Vietnam War alter the Executive Powers of the Presidency?

Essay 2006 11 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Region: USA



I. Introduction

II. Altering the Executive Powers of the US Presidency
II. a) President Johnson
II. b) President Nixon’s own War

III. Conclusions

IV. References

I. Introduction

The executive power of the US President in respect of the limits of this power set by the US Congress has changed dramatically since the first President George Washington in 1789. There has been a general shift towards the strengthening of the President, especially in the 20th century. Also in times of national and international crisis and wars, Americans tend to rally around the flag and around their leading figure – the President. In this time the power of the President increased significantly, an example being during the Civil War (1861-65), during the Blockade of West Berlin (1948/49) or since 9/11 (2001). The Vietnam War especially changed America in many ways, not only politically, but also economically and socially.

The American engagement in the conflict in South-East-Asia lasted over two decades, four Presidents were involved and a huge amount of human and financial resources were invested to win the war. Results were for example stagflation in the US and in Europe, and a great distrust within American society towards their President.

In this essay I will try to focus on the actions of President Johnson and in particular President Nixon, both of which altered the executive powers of the presidency during the time of the Vietnam War. I will also take a look at some of the actions the Legislature took to limit the power of the Executive. The essay starts with the increase of power of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” in 1965, and will continue with the increasing presidential power during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Finally it will end with some of the actions Congress took to limit the power of the President through the “War Powers Act” of 1973.

The book by Melvin Small “At the Water’s Edge” serves as the main source for this essay. Small describes the domestic issues of the Johnson and Nixon administration, and how the two Presidents were involved in fighting the war. The book “The Presidents” by Stephen Graubard gave me good information for a better understanding of the actions of Johnson and Nixon. Furthermore the books “American Government” by Dunn and Slann, “Government and Politics of the United States” by Bowles, “The basics of American Politics” by Wassermann and Ashbee’s and Ashford’s “US Politics Today” gave me a good understanding of American politics during the Vietnam Era.

The issue of the executive power of the US President is today as current as it was in the 1970s. After 9/11 President George W. Bush implemented the USA Patriot Act[1] and used the Act to employ over 30,000 National Security Letters (NSL), increased the pace of applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has the constitutional authority to conduct surveillance beyond what the Congress has authorised (Herman, 2006).

II. Altering the Executive Powers of the US Presidency

The President of the United States combines a huge amount of power: He is Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of all US armed forces[2] and his budget – about six trillion USD – is higher than the GDP of must of the countries around the world (Dunn/Slann, 1994: 351). He also has the right to wage wars, however not to declare war – this right lies only with Congress.[3] Nevertheless the President has the right to send and withdraw troops as often as he would like to, due to his function as the CINC. Since World War Two, troops have been send out and were engaged in many low class or middle class intensive warfare without a declaration of war.[4]

History shows that the executive power of any US President was increased during times either of domestic or of foreign crisis. This happened for example during the Great Depression (1930s) and during the Cuban Missiles Crisis (1962). During that time presidential “crisis leadership” as Wassermann quoted, increased powerful. This happened in particular in the 20th century; but also in the early times the US Presidents were showing this kind of leadership in office. Troops sent by President Washington to put down a rebellion among farmers in Pennsylvania (1799) or the Confederation States were blockaded by order of President Lincoln and without any congressional approval. These actions, necessary for a president to carry out his responsibilities, but not spelled out in the Constitution, were called “residual power” or “inherent power” (Wassermann, 1996: 60).


[1] USA Patriot Act - Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

[2] US Constitution, Article II, Section II: “[…] the President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Navy of the United States.”

[3] US Constitution, Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power […] to declare War [..].

[4] Like Korea (1950-53), Lebanon (1958, 1985), Vietnam (1961-75), Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1970), Grenada (1985), Panama (1989), Gulf War (1991) (seen at Bowles 1998: 382), as well as Afghanistan (since 2001) and Iraq (since 2003).


ISBN (eBook)
392 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Cardiff University – School of Humanities
A+ (1,0)
Vietnam Executive Powers Presidency American Government Politics Century



Titel: How did the Vietnam War alter the Executive Powers of the Presidency?