Back to Inquiry Set

Polk

Portrait of James Knox Polk, 11th President of the United States, in military dress.
between 1860 and 1864
Glass Negative
Library of Congress
Polk. Photograph. Between 1860 and 1864. Library of Congress, Civil war photographs, 1861-1865. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018667789/

In the US Constitution, the power to “declare war” is explicitly granted to the legislative branch (Congress), as is the power to “raise and support armies.” However, the president is given the power as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Since the exact powers of commander in chief are not fully defined, presidents have claimed executive power in times of war and crisis as implied powers of the Office of the President. In 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico, hoping to be annexed by the United States. Annexation occurred in 1845, which led to a war with Mexico. How did President James Polk argue that he had a right to declare war?

Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, but Mexico did not accept its independence. Mexico threatened war if the United States annexed Texas, but Congress approved of the annexation, and in 1845 Texas became a state. President James Polk sent troops to the Texas–Mexico border purportedly to protect the new territory, but he did so without first consulting Congress. The actual boundaries were not clearly defined, and American troop presence heightened tensions with Mexico. When 16 soldiers were killed on the border of the Nueces River, President Polk went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war. In the US Constitution, the power to “declare war” is explicitly granted to the legislative branch (Congress), as is the power to “raise and support armies.” However, the president is given the power as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Since the exact powers of commander in chief are not fully defined, presidents have claimed executive power in times of war and crisis as implied powers of the Office of the President. Presidents have used their commander-in-chief powers to create tribunals for prisoners, convene special courts to collect intelligence, deport noncitizens, and intern citizens who pose an alleged threat to national security. They have also used these powers to establish wartime agencies and programs to assist with the war effort. Sometimes these actions have been approved by Congress and sometimes they have not.