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H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973

Alarmed that the executive branch was exceeding its constitutional authority, Congress passed a joint resolution in October 1973 to define more narrowly the president’s war powers. It gave the president only three options for committing U.S. forces to foreign wars: with a congressional declaration of war; by permission of Congress; or in response to an attack on the United States.

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973 H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973 H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973 H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973 H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973 H.J. Res. 542, Joint Resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President, May 3, 1973

Congress Limits Presidential War Powers

The Constitution divides war powers between Congress and the president. Only Congress can declare war and appropriate military funding, but the president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The United States nonetheless engaged in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam without congressional declarations of war. After President Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without Congress’s consent, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, intended to limit the president’s authority to conduct war.

While Congress holds the constitutional authority to declare war, it is balanced by the president’s authority as commander in chief. In 1973 Congress passed legislation further clarifying the division of power.